Bottomline | Peace at Stake

The terrorist attacks in Delhi were in response to change of government in J&K

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

Three recent developments have necessitated the need to review the peace process between Indian and Pakistan. These are the October 29 bombings in New Delhi, the aftermath of the October 8 earthquake in Kashmir, and the change of government in Srinagar. Undoubtedly, the most significant is the replacement of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed with the Congress nominee Ghulam Nabi Azad. Whatever its political ramifications, from the security viewpoint, this single move will increase violence in the state in order to send an unambiguous message to the multitudes of Over-Ground Workers (OGW) in urban areas to reinvigorate the deflating insurgency. Mufti, after all, was seen as soft on OGWs, close to a few militant outfits and alongside the separatists understood the dynamics of the peace process better than anyone else from within the establishment. It is little coincidence that during Mufti’s three years in office, the state human rights commission registered maximum cases of human rights abuses by security forces, most of which of course never reached their logical conclusion. The simple inference is that Mufti was adept at running with the hare and hunting with the hound, something Azad, for reasons, will not be able to match. Therefore, October 29 bombings in New Delhi by Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba had a twin purpose: to demonstrate opposition to the change of guard in Srinagar, and to vitiate the peace process, just like the 13 December 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament. Therefore, it will be wrong to infer that 29/10 (Delhi bombings) equates with 9/11 and 7/7, and that the Pakistani establishment orchestrated them.

The LeT are Kashmir-specific terrorists who are not under President’s Musharraf total control. Unlike Musharraf, who desires an early permanent settlement of the Kashmir issue through the ‘soft border’ approach, the LeT are aligned more with the Kashmiri hard-line separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani who wants undivided Kashmir to merge with Pakistan. Musharraf knows that this is a pipedream and therefore hopes that the ‘soft border’ approach may lead to quicker give-and-take of territory between India and Pakistan to settle the Kashmir issue. Thus, even while not supporting the LeT’s thinking behind 29/10, Musharraf cannot be expected to come down heavily on this banned terrorist outfit that continues to engage the Indian security forces. It is similar to the situation where the US President Bush will also not push Musharraf too hard on the issue of cross border terrorism into J&K because he is fighting the US war on terror against al Qaeda. It will, therefore, be imprudent for India to sour relations with Pakistan over 29/10 especially when the change of government has taken place in Srinagar, and neither country in the aftermath of the earthquake has emerged as the true champion of the Kashmiri cause.

The Pakistan Army has been accused of doing too little too late for the people of PoK, which again is not entirely correct. Considering the extent of the devastation, the Pakistan Army cannot be faulted for first reassessing its defences against India. The time lag provided the LeT, which reportedly suffered major losses but unlike the Pakistan Army has little to defend, with the perfect opportunity to both endear itself to locals by relief assistance, and also to infiltrate its cadres into Kashmir, mostly through Jammu area (senior Indian Army officers say that this has happened). The situation in Pakistan was so grave that even the astute Musharraf made the preposterous suggestion of asking for Indian military helicopters without pilots. However, once his nerves were calmer, Musharraf came up with two political bouncers; the need to open up the Line of Control completely for people’s movement, and for both India and Pakistan to demilitarise Kashmir.

Meanwhile, India also continued with its own diplomatic games. Much in tune with the global perception of being a rising power, India sent one IL-76 aircraft with relief material to Pakistan, offered US$25 million, and set up three relief centres on the LoC even before the two countries had agreed to five crossing points and relief modalities for residents of PoK. Keeping infiltration in mind, India correctly played down Musharraf’s suggestion to throw the LoC completely open, and ignored the suggestion for demilitarisation. Where does this all take the peace process?

On the international front, the world is not expected to condemn Musharraf for supporting cross border terrorism. No one seriously believes that the New Delhi bombings are Musharraf’s handiwork; especially when there has been some progress on the peace process, however modest. On the bilateral front, things will continue to drift. There will be more confidence building measures and the November 2003 ceasefire will continue to hold, at least until 2007, when Musharraf will be required to explain why he should continue to stay as the army chief. Locked in the ambitious agreement with the US, India will do its utmost to maintain peace with Pakistan. The real trouble for India will be on the domestic front. Once violence escalates in the state, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will find it impossible to engage with the moderate Hurriyat leadership that has asked for the release of more political prisoners (read terrorists). As this appears unlikely, the terrorists and hard-line separatists will hold sway. It will be back to hard military counter-measures for India.


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