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The Indo-Pak Foreign Secretaries meet – An Overview

February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

About 25 miles from Lahore, in Pakistan, and situated barely meters away from the Grand Trunk Road is Muridke. It is a sprawling campus, complete with a hospital, well appointed residential quarters, a school, a madarasa, a swimming pool, a mosque, vegetable farms, a fish breeding center, and well cut lawns amidst a number of trees.  One could be forgiven for mistaking this complex to be a plush resort. In fact, Muridke is the headquarters of the terrorist organization known to the world as the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the ‘army of the pure,’ the very same outfit that among many other ghastly handiworks, masterminded the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Changing names as often as credible Indian evidence exposes its hardened terrorist designs, it is known by many aliases, some of which are Jamaat-Ud-Dawa, Tehreek-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awal and Markaz-Dawa-Wal-Irshad. Irrespecitve of the name it adopts, its mission remains the same, and that is to further terrorism deep into Indian Territory in the name of Islamic jihad. In effect, it can be safely said that this organization is largely responsible for almost all terror related activities that plague the Indian union.

Later this week, diplomatic efforts will see the coming together of the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan in an attempt to redraw the relationship either nation shares with its neighbour – largely to talk tough on a serious problem, that being terror. This exercise, if successful, could lay down the foundation for a more composite dialogue in the future that will hopefully improve the level of confidence that both nations need in order to jointly tackle and address a slew of problems they have been facing, ranging from social, political, economic to the most important aspect of security systems.

But before all this is to begin, Pakistan needs to accept the fact that it’s boundaries are haven to many radical elements that threaten not only Indian security but also have been hard hitting on its own democracy. It may choose to call these elements as non-state actors, but the fact remains that these actors operate from Pakistani territory and are funded and aided by parts of the Pakistani establishment namely the ISI and the army. That this is factually so can be affirmed, among other incidents, by what was the brazenly customary presence of the former head of the ISI – Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed at annual conferences of the Lashkar at Muridke. And that is not all. The attacks conducted in Mumbai by the group dispatched to do so on 26/11 in 2008 bore the hallmark of a very well crafted military operation, suggesting that the handlers of this operation were indeed part of the armed brass in Pakistan.

Today, after years of patronage and unconditional support to groups like the Lashkar, Pakistan has lost all control over them and chooses to echo to the world it’s utter helplessness in reining them in, in the hope that the international community will be overcome by the incidents within it’s borders and thus accord some sympathy. What it has done is create a dangerous network of well trained people who can lie low until the opportune moment and carry out a debilitating attack when needed. One such incident was witnessed in Pune, India, a few days ago, on 13th February, when an explosive device claimed the lives of 15 innocent people! Sleeper cells, hidden deep, and forever vigilant and abreast of their ideology are being used to threaten the secure fabric of India, and their handlers in Pakistan have sworn to step up the ante in a more violent manner. This is precisely what Pakistan needs to be cognizant of and admitting to when it’s foreign secretary Salman Bashir meets his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao, in just a few days.

It needs to understand and accept the responsibility for the existence of such an elaborate network of sleeper cells and sincerely work towards dismantling this apparatus in the hope that this scourge is controlled, for any and all dialogue in a composite manner can only be initiated after the problem of security is addressed. Furthermore, the Pakistani establishment must refrain from falsely implicating India for its security woes, which in effect have been as a result of it’s involvement with radically fundamentalist elements operating unchecked within it’s periphery.

Why then is India not right in going to the table with minimal expectations and focusing primarily on issues such as terrorism and security? Why must Jammu & Kashmir be a part of the agenda? India is surely justified in voicing its concerns over what has come to be known as the Karachi Project – a scheme being orchestrated by the Lashkar and its collaborators in the ISI to engineer attacks across India with the help of fugitive jihadis. Besides, there are growing inputs of cadres being given systematic arms training in Pakistan, something that is conducted by the LeT and sponsored by the ISI.

For now, one needs to be cautiously optimistic on how these talks would set guidelines for the future, and more importantly what they will bring as a result thereof! It is certainly foolish to assume that long standing issues can be solved with just a round of talks – they will not! Issues can only be solved by measurable actions and those need to emanate from Pakistan in the form of clamping down on terrorist camps and their infrastructure. But this is more deep rooted than one can imagine, since the complicity of the Pakistani establishment is significant here, by virtue of the working relationship the ISI shares with the Lashkar and many such groups. Such an arrangement has a lot of Anti-India sentiment written all over it and for that to change will take more and just a conscious effort.

Until then, many exchanges will happen over the table. One only hope that they remain over the table and not across the border!