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January 2002












By Pankaj Doval


The 'core issue' which stalled the 'then-historic' Vajpayee-Musharraf Agra summit in July this year finally seems to have shown its ugly face. Since the two leaders failed to find an 'acceptable-to-both' compromise joint declaration then, bilateral relations between the two nuclear neighbours have grown for the worst, currently looking headed for a military showdown and, if
things go even worse, a nuclear conflict.

Though India had at that time (July) advocated to talk on other issues as well to bridge the ever-widening gap between the two countries against the military dictator's insistence on the 'core issue' (Kashmir), things have certainly changed post-  September 11 and December 13, the last being the day when India's Parliament, which houses the world's largest democracy, was attacked by Pakistan-based terrorists alleged by India to be masterminded by Pakistan's intelligence agency - the ISI.

The different parameters Islamabad had adopted after September 11 - branding militants on its west (Afghanistan), after pressure from the US-led global force, as terrorists while that on its east (Kashmir) as 'freedom fighters' - doesn't seem to be acceptable anymore, especially after the bloody October 1 attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and the latest attack on Parliament.

Even the West, which had all these years been asking New Delhi to adopt 'restraint' in relation to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism (called as 'indigenous struggle in Kashmir' by Pakistan), seemed to have done a volte-face when faced with a similar situation itself after the deadly attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The US, along with other western allies, 'forced' Pakistan to join in its global assault on terrorism and attacked terrorist camps in Afghanistan to eliminate the al-Qaeda and the Taleban.

However, even as it continues its effort against terrorism, it still urges India to exercise restraint, though finally accepting India's long-pending demand to brand the Lashker-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed as Foreign Terrorist Organisations. Foreign policy experts say Washington's long-delayed announcement comes only after it feared that the current build-up by India and Pakistan along then borders as well as the 'so-far minor' skirmishes would escalate into a war, shifting focus from 'its (so-called) global campaign against terrorists'.

Notwithstanding Pakistan's lukewarm response to India's demands to act against terrorists, US President George W Bush on December 28 urged India to take note of the fact that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was moving forcefully against terrorist organisations that New Delhi had blamed for the December 13 attack on Parliament.

''I hope India takes note of that, that Gen Musharraf is responding forcefully and actively to bring those who could harm others to justice,'' Mr Bush said while talking to reporters at Crawford, Texas.

But all this seems to have been late, rather too late. Also, Pakistan's response, if at all, seems just to be ''cosmetic'', as Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh rightly termed it.

There is no word from Pakistan on India's demand for the arrest and extradition of some of its Most Wanted men - underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar, 1993 Mumbai blasts accused Tiger Memon and Chhota Shakeel - just to name a few.

Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan have sunk down to new lows -  India recalling its High Commissioner to Islamabad and terminating the land route link between the two countries (Samjhauta Express and the Lahore bus) on December 21.

Also, on December 27, New Delhi decided to reduce the strength of their respective High Commissions (India and Pakistan) by half and banned overflight facilities to Pakistani aircraft. The fresh set of stern diplomatic measures announced by India also included restrictions on the movement of the diplomatic staff of the Pakistan High Commission and their families to the municipal limits of Delhi. The last addition coming after many Pakistan High Commission staffers were arrested by India, allegedly red-handed while involved in spying activities.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan announced tit-for-tat measures in just an hour after India's announcement.

It finally seems that India is heading in the right direction in its relations with Pakistan. What was the point of hosting joint cultural seminars and announcing other CBMs (Confidence-Building Measures) when having cold, rather very cold, relations with Pakistan. The time for CBMs and other friendly overtures seems good to be over.

However, it is noteworthy that India should carefully weigh the pros and cons before launching a full-scale war or even limited strikes at terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). It should watch every step, as New Delhi should not forget that it is walking on a razor's edge. Any military action should be ably matched by endorsement from the West, which means diplomacy should be as strong as the build-up along the borders.

As a former Indian Foreign Secretary said, ''having US friendship may not amount to much, but its enmity could be disastrous.''

Among its diplomatic initiatives to isolate Islamabad on the international front, India can go to the UN Security Council, laying forth evidence of Pakistan's involvement in the Parliament attack and assert India's right of self-defence.

New Delhi has rightly rejected Islamabad's ''anytime, any place and at any level'' dialogue offer, the last being for the Kathmandu SAARC summit which begins early January in the New Year.

It is time India said what needs to be said on terrorism - as Prime Minister Vajpayee did on December 29 at the BJP's National Executive : ''All means and resources would be used to achieve the objective (curbing cross-border terrorism) and no means will be spared.''








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