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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 25, June 11, 2011

Closer Understanding between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan Needed

Tuesday 14 June 2011, by Balraj Puri


ISI Chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha warned India that any Abbottabad-like attack by it would invite a befitting response from Pakistan as targets inside the country (India) had already been identified and a rehearsal carried out. Pasha’s warning came as he addressed the in- camera joint session of the Pakistan Senate and National Assembly on May 13.

He repeated the warning of Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir, who was the first senior official of his country to speak at a news conference on the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden; Bashir had said any country that attempts to mimic the unilateral act of the US would find “it has made a basic miscal-culation and is indulging in misadventure”.

Both were reacting to the remarks by the Indian Army Chief, General V.K. Singh, that Indian forces had the capability to mount raids like the pre-dawn assault on the mansion in the garrison town near the Army Cantonment in Abbottabad that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden. He reflected the rising anti-Pakistan sentiment in India as many find it a rare opportunity to avenge the 26/11 Mumbai attack and target terrorist leaders like Dawood Ibrahim, Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi whose addresses are known to everybody unlike Osama who was living incognito.

The potentiality of the Indian forces is not the question. But before undertaking any such adventure, the differences between the roles of America and India and alternatives best suited to the national interest should be considered. The operation is estimated to have cost America three trillion dollars. Moreover, its forces and intelligence agencies were operating in Pakistan for over a decade with the consent of the government in Islamabad. There is admittedly visible resentment that may have been caused among the people in Pakistan over the secret action of America, in violating its sovereignty and without the knowledge of its government. But the government is trying to offer explanation about its inefficiency or incapability for not knowing the whereabouts of Osama and not keeping America informed. Its Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, announced on May 9 an inquiry into the intelligence failure. Whatever differences might exist between the two countries, both are keen to maintain their strategic alliance against terrorism. The Pak Premier attached the high importance to the country’s relations with America.

India cannot compare itself with the only superpower of the world. Nor is its network as entrenched in Pakistan as America’s. Any overt or covert action by India within Pakistan will only help its government to convert the anti-American sentiment of its people into anti-Indian sentiment. Even America would not approve of such action. Its State Department has already pointed to the vast difference between 9/11, which took a toll of 3000 human lives, and 26/11 in which the casualty was 166. Moreover, the war against terrorism has yet to be won within Afghanistan. Any action by India would only force Pakistan to divert its forces from the western to the eastern front. Already high alert has been sounded not only along the LoC, in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, but along the entire Indian border. Indo-Pak tension will also push Pakistan closer to China, where its Prime Minister was assured of China’s friendship and offered joint manufacture of 50 fighter jets when he visited that country recently.

NO doubt India cannot afford to be complacent about the threat of terrorism. So it is for Pakistan (the threat has a greater dimension there) since, according to the Pakistan Prime Minister, 39,000 persons have been killed by terrorists in that state. It is, therefore, also in the interest of Pakistan to seek India’s support to fight the common menace. Even America has supported India’s claim for extradition of the Pakistan- based terrorist leaders responsible for the Mumbai attack.

India has a stake in the current fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. It has made investments in many constructive and welfare enterprises. The main indigenous terrorist force there is that of the Taliban which has a Pushtoon ethnic base on both sides of the Durand Line that divides it from Pakistan. The Al-Qaeda has no local ethnic base. It was imported to Afghanistan by the USA to provide ideological support to the Taliban to fight against Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

The Al Qaeda believes in Salfi Islam, the most radical brand of Islam which Saudi Arabia is exporting to many countries, including Pakistan, while the Taliban believes in Deobandi Islam which is of Indian origin. It was the Al-Qaeda which was inspiring most of the terrorist groups in the rest of Pakistan that are posing a threat to India. As the governments of Pakistan and America might succeed in weakening the Al-Qaeda with its symbol and source of inspiration gone, it should be easier to deal with the Taliban. It has not only to be dealt with through arms but also through political means to satisfy their ethnic urges.

The Pushtoons’ legendary leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, was a close colleague of Mahatma Gandhi and along with him happened to be a leader of the non-violent movement for India’s independence and opposed to the formation of Pakistan. The key to the Pushtoon sentiment is provided in a statement of his son, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, in which he said: “I am a Pakistani for 50 years, a Muslim for 1400 years and a Pushtoon for 5000 years.” The mere religious appeal of the Al-Qaeda was not enough to satisfy their aspirations.

The first step in that direction should be to reorganise Afghanistan on some sort of a federal system where the Pushtoon and other ethnic communities should have some measure of autonomy. As far as the Pushtoons in the north- west of Pakistan are concerned, they should have an easy access to their counterparts in Afghanistan by making the Durand Line soft. The greatest injustice to the Pakistani province of Pushtoons was done by calling it the NWFP which only denoted its geographic location. Only recently it has been named Khyber Pushtoonkhwah. As India has better experience of dealing with ethnic diversities, its involvement in evolving an Afghanistan policy should be welcomed by America and Pakistan. The Indian Prime Minister has done well in visiting at the earliest opportunity Afghanistan where he received a very warm welcome. He emphasised the thousand-year-old common civilisational link between the two countries and offered to increase economic aid to it by $ 500 million.

WHILE America and Afghanistan are willing to explore the possibility of opening a dialogue with the soft section of the Taliban, India should not have opposed it. There are at least three known factions of the Taliban. There are Pushtoons in Pakistan who had bitter memories of atrocities committed on them by the Pakistan Government and had links with the National Awami Party, founded by the son of Badshah Khan, that had ruled the NWFP. India should not force unity on all factions of Pashtoons but deal with each according to their response.

It would be in the interest of Pakistan to seek India’s help in resolving the problems in Afghanistan instead of accusing it of fomenting trouble there. Likewise peaceful and contented Pakistan should be welcome to India too.

Rightly the governments of the two countries have reiterated their resolve to resume dialogue to which the two Prime Ministers had committed at Mohali, notwithstanding some sabre-rattling at the lower and non-official levels. Any steps we are able to take towards friendly relations between India and Pakistan, would not only be of mutual benefit but become a source of strength to the entire region and be welcome to the wider world. Manmohan Singh has aptly assured India’s best wishes for Pakistan from Kabul as well Delhi. Saner voices have also been raised in Pakistan where the tallest Opposition leader, Nawaz Sharief, has warned his country against considering India as their main enemy.

A closer understanding between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan is the need of the hour and in the best interest of all of them. As the bigger power in the region, it is the responsibility of India to take a lead in that direction.

The author is the Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu.

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