The meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf on the sidelines of the Havana non-aligned summit is being projected as an important breakthrough on the issue of terrorism as well as with regard to the broad contours of Indo-Pak relations. The meeting was significant as it was held in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts, which had led to some tough talk by India. This Indian outburst underlined the frustration and limits of its tolerance to Pakistan's continued support to terrorism. As New Delhi suspended the peace process, it demanded that Pakistan demonstrate its commitment to the various assurances it has given to India since January 2004.
The January 6, 2004, agreement between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee on the sidelines of the SAARC summit had initiated a new beginning in India-Pakistan relations. Musharraf gave a personal assurance that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner against India. Both countries underlined the fact that constructive dialogue would promote progress towards the common objective of peace, security and economic development for both peoples and for future generations. The peace process was renewed with fresh vigour and various bus and rail linkages were announced to promote people-to-people contacts. At the same time, while Pakistan insisted on a resolution of the Kashmir issue within a time-frame so as to foster meaningful relations and enhance regional stability, India wanted to move on the charted path of composite dialogue on the eight identified issues. Subsequently, meetings have taken place between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf on the sidelines of the UNGA as well as at the summit level in New Delhi in April 2005. And on each of these occasions, they reiterated their commitment to bilateral dialogue and peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue - an oft-repeated statement that emanates after every Indo-Pak meeting.
Though both countries are committed to bilateral dialogue, incidents of terrorist violence have not only continued in Kashmir but have also occurred elsewhere in India. All these incidents have the imprint of the involvement of Pakistan-based jihadi groups. It is in this context that the latest joint statement becomes important. The question that needs to be asked is whether it addresses the issue of terrorism that India has been facing for the past decade and a half? The joint statement issued in Havana reiterated Pakistan's commitments towards addressing the issue of terrorism and India's assurance to move forward with the peace process and resume the mechanism of the Secretary-level composite dialogue. One can thus discern a clear linkage between the issue of Pakistan's support for terrorism and the Indo-Pak peace process. The irony of the situation is that soon after the Havana joint statement Indian investigating agencies confirmed the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Taiba in the Mumbai blasts.
The joint statement issued at Havana also speaks of a joint institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations. Instead of merely accusing Pakistan, India can now take its complaints to the anti-terror institution, the modalities of which are to be agreed by the two countries. In the past, however, Pakistan has been reluctant to co-operate with India on the issue of terrorism. It has denied that Dawood Ibrahim resides in its territory even though its own media has acknowledged his presence. The Pakistan High Commissioner's interview to CNN-IBN on September 20, 2006 makes it clear that it is not within the purview of this mechanism to deal with terror masterminds like Dawood. In the early nineties Pakistan had also denied the existence of Kashmiri militant camps in its soil. Intelligence sharing on terrorist activities with India has never been looked at with favour by the ISI. It has nurtured and sponsored terrorist outfits and has a stake in their sustenance, since they constitute a vital component of Pakistan's strategy against India. Many Pakistani analysts have argued that the only way to get India to the negotiating table is through terror. Pakistan's repeated assurances to India on this issue have not resulted in anything concrete. In fact, it was the realization that Pakistan had not done enough that led India to stall the peace process in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts.
Pakistan not addressing the issue of terrorism can imply two things. First it is not willing to address the issue; and second, it is incapable of controlling the terrorists. Pakistan has taken the stand that it does not control all the extremist elements operating from its territory. This may be true to some extent. However, it is also true that Pakistan's actions against some of these terrorist elements have been cosmetic at best, while some of its actions against the Jaish-i-Mohammad, for example, arose out of domestic compulsions. Pakistan's ban on the Lashkar has not been effective in controlling its activities. The Lashkar simply changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its Chief, Hafeez Saeed, was provided with all the comforts during his house arrest. Not surprisingly, in the above-mentioned interview, the Pakistan High Commissioner opined that the Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a charitable organization, when it is an acknowledged fact that it is a front organization of the LeT. This view clearly underlines the fact that for the agreed joint mechanism to work, both countries need to harmonise their definition of terrorism and terrorist groups. Banning terrorist organizations does not resolve the issue since these outfits resurface in another name. The terrorist infrastructure within Pakistan is still intact and it is difficult to imagine that the precision with which they have carried out various terrorist acts in India is accomplished without the knowledge of the ISI.
Now what does the Joint Mechanism imply in terms of actually addressing the issue. It is merely another mechanism for India to lodge complaints about the activities of Pakistan- based and -sponsored terrorists in India. Since the issue is to be addressed by the representative of both countries, it is likely to result only in a war of words, given that Pakistan has used a studied policy of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy against India. Secondly, it is doubtful that the terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir will be brought within the ambit of this joint mechanism. Pakistan does not consider jihadi violence in Jammu and Kashmir as terrorism and has generally portrayed these terrorists as 'freedom fighters'. As has been the case in the past, it is more than likely that Pakistan will continue to play semantic games.
With or without the joint mechanism, the fight against terrorism is India's own war. It is not for the first time that India has withdrawn its demand to stop cross border terrorism as a precondition for the initiation of dialogue. Earlier, India had insisted on the same conditions for resumption of dialogue in 1993, in the aftermath of the Kargil conflict in 1999, and again after the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, only to resume talks without Pakistan moving an inch on the Indian preconditions. And now we see the same trend being repeated in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts! Suspension of dialogue has limited success in putting pressure on Pakistan. It has never complied with Indian demands and has taken only cosmetic steps with token political symbolism. From Kashmir, terrorist activities have now expanded to other parts of India.
Though the continuation of bilateral dialogue is important for both countries to move forward, the joint mechanism to fight terrorism would not help India in any substantive manner. Both countries are already engaged in addressing the issue as part of the composite dialogue at the Home Secretaries level. And at the multilateral level, the countries of SAARC have signed a protocol on terrorism. In fact, the Kathmandu SAARC summit clearly brought out the differences on the definition of terrorism. The issue of terrorism has not been addressed not because there is a dearth of institutional mechanisms, but because Pakistan's commitment to the issue is lacking. Given the nature of Indo-Pak relations and the functioning of other institutional mechanisms that have been in place for some time, the latest mechanism is yet another forum for India to communicate its grievances and for Pakistan to dole out its false assurances.