The Indo Pak Joint Statement at Havana has created a furor over setting up of a Joint Mechanism, “to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations”, between the two countries. With relations between the two countries having deteriorated particularly after the terrorist strike in Mumbai which killed over 185 people and remarks of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on Baluchistan, there was increased skepticism on both sides of even resumption of the peace dialogue. The out of the box declaration at Havana however jolted analysts out of their strategic stupor. There were wide spread protests in the Indian strategic community particularly by former intelligence sleuths and foreign service officials who saw the move as a sell out to Pakistan by the Prime Minister charmed by President Musharraf into signing on the dotted line. It is firmly believed in India that the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI was a state within itself and was not under control of even the Army. Under the circumstances the skeptics argued that expectations that it could be reined in may be far fetched. Some even suspected the unusual bonhomie between the two leaders as they warmly greeted each other at Havana. There is thus a need to place the issues in perspective.
Indo Pakistan relations have been in a positive direction for almost a decade or so. Pakistan recognized the limitations of its terror policy way back in 1996, when elections were successfully held in Jammu and Kashmir both for the assembly and the parliament. Kargil 1999 was one last fling by the generals in Islamabad to redeem themselves before history. Here too they met with a resounding failure. 9/11 changed global perceptions on terrorism and the process of the state directly sponsoring terrorist camps in Pakistan came to a halt in 2002, during the opening phases of Operation Parakram. However there were no efforts to dissuade non state actors from conducting such training. During the interim period there was a change of government in India which only spurred the peace process, opening up the borders from Kashmir to Gujarat. However intermittent terrorist attacks in India were becoming detrimental to sustaining the process.
The internal situation within both the countries has also changed over the years. Pakistan has seen the growth of terrorism on its Western frontiers, with the Frontier Areas as well as Baluchistan on the boil for over four years now. The growth of groups such as Jamaat ud Dawa, the political sponsor of Lashkar e Taiyyaba which taking advantage of the administrative vacuum in the earthquake hit areas of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir enhanced its social capital was also a matter of concern. Pakistan increasingly came in the global eye amongst the first 10 failed states this year. There was no choice with the Pakistan President but to seek a joint mechanism on terrorism despite the underlying irony.
India on the other hand saw an increase in terrorist attacks in the hinterland from Varanasi to Bangalore, in which the role of indigenous groups was more than evident, though not politically expedient to accept. This perhaps made it apparent to the Government that it had to put its own counter terrorism house in order.
The process of working of the mechanism will be clarified over the next few months as the Foreign Secretaries thrash out the structure and time lines towards tangible results. There are a number of precedence to go by. The Armies of both countries have a hot line between the respective Director General Military Operations which is activated in a crisis. Similar hot lines could be considered. There are existing norms between the US forces in Afghanistan and the Pakistani forces which could be modified apart from other processes which will enable greater confidence building on both sides of the terrorism divide.
This will definitely send a powerful message to the terrorist organizations in Pakistan that they cannot take state support for granted and may provide the Army an escape valve to rein in organizations which are inimical to the new joint mechanism. However the situation is extremely complex as Pakistan is facing elections, controlled or otherwise in 2007 and signs of strife on its Western borders have not receded. There is pressure on President Musharraf to leave the, “twin peaks” of power. Thus actual implementation of the mechanism may be slow over the next few months.
The path to peace between India and Pakistan is strewn with many thorns. Some like the Sir Creek will be resolved over the next few months, as else India and Pakistan stand to lose control of the waters in the area which will be internationalized. Siachen will release a dividend of Rs 1000 Crore per year for India; however the Indian Army is not prepared to give up the commanding heights it occupies now, but can be cajoled or coerced into an agreement. But it is the Joint Mechanism on terrorism which would provide the guiding light towards lasting peace in the Sub Continent. It is a creative idea driven by two Heads of state with the hope of success rather than fears of failures of the past which deserves a chance, so let us give a try for, India - Pakistan, “Bhai – Bhai”.