Engagement is key in Indo-Pak relations

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in reply to a letter I once wrote him that ‘I look forward to a time when Pakistan and India will be able to shed the debilitating baggage of the past and focus more on the future, when opportunities, rather than challenges, define the relationship between two proud and sovereign nations’.

So I cannot understand why the Line of Control (LoC) on the Jammu and Kashmir border is bristling with troops. It is difficult to apportion blame because of the various violations. But the experience of past years indicates that these are the months when Pakistan tries to push in as many infiltrators as possible. Later, the passes through mountains become clogged because of snow.

There is no way for the infiltrators to enter Indian territory without the assistance of the Pakistan army. The infiltrators join the Indian mujahideen, who are sustaining an insurgency in Kashmir on the one hand and the other states in the country on the other. The infiltrators are, in fact, the Taliban who are also a menace for Islamabad. Nawaz Sharif’s words of conciliation would carry weight if he were to stop the infiltration and violations of the LoC that take place many times in a day.

Hostility between India and Pakistan is so proverbial that any movement towards lessening tension comes as a relief. The recent meeting between the two countries may not have bridged the political gap, yet it has broken the ice and it is a good beginning.

The sceptics are hard to please, particularly when Nawaz Sharif has not assured Manmohan Singh with regard to the terrorist training camps in Pakistan (they number around 30). But the meeting is a step forward. Both Prime Ministers were under great pressure from their domestic opposition lobbies. Still they stood their ground and met for an hour. Both should be complimented for preferring to take part in a dialogue rather than cancelling the meeting, which would have damaged the prospects for peace.

I have not been able to understand the logic of those who have opposed the meeting. Is there any other option? Both sides can defer the talks, but they have to engage sooner or later. And the outcome of the meeting has been positive. Both Prime Ministers have rightly pinpointed the priority: to strengthen the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC).

The agreement reached in 2004 on the ceasefire has stood the test of time, as it has been in place for a decade. It is unfortunate that the Taliban were able penetrate into Jammu and Kashmir and kill five Indian soldiers. Now the two Prime Ministers have directed their respective Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) to meet and work out arrangements to ensure the ceasefire is not impaired. The two DGMOs should also find out why the violation took place in the first instance. True, it was the Taliban, not the Pakistan armed forces, who did it. But how did the Taliban come to use Pakistani territory to shoot their way into India? Some connivance by certain parties is obvious.

The Taliban menace, which has made practically every place in Pakistan unsafe, has to be met squarely. Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani has declared that the Pakistan army will stay in Swat, part of Northern Waziristan, near the Afghanistan border. At the same time, he has had his differences with Nawaz Sharif on the issue of talks with the Taliban. He should recognise the fact that the entire region has come to be threatened by the resurgence of al-Qaeda, directing the Taliban.

The situation may become aggravated when Western troops withdraw from Afghanistan next year. Already al-Qaeda is recruiting young men and training them for strikes after the withdrawal of troops. I have my doubts about the capability of the Afghanistan army and the police, trained by America, to withstand the al-Qaeda onslaught.

I think that al-Qaeda’s ideology of fanaticism has not been properly spelled out to the Pakistan public. Yet the country has had a taste of it when the Swat Valley was occupied by the Taliban for some time. The music shops were closed and so were educational institutions for girls. The veil was compulsorily imposed and the general expectation was that women would stay indoors. And there was not even an iota of free expression allowed, much less scope for liberal thought.

Madrasas and mosques in the region have become a breeding ground for the Taliban and their fundamentalism. I cannot understand why some Muslim countries are financing them. Libya, an outcast of a country, is reportedly supplying them with arms.

I wish that Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif had discussed the resurgence of al-Qaeda. Both India and Pakistan, particularly the latter, have to think long and hard about the vacuum created after Western forces quit the region. If combating terrorism is a priority for the two countries, al-Qaeda and its instruments of tyranny, the Taliban, should be at the top of their agenda. In fact the Taliban, in the shape of the mujahideen, are already operating in India. The situation is still under control, but the birth of a Hindu Taliban should be a point of very real concern for India.

— Kuldip Nayar