Increased volatility in Indo-Pak relations

On July 31, India’s Ambassador in Kabul, Amar Sinha, received Intelligence inputs about the likelihood of an imminent attack on the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad in Southern Afghanistan. The Afghan security authorities were put on alert and were fully prepared when, according to the Police Commissioner of Jalalabad, a group of ten Punjabi-speaking Pakistani terrorists from Lashka-e-taiba entered the city to carry out the attack. The August 3 strike was mounted by three terrorists wearing suicide vests, who were gunned down. Eight children praying in a nearby Mosque were killed when one of the group detonated an explosive device from inside a car.

This was the third terrorist attack on an Indian diplomatic Mission in recent years. The earlier attacks in 2008 and 2009 resulted in the deaths of the Indian Military Attaché Brigadier Mehta and the Information Counsellor of the Embassy, as well as others, including medical personnel.

The UN Security Council unanimously condemned the attack on the Indian Consulate, describing it as a ‘heinous act’ and insisting on ‘the need to bring the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice’. The incident further underlined the dangers that Indian diplomats and thousands of personnel and workers, working on economic aid projects in Afghanistan are likely to face as the American endgame in Afghanistan gathers momentum.

The dust from the Jalalabad attack had barely settled when reports came in of growing exchanges of fire across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. There was outrage across India when on August 6, five Indian soldiers patrolling on the Indian side of the LoC were ambushed and killed. Denials from Pakistan, asserting that the Pakistan army was not involved in this professionally executed ambush, only added fuel to the fire.

Following a visit to army units in Jammu and Kashmir by Army Chief General Bikram Singh, India’s normally soft-spoken Defence Minister A K Anthony told an enraged Indian Parliament that the attack on August 3 was carried out by an armed group crossing the LoC, which included Special Forces of the Pakistan army. Mr Anthony added: ‘We all know that nothing happens from the Pakistan side of the LoC without the support, assistance, facilitation and often direct involvement of the Pakistan army.’
More pointedly, the Defence Minister added: ‘Naturally, there will be consequences for behaviour on the Line of Control and for our relations with Pakistan. Our restraint should not be taken for granted, nor should the capacity of our armed forces and resolve of the Government to uphold the sanctity of the Line of Control be ever doubted.’

Apart from the tensions on the Line of Control, the past month has seen an escalation in rhetoric, commencing with Resolutions passed by the Provincial Punjab Assembly and the Pakistan National Assembly. These Resolutions held India responsible for the tensions, while also commenting on the situation on the Indian side of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, and asserting Pakistan’s long held position on differences over the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian Parliament responded the very next day with a unanimous Resolution on the same subjects. The Indian Parliamentary Resolution categorically held the Pakistan army responsible for the escalation in tensions and the killing of Indian soldiers, while reaffirming commitment to better relations with Pakistan. More significantly, the Indian Parliament Resolution reiterated that ‘the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, including the territory forcibly and illegally occupied by Pakistan, is an integral part of India and will always remain so’.

The violations of the cease-fire across the Line of Control continue, with regular exchanges of fire between border posts. With positions hardening, it is evident that it is going to take time for any dialogue process to commence, as envisaged earlier. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is now being advised by his own Congress Party colleagues not to return to any structured dialogue process with Pakistan, till such time as Pakistan irrevocably ends the movement of militants across the Line of Control, takes action to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack to justice and observes the cease-fire across the Line of Control, which came into force in November 2003.

From the Indian point of view, the cease-fire can be durable only if the Pakistan army ends cross border movements of militants, primarily drawn from the cadres of Lashkar-e-Taiba, While any formal dialogue in the glare of publicity can be ruled out and indeed could well be counterproductive, it is entirely possible that secret ‘back channel’ talks between designated Special Envoys of the two Prime Ministers (veteran diplomats Satinder Lambah from India and Shahryar Khan from Pakistan) could take place in third countries, to seek ways to defuse tensions and promote bilateral cooperation.

India is today, for all practical purposes, in election mode, with Parliamentary elections scheduled for 2014. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is already under pressure with the Indian economy in the doldrums, his Government facing charges of corruption and accusations of being ‘soft’ on issues of national security and terrorism. There are pressures that if Pakistan does not act on Indian concerns on terrorism and, crucially, on bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to book, Dr Manmohan Singh should not meet his Pakistani counterpart Mr Nawaz Sharif, as proposed earlier in New York, on the sidelines of the forthcoming UN General Assembly session. Even more importantly, there is a feeling in India that the Government’s view of Mr Sharif himself as being a changed man after years in political exile needs to be reconsidered in the light of recent developments.

Till the recent escalation in tensions, the widely prevalent view in New Delhi — and indeed across the country — was that, given his focus on dealing with Pakistan’s pressing economic woes, Mr Sharif was sincere when he spoke of seeking better relations with India. When tensions escalated across the Line of Control, there was a widespread view that the Pakistan army was responsible for the action, and that, like in Afghanistan, it was the army and the ISI and not the civilian Government that was responsible for border tensions and cross-border infiltration. That position is now being questioned after the Resolutions passed by the Punjab Provincial Assembly, controlled by Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif and the National Assembly, where Sharif’s Party, the Pakistan Muslim League, enjoys a comfortable majority.

New Delhi has also taken note of the facilities granted by the Punjab Government to the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Not only is the Punjab Government headed by Shahbaz Sharif funding Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent body of Lashkar-e-Taiba, but Saeed is also being allowed to roam around spewing venom against India. He was even permitted the use of the Gadaffi Cricket Stadium for a massive public rally, where he advocated a resort to violence against India and Myanmar.

It is going to require a concerted and quiet diplomatic effort to restore the confidence in promoting better relations between India and Pakistan, which was evident just after Mr Sharif was elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan, for the third time, barely three months ago.
– G Parthasarathy