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Keep talking to make a new beginning

Keep talking to make a new beginning
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First Published: Wed, May 14 2008. 09 51 PM IST
Updated: Wed, May 14 2008. 09 51 PM IST
Is it too much of a coincidence that the bomb blasts in Jaipur on Tuesday night, in which at least 50 people are said to have died so far, have come quick on the heels of two infiltration attempts by militants across the Line of Control earlier this week? And that all three acts of terrorism are occurring days before India’s external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee leaves for Pakistan to hold talks with the new government?
New Delhi has only two courses of action open to it in reacting both to the militant infiltration in the Jammu sector—in which a journalist was killed too—as well as the Jaipur blasts. The first is to condemn the “foreign hand,” whether Bangladesh or Pakistan, in the killing of innocent people, but stay the course and take that flight to Pakistan.
The second would be to cancel the visit altogether, to show that India is not a soft state and cannot be expected to keep quiet in the face of grave injury.
The truth is, both approaches have been tried in the recent past—and both have failed.
The second approach was manifest in the wake of the 13 December 2001 attack at Parliament, when the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in a fit of fury cancelled all flights to and from Pakistan, withdrew its high commissioner from the country and within months launched “Operation Parakram,” sending Indian troops in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at the Line of Control.
By October 2002, “Parakram” had failed to scare the enemy, and, in any case, Western governments led by the US had by then persuaded New Delhi to walk back and sheathe its sword out of the fear that raised tempers would spark off an accident—especially over Kashmir—and, thereby, a nuclear war. Within months after that, Vajpayee, on a visit to the Kashmir valley, had “offered his hand in friendship” to Pakistan again, as Indian newspapers put it. Soon enough, India and Pakistan were back to being friends, with divided families inundating their respective high commissions for visas, and Lalu Prasad being himself during a visit to Pakistan and becoming the darling of both the media and public in that country. So what course of action is this government going to adopt now?
Since both Pranab Mukherjee and foreign secretary Shivshanker Menon seem to belong to the pragmatist school (Mukherjee has been in politics for far too long to know that options are always open and Menon has worked in China long enough to imbibe the Deng Xiaoping maxim on how the colour of the cat doesn’t matter as long as it can catch the mice), it would look as if Option 1 will carry the day.
Which is, attend those talks in Islamabad, but talk tough.
People in India’s foreign office point out, ironically, that all those who talk tough against terror and are in favour of employing the harshest forms of retaliation against Pakistan, have hardly done their own homework. Believe it or not, they say, the FIR (or police case) registered against the culprits of the Samjhauta train blasts last year still has no names on it.
Security analysts have also argued that the heightened militancy in Jammu and Jaipur is possibly a fallout of the political deals the newly elected government in Pakistan is currently doing with its own terrorists in the Frontier province. These terrorists are now looking elsewhere, says retired Research and Analysis Wing additional secretary B. Raman, and India is a tempting target.
Clearly, too, the timing of the attacks is significant. Coming as they do not only in the week before Mukherjee’s visit to Islamabad, but also in the exact week that has seen such political chaos inside Pakistan that led to the resignation of Nawaz Sharif’s ministers from the government, some say that the intelligence agencies in that country are actually signalling who’s the boss.
So if President Pervez Musharraf has stated that he will not cede control over the army to the elected government and the Americans, who want Musharraf to continue the fight against terror, especially in an election year, seem to be supporting that school of thought, then heightened terrorism, both in India and Pakistan, seems to be the order of the hour.
Can the elected governments of India and Pakistan do a better job of promising to fight terrorism when they meet on 21 May?
It would be in the interests of both the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as well as the Congress to prove a point to their respective security establishments. Both parties must recognise that when security establishments win, it is the people who lose. If the Congress (in India) and the PPP (in Pakistan) actually agree to share intelligence and jointly deal with terrorism, a huge task by all accounts, they would also be paying a debt to history.
In 1989, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Islamabad for talks with prime minister Benazir Bhutto, with the intention of doing a deal that would get Indian troops down from the heights of Siachen. For one reason or another, the deal fell through. For one reason or another, both sides are still waiting for their respective governments to acquire the political will to overrule their security establishments who have argued against doing this.
If, in the wake of Jammu and Jaipur, Mukherjee and his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi can make a new beginning in terrorism’s old story, they will be twice blessed. By the people of India, and by the people of Pakistan.
Jyoti Malhotra is Mint’s diplomatic affairs editor and will write on the intersection of foreign policy, trade and politics every week. Comments are welcome at betweenthelines@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, May 14 2008. 09 51 PM IST