India has its task cut out on countering terror

December 26, 2016 12:54 am | Updated 04:04 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Defining moment:  Soldiers countering the attack on the airbase in Pathankot. The attack turned the clock back on peace moves.

Defining moment: Soldiers countering the attack on the airbase in Pathankot. The attack turned the clock back on peace moves.

It took less than half a morning to dismantle India-Pakistan bonhomie. By 11 a.m. of January 2, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to Pakistan that began with the mini-SAARC summit of May 26 2014 and culminated in his unusual Christmas 2015 visit to Lahore, was dealt a body blow by the attack on the forward airbase located in Pathankot.

The highest point of Pakistan policy came on December 8, 2015, as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj travelled to Islamabad and announced with her counterpart Sartaj Aziz, the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD).

Despite mutual distrust, the CBD declared bilateral commitment to dialogue on “all issues”. “Sushmaji received a queenly welcome from Pakistan during her visit,” said former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir analysing the import of the visit.

Within hours of the Pathankot attack as international condemnation poured in against terrorism, the Foreign Secretary-level talks were replaced with India’s demand for Pakistani action against the plotters.

The Ministry of External Affairs was initially careful not to cancel the talks and hinted at an emerging communication line between National Security Advisers Ajit Doval and Lt. Gen. Nasir Janjua.

The narrative of India-Pakistan dialogue was quickly transformed into one of international campaign against Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar and also turned the focus to the role of Pakistan’s extremist network in South Asia.

Addressing a counter-terror conference a month after the Pathankot terror attack, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said, “Terrorism is today widely seen as a truly global scourge. That in itself is a great improvement over an era ..that.. created the adage that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. No longer. The world does not accept today that any ‘root cause’ justifies terrorism.”

As Foreign Secretary-level talks appeared distant, reports of talks between the two National Security Advisers, provided hope for investigation into the Pathankot strike. But by summer this year it was clear that India was unable to persuade the international community to blacklist Pakistan-based extremists because of Beijing’s ties with Pakistan.

In her annual press conference, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said, “I had stated this publicly and told China not to oppose the designation of Masood Azhar under the 1267 committee [of UNSC] or the action against Lakhvi.”

Uprising in Valley

Counter-terror diplomacy soon had a new challenger from the uprising in Kashmir that followed the death of local insurgent Burhan Wani. Pakistan’s campaign to internationalise the Kashmir issue prompted Mr. Modi to speak on August 15, about the nationalist struggle in Balochistan drawing proposals for asylum from Baloch exiles in the West.

However, India is yet to display any serious intention on the issue.

But support for India’s concerns on cross-border terror from South Asian neighbours, like Bangladesh, helped diplomacy.

Pakistan’s support to Jamaat-e-Islami activists in Bangladesh coming under fire in a special Dhaka court highlighted the troubles between Bangladesh and Pakistan and provided an emerging consensus against cross-border terrorism launched by Pakistan-based elements. However, it was with the IS-claimed July 1 attack at the Holey Artisan bakery of Dhaka that the region-wide spread of terrorism became clear.

The September 18 attack in Uri, which claimed the lives of 19 soldiers, added war rhetoric to India-Pakistani ties.

The government’s subsequent announcement of carrying out a surgical strike along the LoC indicated that Mr. Modi’s options on Pakistan had been limited.

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