Shiv Shankar Menon, the new Foreign Secretary, has given some needed perspective to the issue of the new joint consultative mechanism on terrorism with Pakistan. Pakistan, he has pointed out, needs to be judged by its actions, not words. Coming as it does from a person who was our High Commissioner in Islamabad till the other day, this is an important observation. In the India-Pakistan context, words have the ability of flying faster than bullets and doing as much damage. Even before the two governments had decided on the modalities and composition of the new terror mechanism, there was a veritable torrent of words damning the idea. Then came the Mumbai police chief’s revelations that along with Indians, some Pakistanis too were involved in the July 11 blasts and that they had been carried out by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba at the behest of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Immediately, questions were once again raised on the mechanism.
The joint mechanism reflects the changes that have taken place in the world since 9/11: Islamabad, the chief sponsor of the Taliban, may not have fully severed its links with its erstwhile protegé even though it has been compelled to provide a great deal of assistance to undercut the outfit. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf may depend on the support of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an alliance of fundamentalist parties that back the Talibanisation of Pakistan, but he is also compelled to fight jehadist terrorists who are targeting him and his fellow generals. Along with other members of the Pakistani elite, the Pakistan army has become aware of the dangers posed by allowing militant groups unrestricted rights to collect funds and train jehadis.
There are, however, good reasons to believe that some elements in the army and the ISI are following a dangerous strategy of retaining some jehadi firepower for use against India and Afghanistan. Our efforts, in conjunction with the US and the international community, have to be to reduce the space for such people and encourage those who seek to break Pakistan’s fatal fascination with religious extremism. In these circumstances, Pakistani cooperation to fight terrorism is bound to be hesitant and reluctant. But we must work with the assumption that there is a core of common sense among ordinary Pakistanis, and a desire to live as a normal country in an environment of peace and prosperity.