At the first meeting of the India-Pakistan joint anti-terrorism mechanism in Islamabad in March 2007, a senior home ministry official, part of the delegation from Delhi, bitterly complained about Islamabad’s support to cross-border terrorism.
The head of Pakistani delegation apparently told the delegate that all terrorism would end if India left Kashmir.
Six years later the joint mechanism is dead, but Pakistan-supported terrorism is alive and kicking in Kashmir and in the Indian hinterland.
All the vital parameters — suicide attacks, the killing of Indian troops along the Line of Control (LoC), infiltration, and ceasefire violations — indicate that Jammu & Kashmir is taking a turn for the worse when it comes to state-sponsored terrorism, with the best-case scenario being that the Pakistan Army is choosing to remain passive and look the other way.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh put it very succinctly to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York last month when he said that the Pakistan Army was exercising a dominant influence on his government’s policies towards India.
The escalation of violence in Kashmir is directly linked to that state’s upcoming Assembly elections and the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, scheduled for 2014.
“Since 9/11, the Af-Pak region has been lit up, with the US monitoring terrorist movement and communication and hell-fire missiles from Predator drones doing the rest. US withdrawal will mean that this restive region will descend again into darkness, with India alone not having the capability to match the terror forces breeding in this region,” says an Indian counter-terrorism official.
While India has every reason — and quite enough evidence — to point the finger at Pakistan on the terrorism front, the Nawaz Sharif government is too weak-kneed to internally fight this menace.
This became quite evident after his government indefinitely postponed the August 23 hangings of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists for the 2009 attack on the Pak Army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
The reason: The TTP threatened to retaliate by executing high-profile citizens whom they have kidnapped and continue to hold hostage — including Al Haider Giliani, son of former Pak PM Yusuf Raza Gilani, Shahbaz Taseer, son of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer and former ISI brigadier Tahir Masood.
While New Delhi does not face a direct threat from the TTP, it is seriously concerned about the ISI-controlled Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) group’s focus on India and the movement of its cadres to the Kunar and Nuristan provinces for strategic depth.
Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed, who has personal links with Nawaz Sharif’s party in Punjab, has already publicly promised full-scale jihad against India after the 2014 US pullout.
“Until the Pak Army seals the LoC from its side, suicide attacks in civilian areas and renewed sabotage activity in the state will remain a distinct possibility,” says a senior home ministry official.
The situation on the eastern front could take a turn for the worse too, if Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina loses the upcoming election, which is a distinct possibility. Since the Awami League swept to power in 2009, Dhaka has been more than sensitive to Indian security concerns and has cracked down on terrorist groups. With the Jamait-e-Islami and the Deobandis joining hands against Hasina, her electoral prospects are less than ideal. The rise of the Jamait in Dhaka will lead to more radicalisation and create more space for Rohingya Solidarity Organization and LeT joint ventures against India and South Asia.
The Indian security situation vis-à-vis Nepal is positive, with Kathmandu going out of its way to root out terror directed against India. The arrest of the LeT’s Abdul Karim Tunda and the Indian Mujahideen’s Yasin Bhatkal and Asadullah Akhtar from Nepal bear testimony to the close bilateral counter-terror cooperation.
The same can be said of Sri Lanka, which is opposed to any anti-India activity on its territory. This leads to the question, is India prepared to handle an onslaught on the western front in 2014?
The answer is a clear no. And here’s why: The Af-Pak region is an epicentre of terror and must be tackled jointly by major world powers or else the September 21 Nairobi mall attack and the Peshawar church attack will be repeated with sickening frequency.
As a frontline state against terror, India must improve its pre-emption capabilities and intelligence coverage of the region. It is time to shake off our lethargy and make decisive moves.
(Shishir Gupta is deputy executive editor with the Hindustan Times and author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within)