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Bidding peace goodbye

Although nobody in Delhi or Islamabad is prepared to admit it, the peace process initiated by Vajpayee is as good as dead. This does not mean that it cannot be revived, writes Prem Shankar Jha.
None | By Prem Shankar Jha
PUBLISHED ON JUL 28, 2006 12:03 AM IST

Although nobody in New Delhi or Islamabad is prepared to admit it, the peace process that Vajpayee initiated three years ago is as good as dead. This does not mean that it cannot be revived. But that will require a higher level of statesmanship than leaders at either side have displayed so far.

One indicator is the blame game that political leaders in both capitals have started. Musharraf began it last winter by complaining that although he had made innumerable proposals to India regarding the settlement of the Kashmir dispute, New Delhi had simply refused to respond or present counterproposals. This belief has sunk deep into the Pakistani psyche, and is widely shared abroad. India has responded by renewing its demand that the General control cross- border terrorism first.

In India, most people believe the peace process suffered a serious setback due to the 11/7 attacks. But the damage had been done much earlier. It began with the string of bombs set off in crowded shopping centres on the eve of Diwali last year, and was compounded by the bomb blasts in Varanasi and Nagpur in May. These attacks shared one or more of the following features: they involved serial bombing for maximum impact; their purpose was to provoke communal riots; and according to the police, they were carried out by local cells of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, led or guided by Pakistani nationals.

The question New Delhi was wrestling with even before 11/7 was whether these had the tacit or overt backing of the Pakistani government. Well before that date it had concluded that if the Pakistan government was not instigating these attacks, it was not trying to stop them either. It based its conclusions mainly on evidence of a simultaneous rise in infiltration and attacks on ‘soft’ civilian targets in Kashmir.

According to Intelligence analysts, the change occurred in April. Between April 14 and July 12 there were five attacks on Indian tourists. Five grenades were thrown on April 14; a grenade was thrown on April 27; four bombs were thrown in two attacks at the end of May; and there was a string of attacks on July 11, hours before the Mumbai attack. One more grenade was thrown at tourists in Gulmarg the next day. These attacks have emptied Kashmir and destroyed tourism for the rest of this season, and possibly the next too.

The attacks were the handiwork of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad. Interrogation of captured militants has shown these organisations have begun to recruit Kashmiris from outside Srinagar to carry out attacks on tourists. The reason, analysts believe, is that these poor and largely unemployable ‘boys’ have no stake in the tourist trade.

The lead has been taken by the Lashkar. Afzal Rather, who was captured by Kashmiri taxi and houseboat owners after he threw a grenade at the Tourist Reception Centre on July 11, described how the Lashkar is operating. Rather, who belongs to a village 30 km from Srinagar, had links with the Hizbul Mujahideen till he was absorbed into the Lashkar. On July 11 he was summoned by the Lashkar’s area commander at 10.45 a.m. along with five low-level cadres, given a grenade each and told to lob it at a concentration of Indian tourists as close to noon as possible. However, when he saw a large number of women and children in the Tourist Centre, he had second thoughts and did not throw the grenade. When he told the area commander of his decision, he was warned that his family would be eliminated if he did not fulfil his ‘mission’. So he returned to the TRC and threw the grenade at 3 p.m., and was caught trying to flee.

The Kashmir police have also caught the kingpins behind the attacks of late May and July 11. Both are Lashkar area commanders and have admitted that the orders to carry out attacks on tourists came from the Lashkar’s headquarters in PoK.

The Indian agencies had, therefore, drawn their conclusions well before the 11/7 blasts. That was why, although Manmohan Singh took care to blame only terrorists based in Pakistan and not the Pakistani State, others were less restrained. Hawks in the Indian establishment and media even began talking about emulating Israel and sending troops into PoK to destroy the ‘terrorist infrastructure’.

The weak link in this chain of reasoning is motivation. Try as one may, it is difficult to discern what Pakistan stands to gain from unleashing the Lashkar and Jaish on India. It already has 80,000 troops bogged down in north Waziristan. The Afghan war is going nowhere, so this conflict remains open-ended and may well worsen. The General is also facing a rebellion in Balochistan that sees a gas pipeline, a telegraph tower or a police post blown up every few days. This too is tying up more and more troops in an open-ended commitment. This is hardly the time when an army general, above all, would open up a third front, and that too with a much larger neighbour.

But New Delhi has a plausible explanation for this: the pressure of the approaching 2007 elections. Musharraf is facing a combined challenge from the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League for the first time. His association with the US in the unending war against the Taliban in Afghanistan has cost him his popularity, and he wants not only to win but win by a sufficiently large margin to be able to retain his position as head of the army. Had he been able to deliver a settlement in Kashmir, he would almost certainly have returned to power. But faced with Indian obduracy, the peace process has fizzled out.

Musharraf seems to have given up hope of a settlement with India some time last winter and decided that he has no option left but to recover as much as possible of the ground he  lost through excessive accommodation with the Americans and the Indians. He has, therefore, stopped reining in the jehadis, and given in last week to demands that he stop the escalating conflict in Waziristan, confine the army to patrolling the Afghan border and seek the tribal chiefs’ cooperation in pushing the Afghans who have crossed into Waziristan back across the border.

Musharraf may also have calculated that even if the Lashkar commits serious communal outrages in India, as against attacking tourists in Kashmir, India cannot repeat Op Parakram. By mobilising the army for war and then not going to war, that operation destroyed the army’s credibility; no one will take another mobilisation seriously. He may also have calculated that with at least 12,000 Americans using Pakistani air and ground space, India will think twice before doing anything that may undermine its military operations in Afghanistan and endanger its troops.

All this may well be true, but New Delhi cannot evade its share of the blame. During his Delhi visit in April 2005, Musharraf had stepped so far out of line with the thinking within the Pakistani establishment that he needed a quick, positive response from Delhi to prove to his people that he had not been made a fool of. But the Indian response was tepid and laced with suspicion, and the PM  never returned Musharraf's visit. Instead, our spokesmen responded to every public announcement of a concession in a way that left him feeling more humiliated. Today we are back where we were in 2003. The Indian middle-class is baying for Pakistani blood and Pakistan is reminding us once again that it will not hesitate to use the nuclear bomb if attacked. Thus have we bid peace goodbye.

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