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Will the prime minister emulate Reagan?

July 30, 2009 15:04 IST

The explanation offerred by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in the Lok Sabha on July 29 on the joint statement issued by him with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt on July 17, skillfully sought to control the damage done by the ill-advised and ill-drafted document.

The joint statement will enable Pakistan to proclaim to the international community that our PM was satisfied with the action taken by them against some Pakistan-based members of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba for involvement in the Mumbai terror attack, in the hope that this would result in a relaxation of international pressure on them, to act against the Laskar and its ilk.

The international pressure on Pakistan to act against the Lashkar has been there since the attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. It was because of this pressure that Pervez Musharraf, the then Pakistani President, banned the LeT through a gazette notification on January 15, 2002. The ban is still in force, but was not implemented effectively by either  General Musharraf or by the present government headed by Asif Ali Zardari.

There was intensified international pressure on Pakistan after the 26/11 attack because among those killed were 25 foreign nationals. It was this pressure and not the bilateral diplomacy of the Indian government, which made Pakistan register an offence against five members of the LeT and place Professor Hafeez Mohammad Saeed, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief, under house arrest.

As a result of the ill-warranted certificate of good neighbourly co-operation given by the PM to Pakistan, there are already signs of this pressure being relaxed. This is evident from the absence of a forceful international reaction to the farce of legal proceedings against Saeed, which has resulted in his being released from house arrest.

The joint statement was also ill-advised because it has unwittingly conveyed an impression to Pakistan's political leadership and military-intelligence establishment that a 'terrorism fatigue' has set in among our political leadership and that continued use of terrorism by the Inter-Services Intelligence against Indian nationals and economic infrastructure could ultimately make India amenable to a change of the status quo in Jammu & Kashmir.

The prime minister is right in wanting peace and good-neighbourly relations with Pakistan, but unwise in giving an impression to Pakistani leaders that he is keen for peace with Pakistan and that he does not have the stomach for a prolonged confrontation with Pakistan on the terrorism issue -- whether the confrontation is political, economic, military or covert. That was the impression which Gilani and his advisers would have got at Sharm-el-Sheikh and the prime minister's well-drafted statement in the Lok sabha has not been able to dissipate that impression.

The prime minister made use of the dossier given by Pakistan before Sharm-el-Sheikh on the investigation made by it so far against the LeT in two ways. He tried to project this dossier as justifying the action taken by him at Sharm-el-Sheikh. He also tried to score a debating point against the Bharatiya Janata Party led opposition by claiming that his government through pressure had been able to make Pakistan concede the LeT's involvement whereas the BJP-led government was not able to do this.

If the BJP members had carefully studied and mastered facts and figures, they could have effectively countered the PM's claim of credit by pointing out the that there have been four acts of mass terrorism since 1981. All the four were carried out  when the Congress was in power in New Delhi. There have been three instances of targeted attacks on foreigners since 1991 -- two in Jammu and Kashmir and one in Mumbai. All the three were carried out when the Congress was in power. There have been seven acts of ISI-sponsored aircraft hijackings since 1971. Six of them were carried out when the Congress and one when the BJP was in power. There has been one instance of an Air India plane being blown up in mid-air killing over 250 persons. This took place when the Congress was in power.

The LeT was banned by the Musharraf government as a terrorist organisation through a gazette notification on January 15, 2002. The Manmohan Singh government has not been able to get the JuD banned by the Zardari government even eight months after the Mumbai attack.

Indira Gandhi was assassinated when the Congress  was in power in New Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated when an ally of the Congress was in power in New Delhi and another ally ruled in Chennai. The Indian Mujahideen came into existence when the Congress was in power. The first commando-style complex terrorist attack on Indian territory by a group of terrorists, all hailing from Pakistan, took place when the Congress was in power. Despite the Congress's better counter-terrorism expertise and experience, it has not been able to deal effectively with jihadi terrorism. The BJP leaders were not able to bring this out.

The PM used the dossier received from Pakistan in justification of his actions at Sharm-el-Sheikh. A close examination of the dossier as published in the media and a study of the various statements made since February 2009 by Rehman Mallik, the Pakistani interior minister, would bring out the following:

The Pakistani authorities continue to make a distinction between the LeT and the JuD, projecting the LeT as a defunct organisation in view of their status as a banned organisation and the JuD as a legitimate organisation despite the declaration of the anti-terrorism committee of the UN Security Council calling it as a terrorist organisation. Their action has been confined to those who hold positions in the LeT and not to those who hold position in the JuD. Till now, their actions have been focused on the logistics cell of the LeT in Karachi and not against the planning and training cell of the LeT based in Muridke in Punjab and in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

They continue to project the Mumbai attack as the outcome of a multinational conspiracy involving elements in Pakistan, India, Europe, the US and Russia. They have been trying to claim that the role of the Indian elements has not been fully investigated by the Mumbai police.

There are certain other disturbing indicators. Firstly, while releasing Saeed from house arrest, the three-member bench of the Lahore high court observed that there was no evidence to show that the JuD was a terrorist organisation and that Saeed had any role in the Mumbai conspiracy. Similar observations were made by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury and two other judges of the Supreme Court when the government's farcical appeal against his release came up before the Supreme Court. The Lahore high court judges even said that Indian evidence is not reliable. With such pronouncements already made by judges of superior courts, will the anti-terrorism court, which is subordinate to them, be able to give a different ruling holding the five LeT members being prosecuted as guilty?

As a result of the pressure from the governments of countries whose nationals were killed in Mumbai, Pakistan has embarked on an elaborate exercise of seeming co-operation with India in the investigation. Such instances of even seeming co-operation were not there in the past. But the sincerity of this co-operation is yet to be established.

We should have waited till this sincerity was established. What was the need for the indecent hurry shown by Dr Manmohan Singh at Sharm-el-Sheikh for fresh talks with Pakistan? If we had waited for a few months more till a clearer picture emerged from the proceedings of the anti-terrorism court, would the heavens have fallen on our heads? A convincing answer to this has not been forthcoming from the prime minister.

The prime minister used former US President Ronald Reagan as a prop by quoting his remark: 'Trust, but verify'. Yes, he had said it. In 1986 some US soldiers were killed  by an explosion in a West Berlin discotheque. The US investigators established that the terrorists had come from Libya. After verification, he ordered the US Air Force to bomb the training centre in Libya.

Indian investigators have clearly verified and established that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai were trained in POK.

Will the prime minister emulate Reagan?

The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com

B Raman