The joint statement issued by Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani talks of de-linking action on terrorism from progress on the composite dialog process between India and Pakistan. After months of belligerence and posturing, this is how it all ends. In a climbdown most ignominious. From no dialog without action against 26/11 perpetrators, to a mandate to only discuss state sponsored terrorism, to a surrender so meek, it would make the Saddam that emerged from the hole look like Samson.
The sharm in Sharm el-Sheikh means “bay” in Arabic; perhaps, in their enthusiasm to renew composite dialog with Pakistan, India’s diplomats were remiss in accurately translating the term, taking it instead for its literal meaning in Hindi. Pakistan no longer has any reason to do anything substantive with regard to bringing the handlers of the 26/11 carnage to justice. The Hafiz Saeed drama will continue, and Pakistan will weave such a tangled web of contradictory statements on any potential point of progress, that it will have India and its media in coils for long enough for any resolution of the issue to be meaningless.
The text of the joint statement also mentions Baluchistan in name, a reference to Pakistani allegations on India’s involvement in secessionist movements in that province. Clearly, full marks for thinking outside the box. Why stop there — India should have acquiesced to a blurb about the Indian mission in Jalalabad and to insinuations about anti-national movements in Sindh, and the humiliation would have been complete.
To be clear, the resumption of dialog between India and Pakistan is important. Not only is it important, it is the only available course of action to India, as The Filter Coffee has previously pointed out. After the months of inertia that plagued India’s initial demand for no-strings-attached action on 26/11, there could have been but one outcome on the composite dialog at Sharm el-Sheikh.
A resolution on this could have been achieved pragmatically and honorably, without the need to strike such a mind boggling compromise. Vague cases will be made that this issue will be quietly addressed through backroom diplomacy. But backroom diplomacy on an issue as critical as this, if not backed up by public pressure to act will yield nothing. Sustainable pressure to act on the issue, both on the UPA and on the Pakistani government will be absent.
De-linking terrorism from composite dialog creates two isuses. One, it raises questions on the credibility of the composite dialog process itself, when the issue that is front-and-center of India-Pakistani relations is specifically excluded from it. And second, it will comfort the terrorists and their sponsors in Islamabad that India’s capacity for punitive diplomatic/military action against them in the event of mounting terror attacks on Indian soil is effectively zero. Deterrence is about inducing the fear of retribution in response to an attack. In the case of India, our deterrence capability on the issue of terrorism, whose credibility was low to begin with, is now null and void.
It is time Manmohan Singh came clean with the Indian public on how his government will address Pakistan’s propensity to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India. 190 civilians from 10 countries, including India, died on November 26, 2008 at the hands of terrorists who were recruited and trained in Pakistan. What we expected at Sharm el-Sheikh was a reiteration of commitment from Pakistan (to act against terror aimed at India) and from India (to ensure that Pakistan’s committment is carried through). What we saw instead was India’s abject, quivering surrender.