Why India Must Insist On Arrest Of Jaish Chief

Published: January 14, 2016 20:25 IST
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"Jab miya biwi razi, to kya keraga qazi" (when the couple is game, how can a priest stop the marriage) - that is how Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, described the India-Pakistan engagement post Pathankot. In a break from the past, as the two countries announced the rescheduling of talks between the Foreign Secretaries, there was no blame game, no ugly finger-pointing. With both premiers investing so heavily in the dialogue process, and Prime Minister Modi's high profile visit to Lahore, New Delhi instead welcomed the "apprehension" of some individuals linked to the Jaish-e-Mohammed, calling it a "positive first step". But the Ministry of External Affairs refused to draw a link between talks and the arrest of the dreaded Jaish chief, Masood Azhar.

One official explained India's dilemma to me: Azhar, like Hafiz Saeed, has been considered an asset of the Pakistani intelligence against India for years. So action against them in the near and not-so-near future seems unlikely. Therefore linking the talks to Azhar's arrest would effectively mean we can never talk to Pakistan, and that, the government believes, is not an option in the long term.

But how long is India going to play the same game without real results? The previous UPA government did not press home the point on Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed for the same reason. And the present government is doing the same. Will this be detrimental to India's interests in the long run? When news "broke" in the Pakistani media of Masood Azhar's detention on Wednesday, for many of us, it was deja vu. Azhar, who had been released by India from jail in 1999 in exchange for the hostages of IC 814, had been arrested earlier by Pakistan after the Parliament attack in Delhi in 2001 - an attack he masterminded. He was later released and has kept a low profile in his hometown, Bahawalpur.

Hafiz Saeed, the LeT founder, has been under house arrest at various times, but was set free by the Lahore High Court in 2009, which quashed all terrorism charges against him. In 2013, he told the New York Times in an interview "I move about like an ordinary person - that's my style." He even has a $10 million US bounty on his head, but mocks it everyday as he roams and speaks freely. The less said on the Pakistani government's "ban" on the Lashkar and the Jaish, the better. Pakistani authorities shouldn't have to be sealing the Jaish offices this week when those offices themselves are illegal! The sham 26/11 trial and the arrest and release of Zaki Ur Rehman Lakhvi, the 26/11 key accused who even fathered children in jail, is a bad joke.

For any real change in the India-Pakistan relationship, the security establishment in Islamabad has to realise it can no longer make a distinction between terror groups that it despises and those it nurtures against India. It is a long and difficult road, but perhaps India too needs to rethink how it will approach these talks differently. India says the key focus is terrorism, but it no longer is. Not with the resumption of a comprehensive dialogue. If Pakistan is serious about a peace process with India, the biggest confidence-building measure will be to throw Lakhvi back in jail to begin with, and eventually, the arrests of Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar. So many red lines have been drawn before - is it time now to make the arrest and prosecution of terrorists behind some of the most dastardly attacks in India the new benchmark for engagement?

(Nidhi Razdan is a senior editor with NDTV and the anchor of NDTV 24X7's prime-time show Left, Right and Centre.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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