This Article is From Nov 28, 2014

Modi's Message to Pakistan at SAARC

(Dr. Shashi Tharoor is a two-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, the former Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Human Resource Development and the former UN Under-Secretary-General. He has written 14 books, including, most recently, Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century.)

As expected, there was no Modi-Nawaz bilateral meeting at the SAARC summit in Katmandu. Indeed, in his speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sparing in his references to Pakistan. After perfunctorily mentioning that "bus and train sustain contacts between people in India and Pakistan", he didn't name our western neighbour at all. Instead, he went on to recall the sombre anniversary of 26/11: "as we remember the horror of the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, we feel the endless pain of lost lives. Let us work together to fulfill the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and trans-national crimes." It was a reminder of the prism through which we are condemned to see our terrorism-spawning neighbour.

Yet, Pakistani civilian leaders ritually speak of their commitment to peace, and India wearily resumes its pursuit of dialogue with Islamabad, all the while conscious that the elected leaders it is speaking to are not the ones who are really calling the shots in that country. The Pakistani Army, whose very raison d'etre (and disproportionate share of national resources) depends on sustained hostility to India, are the real rulers of Pakistan. If the nominal government crosses the military's red lines in its approach to India, they will be quickly hauled back, if not actually overthrown.

This lends a somewhat surreal quality to India's relations with Pakistan. Agreements are concluded with authorities who do not themselves possess the power to implement what they have undertaken.

The classic example of this was the agreement to set up a Joint Working Group on Terrorism. It did not produce a single shred of useful information, simply because Pakistani intelligence refused to provide any of it to Pakistani officials to share with their Indian counterparts.

India sees progress in the investigations and trial of seven Pakistanis accused of involvement in the Mumbai terror attack case in Islamabad's Anti-Terrorism Court as an important marker of Pakistan's commitment to combat terrorism emanating from its soil. But the case has moved at a glacial pace. The trial has been subject to repeated adjournments, non-appearances of lawyers, vacation of judges and frequent changes of prosecution lawyers. The principal accused, Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, enjoys a comfortable life in prison, equipped with numerous cell phones from which he commands his followers; he has even fathered a child during his incarceration (there are officially no conjugal rights for prisoners in Pakistan). The principal conspirator, Hafeez Sayeed, roams freely around the country, making incendiary, hate-filled speeches against India, while the government bleats that he has no case to answer. India keeps insisting that Pakistan must show tangible movement in bringing all those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attacks, including those under trial, to justice quickly, but it has no answer to Islamabad's willful disregard of this requirement.

Continued terrorism from Pakistan and areas under its control remains a core concern for India. It is critical for India - and also for the security of the region - that Pakistan shows determined action to dismantle all terrorist networks, organisations and infrastructure within its own territory. Pakistan must also uphold the sanctity of the Line of Control, which is the most important confidence building measure between the two countries. This includes ending unprovoked firing on our posts, and ending repeated transgressions of the LoC by the Pakistan Army, which have adverse consequences for our bilateral ties.

We do not accept the argument that the transgressions across the LoC or incidents of unprovoked firing are the handiwork of non-state actors. Everything along the LOC is firmly under the control of the armies on both sides.

Yet, despite these continuous provocations, India's government remains committed to peace. We do so not because of any external compulsion or internal weakness, but because it is in our history, our culture and in our embrace of a constitutional, pluralist, democratic system of governance to do so.

The unscrupulous and unrestricted use of violence is not an instrument of state policy in India, as it seems to be in Pakistan. A tit-for-tat policy, as advocated by the more short-sighted and hot-headed elements in our society, neither serves our long-term national interests nor attains the more immediate and urgent objective of stopping terror attacks. Resilience, vigilance and patience - these are the vital ingredients in any successful democratic response to cross border and home grown terror.

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As I said to collegians at a speech in Mumbai on 26/11 last year: "Those who dream of bleeding India dry through a thousand cuts will drown in their own hatred, before our great nation runs out of either blood or spirit."  

Yes, friendship with Pakistan is possible. But friendship has to be built on a shared perception of the danger of terrorism to both states - of a sincere acceptance by the Pakistani military establishment that those who attacked the Taj in Mumbai are just as much their enemies as those bombing the Marriott in Islamabad. This would require more than fuzzy words from civilian politicians - it needs genuine cooperation from all Pakistani authorities, including the military, including useful information-sharing and real action to arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators. This has not been forthcoming, and there is some doubt whether it will ever be.

Terrorism is, after all, an assault on the common bonds of humanity and civility that tie us all together. Our commitment to democracy should make us stronger in the face of terror and we should not relent till this scourge is extinguished effectively. At the international level, our advocacy of a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism is a worthy pursuit in this direction.

At the same time, I believe strongly that we must work to create a SAARC region in which Indians can prosper in safety and security, a South Asia in which a transformed India can play a worthy part.  

The Prime Minister seemed to recognize in his SAARC speech that being stuck in an indefinite narrative of hostility does us all a disservice. SAARC, he said, has "failed to move with the speed that our people expect and want. ...[Is] it because we are stuck behind the walls of our differences and hesitant to move out of the shadows of the past?"

There was a hint there of his willingness to move out of those shadows. But it will require the malign men in khaki at GHQ Rawalpindi to have the courage to take the hint.

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