16 January 2016

Give up past, work together

Jan 14, 2016
This time Pakistan has not reacted as in the past, denying its involvement and blaming India’s home-grown terrorists; nor have we blamed Pakistan... The US has been urging Pakistan to act against terrorists. These are very positive developments.
I recall the 1947 slogan, “Hans ke liya hai Pakistan, ladkar lenge Hindustan”. Within weeks of Partition, Pakistan invaded Kashmir on October 22, 1947. We defeated that invasion and the subsequent ones in 1965 and 1999. The 1971 war was a shattering defeat for Pakistan. They then evolved their strategy of thousand cuts and cross-border terrorism.

The origin and history of Pakistan has been of relentless hostility towards India. Kashmir has been the casus belli.
Pakistan has violated all agreements: Standstill Agreement of 1947, Ceasefire Agreement of 1949, Simla Agreement of 1972, Lahore Declaration of 1999 and Pervez Musharraf’s commitment to stop cross-border terrorism in 2004. Pakistan has been in permanent denial though it has been exposed in books by its own leaders: General Akbar Khan after 1948, Gen. Musa Khan after 1965 and Gen. Pervez Musharraf after 1999.

In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the world by surprise by inviting all heads of government of neighbouring countries to his swearing-in ceremony, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. They had a cordial one-to-one meeting and presented a sari to each other’s mother. The foreign secretary-level talks were called off because Pakistan insisted on dialogue with separatist Kashmiri leaders. Much stepped up cross-border terrorist attacks by Pakistan were countered with heavy suppressive fire.

In July 2015, Mr Modi and Mr Sharif met on the sidelines at Ufa, Russia. They decided to have talks on all issues, including Kashmir. Pakistan insisted on Kashmir first and terrorism later. Talks were getting stalled. The two Prime Ministers meeting on the sidelines of the climate change conference in Paris on December 1, 2015, gave a push to the dialogue process. The national security advisers (NSAs) of the two countries met in Bangkok, accelerating the process. Pakistan NSA Lt. Gen. Nasser Khan Janjua’s (Retd) Army connection and Ajit Doval’s diplomatic skill led to a productive outcome. This was followed by Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Pakistan. Her fluent Punjabi helped while interacting in Pakistan and promoted cordiality. The big surprise was Mr Modi’s drop-in visit to Lahore and hugging Mr Sharif on his birthday. It astounded the world and was welcomed by all countries, including China.

The nuclear-rattling defence minister of Pakistan now saw merit in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-aligned terrorists in Pakistan. Some extremists, like Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed and Mohammad Azhar, were, however, critical of this. In India, the Congress Party and some others maintained that high-level visits without preparatory groundwork cannot be of any use.

On Diwali, November 11, 2015, Mr Sharif made a conciliatory gesture towards Hindus in Karachi which no Prime Minister of Pakistan had ever done. He told them that he was the Prime Minister of not only Muslims, but also of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. He even invited them to throw colours on him on Holi.

On New Year’s Day, a very dangerous and well-organised attack by terrorists from Pakistan targeted Pathankot airbase. Despite a high alert by the intelligence agencies, six heavily-armed terrorists infiltrated into India from the same route in Gurdaspur as they had done six months ago. They took over a taxi, killing its driver, and then the official car, with blue beacon light, of the superintendent of police, Gurdaspur, driven by his jeweller friend.

The conduct of the SP appears suspicious and is being investigated. The terrorists roamed about for nearly 36 hours and managed to get into the airbase. This information reached Delhi late in the afternoon. The Army Chief and NSA met immediately and decided to send NSG commandos from Delhi to Pathankot airbase. They reached Pathankot the same evening. The Army garrison at Pathankot was alerted and deployed to defend the very large cantonment. By then the terrorists had managed to enter the airbase. Four terrorists were killed immediately on the first day and the remaining two a little later. For two days the forces continued to flush the large area to ensure that no more terrorists were in the base. There was no damage to any aircraft nor were any hostages taken. Compare this with how Delhi dithered for over 24 hours and the hijacked IC-814 Indian Airlines aircraft was allowed to take off from Amritsar. During 26/11, it took over 24 hours for NSG commandos to take off from Delhi. Our prompt action in Pathankot prevented a great disaster.

Of course there were serious lapses in our overall functioning. Six months earlier a similar terrorist intrusion had taken place in the same area. The terrorists should have been caught as they intruded this time. We failed to catch them at the border or while they were at large in Indian territory, and we failed to stop them from entering the airbase where they killed seven of our security personnel. The guilty need to be punished and the heads of the negligent should roll.

This time Pakistan has not reacted as in the past, denying its involvement and blaming India’s home-grown terrorists; nor have we blamed the Pakistan government.

Mr Sharif has promised to act promptly against the culprits in his country and seems to be doing so. The Pakistan Army Chief is said to be on board. The US has been urging Pakistan to act against the terrorists. These are very positive developments. India has shown maturity in not canceling foreign secretary-level talks, but has asked for tangible action against the culprits in that country on the basis of evidence provided. Once Pakistan starts doing so, talks could commence. With the ISIS threat looming over the civilised world, Pakistan has to realise that it must correct the course of its India policy of the past 68 years.

In 1998, we had Punjabi-speaking Prime Ministers on both sides. Mr Sharif told I.K. Gujral, “We cannot take Kashmir from you and you cannot give Kashmir to us.” Gen. Musharraf’s four-point plan of a soft Line of Control with free movement of people and trade accepted ground realities. Earlier, at Simla in 1972, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had verbally agreed to change the LoC to an international boundary, as a prelude to changing the terminology of Ceasefire Line to LoC.

The two nuclear weapon-armed neighbours, threatened by ISIS terrorists, should confront this menace jointly with the rest of the civilised world. India should give up its legal claim to Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan should give up claiming Indian-administered Kashmir. This will usher in prosperity and progress for the people of both countries. The road to this Elysium has many obstacles that’s why we must never lower our guard and always keep our powder dry.

The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir

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