Byline by M J Akbar: A statement out of joint
A principal purpose of diplo-speak, and more particularly diplo-write, is to state the obvious. Platitudes are the daily diet of dialogue. Prudent officials wander from the obvious with great trepidation, and when tasked to create a new approach, they agonise over every word. Babur was wise when he warned, in Baburnama, “He who lays his hand on the sword with haste/ Shall lift to his teeth the back of his hand with regret”. This tenet of war is applicable to diplomacy. He who lays his hand on the pen with haste on foreign shore, shall scratch his head on returning home with deep dismay.
One sentence in the joint declaration issued by Dr Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani is going to hover over the future relationship: “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”
You do not need a dictionary to decipher its meaning. This absolves present and future governments of Pakistan from any guilt in cross-border terrorism, a scourge India has to face for decades. It is a commitment that governments should continue the process of dialogue no matter how much havoc a terrorist group from Pakistan creates in India. If this principle had been in operation last year, India and Pakistan could have continued their Composite Dialogue in December after the savage Mumbai terrorism in November.
It reverses a consistent position taken by India from the time Mrs Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, and General Zia ul Haq financed and armed a massive terrorist upsurge in Punjab, even as his intelligence agencies trained and prepared young Kashmiris for a decisive “Jihad” in the valley. The role of the Pakistani state in this strategy of “war by other means” has now been documented in countless books and research papers. President Asif Zardari admitted as much when he said, very recently, that “yesterday’s heroes are today’s terrorists” — although officials tried to dilute the implications by suggesting he was talking about the Afghan war against the Soviet Union, they could not obscure the fact that he was referring to the hero-terrorist syndrome in operation against India.
There is no evidence, as far as the Government of India is concerned, that Pakistan has changed this policy. Terrorism remains its major export to India. The joint statement was signed on 16 July 2009. On 9 July, just seven days earlier, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told the Indian Parliament, “Notwithstanding Pakistan government’s assurances to us, terrorists in Pakistan continue attacks against India.” If Mr Krishna was misleading Parliament, he should be dropped from the Cabinet. If he was reflecting the Government of India’s considered position, then one can only infer that Delhi had decided to delink Pakistani terrorists from Pakistan’s government even before the Prime Minister left for Egypt. Otherwise there would have been no consensus in Sharm el Sheikh. The delegation accompanying the Prime Minister, including Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, was aware of this change and party to it. Junior minister Shashi Tharoor was clearly not considered important enough to be kept in the loop, since, as he told a television journalist, the media had seen the joint statement before he did.
The Prime Minister has been very keen to resume talks with Pakistan, as he wants to expand his legacy. One can see some merit in this desire. The Indo-Pak gulf is infested with sharks. One treads with care. Some thought on how to handle the language would have given him what he wanted without compromising India’s options. Here is an alternative formulation, without the now infamous brackets: “No peace process can go forward without the support of the people, and people will not offer support until terrorism is eliminated, since they are its direct victims, as evident in the tragic events in Mumbai last November. The Composite Dialogue shall resume as soon as possible, but only after the Indian people are convinced that credible action has been taken against the perpetrators of the Mumbai havoc.” The second sentence is, in fact, precisely what the Prime Minister said at his explanatory press conference after the joint statement.
The problem is that press conferences have no status in international affairs; signed statements are the only documents that matter. Who recalls what was said before, during or after the Shimla summit in 1972? The signed agreement is what holds.
The Pakistani delegation used some very thin fudge to explain its impotence in the case of Hafeez Saeed, head of the Lashkar-e-Tayaba or whatever that terrorist organisation’s current name is. It passed the blame on to the state government of Punjab, run by Shahbaz Sharif, brother of the more famous Nawaz Sharif. Any reading of the government lawyer’s statements to the Lahore High Court, widely reported in media, would make clear that Islamabad was complicit, since the judges were not convinced that Islamabad was certain that the LeT was a terrorist organisation. There was deliberate ambiguity in the official stance. Moreover, action against a single individual would be inadequate. The danger is organised and spread across more than one network.
This leads us to a fundamental flaw in the joint statement, which may have escaped those who drafted it.
The text repeatedly uses the term “terrorism”. It is very easy for India and Pakistan to agree on terrorism. What they do not agree on is a collateral question: who is a terrorist? Pakistan still refuses to admit that any “Jihadi” who uses terrorism in pursuit of an independent Kashmir, or in support of Kashmir’s merger into Pakistan, is a terrorist. Pakistani diplomats and interlocutors repeatedly sought to condone the Mumbai attacks through the “root cause” theory. Kashmir was the root cause of terrorism, and therefore unless the Kashmir problem was sorted out (presumably to Pakistan’s satisfaction) terrorism would never end. America has bought this argument, because Pakistan has some excellent advocates in Washington. Should one surmise that Delhi is now nodding its head in the same direction?
Curiously, the joint statement includes a reference to Balochistan, lending implicit credence to Pakistan’s accusation that India is behind its troubles in Balochistan. If this were not the case, why mention Balochistan in an India-Pakistan statement? We did not make any effort to include the Naxalite violence in the statement, did we?
India may have gone to Sharm-el-Sheikh as the victim of terrorism, and returned as the accused.