By K.N. Pandita
President Barack Obama’s visit to India as the chief guest on our 66th Republic Day parade was a historical occasion to be remembered for long time to come. He is the first US President who came as chief guest on the Republic Day parade and he is also the first US President to visit India twice during his tenure in office.
Political commentators in both countries and around the world will discuss the results of the visit for years to come. While the US and India have had held meaningful talks on some serious bilateral matters like a nuclear deal and trade, what is of most importance now is discussing the challenges of terrorism and steps to combat it.
Before proceeding on his visit to New Delhi, President Obama emphatically messaged Pakistan to control terrorism on its soil. The US warned Pakistan that no infiltration bid or LoC firing should take place during the days during the Obama visit in India. This message was received in India with mixed reactions. Though most Indians appreciated the timely warning of the US to Pakistan, others asked why the order was effective only for three days of the President’s visit. Did it mean Pakistan would go with its terrorist agenda after three days of Obama’s stay?
It looks strange that such an advisory should have come on the eve of Presidential visit. The bigger puzzle is that Pakistan and her military establishment did not fail to show due respect to the advisory; something against the very grain of Pakistan ruling elite.
But it was in his press conference in New Delhi, where President Obama was more forthright in raising his finger towards perpetrators of the 26/11 massacre in Pakistan. The wording of the joint statement is notable. It says, “The leaders reaffirmed the need for joint and concerted efforts to disrupt entities such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e- Muhammad, D-Company and the Haqqani Network, and agreed to continue ongoing efforts through the Homeland Security Dialogue as well as the next round of the US-India Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism in late 2015 to develop actionable elements of bilateral engagement.”
This and other remarks are clear indications of noticeable change in the US stance on Pakistan-based terror directed against India. Mentioning the most pro-active Pakistan-based terrorist organizations by name is a clear message to Pakistan that the US harbors no more doubts about India’s allegations of Pakistan’s involvement in cross-border firing and repeated bids for infiltration.
In reality, the Presidential message is to the military leadership of Pakistan and indirect support to the elected government in Islamabad, which is in the stranglehold of the Generals. The ISI and Pak army are patronizing these terrorist groups whose activities are widespread in India (including Kashmir) and in Afghanistan.
The point is further clarified by the comment of the Indian Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, “We agreed that we need a comprehensive global strategy and approach to combat with it. There should be no distinction between the terrorist groups. Every country must fulfill its commitments to eliminate terrorists’ safe havens and bring terrorists to justice.”
After the Peshawar Army School killings, Prime Minister Sharif formally announced that he was lifting the moratorium on capital punishment and also that he has given up the distinction between good and bad Taliban. He had also said that the government would go after the terrorist leadership and hold it accountable.
Short of telling him that he was yet to translate his commitment into practice, Obama commented that the chief conspirator of the Mumbai carnage, Rahman Lakhvi, had to be handed over to India for prosecution. This has put Pakistan in an embarrassing situation because handing over Lakhvi to Indian authorities would further strengthen India’s demand that Dawood and Hafiz Saeed also be handed over. Not handing them over to India would bring along the same unpredictable repercussions as those of not handing over Lakhvi.
Islamabad will not fail to read two important inferences. One is that both leaders have hinted at the need for comprehensive global strategy and approach to combat terrorism and the second is to further enhance counter-terrorism capabilities including in the area of technology.
A Global Strategy
With the rise of Islamic State armed movement and its brutality against minorities and hostages, the Charlie Hebdo event in Paris, and threats doled out to democracies like the US and India, a comprehensive global strategy becomes inevitable. Notably Russia and China are faced with terrorist threats as well, and countering terrorism is among one of the five fundamental objectives of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) of which both the countries are members.
This paves the way for a comprehensive global strategy for containment of religion based terrorism with its epicenter in Af-Pak and Punjab regions. Among Asian Muslim countries, Iran cannot adopt an antagonistic stance to any foreseeable comprehensive global strategy owing to the fact that Jundullah, the Pakistani Wahhabi terrorist organization, poses a serious threat to the Shia population in Iranian province of Baluchistan, where several border skirmishes have already taken place. There are good chances that such a global strategy against terrorism would isolate the Afghan-Pakistan and West Punjab regions using various sanctions that to dry up terrorist financial sources.
The second inference is related to further enhancing counter-terrorism capabilities including in the area of technology. Almost all affected countries have some level of counter-terrorism capability but these capabilities will have not only to be coordinated but also upgraded. For example, India is likely to go in for unmanned vehicle or prototype drones to be put into operation if and when needed. We need to note that the US and western countries have much advanced anti-terrorism technology at their command and this has not been put to full use so far. Proliferation or transfer of this kind of technology could become a component of anti-terrorism strategy.
Obama’s visit was a significant step towards paralyzing terrorism. Benefits of democratic dispensation cannot be misused by those who have escaped autocratic, arbitrary or theocratic regimes and sought shelter in the safe havens of democracy in western or the Asiatic world.
Dr. Kashi N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies Kashmir University