India-Pakistan Pledge Cooperation on Terrorism: Will it Work?

In a further sign that India and Pakistan are trying to get back on the track to peace from which they were derailed by the Mumbai terrorist attacks last November, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has met his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit* in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt. The New York Times account of the meeting says the two leaders pledged to work together to bring the perpratrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice as well as to share real-time intelligence on terrorism in the future. They also, according to The Times, expressed a mutual interest in resuming the so-called Composite Dialogue (basically wide-ranging peace talks) in the near future, but, according to the Indian Express reporting,  India said the start of these discussions would be delayed for a few more months while it waits to see if Pakistan can do more than just talk-the-talk on terrorism.

One should not doubt the sincerity of either Singh or Gilani. And the Composite Dialogue probably will resume, barring another major terrorist attack on Indian soil. What’s more, Singh agreed in Sharm to keep progress on terrorism separate from negotiations over larger unresolved issues between the two countries (for instance, the status of Kashmir and talks about trade.) In addition, I’d be surprised if back channel discussions between Delhi and Islamabad had not already resumed (these back channel talks were reportedly very close to delivering a major settlement between the two countries when political turmoil in Pakistan and then the Mumbai terror attacks scuttled the process).

But given the amount of distrust that exists between the two countries, and especially between their intelligence and defense establishments, real-time intelligence sharing is unlikely to progress smoothly. Remember, India was at first reluctant to even provide Pakistan with the full dossier it had compiled on how the Mumbai attacks had been carried out — even though it had given the full version of the document to diplomats from many other nations. And Pakistani intelligence helped create, train and arm some of the very terrorist groups that are now targeting India and some elements of its intelligence services are believed to still maintain close ties with the leaders of these militant outfits. So we’ll see how much “real-time” and how much “share” there really is in this “real-time intelligence sharing” arrangement.

It’s all interesting to see how much domestic pressure Manmohan Singh is under to appear tough in his dealings with the Pakistanis. This is particularly true in terms of India’s English language press — which tends to channel India’s highly nationalist middle class and where even the more left-leaning papers seem to compete to outdo one another in their hardline rhetoric on Pakistan. They seem to interpret practically anything short of war by New Delhi as kind of “wimping out.”

One suspects, knowing Singh and his background and his bullishness about the peace talks prior to the Mumbai attacks, that he is very eager to get the discussions back on track. But at Sharm, the Indian press jumped all over a line in his joint communique with Gilani which stated that “action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.” They portrayed it as a significant concession by Singh and accused him of caving to a major Pakistani demand without forcing Islamabad to take concrete action against the planners of the Mumbai attacks. And, within a few hours, Singh was forced to issue clarifications that the peace talks would not go forward unless New Delhi was satisfied that Pakistan was doing its part to combat terrorism.

One does not envy Singh trying to advance the peace process amidst this sort of hyper-nationalist media environment.

*By the way, I can’t believe that the NAM still exists. People are always talking about how Cold War-era organizations such as NATO have outlived their purpose. But how much more true is this for an organization like the Non-Aligned Movement? After all, the NAM countries never had all that much in common even during the Cold War. And how much effect did a NAM summit ever have? Can anyone remember a single joint communique from one of these confabs? And how much do a bunch of relatively poor developing nations spend on these summits each year? Couldn’t they better spend their money and their diplomatic resources elsewhere? The NAM seems like one of these clubs that exists largely to provide busy work to legions of diplomats — as well as providing them some nicely-catered dinners in exotic resort locales.

Jeremy Kahn is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, India, where he covers everything from politics and foreign affairs to business and the arts. In addition to The Faster Times, his work has ...read more

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