The Carrots can Wait

On February 12th, more than two months after 26/11, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik acknowledged that some part of the planning for the Mumbai attacks were done in Pakistan. Pakistani authorities have also said that they obtained confessions from members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and are interrogating one of the Lashkar leaders, Zarrar Shah, believed to be the conduit between ISI and Lashkar.

Is this action — Pakistan publicly admitting terrorists from it soil launching attacks — such a great step forward that India should offer some carrots in return.? Some say, it is time to go soft on Pakistan; some, want to overlook loopholes in Pakistan’s investigation into the incident ; others want to make the right moves in the diplomatic tango.

For the right reaction, uninfluenced by a Ghajini like amnesia, we need to look at the events of the past two months.

POST 26/11

Following the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan, along with other countries, expressed solidarity with India and President Zardari agreed to co-operate to find the masterminds. Soon Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar stated that Pakistan played no role in the attacks. It was then announced that Pakistan would send the ISI chief, Shuja Pasha, to visit New Delhi. Soon they reneged.

President Zardari blamed non-state actors and accused that India did not provide any evidence that Muhammad Ajmal Kasab, the surviving terrorist, was a Pakistani. In January, when Pakistan’s national security advisor, Mahmud Ali Durrani confirmed that Muhammad Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani, he was fired for “irresponsible behavior.”

The visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi denied that the terrorists traveled by boat from Karachi to Bombay and asked reporters if they had seen the boat? He told Indians that Pakistan too was a victim of terrorism and what was needed was a joint anti-terror mechanism.

When the dossier, which contained previously undisclosed transcripts of telephone conversations and evidence from the trawler used by the terrorists, was sent to Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh upped the ante verbally, Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s information minister said that scoring points like this would not help solve the issue of regional and global terror. Also Pakistan found a Bangladeshi connection by the involvement of a banned militant organisation, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami, Bangladesh (HuJI-B) and announced that the plot was hatched in Dubai by an “international network of Muslim fundamentalists”.

Thus in response to the terrorist attack of 26/11, Pakistan mocked facts, trivialized Indian demands and displayed evasive behavior. From such a position what caused Pakistan to admit involvement in 26/11.? Was it the strength of our dossier or the guilt we created by arguing ourselves out of surgical strikes or those warnings against “neighboring countries.”?

The admissions came on Feb 12th, but even on the Monday before that Pakistan was busy denying involvement. So what changed abruptly.? Richard Holbrooke, President Obama‘s special envoy to the troubled regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan raised the issue with Pakistan according to New York Times. At the same time President Obama  made a call to the Pakistan President. As soon as Mr. Holbrooke left Pakistan for Afghanistan, Rehman Malik of the Interior Ministry made the admission.

Besides this there has been CIA brokered back channel activity as well which allowed India and Pakistan to exchange sensitive information. According to this news, which was revealed by Washington Post, “the unparalleled cooperation was a factor in Pakistan’s decision to bring criminal charges against nine Pakistanis accused of involvement in the attack.”

Pakistan Foreign Minister insisted that Holbrooke’s visit had nothing to do with the change of plans, but it hard to believe. With sufficient pressure Pakistan has produced rabbits out of a hat: Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, who  was considered third, in command in Taliban was arrested immediately after Vice President Dick Cheney’s visit ; in 2005, President Bush telephoned President Musharraf and after the 25 minute conversation, President Musharraf expelled all foreigners from Pakistani madrassas.

A COERCED CONFESSION

While Pakistan admitting to terrorism originating from its soil is definitely welcome, it is not sufficient to display irrational exuberance.

First, in their admission, Pakistan singled out two suspects who are connected to Lashkar-e-Taiba, which apparently is a group banned by Pakistan. The goal of this group is to  wrest control of not just a small part of India, but “All of India, including Kashmir, Hyderabad, Assam, Nepal, Burma, Bihar and Junagadh.” The fact that such a group is operating, just by changing the name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, with impunity in Pakistan even now should make it clear that the Augean stable is not clean.

Second, to believe how effective the arrests of these suspects are, one has to look at what Omar Saeed was able to do from jail . In death row for the murder of Daniel Pearl, Omar Saeed was able to call Gen Pervez Musharraf on his personal cell phone and issue a death threat. On investigation, the authorities found that he was running a terror network from the jail. Rashid Rauf, the suspect in the plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, escaped from custody in a plot which the late film maker Manmohan Desai would have found unbelievable.

Third, this concession came due to American coercion. Pakistan and United States have a strange relation. As a front line ally in the war on terror Pakistan gets financial aid and weapons; as the epicenter in the war on terror Pakistan gets bombed by unmanned Predators. This gives America leverage, not India. This admission by Pakistan, after American pressure, could also be a temporary gesture to gain concessions. So let us not build a rope ladder from dental floss.

Finally, this admission came from the civilian government. There is an opinion that India should strengthen the civilian government of Pakistan and see them as partners and not  as adversaries. Those who suggest this seem to be ignorant of what happened in Kargil just a few months after Prime Minister Vajpayee and the civilian leader Nawaz Sharif recited poetry at the border. So it is hard to believe that by supporting the civilian administration, there will be a miraculous act of appropriation by which the other players in Pakistan — the actual power centers — will allow the terror infrastructure to be dismantled or stop such events from happening again.

All the Pakistani drama before the admission states a harsh truth: it will be hard for India alone make any progress. Next.? The crucial question is this: Will President Obama have to get involved — like President Clinton during Kargil war — to force Pakistan make the next positive step.? Will we see justice served or more meaningless statements like “we are determined to get to the bottom of this attacks.”?

So far pattern of the cross border rhetoric and action has been along predictable lines and we have seen this movie before. Unless we see more sincere gestures to match the words, lets hold off on the carrots.