Over the weekend, Pakistan’s national security advisor, Sartaj Aziz, called off planned talks with India’s national security advisor after a series of public disagreements escalated to the point of no return. Islamabad and New Delhi failed to agree on the scope of the agenda, despite a clear joint statement issued by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi during their meeting last month in Ufa, Russia, which had set the parameters for India-Pakistan dialogue in coming months. Most press accounts indicate that Pakistan sought to expand the NSAs’ agenda from the single subject of “terrorism” agreed upon at Ufa to include discussion of Kashmir. Compounding things, India reiterated its redline, developed by the Modi government last summer, against Pakistani officials meeting with separatists from Jammu and Kashmir on the margins of Indo-Pak talks. The Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi invited Kashmiri separatists to a reception, so between the redline and the soiree invite grew an impasse.
The Pakistani external affairs ministry statement issued August 22, canceling the NSA meeting, stated that talks “would not serve any purpose, if conducted on the basis of the two conditions laid down” [by India]. Pakistan’s position is that India and Pakistan have many issues to discuss, and terrorism has always been part of a larger composite dialogue. Islamabad believes talks have little value if not covering the full range of matters in dispute, of which no doubt the two neighbors have many. New Delhi has maintained that “talks and terror” cannot go together, reiterated by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in her August 22 press conference about the talks, and that tackling terrorism should be the first step toward a sequenced resumption of a fuller dialogue.
Let’s put aside quibbles over a meeting agenda and whether and how Pakistani officials should or should not meet with Kashmiri separatists. Here’s the larger context for the aborted India-Pakistan NSA talks: About a month ago, on July 27, terrorists attacked across the international border, in Gurdaspur, in Indian Punjab. On August 5, another attack took place in Udhampur, in the Jammu region of Jammu & Kashmir. One of the attackers was caught, said his name was Naveed Yakub from Faisalabad (in Pakistan), and that he had been trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Each of these incidents generated speculation that India would call off the NSA meet, but New Delhi did not let the attacks undo the promise made by Modi and Sharif at Ufa.
That India and Pakistan were unable to agree on the agenda and the appropriate way to handle questions of Kashmir is certainly unfortunate. But make no mistake: given the history of terrorist attacks on India emanating from Pakistani territory over the past two decades, the onus now rests with Pakistan to step forward and ensure a terror-free atmosphere for discussion of difficult political matters. Yes, Pakistanis too are victims of terror, and that is not in dispute. But the state has international obligations in countering terror, not least in upholding the sanctions regime put in place by United Nations Security Council resolutions. Aziz did not address the issue of Pakistan-based terror, instead launching into Soviet-style whataboutism, brandishing a dossier about alleged Indian involvement in Baluchistan and complaining that India offers insufficient evidence to support its allegations of terror groups in Pakistan.
What has Pakistan done to tackle terror groups operating from its soil? Pakistan selectively mounts counterterrorism campaigns in one part of the country, while permitting a UN and U.S.-designated terrorist organization, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and its leader Hafiz Saeed to openly hold public rallies and continue “humanitarian” work and alms collection in its largest cities like Lahore and Karachi. The perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks have not been brought to justice either, with a trial submerged by delays ad infinitum, and with one of the conspirators released on bail this year. The Haqqani network, another organization under UN and U.S. terrorism designations, appears untouched by Pakistan’s selective counterterrorism effort, and following Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death, a Haqqani has now ascended to the leadership ranks of the Taliban. In belated recognition of this problem, the Obama administration has apparently withheld certification that Pakistan’s counterterrorism campaign has damaged the Haqqani network. These are only the barest outlines of the problem; suffice it to say that none of this looks like a state fighting comprehensively to rid the country of the scourge of terrorism.
No one disputes that India and Pakistan have a terrible relationship, and could draw up a laundry list of an agenda even longer than the eight points of their current dialogue structure. Frankly, they probably should. But Pakistan needs to stop shifting the blame from the terrorism problem that is chewing up its own society and causing enmity with its neighbors. (Pakistan’s problems are not just with India: Two weeks ago a frustrated President Ashraf Ghani called upon Pakistan to rein in the terrorists who attack Afghanistan.) But instead of expressions of remorse about the lost opportunity for the NSAs to meet, on August 24 the Pakistani paper Dawn quoted Aziz saying, “Modi’s India acts as if they are a regional superpower, we are a nuclear-armed country and we know how to defend ourselves.” Does this sound like a country serious about negotiations and taking steps to resolve decades-long disputes?
It’s Pakistan’s job to restore India’s, and the world’s, confidence in its intentions, and that will not happen with continued terrorist attacks across the border in India, and with blustery rhetoric about using nuclear weapons. Tackling terror, all terror, should be job number one for Islamabad.
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