By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI–With the stage set for an Indo-Pak joint anti-terror initiative in Havana during talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf, it is expected to be launched when foreign secretaries meet in the coming month.
Without doubt, even if this process remains confined to paper and talks for days to come, the very fact that leaders of the two countries have begun thinking along this line may be viewed as an important beginning in their relations.
During their talks, according to the joint statement issued after the meeting, the two leaders â€œstrongly condemned all acts of terrorism and agreed that terrorism is a scourge that needs to be effectively dealt with. â€œ
They decided to put in place an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations.â€
What stands out is that rather than exploiting terrorism to hurl diplomatic missiles at each other, now India and Pakistan seem willing to jointly combat this menace and solve longstanding disputes, including Kashmir. Apparently, Singh views it as an important step to combat terrorism and strengthen Indo-Pak ties.
â€œThere has been a trust deficit in our relations with Pakistan. But we cannot stand still,â€ Singh said while addressing a press conference in Naintal (Uttaranchal) Sunday September 24th.
Dismissing criticism voiced by several senior politicians and experts questioning the practicality of such a mechanism, Singh said: â€œThe criticism against setting up of the joint mechanism is not right. There is no change in our approach on terrorism.â€
Elaborating on its significance, he said that the mechanism would also â€œtestâ€ Pakistan on how it fulfils its promise of not allowing territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India.
In Singhâ€™s opinion, this marks a â€œnew beginningâ€ in Indo-Pak relations. Earlier, while returning from Havana, he told media persons on board the flight: â€œWe have now agreed on a new mechanism to deal with terrorism. I think the explicit mention that both of our countries condemn this scourge that we will work together. I do think it is a new beginning.â€
On the mechanism (to tackle terrorism), which has yet to be worked out, Singh said: â€œThis mechanism that we are putting it place must be credible, must inspire confidence in both our countries and therefore, we will have to look at the mechanics of the move with due care.â€
Dismissing speculations on there being United States pressure behind this move, Singh said: â€œI totally deny any insinuation that whatever we have with Pakistan is at the behest of the US or any other country, it is in protection of our own sovereign national interest.â€
Criticizing the formation of the joint anti-terror mechanism, in his comments to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) mouth piece, Panchjanya former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said: â€œThis joint statement is a conspiracy against India. Its implementation will jeopardize the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. In a similar tone, former deputy Prime Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani said that as the joint statement must have been signed â€œunder pressure from some quarters,â€ it must be scrapped immediately.
Supporting the move, strategic expert K. Subrahmanyam has described the mechanism as â€œa step forward.â€ â€œOnce you have a joint mechanism, whatever evidence we have of terrorists operating from Pakistan targeting India, we can give them to Islamabad. They have to now answer specific allegations and charges,â€ he said.
However, others including former envoy to Pakistan G. Parthasarthy and terrorism expert Ajay Sahni, have questioned its practicality. â€œIt constitutes a dilution and a surrender of our position on terrorism. We are moving from a position of being a victim of Pakistanâ€™s terrorism for the last 20 years to a position where we are endorsing Musharrafâ€™s assertion that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism,â€ according to Parthasarthy.
On its part, Pakistan has expressed its willingness to cooperate with India in addressing this problem. â€œWe share information with India about any most wanted person through Interpol, and if New Delhi has issued Red warrants of any criminal, Pakistan will fully cooperate,â€ Pakistanâ€™s Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said in a television interview in Islamabad.
Despite there being a mixed reaction to the credibility of this mechanism, what stands out is that both leaders, Singh and Musharraf, seem intent on carrying this process forward.
Voicing confidence on progress of the Indo-Pak talks, Musharraf said in Washington (September 23): â€œYes, the talks are going to start, and I believe that talks should never break down — talks should never break down through any kind of terrorist activity, which we condemn and strongly oppose, because that is the view — the aim and objectives of all terrorists is to make sure that these talks fail. So weâ€™ll be playing in their games if you are to allow the failure of talks because of these actions.â€
In Singhâ€™s opinion: â€œI sincerely believe that our two countries have to find ways and means to get over the problems that include terrorism.â€