Charade of crackdown and travesty of trial: Can India trust Pak?

“If his head is not returned, we should get at least 10 of theirs,” Sushma Swaraj’s war-cry from Khairair village in Uttar Pradesh hit headlines on January 15, 2013. Swaraj was the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha then. She went to the village to offer condolences to the family of Lance Naik Hemraj – one of the two Indian Army soldiers, who were killed by Pakistani Army personnel near the Line of Control at Mankote in Jammu and Kashmir just about a week back. Hemraj’s body was found decapitated and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh’s brutally mutilated.

“Let me take this opportunity to extend our hand to Pakistan as well… India is prepared to move our cooperation at a pace which Pakistan is comfortable with,” Swaraj, now the External Affairs Minister of India, said in Islamabad on December 9 last year. She and her counterpart Sartaj Aziz later announced resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue, which New Delhi had suspended in January 2013 to protest killing of Hemraj and Sudhakar.
That India cannot manage its complex relations with Pakistan merely with jingoism dawned on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team even before they took office in May 2014.

There have been several false starts in India-Pakistan ties in the last 20 months since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in New Delhi. Modi invited Pakistan Prime Minister M Nawaz Sharif to attend his swearing-in ceremony and their first meeting on May 27, 2014 in New Delhi ended with the foreign secretaries being asked to meet in Islamabad and discuss resumption of the stalled dialogue. Pakistan’s insistence on consulting Kashmiri separatists before holding talks with India scuttled the process in August 2014.

A similar row came up again after the two prime ministers had another “breakthrough” at Ufa in Russia in July 2015 and asked their National Security Advisors to meet in New Delhi to discuss issues related to terrorism. A fiasco ensued and the August 24 meeting between the NSAs was called off. Pakistan stuck to its stand, even when India offered to hold it in New York next month. The impasse ended when Modi and Sharif again met in Paris on November 30. The NSAs and foreign secretaries met in Bangkok on December 6. Swaraj and Aziz announced resumption of dialogue just three days later.

The year 2015 ended with Modi’s December 25 “surprise visit” to Lahore to greet Sharif on his birthday – a move, which the ruling BJP trumpeted as “a transformative moment” for subcontinent. But then came the January 2-5 terror attacks on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot in Punjab and the Consulate General of India at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

The attacks – planned in Pakistan and carried out by Pakistanis – did cast a sha-dow on the peace-initiatives and foreign secretaries mutually agreed to defer a meeting they planned to hold in Islamabad to decide modalities of the dialogue after its resumption.

Lauding Pak action
India, unlike in the past, has not called off its engagements with Pakistan this time though. New Delhi rather lauded Sharif government’s action on the information provided to it on the role of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) operatives, who plotted and coordinated the attack in Pathankot. Islamabad, however, has not yet officially informed New Delhi if the JeM detainees include its founder Masood Azhar.

Modi government’s officials and BJP leaders seem to be overwhelmed by Islamabad’s latest iteration of its willingness to work with New Delhi to combat terror. They were quick to hail Islamabad’s claim about the crackdown on the JeM in Pakistan as a “paradigm shift” in the approach of the neighbouring country.

But is it really so? Did not Pakistan do the same in the past in the wake of similar terror attacks in India? Both Azhar and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed were placed under house arrest in Pakistan in December 2001, when New Delhi stepped up pressure on Islamabad after the terror strike on Parliament of India. They were never charged and the Lahore High Court set them free a few months later. Saeed was again detained after the July 2006 serial blasts on trains in Mumbai and the November 2008 carnage in the same city. The High Court ordered his release on both occasions.

Then take the example of the 26/11 trial in Pakistan. Modi requested Sharif on May 27, 2014 to speed up the hitherto tardy trial at the Anti-Terrorism Court in Rawalpindi, but it rather slowed down with a series of adjournments in subsequent months. Saeed’s aide and 26/11 lead coordinator Zaki Ur Rehman Lakhvi was released on bail in April 2015. A key prosecution witness turned hostile on December 9 – the day Swaraj joined Aziz in Islamabad to announce resumption of bilateral dialogue.

The statement of Abdul Qayyum, the headmaster of a school at Faridkot in Pakistan, before the court that day brought into question the identity of Ajmal Kasav – the lone 26/11 terrorist to be caught alive and executed after being sentenced to death by a court in India.

Qayyum claimed that Ajmal he had previously identified as his student was not Kasav, but Ajmal Khokhar, who was still alive. This was followed by the Islamabad High Court dismissing a petition by prosecutors seeking voice samples of Lakhvi and his six still incarcerated accomplices. The voice samples could have been used to match with the recordings of the intercepted phone conversations between the 26/11 terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan.

The pattern of Pakistan’s response to a terror attack in India should have been quite predictable for New Delhi by now – a charade of crackdown followed by a travesty of trial. The  Modi government, however, does not seem to be in a mood to call the latest bluff of Pakistan, at least not yet.

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