Why ‘composite dialogue’?It’s better to focus on terrorismby G. Parthasarathy 


FOR nearly a decade, the UPA government has depended exclusively on two pillars to deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. The first is a pillar called the "composite dialogue process", which has been proclaimed as "irreversible" and "uninterruptable". The second pillar is the belief that fearing further terrorist attacks, after the 9/11 strikes on New York and Washington, the Western world, led by the US, will pressurise Pakistan to end its support for groups promoting terrorism in India, Afghanistan and beyond. We are told that there is no alternative to the "composite dialogue"' for peace and security. Is this really true?
Pakistan's sponsorship of terrorism, described as "low-intensity conflict" in military manuals, assumed serious dimensions in Punjab in the 1980s. This was followed by a resort to terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990. Terrorism spread across India after the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, personally approved by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. By 1995, Chief Minister Beant Singh had effectively quelled militancy in Punjab. But even today, Punjab militants who were not eliminated live comfortably in Lahore. Encouraged by the antipathy of the Clinton Administration towards India, Benazir Bhutto ended all dialogue with India in 1994. Terrorism in J&K continued unabated, but the Pakistanis soon discovered during the tenure of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao that acts of terrorism elsewhere in India resulted in violence in populated centres like Karachi and Lahore. Terrorism in Indian urban centres thereafter declined and virtually ended.
Inder Kumar Gujral then came to preside over the Indian foreign policy. Knowing his nostalgia for his land of birth and keenness for dialogue, Pakistan came forward with a proposal in 1997 for a "structured dialogue". Rather than insisting on giving priority to terrorism, Gujral agreed to a dialogue process giving priority to issues like Jammu and Kashmir, while discussions on terrorism were downplayed and combined with issues of drug smuggling! The Pakistani aim was to ensure that discussions on Jammu and Kashmir inevitably failed and to then seek internationalisation of the issue. When Vajpayee assumed charge and international pressures grew after the nuclear tests, the NDA government was left with little choice but to go ahead with what Gujral had initiated. It agreed to a "composite dialogue process" with Pakistan — a process where terrorism was merely the fourth item on the agenda, clubbed with drug smuggling.
It is important to note that in the four years between Benazir Bhutto's decision to end dialogue with India and its resumption, when Gujral assumed office, Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Punjab ended and was virtually non-existent across India, except in Jammu and Kashmir. This was largely because of measures taken by Narasimha Rao to ensure that Pakistan paid a high price on its territory for sponsoring terrorism in India. The resumption of the composite dialogue in 1998 coincided with the emergence of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) as a major terrorist group. The Kargil conflict commenced shortly after the first round of the composite dialogue. This was followed by an attack on the Red Fort in Delhi in January 2001 by the LeT and the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, by the Jaish-e-Mohammed.
After a tense military standoff, clear signals of Pakistan backing off from terrorism came, when Musharraf proposed a ceasefire across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir in November 2003. He thereafter agreed in January 2004 that he would not permit any "territory under Pakistan's control" to be used for terrorism against India. The offer of ceasefire across the LoC meant that Pakistani troops would no longer provide "covering fire" to facilitate infiltration. The UPA government is responsible for discarding the explicit linkage between terrorism and continuation of the dialogue process, agreed to in 2004. In its anxiety to continue the dialogue at all costs, New Delhi insisted that the dialogue process was "irreversible" and even shed tears that Pakistan itself was a "victim of terrorism". The diplomatic fiasco in Sharm-el-Sheikh, at a time when the wounds of 26/11 were still raw and the decision to effusively welcome Pakistan's Prime Minister in Chandigarh during a cricket match, convinced Pakistan that India was ready to forget and forgive what transpired in Mumbai and the ISI-backed attacks on Indian nationals and diplomats in Afghanistan..
Pakistan also appears to be confident that the other main thrust of Indian foreign policy on getting the Americans to pressurise it to act against terrorist groups is floundering. Heavily dependent on Pakistan for its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Obama Administration has bent backwards to grant immunity from prosecution to former ISI chief General Shuja Pasha, who had been summoned by a Federal Court in New York in a case in which he had been named for his involvement in the 26/11 attack. The request for the reduction in imprisonment for David Headley was yet another manifestation of a calculated American decision to go easy on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
The new Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been effusive over what he claims is cooperation received from Pakistan in dealing with terrorism. This is so despite the diametrically opposite views expressed earlier by President Obama and outgoing Defence Secretary Leon Panetta. The American Ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olson, met Pakistan's Air Chief on January 21 and thereafter visited Shahbaz airbase, where upgraded American supplied F-16s are based. The US Embassy in Islamabad announced that "'both sides reaffirmed their commitment to a strong defence relationship". Pakistan's confidence about continuing US support is evident from the nonchalant manner in which it reached an agreement with Iran on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and virtually handed over the strategic Gwadar port to China. General Kayani will demand a high price for facilitating American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Pakistan now has a "lame-duck" government. It will take at least four to five months for a newly elected government to assume office. The main pillars of India's Pakistan policy, comprising "uninterruptable" dialogue and American backing on terrorism, are falling apart. The very least that needs to be done is to discard the "composite dialogue process" and replace it with a process of engagement that focuses significantly on our concerns on terrorism. Widely publicised summit meetings at multilateral events like SAARC summits should be avoided. They give an impression of unwarranted bonhomie and demean us in the eyes of other SAARC countries. A crackdown and retaliatory measures on the infiltration and smuggling of forged currency by Pakistan through Nepal and Bangladesh should be undertaken. Moreover, we should recall how Narasimha Rao ignored dialogue and made the sponsorship of terrorism costly for Pakistan.