Dec 15, 2008

India - Mumbai attacks may not derail ties

Atul Aneja

MANAMA: India-Pakistan relations are unlikely to derail notwithstanding the terror attacks in Mumbai, a leading Pakistani security analyst has said.

In a conversation with The Hindu on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue – an international security conference in Bahrain – Zafar Iqbal Cheema, chair of Defence and Strategic Studies at Islamabad’s Quaid-I-Azam University, said there has been a “strategic shift” in thinking within the Pakistani government to engage with India.

“The government of Pakistan is aware that it has the responsibility to normalise and not derail the ongoing normalisation process between India and Pakistan.” He, however, acknowledged that there were “pressure groups and lobbies which did not want this process to proceed.” Dr. Cheema praised the restraint exercised by India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.

“I think India-Pakistan relations would go back to the continuation of the dialogue process because the government of India has not accused the government of Pakistan [of terrorism], during its recent parliamentary session. This is very helpful.” He said that by not mobilising troops, India had averted the war-like situation that had arisen after the December 2001 attack on Parliament.

Speaking to The Hindu , Sanjaya Baru, the former official spokesman and Media Adviser to the Prime Minister, explained that New Delhi has been fully aware of the motivations behind the terror attacks that India has faced in recent years. He pointed out that the forces behind the terrorist attacks were trying to “destabilise India’s growth process.

“For several years, terrorists have targeted Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. These cities represent India’s political, financial and information technology capitals. We would be wrong at looking at these attacks purely in a bilateral India-Pakistan context.” Defending the Pakistani government’s response to the Mumbai attacks, he said that Islamabad had reacted “promptly” by taking swift administrative action against suspects.

“The government of Pakistan has put the chief of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, under a three-month house arrest. Another dozen members of the Jamat-ud-Dawah have either been arrested or put under house arrest. Bank accounts have been frozen and offices have been sealed.”

Asked whether the precedent of letting off suspects would be repeated after the Mumbai attacks, Dr. Cheema said this was unlikely as awareness about the dangers of terrorism had now permeated deeply into Pakistan’s civil society and political class. He denied that “rogue elements” within the Pakistani establishment may be aiding terrorism.

“This is a very old argument. The rogue elements were tackled by [the former President] Pervez Musharraf. There may be an odd individual so aligned, but this does not happen at the policy level and not at the level of the implementation of policy.”

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