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Indian Skeptics Point To 200-Acre Terror Base

Indian Skeptics Point To 200-Acre Terror Base

Author: Sudha Ramachandran
Publication: Asia Times Online
Date: February 2, 2002

Three weeks after Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf made his historic speech distancing himself from religious extremism and announcing steps to crack down on terrorist groups in his country, India remains unconvinced that he has taken concrete action to curb cross-border infiltration of terrorists into Indian-administered Kashmir.

New Delhi maintains that the general has yet to match his words with action on the ground. Consequently, it has firmly rejected calls for dialogue and the pulling out of its troops deployed along the border with Pakistan. Indian and Pakistani troops have been massed along the border in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation for over a month now.

Since the December 13 assault on India's parliament, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, relations between the two neighbors have dipped to an all-time low. In a bid to put pressure on Islamabad to crack down on terrorist groups operating from Pakistani soil, India adopted a range of diplomatic and other measures, including massing of troops along its western border. With the armed forces of the two countries in a state of heightened alert, tension has been high. And although the danger of a military confrontation has substantially receded, the war of words continues unabated and the troops remain deployed.

India has, in fact, repeatedly rejected Islamabad's calls for dialogue. On Tuesday, Pakistan put forward a proposal for talks to de-escalate tension through a phased withdrawal of troops along the border, to be followed by a dialogue on Kashmir and other issues. Pakistan's foreign ministry said that Islamabad was willing to restore air, road and rail links between the two countries, which were severed on January 1.

Earlier, Musharraf proposed a no-war pact and denuclearization of the region. To all these offers, India's response has been: Stop cross-border terrorism and infiltration, and hand over the 20 criminals and terrorists based in Pakistan who are wanted in India.

Musharraf's speech and his crackdown on extremist groups have won him praise from the United States, Britain and several other western countries. However, India remains unimpressed. Is India justified or is it just being difficult?

Reports from Pakistan justify the Indian position that little has been done on the ground to stamp out terrorism directed against India. Reporting from Lahore, Amir Mir writes in the Indian news magazine Outlook: "Musharraf's critics have already started pointing out that the government's decision to ban the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad are mere cosmetic measures, primarily aimed at appeasing the international community." A former Pakistani Air Chief told Mir that had Musharraf "actually been sincere in uprooting the state-run jihadi centers, he would have ... banned Markaz Dawa Wal Irshad, headed by the former Lashkar chief Professor Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, and which is the parent body of the Lashkar".

According to Mir: "Renamed Jamaat-e-al-Dawah last month, the Muridke-based markaz [center] is seen as the nursery of Kashmiri freedom fighters and boasts the largest jihadi network in Pakistan. Following the US ban on Lashkar, this group announced it was shifting base to Indian-held Kashmir. But, in reality, Muridke, 45 kilometers from Lahore, remains its base and the hub of its jihad machine. Spread over 200 acres, the complex has teaching and residential facilities, besides farms, mosques, fish-breeding ponds and stables. Similarly, the Kashmir desk of the ISI is still patronizing the Markaz, where over 2,000 students are presently enrolled. As the ex-air chief points out, 'If Musharraf actually wants his announcements to be turned into reality, he should immediately disband the ISI's Kashmir desk besides banning the Markaz ... It is their support which has enabled the Lashkar to become one of the most active militants groups working inside Jammu and Kashmir, with operations based on the Pakistani side of the border'."

Mir goes on to point out that the government's crackdown has been largely directed on sectarian outfits. Of the 2,500 arrests affected since January 12, more than 1,900 belong to outfits that are engaged in sectarian violence in Pakistan, he said. That would mean that only 600 activists engaged in terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in India have been arrested.

Few in New Delhi therefore believe that Pakistan is genuine in its offers of peace with India. It might want a de-escalation of tension along the border, but there is little to indicate that Islamabad has renounced cross-border terrorism against India as an instrument of state policy.

Says an official in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs: "The proposals Pakistan has put forward for defusing tension clearly indicate that it is not serious about dialogue. Why else would it suggest measures that have never worked in the past? If it is genuinely committed to fighting terrorism, why is it not doing something about it?"

The proposal Islamabad put forward on Tuesday suggested that the UN Military Observers Group on India and Pakistan [UNMOGIP] should be beefed up to credibly monitor the Line of Control. An editorial in the Indian Express says: "Pakistan could hardly be serious about its own proposal for strengthening of UNMOGIP. The redundancy of the group has been in evidence since the ceasefire line was converted into a line of control by a mutual agreement at Simla three decades ago where the UN had no role. In reality, it is time the Observer Group was wound up and at least some money saved for the cash-strapped UN."

Indeed, as an editorial in the daily newspaper Deccan Herald put it, since Musharraf's January 12 speech "there has been only more empty rhetoric, reiteration of old positions and offers of unworkable proposals emerging from Pakistan."

"There is just no basis on which India can resume talks with Pakistan," said Brahma Chellaney, a defense analyst. "Unless our basic objective of eliminating cross-border terrorism is met, Indian troops should stay put at the borders."

However, calls for dialogue are growing in India. The Deccan Herald editorial points out that while the massing of troops on the border served to put pressure on Musharraf, "it might have outlived its efficacy". It continues: "The indefinite deployment of troops at the border will end up being counterproductive not only in terms of the economic costs involved but also with regard to its negative impact on India's image abroad, if India clings to this strategy indefinitely."

C Raja Mohan, a leading strategic affairs analyst, writes in The Hindu: "India must not forget that irreversibly ending cross-border infiltration is its central strategic objective. All else is secondary. Ending infiltration either through unilateral actions such as the use of improved technologies to monitor the Line of Control or getting Pakistan to stop it through diplomatic and other pressures will let India get the upper hand over terrorism in Kashmir. Even if Pakistan trains the best terrorists in the world, they are not of much use if it cannot get them across the Line of Control. The strategic emphasis on infiltration should not be lessened by other issues such as the list of terrorists. India is right in insisting on clear evidence on the ground of a comprehensive reduction in cross-border infiltration before de-escalation of the confrontation with Pakistan, but it will be unwise to leave the initiative entirely to Pakistan. Instead of the passive approach, India must propose talks between the Directors-General of Military Operation of the two armies to negotiate specific cooperative arrangements for ending infiltration across the border."

Indeed, with international opinion and the diplomatic advantage on its side this might be the right time for India to call for dialogue toward putting in place verifiable technological measures to monitor the Line of Control. To defer talks could fritter away the gains made so far.

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