India-Pakistan Relations: The Lashkar-e-Taiba Factor
On December 16, 2012, Hafiz Saeed, Chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), the front organization of the proscribed terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) tweeted, “We want to tell India, if few people consider you friend in the government – whole Pakistan knows you are an enemy.”
Saeed appears to be a rather lonely man in the virtual world. He created a Twitter account on November 5, 2012 to distribute “authentic” statements of the “Ameer” of JuD, and gained only 1252 followers until January 7, 2013. Many of his followers do not appear to be his supporters, but include international media staff and political commentators.
However, Saeed’s offline appeal his enormous. The LeT/JuD’s diktats reverberate both in policy decisions as well as some of the judiciary’s rulings. The LeT/JuD’s opposition holds up the granting of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India. The LeT/JuD’s insistence that it was not involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks is reiterated by the Pakistani establishment.
LeT continues to fortify its position in Pakistan despite being banned. The Lahore Arts College recently shutdown LeT’s journal which had published a series of paintings the JuD argued portrayed the clerics negatively by projecting them as sexually promiscuous. One of the paintings depicted a group of women heading towards a mosque which the JuD ridiculed as an American game to defame Islam.
Among other extremist diktats that have turned into official policies are banning late night call schemes offered by cell phone companies as they allegedly promote “immorality.” Even the judiciary has ordered the government to scrutinize TV programs for obscene and vulgar contents after extremists filed a petitions in the court. Islamists have raided private parties including five-star hotels near Islamabad to enforce bans on dancing and concerts.
Thus, contrary to the belief that strengthening civilian rule in Pakistan would sound a death knell on the mullah-military nexus, the terrorist group appears to have gained strength. The government which is powerless to stem LeT’s tide, appears to be guided by the conviction that any action against LeT/JuD would be tantamount to surrendering a tactical weapon against arch rival India. The LeT possibly remains Pakistan’s wild card if the present thaw in relations with India does not improve. Therefore, it is unlikely that Pakistan will heed to the December 19 call by the US State Department to dismantle the terror group.
India-Pakistan bilateral ties have indeed improved over the past years. The peak of the achievements under an era of cooperation was a liberal visa regime agreement signed in December 2012. On January 1, 2013, both exchanged the list of their nuclear installations and facilities through diplomatic channels, simultaneously in New Delhi and Islamabad. Bilateral visits between senior officials and ministers have increased. Track-II dialogues including retired as well as serving army officials, bureaucrats, diplomats and academicians too have increased.
In December 2012, both countries resumed playing cricket with each other with a Pakistani visiting India. After a request by visiting Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, India not only lifted the limit of 300 Pakistani fans to enter India to watch the matches, but also permitted a former cricketer with family ties with the wanted gangster Dawood Ibrahim to be a part of the official delegation.
Ibrahim, blacklisted by the US Treasury Department in 2003 as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, is the prime conspirator in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, which killed 257 people. Indian agencies believe that Ibrahim is in Pakistan under the protection of its notorious intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
However, such progress has its limits and appears to have entered into a period of lull, due to Pakistani inaction on Indian requests to prosecute persons involved in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Since 2009, New Delhi has supplied several dossiers of evidence to Pakistan identifying persons involved in planning and executing the attack. Top in the list is Hafeez Saeed. However, Pakistan continues to maintain that the evidence provided is inadequate. In December 2012, Malik, during his three-day tour to India, claimed he could order Saeed’s arrest sitting in India provided India gives Pakistan “real evidence.”
Malik claimed that his government has arrested Hafiz Saeed three times and owing to the weak evidence provided by the Indian side, the courts have released on each occasion. Documents provided by the Pakistani side, however, proved to be Malik’s undoing. A day after Malik returned to Pakistan, the Indian Home Minister said in the Parliament that Pakistan has not once charged Hafiz Saeed for the Mumbai attacks.
The bilateral relations have indeed hit some serious road blocks. Pakistan wants India to forget the Mumbai episode and move on. For New Delhi, the idea of letting the perpetrators of Mumbai thrive in Pakistan is simply unacceptable. The fact that LeT has been allowed to carry on with its anti-India vitriol with impunity, makes New Delhi’s tasks even harder, even while Pakistani authorities in private are known to have promised their Indian counterparts a non-repeat of Mumbai on Indian soil.
It is the lack of positive gestures from Pakistan that has held up the proposed visit of Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to Pakistan. It has further strengthened the hardliners both within the Indian government as well as outside, who swear by Pakistan’s capriciousness. The Pakistani establishment’s insistence that the LeT is a mere fringe group and should be ignored appears to be a complete travesty of truth, especially when the Lashkar’s diktats have started influencing policy making in that country.
During the first week of 2013, Indian and Pakistani soldiers traded fire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. Pakistan claimed that one of its soldiers was killed after Indian soldiers raided one of their military outposts. The Indian side denounced the claim and insisted that theirs was only retaliatory firing. Although the incident is unlikely to affect bilateral relations, it is indicative of the inherent problems between the two neighbors.
On January 7, the Indian Foreign Minister reiterated, “A few well-intentioned steps are not enough to strengthen bilateral ties between India and Pakistan. A lot more needs to be done.” Indeed, whether to strengthen the relations or to let it hang perilously would depend on the steps Pakistan decides to take in the coming months.