The fourth meeting of the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism (JATM) between India and Pakistan on October 24 in New Delhi remained trapped between diplomatic niceties and hard-nosed positions, adding to the widely held skepticism about the utility of such an exercise. While the Indians were insistent on proving the involvement of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in last July’s suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul to the delegation from Islamabad, the latter countered by demanding more evidence as well as citing India’s role in fomenting political violence in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The Indian delegation was led by Vivek Katju, Special Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs and an old Pakistan hand in the Indian foreign office who is best known for negotiating the release of a hijacked Indian Airlines passenger jet at Kandahar in December 1999. The Pakistan delegation was led by Mr. Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meeting, at least according to the official statement that followed, was held “in a positive, constructive and forward looking atmosphere” (Associated Press of Pakistan, October 24).
In fact, the outcome was hardly positive, or for that matter constructive. India has consistently accused Pakistan-based jihadi groups and Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency of planning and executing the suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008. The October JATM meeting was specially convened to exchange views on the subject. At the meeting, India presented evidence of ISI involvement in the Kabul attack to the Pakistani delegation, including intelligence intercepts and NATO’s technical analysis of the bombs (Indian Express, October 25). The dossier also included Indian allegations of a role in the attack by Mullah Abdur Rahman Zahid, the former Deputy Foreign Minister of the Taliban regime, now living in Peshawar (India Today, October 31).
Pakistani delegates said “no agency from Pakistan” was involved in the attack, which, according to diplomatic sources, was an admission of the possibility of terrorist elements operating from within Pakistan but outside the control of Pakistani agencies (Indian Express, October 24). The Indian side was informed that Pakistan would continue with its own independent investigation into the attack and wait for additional evidence.
India presented a fresh list of fugitives wanted for terrorist and criminal activities. The list included the names of Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his associate Karimullah Hussain Khan, both of whom are wanted for terrorist as well as criminal activities and are believed by Indian authorities to be resident in Pakistan under ISI protection. Another prominent fugitive named by the Indian delegates was Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM – “The Army of Muhammad”), a terrorist movement dedicated to the separation of Kashmir from India. The Indian dossier had photographs of Azhar supervising the construction of his new house in Peshawar. India also asked Pakistan to take action against the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT – “The Army of the Pure”), another militant group involved in Kashmiri separatism. The Indian delegates reminded their counterparts of the promise made by Pakistan’s ex-President Pervez Musharraf on January 6, 2004, in which Musharraf pledged anti-Indian terrorist groups would not be allowed to operate from within Pakistan.
The Pakistani delegation presented its own list of fugitives to the Indian government, adding that they, too, were looking for JeM leader Masood Azhar. Pakistan tabled a list of actions taken against terrorist groups like LeT and JeM and laid out its own set of charges against India, primarily involving the alleged use of India’s consulates to foment trouble in Balochistan and FATA (The Post [Lahore], October 25). The second charge against India related to the slow pace of investigations into the February 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing (Hindustan Times, February 19, 2007; BBC, February 19, 2007). Of the 68 people killed in the bombing of the twice-weekly train service between Delhi and Lahore, most were Pakistanis. Both countries have sparred ever since on sharing information related to the attack. India has accused Pakistan-based terrorists of executing the blast on the India-Pakistan train link, citing Pakistan’s refusal to help the investigation by providing information about some suspects hiding in Pakistan. During the meeting, Pakistan’s delegation said the names given by the Indian authorities were wrong, adding they were keen to know about the progress of the investigation. The Indian side said progress was slow because of some unspecified “constraints” (Daily News and Analysis [Mumbai], October 25).
Despite the differences, the meeting concluded on the note that terrorism was a common enemy and must be fought jointly. There can hardly be any dispute over such a sentiment. What needs to be seen next is the actual translation of such sentiments into practical steps in the India-Pakistan context. This would call for some quick thinking on changing the format of the discussion. To begin with, the discussions must be freed from the narrow parameters of bureaucratic parleys to include a much more broad-based group of people. This could mean the expansion of the mechanism itself by introducing additional layers of Track II meetings on specific points. An increase in the scope and number of meetings on terrorism might lead to an extradition treaty and a deeper level of information exchange. A tangible success on this front could dramatically change the pace of the peace process, infusing, as a natural corollary, a much-needed dose of trust between the two nuclear-armed adversaries.