More burned than a train

It won’t derail the peace process. It might further destabilise Gen Musharraf

The post-attack reactions were predictable. It was an act of terrorism, they all agreed, and intended to derail the India-Pakistan peace process. Last night’s attack on the India-Pakistan ‘Compromise Train’ that killed over 66 passengers—mostly Pakistani—comes just as the Indian government’s weather balloonists have floated their most ambitious one yet. In today’s column in the Indian Express, C Raja Mohan calls upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discard caution and incrementalism for a Grand Act of Statesmanship (GAS). The Pakistani foreign minister will arrive for talks this week, and the two foreign secretaries will have another round of comprehensive discussions soon. Gen Musharraf is up for a ‘re-election’ this year, so he’ll want something to show to those whose approval he needs before he starts another innings. All signs point to a India-Pakistan summit later this year, with something “historic” in the offing.

It is reasonable to speculate—for that is what it is at this stage—that the carnage on the Attari Express was intended to throw a spanner in the works. Since most of the passengers were Pakistanis, simplistic speculation would either see the hand of Hindu terrorists or more conspiracy theoretically, that of elements in the Indian establishment opposed to the peace process. Yet this line of thinking suffers from a major weakness: that both the Indian government and Indian public opinion would become more determined to ensure that the peace process does not falter. Just look at the UPA government’s actions despite the spate of terrorist attacks across the country. The unprecedented jihadi offensive against India met with an unprecedented response—the Havana appeasement. [See this at Retributions.] So yes, if the intention of the attackers was to shame the UPA government for its failure to prevent such attacks from happening, then they might arguably have succeeded. But if their intention was to dissuade it from settling with Pakistan, then this act will prove counterproductive. And unless they are fools, they would know this very well.

It follows then, that the attack could have been carried out to put New Delhi on the diplomatic backfoot and cause it to publicly reiterate its commitment to the peace process. Many quarters would desire this, not least Gen Musharraf himself.

It is also important to see this attack in the context of a surge in terrorist attacks in and around Pakistan—just recently there have been bomb blasts in several Pakistani cities and even in Zahedan, Iran. The Next Musharraf hypothesis (essentially, that there is a Musharraf in the waiting) suggests that quarters within the Pakistani military-jihadi establishment may be plotting to destabilise Musharraf with a view to unseat him. Their objective does not necessarily need India to back off from dealing with Musharraf—just to see that he will be (and will seen to be) unable to deliver on his promises. And once Musharraf is no longer on the scene, any deal that India signs with him will be, to put it mildly, up for renegotiation.

Much of all this, of course, is speculation. Pending the investigation (which, given the context, may never arrive at an undisputed conclusion) this is all we have to go on. Even so, this carnage, and especially the possible Next Musharraf angle, should remind the Indian government that for all the seduction that Grand Acts of Statemanship hold, caution is in order while dealing with Pakistan. India should hold off grand bargains at least until Gen Musharraf’s re-election later this year.

9 thoughts on “More burned than a train”

  1. Nitin,

    When I read Raja Mohan’s latest column, my first inclination was to mail it you. But didn’t bother since that guy is simply incorrigible. Glad you picked it up anyway.

    Raja Mohan certainly speaks for the establishment-is the P.M.O as dumb as it seems or is Raja Mohan nothing more than a useful contraption for floating balloons?

  2. While you advocate caution, the speed with which India set up a visa post in Pakistan to hand out visas to Pakistani officials and accident victims’ kins simply baffles me. I wonder how many of these kins are going to overstay and become untraceable.

  3. Sriram,

    From a purely humanitarian point of view, I think the visa camps are a good idea. Real people were killed and hurt and helping out at this stage is not only good in itself, but good politics too.

    But yes…the problem of infiltration is very real. While even one infiltrator is one too many, I suppose the total number of visas issued won’t be very large.

  4. It follows then, that the attack could have been carried out to put New Delhi on the diplomatic backfoot and cause it to publicly reiterate its commitment to the peace process. Many quarters would desire this, not least Gen Musharraf himself.

    What you said seems to be right with fingers already being pointed at India http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=81647

    Quoting from that,

    “It is the responsibility of the Indian authorities to provide security to the train inside Indian territory. We expect Indian authorities to punish the perpetrators.”

  5. Nitin,

    As the whole world homes in slowly to the paki double games, these sort of side shows are important for Terror Inc., owned and operated by pakistan.

    The paki establishment, the suave arm of terror inc., is already giving out advisories to indian govt. http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=81647

    The delinking of the paki establishment with terror inc., expressed by the phrase: The “peace process” would not be derailed by such terror acts; is I think the greatest gift of this fraud upa govt. to the Indian people.

  6. I wonder what India gains from the piece process. I can quite see what Pak gains.
    Suppose, just suppose, New Delhi actully follows the priorities of the vast majority of India’s people and especially its young people – and warm relations with na-Pak is way down their lists – and ignores Pak, will the skies fall? Why not just do it then? This Pak game of duplicity and deception has gone on for far too long, ain’t it so? Pak will have one less fig leaf of cover beaides. Fact is we don’t need pakistan, never did actually. Their situation today is dire and they need India – to hold their own country together in hatred against a common foe and for importing many commodities which are just too expensive to obtain in Pakistan.

    I hope Delhi’s simbly playing a perfunctory talking game with pak while we focus on our economy and our military. Pretty soon, we’ll be so far ahead of naPak, it won’t matter what they think or say.

  7. Sudhir,

    Just throwing a spanner in a spinning wheel can break it. Pakistan is in much sense, the best spanner that has been breaking Indian wheels. We are growing and progressing inspite of Pakistan but it has not been that easy. Pakistan suffers from a huge inferiority complex. So the net result, Pakistan is more than willing to play India’s Achilles heels. So Peace Progress is intended to minimize the loss due to Pakistan. The hope or objective is to make Indian economic dividend to Pakistan act as a deterrent. A good working relationship with Pakistan will benefit India – access to central Asia, good integration within SAARC. At the end of the day, we need to decide – which is a lesser evil – A Pakistan which is involved in peace talks (thereby reduces the loss that it can cause to India) or a Pakistan that is belligerent and let-loose. Americans rightly decided a wavering Musaaraf is better than Taliban-Pakistan, We need to make ours!

    –Bala

  8. Bala,

    I see your point. That is why I said I hope Delhi’s peace talks would remain just talk. Any ‘action’ on Delhi’s part would amount to concessions to Pak and a victory for blackmail.

    I’m seriously concerned with GoI’s willingness to negotiate Siachen, Tawang etc under the UPA. Talk is cheap and there’s no harm in talking for the sake of it. Pak has steadfastly refused to open its markets etc to us (the MFN status is another case in the point). They’ve kept the jihadist mad dogs in reserve and that serves as their blackmailing chip.

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