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Monday, Dec 17, 2001

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The demarche and stark choices

THE DASTARDLY ATTACK on the Parliament House and the venomous challenge from the terrorists understandably has compelled New Delhi to deliver a demarche to Pakistan about those who are suspected to have masterminded the evil plot. The External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, has identified the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as the prime culprit. Without laying bare the facts, he cites the existence of ``entirely credible'' but purely ``technical evidence''. India's intelligence agencies have apparently unearthed this following the terrorist strike which was eventually foiled on December 13. It is in this context that Islamabad has been asked to exert its political influence over the LeT as also another Pakistan-based terrorist outfit, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which operate openly on its territory in every conceivable way. In a quick response, though, Pakistan is dismissive of India's demands using the extraordinarily insensitive pretext that New Delhi itself might have stage-managed the failed terrorist attack in order to defame the presumptive ``freedom struggle'' of the people of the Kashmir valley. Not to be missed in the familiar din and bustle of this latest India-Pakistan fracas is an objective reality of crisis proportions. The two countries are now staring at some definitive choices that could make all the difference between war and peace in South Asia and beyond.

In the increasingly dizzy environment of anti-terror rhetoric, India seems to be counting much on the moral indignation of the international community at this stage. This is why it is important that the process of marshalling evidence against the Pakistan-based attackers, the LeT and the JeM, be a credible and authoritative one. This can be done by fixing the culpability of these organisations in a reasonably transparent exercise which places the issue beyond doubt. To suggest the need for a superior touchstone is not to make light of the evidence that New Delhi has already gathered. There is a lesson to be learnt from the fact that the U.S. has felt compelled, at the height of its ongoing anti-terror war in Afghanistan, to release what it classifies as a providentially obtained video-record. This pertains to Osama bin Laden's confessions (or, celebrations) as regards his suspected role of orchestrating the terrorist offensive that traumatised America and the civilised world on September 11. Now, abhorrent as the politics of terrorism is, the world at large cannot be blamed for its sense of propriety in wishing to ensure that the terrorists are identified as such in a convincing fashion.

For New Delhi, which has notified its latest priorities to Islamabad through a demarche, a logical follow-up is to embark on a sensible diplomatic offensive. The global community has not so far been sensitised sufficiently to India's enormous concerns about the terrorist threats to its proud democratic and secular culture. India lags far behind Pakistan for the propaganda stakes (in a robust sense of the term) on the international stage. The world needs to know that the Kashmir issue, which has a definitive history peculiar to the ethos of India and Pakistan, cannot be equated with the Palestine question which, in a basic sense, is related to the political displacement of an entire civil society. Should New Delhi decide to engage the international community (inclusive of Pakistan) by giving non-polemical diplomacy a chance at this stage, the cause of meaningful restraint will be served indeed. In any case, a substantive element of strategic restraint is already inherent in the nuclear deterrence that both India and Pakistan possess. Yet, as the Vajpayee administration evaluates the strategic options before it, the people of India must not lose sight of their situational dilemma that a heightened terror-specific war with ``hot pursuit'' and cross border attacks carries with it the danger of turning into a fullscope war with Pakistan.

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