Spearhead Analysis – 14.10.2015
By Ayesha N.I. Ahmad
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
Pakistan and India seem to be locked in an unending dance of one step forward and two steps backwards. The two South Asian neighbours are nuclear armed and have a myriad of disputes. All disputes stem from Kashmir which to date remains an unfinished agenda of Independence, when two separate countries emerged in August 1947 on departure of the British colonial power from the subcontinent.
Pakistan has been trying to go the extra mile for substantial talks with India
since 2002. President Musharraf, the famed ‘architect’ of Kargil even went to the extent of an “out of box” solution for Kashmir and gave out four points; demilitarization, open borders, a cooling off period for a number of years and joint mechanism to govern the disputed territory. Mr.Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, who was Foreign Minister during President Musharraf’s tenure in his recently published book ”Neither a Hawk nor a Dove” has highlighted that the two nuclear armed neighbours were very near to inking a solution but fate intervened and with President Musharraf went the “out of box” idea.
With the coming to power of popular leaders Mr. Sharif and Mr. Modi,it was expected by many, that maybe peace will have a chance in South Asia. India-Pakistan watchers however cautioned, that Mr. Modi and his RSS Hindutva baggage meant that he will have to appease the right wing parivars, and peace with Pakistan may not be his number one priority. Inspite of this, Mr. Sharif went ahead from where he had left in 1999. He attended Modi’s inauguration as PM, opened talks on transit trade and despite border skirmishes still walked the difficult steps towards Modi in Ufa. All it seems has come to naught because India is only and only obsessed with terrorism. Any talks will only focus on this topic with the main caveat of Pakistan admitting all responsibility.
Maybe Pakistan now needs to change tack and really only talk about terrorism. The beginning for this can be the Samjhota Express Bombing. The Indians recently stopped this cross border train temporarily as they say because they cannot guarantee its safety in Indian Punjab. That too, from protesting farmers. Since 1976, this train and the recent Thar Express was the only visible symbol of bonhomie between the two neighbours. It was expected that the railway track between Lahore and New Delhi would be a harbinger of peace. The recent stoppage on security fears brings to mind the horror that occurred on the wintry night of February 2007. Sixty eight persons, at least fifty of whom were Pakistanis were burnt to death. A further fifty were injured by terrorist bombs, as the Samjhota Express sped through deep Indian territory only 80 kilometres from the capital New Delhi. The Pakistani Government condemned the attacks and speculated that the perpetrators intended to disrupt improving relations between the two nations, since the attacks came just a day before Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri was to arrive in new Delhi to resume peace talks.
As of 2011, nobody has been charged for this terrorist massacre. Yet, according to investigations done by India itself, the Samjhota Express carnage was done through the support of Lt. Col Prashad Shrikant Purohit, an Indian Army Officer and a member of Hindu nationalist group Abhinav Bharat. Officers have testified that, he was doing this in the capacity of a Military Intelligence man. The overall mastermind was Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader, Swami Aseemanand as per his own confession. Pakistan has repeatedly asked India to update it regarding the investigations and about the involvement of the Sangh activists. Surprisingly or maybe not, because RSS is closely linked to the ruling political Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of India, Swami Aseemanand the self confessed mastermind has been released on bail. For India under Modi, which only wants to talk about terrorism, the Samjhota terrorist attacks leave a very big smoking gun or trail towards the BJP and Indian military intelligence apparatus.
The Samjhota Express carnage and lack of follow up also reminds Islamabad of the Gujarat Muslim massacres under Modi’s watch as Chief Minister. That pogrom was also started by falsely accusing Muslims of setting a train on fire in which fifty eight persons died. In retaliation about one thousand Muslims were burnt and hacked to pieces by mobs of Hindu fundamentalists. These atrocities were silently watched by Modi and his government and felt by many encouraged. Memory should also not be so short as to forget that the Indian Prime Minister made history, by being the first democratically elected leader of the much touted largest democracy to have been refused a diplomatic visa and existing tourist cum business visa revoked by the United States of America. The reason- his links to genocide of minorities as Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat – As well as have a case registered against him for the same crimes in a New York court filed by the human rights group American Justice Centre(AJC).
So, maybe Pakistan should talk only about terrorism with India. A railway journey is a start of many an adventure. Railways are associated with romance, travel and the passing green fields. However, in India the rails are associated with bombs in the night and pogrom in Gujarat. India is welcome to talk only about terror; let Samjhota Express be the beginning.