There are times when it becomes absolutely imperative to take a firm stand against sustained export of terrorism by one country to its neighbour. At such times—especially when such countries routinely exalt terrorists to the status of martyrs or heros—the niceties of diplomatic exchange have often to be abandoned in articulating the more crucial issues at hand. And this is precisely what seems to have happened at the South Asian Association for Regiol Cooperation (SAARC) summit held at Islamabad on Thursday. Much that is happening in the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan might well have been concealed by the hypocrisy that often rises from the compulsions of diplomatic propriety as well as from the time-honoured tradition of not referring to a member country specifically by me at such intertiol conferences. In fact, the rest of the SAARC summit might have gone off as uneventfully as the first few hours of its beginning were it not for two events. The first was the iugural address by Pakistan Prime Minister waz Sharif in which he referred to the need to jointly combat terrorism and organized crime but did not mention Kashmir. However, such appeals coming from the Prime Minister of a country that has habitually been exporting terrorism must have struck several SAARC members as the height of hypocrisy not to be glossed over in the greater interests of SAARC countries. The second was waz Sharif’s instructions to his diplomats to lobby against India over Kashmir intertiolly. Evidently, India’s Home Minister Rajth Singh was unwilling to let an opportunity of putting the record straight pass tamely in the interests of diplomatic niceties. The bilateral tension between the two countries came out in the open when Home Minister Rajth Singh argued that “one country’s terrorist cannot be another’s martyr.” He went on to add: “It needs to be ensured that terrorism is not glorified and is not patronized by any state. In no circumstances should terrorists be eulogized as martyrs. Those who provide support, encouragement, sanctuary, safe haven or any assistance to terrorism or terrorists must be isolated.” He also called for “immediate and effective action” against all the backers of intertiol terrorism, “whether they are state actors or non-state... Only then will justice be ensured for victims of terrorist attacks such as in Pathankot and Mumbai.”
There was no need for Rajth Singh to identify the country that was exporting terrorism since he had clearly mentioned two places in India where such mischief had been done. Rajth Singh’s reference was to the killed Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani, who Pakistan has called a “Kashmiri leader” and whose death triggered a wave of clashes that have left over 50 dead. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was more direct. He referred to the violence in Indian Kashmir. “The violence being committed against the innocent people of Indian Kashmir is open terrorism,” Khan said in Urdu at the SAARC summit. In any case, no one was expecting Singh’s visit to be smooth, and in the days preceding his departure for Islamabad, the Exterl Affairs Ministry in New Delhi had made it quite clear that the Home Minister would not hold bilateral talks with his Pakistan counterpart.
No one would claim that what happened in Islamabad was entirely uvoidable. At the same time, it would not do to go on pretending that India had to put up with Pakistan’s export of terrorism on the one hand and its pretence that it desired an end to terrorism and organized crime. The truth had to be stated and there was no better place for doing so than a SAARC summit where all neighbours Pakistan could be made aware of the kind of games that Pakistan was capable of playing. In fact, members of SAARC have now also witnessed the kind of measures that a country like Pakistan can adopt in order to gag the media and then pray that the rest of the world does not get to know what India said at the summit.