Sluggish India-Pakistan Anti-Terror Mechanism

Animesh Roul

Remember Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s high profile meeting and the promises at Havana (Cuba), on the sidelines of NAM (Non-Alignment Movement) summit in mid September 2006. One year has been passed since both leaders agreed to have a joint anti-terror mechanism (ATM) to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations. It was considered significant then. But as things stand now, it seems the ATM is high on rhetoric, lacked seriousness and plausibly, both leaders have played to the gallery, knowing very well the sub-continental reality.

The first meeting of ATM was held in early March this year in Islamabad. Both sides have reportedly discussed “the parameters of the ATM and agreed that specific information will be exchanged through this mechanism for (1) helping investigations on either side related to terrorist acts and (2) prevention of violence and terrorist acts in the two countries. In the March meeting, it was also agreed that “while the Anti-Terrorism Mechanism would meet on a quarterly basis, any information which is required to be conveyed on priority basis would be immediately conveyed through the respective Heads of the Mechanism.”

However, neither the plan to hold this meet in every three months ever materialized, with sustained skepticism and intermittent terror attacks in both countries, nor they shared any intelligence inputs and open source intelligence on the perpetrators of terror. The March meeting achieved very little on the clause of information sharing.

Barely one meeting old, the ATM will be having the next round of talks on October 22 after much dilly-dallying over all these months. This time India would take up issues beyond Jammu and Kashmir for sure and press for bigger scope for the mechanism. It should be recollected that Pakistan had maintained that “old cases would remain out of the purview of the mechanism” and no discussion on J&K under ATM. It is well understood that any bilateral anti-terror mechanism between two countries dodging Kashmir issue, is irrelevant. Now it’s impossible to remain silent on J&K. More than two dozen terrorists and eight Indian army personnel have been killed in early October alone in separate encounters in J&K. And there is a dossier of infiltration trend with Indian authority to be presented, if allowed at all. As far as increasing cross border infiltration in J&K and through other routes are concerned, India would seize the opportunity ahead to raise some pertinent questions drawing parallel between past and present infiltrations.

The denials from the other side of the border notwithstanding, in reality, India is not hopeful of getting a breakthrough in the second-round meeting too. Both Islamabad and New Delhi have failed to instill a sense of trust which is essential for any effective bilateral mechanism. This was clearly manifested with this mechanism as investigation into the February 19 Samjhouta Express bombing and subsequent sharing of information never proceeded beyond the arrest of at least ten suspects from different places of India and later’s handing over a list of names to Pakistani authority. Pakistan has been pressing for details of Samjhouta blast investigation which killed more than 60 Pakistan bound passengers. Prime terror masterminds like Azam Cheema and Sahid Bilal (Bilal reportedly killed in Pakistan on Aug 30) are still at large and Pakistan never furnished any info on their whereabouts under the agreed parameters of ATM, refuting their presence in its soil. War of words has become a regular features following any terror strikes, be it Hyderabad mosque / market blasts or Gorakhapur serial blasts. Indian intelligence agencies suspect terrorists with Bangladesh-Pakistan linkages for the terrorist strikes.

There was initial skepticism about the very concept of ATM with many considered it as ‘ill-conceived’ and an effort to equate a perpetrator of terrorism with a victim of terrorism. Many observers maintained that this mechanism has been indirectly shielding Pakistan. In the forthcoming meeting India would seek a status report of its earlier requests on the terror lists and a convincing answer for the still-thriving terrorist infrastructure across the border. Along with, a new set of suspect list would be shared with Pakistani authorities even though similar efforts never yielded any result and remained unrequited.

Author Note
Animesh Roul, Executive Director (Research), Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi.