June has not been a happy month for Pakistan, both internally and externally. A few days ago, the country's premier was shown the door by the apex court, creating much turmoil in Islamabad and now the arrest of Abu Jundal, a terror suspect, by India followed by the 'mistake' made while releasing an accused Indian, Surjeet Singh. The final two incidents have exposed Pakistan on the international stage.
26/11 remote-controlled from Karachi
After Jundal, 30, a bachelor of science, apparently confirmed Pakistan's hands behind the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008, Islamabad has been feeling all the more pressure to bring the culprits to law. The US has also asked Pakistan to take stern measures against all those who were involved in the deadly terror attacks, including serving officials of the intelligence who were allegedly present in the control room in Karachi from where the whole operation was being coordinated by the Laskar-e-Taiba. Voices in the US said Pakistan could not afford to delay things, particularly after Jundal's arrest, for it could lead to its isolation in the international community.
It is significant that the US has come out with a harsh stand on Pakistan's acts, something which clearly reflects on the bad relation the two old allies are experiencing at the moment. The US also said that it would continue to support India in its effort to bring the brains behind 26/11 to justice. The US had lost some of its nationals in the attack that had claimed over 160 lives. It is believed that the US had played a considerable part in helping India trace Jundal and pressurising Saudi Arabia to deport him to India.
Jundal's Saudi Arabia link
Abu Jundal or Hamza are primarily assumed names of an Indian national Syed Zabiuddin Ansari (terrorist groups christen its members by 'iconic' names like al-Jandal or abu Hamza). It is known that Pakistani authorities had arrested a rebel named Abu Hamza in February 2009. Whether he was released and allowed to settle in Saudi Arabia, an ally of Islamabad, is something now the Indian and US agencies must find out.
Why then Saudis deport the militant?
If Jundal or Hamza is the same rebel, then what made the Riyadh authorities to deport him suddenly to India, a rival to its old ally? Even if he has been deported, then why not in the last three years? Sources said Pakistan had exerted tremendous pressure on Riyadh not to hand over Jundal to India for he was a key man associated with the 26/11 plot and could spill the beans against Islamabad's interest.
However, New Delhi, which said it shared a very good relation with Riyadh, succeeded in convincing the latter that Jundal was actually an Indian national carrying a Pakistani passport and was sought after under several cases pertaining to the 26/11 attacks. New Delhi even provided DNA samples of Jundal's family members based in Maharashtra to strengthen its claim (even a state minister of Maharashtra has found herself involved with the terrorist's name). The Saudi police then had deported Jundal to India. It was a major success of New Delhi in unravelling the 26/11 attacks after the Kasab and Headley episodes.
But was it India's efforts only?
Jundal's deportation from Saudi Arabia helps us make two conclusions. First, by giving shelter to an anti-Indian terrorist backed by Pakistan, Riyadh also fuels the jihad and secondly, it had deported Jundal more after being pressurised by the US, its western ally, rather than New Delhi.
Poor US-Pak relations helped India's cause
The US is annoyed with Islamabad over various issues, particularly Osama bin Laden's stay in Pakistani territory, and his subsequent killing. Washington has also refused to ease its drone attacks on Pakistan to wipe out terrorism, something which has deteriorated the bilateral relation all the more. Afghanistan is a big reason for the shaky US-Pakistan relations at the moment. Islamabad refusing to open a NATO-supply line to Afghanistan following a US attack which had killed many Pakistani soldiers last November is also a reason for the friction.
Against such a background, it is quite normal that the US would try to corner Pakistan more and more. Spokesperson of the US State Department, Victoria Nuland, said the US wanted to see the end of the 26/11 culprits for its own citizens were also killed on that day and hence there was a direct interest.
Retreat now to advance later
This was a deliberate attempt by the exposed authorities in Islamabad. Pakistan is, at the moment, sandwiched between several problems. There is a fight going on between the civilian authorities and the judiciary. The army, which also has its gun facing the civilian authority, is also overstretched, not only to man the borders but also deal with extremists' threat (sources said a group of Talibans has recently entered the country). The economy is in a shambles, civic services have collapsed, while the US aid, which has been served as oxygen to the country since its birth, could be cut drastically, particularly over the imprisonment of Dr Shakil Afridi.
In such a situation, Islamabad decided to drum up a pro-peace tune with India, which would not only divert the attention from core issues but also buy its some time to decide on the next move. The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, soon after Jundal's arrest, offered counter-terrorism cooperation to India, saying Pakistani authorities have always led a crusade against terror!
This was a deliberate move by the Zardari regime to divert attention from over its wrongdoings. Early on June 26, Pakistan announced that it would pardon and release Sarabjit Singh, an Indian imprisoned in Pakistan on terrorism charges. However, later on the same day, the same authorities made a volte-face, saying not Sarabjit but they would release Surjeet Singh, another Indian prisoner spending his days behind the bars in Pakistan for three decades now. This was a shocker for Sarabjit's family who even had distributed sweets earlier to celebrate the 'wrong' announcement. Whatever be Pakistan authorities said in defence of the goof-up, it raises a few questions.
First, why suddenly Pakistan decided to release an Indian prisoner, whether Sarabjit or Surjit, both of whom have been languishing in the jails for a long time at this very hour? May be Islamabad was reciprocating release of Dr Khalil Chisti by India in April. But is that the real reason?
Two, why did it take so long for Pakistani authorities to rectify the mistake? It is difficult to believe that Pakistan will do anything related to India in such a casual manner.
Third, was there any official presidential order for the release?
Pak has a strong sense of justice!
Chances are high that Islamabad actually did a u-turn on the issue, something which again reveals the poor grip the civilian authority has over the country. It is learnt that soon after the announcement on Sarabjit was made, the ISI and other Islamist groups started pressurising Islamabad to backtrack. They disagreed to let the government release Sarabjit for he is accused of unleashing terrorist acts killing several Pakistani citizens. In the face of growing pressure, Islamabad retreated and instead chose Surjeet as a candidate to be released.
What India can do?
India is perhaps enjoying the maximum advantage at the moment, as far as its dealing with Pakistan is concerned. The biggest reason for that is, of course, the US-Pak rift. The US has done a great favour to New Delhi by helping it get hold of Jundal. The onus now lies on India to make use of the favourable climate to take on the challenges posed by Pakistan and terrorists back by it. Initiating covert strategies to chase down terror gangs and centres with foreign and domestic help would be a good strategy. New Delhi must not limit itself to goodwill gestures and instead try to corner Pakistan by influencing anti-Islamabad forces.
Our western neighbour is in a vulnerable state and it would be a golden moment to exert more and more pressure on it to make concessions. India should also play a proactive role in Afghanistan with covert US help for that would not only keep Pakistan under pressure from its western wing but would also check any Taliban advancement in the region.
After US pull-out from Afghanistan, the onus would be on India to restore stability in the region and that would put brakes on Pakistani designs all the more. Back home, it is urgent for India to execute fast action while dealing with people like Kasab and Jundal for any delay in delivering justice would do its effort to tackle terrorism no good. India should also express a strong opinion to create pressure on Pakistan to release Sarabjit as well since his name had already been raised by Islamabad. Help of international forums and laws can be taken to make advancements on the issue.
Pak a tough nut to crack
Islamabad is a tough nut to crack even when it is not having the best of relations with Washington. The biggest reason for that is Pakistan banks heavily on allies like China and Saudi Arabia to bail it out from problems. Political backing from Riyadh and nuclear support from Beijing and Pyongyang have enabled Islamabad to maintain its stand of defiance. However, with the USA's pressure on Riyadh and India focussing to import more oil from Saudi Arabia as a replacement to blacklisted Iran, there are chances of India, USA and Saudi Arabia putting up a lose alliance against Pakistan designs. Whatever Islamabad does from here, a lot is at stake, there is no doubt.