Attack on Pathankot air force base

Published January 4, 2016
The Indian Air Force Base is in Pathankot. —AFP/File
The Indian Air Force Base is in Pathankot. —AFP/File

WHILE Pakistan-India ties are necessarily about a great deal more than terrorism, the latter is perhaps the one threat that can derail the relationship yet again.

It is too early to know the facts about what transpired at an Indian air force base in Pathankot but already some challenges — and opportunities for broadening and deepening anti-terrorism efforts — can be identified.

Firstly, the Pakistani government has done the right thing in quickly and unequivocally condemning the terror attack and offering its cooperation to India.

Having suffered grievously from militant violence and having resolved to fight militancy in all its forms, Pakistan should rightly offer its support to any state confronting terror threats. It is a welcome change that Pakistan now officially and directly condemns terrorist attacks regionally and internationally and offers its assistance where necessary.

The years of ambivalence appear to have been left behind.

Yet, the challenges are formidable. The hostile reaction by much of the Indian media to the alleged involvement of Pakistanis in the attack even before the barest facts could be established underlines just how difficult peacemaking will be.

Courageously, however, the Indian government has appeared to resist media and hawkish pressure and declined to go into attack mode against Pakistan. It is all too easy to reap political capital in the midst of a major terrorist attack by targeting perceived external enemies.

The preferable approach — one that hopefully the Indian government will continue to adopt in the days ahead — would be to quickly establish the facts. If no involvement of Pakistani nationals is found, the information should be shared with the Indian public.

If Pakistani nationals are found to be involved in the attack, the information should be shared with Pakistani authorities as quickly as possible — and reciprocal steps should be taken here. To thwart the political motives of terrorists, a sensible, cooperative approach by both governments should be key.

Inside Pakistan, there needs to be some reflection. Has Pakistan’s inability to deal adequately with India’s concerns about the 2008 Mumbai attacks caused cynicism about Pakistani intentions and led to Indians being automatically suspicious of Pakistan whenever a terrorist attack occurs in their country?

If so, does that not harm Pakistan’s own interests? There is still too much defensiveness about the terrorism threat on the Pakistani side — perhaps less so in the political government, but certainly in the military-led security establishment.

There is no conceivable gain that Pakistan can make through terrorism when it comes to key disputes and issues with India. Not only is that abundantly clear outside the state apparatus, a generation of senior officials, both military and civilian, have publicly and privately acknowledged and accepted that.

If that is indeed the case, then Pakistan ought to lead confidently on the regional terrorist threat. No one — at least no one credible — can accuse the Pakistani state of not wanting to or failing to fight the banned TTP today. The day must come when the same can be said for all terror threats, internally, regionally and internationally.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2016

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