After Pathankot

Updated January 06, 2016

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THERE is much that is uncertain about the immediate state of India-Pakistan relations, but at least one thing is clear: for all the outstanding, bilateral issues, terrorism has forced its way to the front again.

At the very highest and official levels, both sides continue to be measured and cooperative in their responses. The telephone call yesterday between prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif suggests that the political establishments at least are willing to see if the diplomatic approach can yield results.

Whatever evidence, if any, India finds about the involvement of Pakistan-based actors in the Pathankot IAF base attack should be shared promptly and in full with Islamabad. Then, as Mr Sharif has pledged, Pakistan should investigate urgently, and take action where necessary.

Already, though, there has been a public lead provided — and possibly a gauntlet thrown down to the Pakistani state. The claim by Syed Sadaqat Husain, a spokesperson for the United Jihad Council, an umbrella jihadi group based in Azad Kashmir, that the UJC is responsible for the Pathankot incident has created several problems for Pakistan.

Whether the UJC did in fact launch the attack or not — a hitherto unknown branch of the UJC, the National Highway Squad, has been credited with the attack — the claim will invariably draw yet more scrutiny of anti-India militants based inside Pakistan, and in Kashmir in particular.

The UJC leadership, which has with varying degrees of success put together a disparate group of militants over the past two decades, is believed to be politically close to the Pakistani state, but its role in militancy has been doubtful for many years, particularly since the Musharraf-era freeze on cross-LoC attacks. Has that changed? Or have elements inside the UJC gone rogue?

If the state wants to convey that it speaks with one voice and that dialogue resumption between India and Pakistan is the result of a consultative process and consensus decision-making, then it must demonstrate that the UJC claim is being taken seriously.

It cannot be that Mr Sharif tells his Indian counterpart that terrorists always try and derail the peace process between the two countries, and then the state here tries to sweep under the carpet the claims of an armed attack made by a group whose leadership is based in Pakistan.

If the UJC claim is a ruse, it should be exposed as such. If not, the architects of the Pathankot attack need to be brought to justice.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2016