Deja vu, the dictionary tells us, is French for 'already seen'.
Deja vu is what I experienced when I once again heard our government de-linking terrorism from talks with Pakistan.
Let’s rewind a decade, to late 2001.
Less than a month after 9/11, Pakistani terrorists attacked the assembly building in Srinagar, killing 38 people.
After the usual rhetoric ('India cannot accept such manifestations of hate and terror from across its borders. There is a limit to India's patience’ - Foreign Ministry statement; "We will revenge this attack and will not sit idle" - J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah), what did we do?
We agreed to talk about talks.
This, even as the US, done talking, was bombing the Taliban regime out of Afghanistan for refusing to hand over 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
New Delhi’s demand that the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief, who claimed responsibility for the Srinagar attack, be handed over to India was met with the usual sneers from Islamabad.
And at the same time, in something that will sound increasingly familiar to South Asia watchers, India made an impassioned, but vain, plea to the US against the sale of arms to Pakistan.
On December 13 that same year, as the entire world watched on television, Pakistani terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi.
Once again, India went into the sabre-rattling routine, indulging in a massive, expensive mobilisation of troops on the border.
Home minister L K Advani set out terms for talks with Pakistan:
• The dismantling of all terrorist training camps across the border, including those in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
• No arming and abetting of terrorists.
• Halting financial assistance to terrorist and jihadi outfits.
• The cessation of cross-border terrorism.
• The extradition of 20 terrorists wanted for terrorist acts in India.
Months later, without even one of those conditions being fulfilled, we stood down and demobilized.
Of course, Uncle Sam, busy propping up Pakistan to help fight its war in Afghanistan, had a lot to do with it, even as it does now.
We’ve been doing the same three-step each and every time we face off with our western neighbour.
One: Pakistan (and let’s not fall for that nonsense about the ordinary Pakistani loving India, or the ISI being a rogue element outside the government’s control) initiates, aids and abets terror strikes in India.
Two: In response, India makes a lot of noise, pledges to hunt down the perpetrators, and insists that talks will not take place till the terrorists are dealt with by Pakistan.
Three: Following Pakistan’s nuclear sabre-rattling and US orders to act with restraint, India offers to forget the past and continue the talks. Public memory is short.
This is what happened after the Kalachuk massacre in May 2002, where Pakistan-trained terrorists attacked the family quarters of an Indian army camp. At least 31 people including 10 children were killed and 47 wounded.
This is what happened after the Nandimarg massacre, in which 24 Hindus, including 11 women and two children, were pulled out of their homes and shot by Pakistan-trained terrorists.
That is what happened after the 2005 Delhi bombings (60 killed, 527 hurt), the 2006 Varanasi bombings (37 dead, 89 hurt), the Doda Massacre and the several train and serial bombings in Mumbai.
And this is what is happening after 26/11 too.
Look at what happened post the July 11, 2006, Mumbai train bombings, in which over 200 people were killed and 700 hurt. We pledged that the culprits would be punished, and blamed the Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ISI.
“We have fairly solid evidence” linking the ISI with the blasts, declared the then National Security Advisor MK Narayanan.
Barely two months later, at the Non-Aligned Summit in Havana, Cuba, on September 16, our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Pakistan strongman Pervez Musharraf issued a joint statement announcing that the two countries would resume formal peace negotiations and set up a joint agency to tackle terrorism.
After the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, we once again indulged in empty posturing, and pledged not to resume any dialogue till the perpetrators were brought to book by Pakistan.
Eight months later, Dr Singh and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani met in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on the sidelines of the NAM summit in July 2009.
Again, both leaders affirmed their resolve to fight terrorists, and ‘recognised that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed…’ , said the joint statement released at the end of the meeting.
The two met again in Thimpu, Bhutan, at the annual SAARC summit last month, where, at the insistence of other South Asian leaders tired of the three-step, they took a walk together through the SAARC village. Later, they met formally for an hour, but without any note-takers.
Subsequently, according to our foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, they "agreed that the Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Secretaries will be charged with the responsibility of working out the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in the relationship and thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue on all issues of mutual concern...”
Prime Minister Gilani, on his part, affirmed that “Pakistan is serious about prosecuting the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and that all efforts were being made to bring the trial of these individuals to a speedy conclusion. Prime Minister Gilani said that Pakistan would not allow Pakistan territory to be used for terrorist activity directed against India.”
Deja vu? Here’s what the statement issued after the SAARC summit in Islamabad on January 6, 2004, said:
‘…Prime Minister Vajpayee said that in order to take forward and sustain the dialogue process, violence, hostility and terrorism must be prevented. President Musharraf reassured Prime Minister Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner. President Musharraf emphasised that a sustained and productive dialogue addressing all issues would lead to positive results...’
At Thimpu, India also agreed to Pakistan’s demand that Pakistani students and faculty admitted to the proposed South Asian University in New Delhi must get visas on the same terms as their SAARC compatriots. Which means they would not be subjected to police reporting requirements, nor restricted to specific cities with a maximum of three cities.
The Thimpu meeting came amidst a report quoting former Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri as saying that after prolonged secret back-channel discussions, Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf had reached an accord, and were about to sign it when ‘domestic turmoil’ (read the anti-Musharraf agitation) derailed it.
And what, according to Kasuri, did this accord entail?
Basically, it called for ‘Full demilitarisation of both the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir, with a package of loose autonomy on both sides of the Line of Control, a military control line that divides the region between two nations.’
Now why does that sound familiar? That’s right. This is precisely what Pervez Musharraf had been recommending in various ways since he took over Pakistan.
Notice that it involves "full demilitarisation." Militants, terrorists and ‘freedom fighters’, of course, do not fall under that category. We all know what that means.
Why are we letting Pakistan, which is the epicentre of all terrorist activity today, define not only the problem (Kashmir, water, Indian hegemony, etc) but also the solution (India must give, give, and give some more?)
Why can’t we officially offer a counter plan which has Indian interests at heart?
One, of course, is the Neelam Plan suggested by Arindam Banerji.
Unlike the Pakistani proposals which are essentially based on ‘bigoted principles of division along ethnic lines’, this plan is focused on ‘clamping down on terrorism and prevention of religious clashes in India’.
‘Clearly, these principles only apply to India, since terrorism is revered as freedom-fighting in Pakistan and other religions have mysteriously disappeared (from 20% to about 3% in 5 decades) from the land of the pure.’
Among other things, it calls for:
• The removal of Article 370, which gives special rights to Kashmir,
• Freedom for the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan) with transit rights for both India and Pakistan,
• Realigning the Line of Control to effectively encircle and neutralise the terrorist camps in the area
• Revisiting the Indus Water Treaty to align with modern realities and water needs of both nations.
‘Erecting bigger walls between India and Kashmir through increased autonomy, even as the slow Pakistanisation of Kashmir through Pakistan-inspired religious teachers continues, is diminishing Indian strategic hold in Kashmir,’ he argues.
There are a few other proposals floating around, which essentially aim to protect Indian interests.
But we seem more interested in quickly negotiating an agreement with Pakistan, rather than finding a long-term solution which protects our interests.
After all, isn’t that what our dear friend Uncle Sam wants too?
We as a nation have been doing the three-step for far too long.
It’s time we learnt some different moves.
Or learnt to live with deja vu.
Also see: Hey Ram: Let's give away Kashmir | All columns by Ramananda Sengupta