The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Talking shop to take on terror

New Delhi, Dec. 4: Besides sending a strong political signal of close cooperation between the Vajpayee and Putin governments, the signing of a memorandum of understanding to combat terrorism will have little impact at the ground level, Indian agencies privately say.

External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov signed the agreement in Hyderabad House today. Though the nitty-gritty have not yet been worked out, a joint working group will be in place to institutionalise cooperation in fighting terrorism.

But to the people on the ground, intelligence agencies and senior officials who deal with terrorism on a daily basis, these high-profile working groups provide little help.

“The JWGs are talking shops. It is good to know Russia shares our concerns and, diplomatically and politically, this has enormous uses, but on the ground, where it matters, there is little either the Russians or the Americans can do for us,” an intelligence official explained.

President Vladimir Putin’s blunt statements about Pakistan, the Taliban and al Qaida have pleased India’s political establishment.

“Putin’s concerns about Pakistan’s role in supporting jihadis, his fears about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and these landing in wrong hands find an echo in India,” a senior Indian diplomat said.

“We value Russia’s role in trying to get this view across to the international community. We hope the synergy flowing from the highest political level will be reflected in all our interactions, including the Joint Working Group,” he added.

Senior intelligence officials, however, concede that over a period of time, cooperation in combating terrorism could be much more effective. These officials privately say that the JWG on terrorism with the US has not been a great success.

“With the US and the EU, we have to spend much time doing the groundwork. The first few meetings are devoted to explaining our position on terrorism and Pakistan’s role in Kashmir. Later we get down to discussions of a general nature on terrorism. Specifics come much later,” the official explained.

But with the Russians, the explanations will be less. For one, they already know the problem. “As Pakistan and areas in Afghanistan are the fountainheads of terror in the region, we are dealing with the same kind of motivation here.” India has a long experience of fighting terrorism in Kashmir while Russia has its own war against radical Islamists in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Moscow and New Delhi already share intelligence, but the JWG will extend cooperation to a greater degree and upgrade it. Indian security agencies say Russia’s knowledge of Afghanistan will be of great help to them. Moscow also has inside information and a firm grip on radical Islamic terror groups hiding and working out of the Central Asian Republics. “Russia has an excellent database which can help Indian intelligence,” said a Western diplomat. “Though there is demoralisation in the Russian armed forces, the training facilities for its elite troops are excellent,” he added.

The government hopes that Russia will provide training to Indian anti-terrorist units. The idea is to finally upgrade equipment for India’s elite commando forces like the National Security Guard.

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