The Telegraph
Saturday , February 4 , 2017

NDA pal springs hard-to-digest Pak bill

Rajeev Chandrasekhar

New Delhi. Feb. 3. Entrepreneur and Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar today introduced a bill to declare Pakistan a terror state, a description the Prime Minister has used for the neighbouring country but which the foreign office doesn't want written into law.

The Declaration of Countries as Sponsor of Terrorism Bill, 2016, seeks to create a mechanism by which Indian governments can list nations as terror states - like the US State Department does - and impose sanctions on them.

But the foreign office has long resisted such a mechanism to blacklist and sanction Pakistan because of a broad consensus that it may backfire on India's attempts to pressure the neighbour away from terrorism.

The private member bill, which seeks to withdraw economic and trade relations with countries declared as "state sponsors of terrorism", and create legal, economic and travel sanctions for citizens of that country, threatens to expose a gap between India's rhetoric and diplomatic plans.

Such bills - introduced by individual MPs instead of the government - have only occasionally made it into law, and those that have were mostly sponsored eventually by the government.

But the government is required to respond to every private member bill in Parliament, and Chandrasekhar's bill has thrust the Narendra Modi government into a quandary.

The foreign office argued, even after the September terror attack in Uri that prompted the "surgical strike" in retaliation, that it was beneficial to maintain diplomatic relations with Pakistan - which it would need to scrap if the country is legally listed as a terror state.

"Yesterday only, we called in their high commissioner, we confronted him with the evidence of Pakistani involvement in the latest terror attack in Uri," foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said then, when asked if India was keen to legally label Pakistan a terror state and shut down diplomatic ties.

"Now such demarches can only be made if you have diplomatic relations. So I think you will agree that having diplomatic relations does serve a useful purpose."

Chandrasekhar, an Independent MP but NDA chairperson in Kerala, said India and other countries in the region had suffered terror attacks from organisations and individuals supported by sections of the Pakistan establishment.

"Despite undeniable evidence to substantiate that... Pakistan sponsors terror in India, we have continued to remain engaged diplomatically, culturally and economically with Pakistan for decades," he said while introducing the bill.

He accused Pakistan of continuing to provide safe haven to terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and groups like the Taliban, al-Qaida, Jamaat-ud Dawah, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Haqqani Network and the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

"While we are looking at the international community to recognise and declare Pakistan as a terror state, it is for us, as the country most affected, to take the first step towards this," Chandrasekhar said. "We must go beyond merely condemning the attack on our sovereignty time after time and take a decisive and strong step to declare Pakistan a terror state."

But the foreign office has long argued that such a move may end up hurting India more than Pakistan, and may kill the multiple levers New Delhi currently uses to manage its relations with an adversarial neighbour.

Indian economic sanctions are unlikely to cause more than a ripple in Pakistan.

Indian economic sanctions - in a best-case scenario - may pressure other South Asian nations to follow suit, or reduce their trade with Pakistan.

Ending diplomatic ties with Pakistan would kill all opportunities to use international law and bilateral mechanisms to at least manage, if not resolve, the multiple disputes that divide the neighbours. As the country at the receiving end of Pakistan-based terrorism, India needs these diplomatic channels more than Pakistan, officials pointed out.

Finally, diplomats have long argued, India's best option of managing its difficult relationship with Pakistan involves engaging with what former national security adviser and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon has described as the "many Pakistans".

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