Friday, February 13, 2009

The jihadist Pakistan Army is our real headache

This came out on the morning of the day in which Pakistan responded to the Indian dossier of January 5

What are we to make of the peculiar pattern of evasion, disinformation and dissimulation adopted by Pakistan on the Mumbai issue? More importantly, what are we to do about it?

In the past two-and-a-half months, Islamabad has enacted a bizarre drama which began with the midnight flight of its army chief’s aircraft to retrieve its foreign minister from India, and an unexplained call to its president threatening war by someone claiming to be the external affairs minister of India, a man whose accent is so distinct that it is probably impossible to imitate.
Since then we have been witness to bluff and bluster over Amir Ajmal Qasab’s nationality and parsing the difference between the word “evidence” and “information”. The contretemps over the Indian dossier was, then, the chronicle of a drama foretold which has featured a series of leaks suggesting that the attacks were planned everywhere else but in Pakistan, as well as a standup comic performance by Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK, Wajid Shamshul Hasan, declaring that India had faked the Mumbai transcripts and that the attacks had not come from Pakistan.


The very next day, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that the High Commissioner had spoken out of line. Then came the suggestion that the attacks had been organized by Bangladeshi elements and that the planning for it may have been carried out in Dubai. Now, it is true that the Harkat-ul-jehad Islami, based in that country and with networks extending to Dubai, has carried out terrorist strikes in India. But all of them have been at the instance of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. In the Mumbai matter, some reference was made to the acquisition of SIM cards from Kolkata. But there was never any suggestion that Bangladesh was involved. Austria, another country from where SIMs were sourced, has been mooted in Pakistan as a place where the attack originated.
After several weeks of sending messages to India through the media, Pakistan was expected to give a formal reply to the dossier this week. But now it seems that they are not ready. Citing what they say is a lack of adequate information given by the Indian side, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet of the Gilani government says that some more “clarifications” and “information” was needed from India. Just why the DCC of Pakistan needs to meet on the issue of a dossier related to a terrorist crime is a mystery. In all likelihood, the formal Pakistani response, too, will hem and haw and speak of incomplete information even while pointing fingers at Dubai, Bangladesh and Austria.
What are India’s options then?
Not too many, and none satisfactory. The issue is not “information”. Whatever India has provided to Islamabad corroborates with information independently collected by foreign intelligence agencies in the US, France and Russia. After all, the encounter took some 60 hours and the terrorists hardly made any effort to scramble or hide their conversations. Even those electronic intelligence-gatherers who may have been caught napping in the first place had time to tune in. Pakistan would have been able to brazen it out but for the capture of Qasab. His detention in Mumbai and his confession present a real problem to all the theories that are being spun out in Islamabad.
In the case of the Parliament House attack on December 13, 2001, India was not even able to get the actual names of the attackers, let alone their nationalities. The people convicted subsequently were Indian nationals whose main crime was to provide shelter and logistics support to the terrorists. The police investigation of this case was notably incompetent, which included the fact that not even fingerprints were taken from the car in which the terrorists crashed into Parliament House.
In the case of Mumbai, a great deal of evidence has been gathered, some of it independently and professionally, by the FBI through its own technical means, including accessing Thuraya satellite phone records from its headquarters in Abu Dhabi, as well as through the mobile phones of the dead terrorists.


Questioning that evidence is not going to be a credible exercise. But perhaps Pakistan already knows this, and that is why it decided to up the stake by releasing the disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan. The message that has gone out seems to be that Pakistan is telling the world: We know what you think of us, and we don’t care.
You can call it a high-risk strategy. Thumbing their nose into the face of world opinion will cost Pakistan dear. But the aim is not to further the cause of a nation, but to protect and preserve the interests of an organization — the Pakistan Army. Since this organization considers itself the main sentinel of the “Pakistan idea” it is conflating its interests with those of the country. But the fact is that right now it sees itself as fighting for its life. Consider the scenario before the Mumbai attack. The army was involved in a deeply unpopular campaign against Baitullah Mehshud and the Pakistani Taliban on one hand, and the Al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance of Afghanistan.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani with General Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani

The Mumbai attack has created a scenario where the two — Mehshud and the Taliban-AQ alliance through its spokesman Mustafa Abu al-Yazid — have both declared their willingness to fight the Pakistani jihad, against India; presumably with the Pakistan Army. This may not be entirely pleasing to the GHQ in Rawalpindi, but they cannot be entirely displeased either. This means that they can “preserve” their gains in Afghanistan and at the same time torpedo the India-Pakistan peace process which was working well till the Mumbai incident.


What is left is to manage the Americans. Pakistanis have been traditionally very good at this. Even as late as 2008, a US Government Accounting Office report admitted that the US had been systematically taken for a ride by Musharraf. The current Army chief Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani is scheduled to go to Washington soon. No doubt he has a revised version of the old banana-oil formula ready for sale to the Americans.
What the US and other western countries have to realise is that you cannot deal with the problems in Pakistan by throwing money and aid into the situation. That’s like adding fuel to the fire. What is needed is a systematic policy of depriving the fire of oxygen. In political terms it means a hands-on approach for dealing with the problem itself — the Pakistan Army which sees terrorism, or “sub-conventional” war as an essential element of its strategy.
The pattern of India-Pakistan relations have revealed that there is a vested interest in the Pakistan Army in preventing a normalization of relations between the two countries. This is the hard reality that emerges from the sorry story of the Mumbai attacks which has more or less put paid to our twenty-year-old strategy of persisting with dialogue and confidence-building measures regardless of the provocations that have been thrown in our way by the Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or, in the case of Kargil, the army itself.
India now needs to alter its view that it should deal with whoever is in power in Islamabad, which is usually the Army. That institution is beyond reform; it needs dismantling and reconstitution. If necessary we should be prepared to sit it out in a long freeze, until Pakistan has credible institutions which are not fundamentally hostile to the idea of India or normal relations with us.
This was published in Mail Today February 12, 2009

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