The old policies are broken, we need new ones. But first we must get our strategic approach right. Should India follow a policy of 'selective engagement' or 'flexible containment ' with regard to Pakistan ?
New Delhi’s policy towards Pakistan is once again at a cross-roads. The momentum of the Musharraf years is broken. It has been replaced by the same truculent demanding, and even threatening, tone that preceded the 2004-2007 period. In the eight months that the government has been in the election mode, a great deal has changed. Pakistan has a new civilian government, its internal security has deteriorated, its military has for all public purposes withdrawn into a shell.
What will the second coming of the United Progressive Alliance government mean in terms of policy towards Pakistan? Should it be ‘selective engagement’— or its darker flipside, ‘flexible containment’?
The rise of the Taliban in Pakistan has altered the terms of the world’s approach to Islamabad. Suddenly there is a feeling that we could well be on the threshold of something even more serious than we witnessed in the dark days after Nine-Eleven. From being a somewhat indulgent partner, the US has become a demanding patron. The Americans are being driven by the increased danger to their position in Afghanistan, a threat made possible by the consolidation of the Taliban and its allies in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. To counter this, the US has formulated a complex war plan that demands that Pakistan do more — far more — than they have been doing till now.
This demand has been heaven sent for a country which is expert at playing the US for a sucker. In the past eight years, Pakistan received $10 billion from the US, at least $6 billion as reimbursement for operations in the NWFP. But there is little to show for it. Former President Musharraf insists that Pakistan need provide no accounting for how this money has been spent.
But that is no secret. Some of it has been skimmed off for personal gain, but a large proportion has been spent to strengthen the Pakistan military against an adversary which has shown little inclination to act against them even when Pakistan-backed terrorists have inflicted great pain on it.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reiterated, almost pro forma, the Indian demand that Pakistan dismantle the infrastructure supporting terrorism and act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage. A number of voices in Pakistan, and this country, suggest that India must help out Islamabad by resuming the composite dialogue. They argue that such an action will help shore up the credentials of the civilian government in Islamabad at a time when it is being buffeted by the Taliban insurgency, as well as the rising tide of religious extremism and violence in other parts of the country.
Other voices, too, suggest that unless there is some reconciliation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, Islamabad will not assist any move to stabilise Afghanistan. There are even darker suggestions, repeated most recently by the President of Pakistan himself, that unless the world supported the civilian government, there was every chance that Pakistani nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of the Taliban.
The UPA-II sees itself as a new government with new policies. Perhaps the time has come for it to rethink its Pakistan policy anew. Since 1990, governments have sought to deal with Pakistan in a defensive mode of ‘selective engagement’. They have talked to Islamabad on all outstanding issues — Siachen, Wullar barrage, Indus waters, nuclear and conventional military confidence building and, of course, Jammu & Kashmir, even while Pakistan carried on a massive covert war against us.
The high-points, of what one official calls the “magnificent doggedness” of Indian policy, were the military confidence building measures of the early 1990s, the November 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control and Siachen, the January 6, 2004 agreement to push the composite dialogue, the agreement to create a South Asian Free Trade Area on the same day. The low points have been the Bombay blasts of 1993, the IC 814 hijack, the Parliament attack of 2001, the Mumbai carnage of 2008 and the numerous bomb attacks whose footprints lead to Islamabad. In such a matrix it is difficult to see what, if anything, India has gained.
Since 2007, the beginning of the decline of Pervez Musharraf — simultaneously our great tormentor and good interlocutor — India has been left with the uncomfortable feeling that we are alone on the dialogue table. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and President Asif Zardari are all sound and fury signifying nothing. They cannot provide depth to the conversation that came from having a President who was also commander-in-chief, and thus carried the authority of the men who really wield power in Pakistan — the Pakistan Army’s Corps Commanders’ conference.
For the better or the worse, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has chosen to keep off politics in the formal sense. There is no doubt that he continues to wield the traditional authority that the army chief does in Pakistan. But he has chosen not to get directly involved in dealing with India or the US.
Everything that is wrong with India’s Pakistan policy is best summed up by the way in which Islamabad has dealt with the Mumbai carnage. From the outset Pakistan has been in denial over the role of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in the attack. It has acted against some of those involved, but this action has been fitful. Given the general reluctance to act on the issue, it is too much to expect that the Pakistani prosecutors will come up with an iron-clad case to convict a Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi or Zarrar Shah, let alone Hafiz Saeed. To expect cooperation on a case involving the LeT is to go against everything we, and indeed anti-terrorist officials anywhere, know about the relationship between the Pakistani intelligence services and the outfit.
There will be suggestions that it is to India’s advantage to deal with a civilian government, and that only through helping shore up this government and civil society can there be real reconciliation between the two countries. Perhaps it is true. But in the short-term in which policy outcomes are sought, this places an impossible burden on New Delhi to not only negotiate with Pakistan, but also work overtime to ensure that our counterpart remains a viable interlocutor. India is a large and resilient country, but its stamina is finite.
In these circumstances, New Delhi can go through the formalities of a dialogue. But it will be shadow dialogue with interlocutors who cannot deliver. On the other hand, India has to deal with the real possibility that those who carried out the Mumbai attack are planning something even more horrific to achieve what they failed to the last time. As it is there are disturbing signs of heightened activities of terror groups against India in J&K and elsewhere. New Delhi had been lax in policing its frontiers and coastline. But Mumbai has at last persuaded the government to urgently institute defensive measures to prevent another attack.
Second, we need to sharply enhance our capabilities to deter the Pakistan armed forces from their cost-free policy of using terrorist proxies against India. Despite public commitments, the Indian military has not yet been able to seal that space between all-out nuclear conflict and a conventional war that the Pakistan Army has used to bleed India. The way out is not more of the same and acquiring bigger and better weapons, but transforming the way our military works.
In other words, by comprehensively out-thinking and outflanking our adversary through a new policy of ‘flexible containment’.
This article appeared in Mail Today June 10, 2009