Friday, July 23, 2010
Headley revelations question the premises of the government's Pakistan policy
Fifteen years separate the bomb blasts that shook Mumbai in March 1993 and took more than 250 lives, and the jihadi commando assault of November 2008 where 157 people were gunned down. A lot changed in that period apparently except one thing—the unrelenting hostility of the Pakistani establishment towards India. This has been brought home to us from the remarks on Tuesday of the National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon who confirmed what Home Secretary G.K. Pillai had said earlier: That the Headley interrogation had revealed that there are clear links between the terrorists, official establishments and intelligence agencies in Pakistan. And, in Menon’s bleak words, “the link was getting stronger”.
The NSA’s remarks came a day after Pakistan signed a trade and transit deal with Afghanistan, one that barred India from transit trade with Kabul. The triumphal manner in which this was reported in the Pakistani media suggests just how far we are from the prospect of friendly relations with Islamabad. But the big question that Menon’s remarks raise is: Is there any use at all in trying to befriend Pakistan? Should we not shift our perspective a bit and begin viewing Pakistan as an adversary which needs to be contained, rather than a country waiting to be befriended?
What the Headley revelations do is to raise questions about the very premises of this government’s Pakistan policy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s belief that there can be normality in the near term is pious sentimentalism. India, despite its size and good wishes cannot transform Pakistan; all it can do— and aim to do— is to manage its relations with its important neighbour.
In the 15 years between the two set of atrocities in Mumbai, India made a major effort to befriend Pakistan by seeking to resolve the disputes between the two sides and putting in place a trade and visa regime that would promote people-to-people ties. The engagement was sustained even as Pakistani terror offensive against India intensified in the late 1990s. It did achieve some success, but if you do the sums you will find that we have failed to make any dent in the basically hostile strategic outlook of Pakistan towards India.
Pakistan has been much more focused. It has obtained a water sharing deal from India and now seeks an Indian withdrawal from Siachen and Sir Creek, and a resolution of the Kashmir issue favouring its position. All of these require Indian concessions. It has steadfastly refused to provide anything in exchange— MFN status for India, transit rights for Afghanistan and Central Asia, leave alone the cessation of terrorism. After all, India is an adversary nation.
The main details of the Pakistani complicity in the 1993 blasts came through Yakub Memon who surrendered in 1994. He revealed that the ISI took people from the Mumbai underworld, trained them in the use of weapons and explosives and sent them back to wreak havoc in the city. In 2008, the principal evidence of Pakistani official involvement has come through the agency of David Coleman Headley. The US is silent as are our Indian investigators who actually interrogated him. But statements of Pillai, and now Menon, confirm the worst.
The failure of the recent talks between the External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been attributed in part to GK Pillai’s statement that the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate was involved in the 2008 Mumbai operation from the beginning to the end. Mr Pillai does tend to misspeak, and you can question the timing of his statement. But surely there is something bizarre about taking umbrage to his timing but not what he said. And what he said is indeed sensational. If an agency of the Pakistan government was involved in the Mumbai attack, why is India bothering to talk peace with that government?
The Indian government’s policy works on the belief that there is a tussle between the civilian and military wings of the Pakistan establishment, and that it is in India’s strategic interest to back the civilians so as to forever marginalise the self-appointed guardians of the Islamic Republic— the Pakistan Army.
All this is possibly true, but not on a practical timeline. Policy is usually made for a two to five year time horizon, with a perspective of, say, ten years. The civilians may triumph in Pakistan, but given present trends, they will do so at an indeterminate time in the future which has no practical benefit for India.
The policy would make sense if there was an actual struggle. The person who had the political clout to challenge the Army—Benazir Bhutto is dead, assassinated, many say, by the instrumentality of the Pakistan Army itself. Asif Ali Zardari lacks the political authority or credibility to pose even a mild challenge to the military establishment. As for Nawaz Sharif, he, too, has taken on the Army, but was bested. He was a creation of the military establishment to start with and his quarrel was with Pervez Musharraf and there is nothing to show that he is keen to take on the military again.
At this juncture, the military controls what it wants to in Pakistan. What it doesn’t is not significant from the politico-military point of view, and so has been left for Zardari, Gilani and Co to look after. The dismal conclusion from this is that India’s efforts to “befriend” Pakistan are misguided and futile. This is not to say India and Pakistan cannot ever be friends, but that in the near term— for which policy is usually made— they are unlikely to be so.
There was a time, till just a year or so ago, when many in the Indian system thought that “flexible engagement” could be a viable option—engage Pakistan where possible and contain it when necessary. But Menon’s Tuesday speech seems to suggest that this is not working and, in fact, things are getting more difficult. In these circumstances, the only option open to India is to resort to a policy of containment.
This means emphasising that it is not friendship that we seek with Pakistan, but the ability to manage a difficult situation in a difficult region, with a nuclear-armed adversary. Instead of seeing the relations in a framework of give and take, we need to underscore that our ties will be based on reciprocity. In other words, treat Pakistan as an equal, notwithstanding the actual asymmetry of the size and economies of the two countries.
This is the kind of mental shift that the United States made with the erstwhile Soviet Union in the 1970s. One of the more urgent requirements of this should be the effort to try and freeze the nuclear arsenals to lock the nuclear relationship with Pakistan on the basis of parity. This undergirded the Lahore agreement of 1999 and its logic has become more manifest in the years since.
Containment is not a military doctrine, but a politico-military one. Even while focusing on structures to keep peace with our neighbour, we must enhance our own deterrence capabilities and at the same time aggressively combat the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism, jihadism and militarism across the wider region.
Mao Zedong once said that one must despise one’s enemies strategically, but respect them tactically. The Indian tendency has been to do the opposite. We have tended to elevate in our minds the ideological mishmash that passes off as Pakistan’s raison d'être, but only fitfully dealt with Islamabad’s effective covert operations and diplomacy across the region, if not the world.
This article appeared in Mail Today July 22, 2010