Saturday, December 19, 2015

To Be Not Talking is Dumb:  India's fixation on Pak terrorism is odd at a time when it's at its lowest

What are we to make of India-Pakistan rela tions? On one side of the ledger we have the elevating story of how Geeta, an abandoned deaf-and-mute girl who had strayed into Pakistan and was brought up by the Edhi Foundation of Karachi, returned this week to India after 13 years, triggering an India-Pakistan love-fest. On the other side is the continuing stand-off in official relations accompanied by bouts of sabre-rattling and gunfire across the Jammu border. The icing on this unsavoury cake this week was of former President Pervez Musharraf acknowledging in a Pakistani television interview that terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Hafiz Saeed were honed by the Pakistani military .
With this backdrop, the Narendra Modi government appears to have abandoned the multi-pronged policy of its predecessor of simultaneously engaging Islamabad and dealing with cross-border terrorism. This government made a surprise beginning with the idea of promoting South Asian unity . But since then it has been fixated on countering terrorism at the cost of everything else.
 This is somewhat puzzling because, by any count, Pakistani covert activity in India has seen a sharp decline since 2008, even as Kashmir alone has seen a slight rise in recent years. The home ministry figures speak for themselves. Over 20032005, 314, 281 and 189 security force personnel died in J&K, and 1,494, 976 and 917 terrorists were killed. In the last three years, 2012-2014, the corresponding figures have been 38, 53 and 47 security personnel and 50, 67 and 110 terrorists, respectively .

Unaffordable War
Delivering the Nagendra Singh Memorial Lecture recently , National Security Advisor Ajit Doval spoke of the importance of convincing Pakistan that “covert action is not a cost effective option.“ He went on to add that Islamabad would soon realise that the “cost involved is much heavier and that will be unaffordable“.
 The warning seems to be quite reasonable. But the subtext seems to suggest that India could take steps, possibly covert, to convince Islamabad of the “unaffordable“ price.Were that to happen, we could well see the situation in South Asia deteriorate further as any covert war is likely to spill over into Nepal and Bangladesh, as it has in the past.
It is not clear why the Modi government sees terrorism as its main enemy today when its high-point was in the early-mid 2000s, and is a declining trend today . One reason could be that New Delhi is worried about another 26/11-scale attack, which could seriously dent the government's image. Or, more likely , it feels that attacking terrorism and Pakistan plays well with its constituency . But let's be clear, terrorist strikes by themselves are hardly an existential threat to this country .
The Modi government's one-dimensional approach will not work and could actually deteriorate the South Asian situation. Wars and campaigns are won as much by skill ful diplomacy as by the military force.
Pakistan may be a failing state, but it is a tough nut and unlikely to succumb to Indian covert ops or military pressure. It has a growing nuclear arsenal and has a well-trained and equipped military . Contrary to what Doval has argued, its covert war against India has proved to be quite cost-effective. Indeed, if anything, Indian efforts to coerce Islamabad are likely to unite people behind the hardliners.

Pak's Importance
India also cannot ignore Islamabad's ability to win friends and influence big powers. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif 's visit to Washington last week has shown that, despite evidence of its past duplicity, Pakistan retains its importance there. It is simply too well situated in relation to Afghanistan and Iran to be punished, let alone abandoned.
 In recent times, we have seen our old friend Russia soften towards Islamabad. And as for China, it is actually strengthening its commitment to Pakistan by putting down serious money under the rubric of the Belt Road Initiative.
The biggest strategic threat India confronts is the hostile China-Pakistan proto-alliance. Yet we have been able to do little to dent it. But 2004-2007 experience has shown that it was possible to change things through deft diplomacy . Unfortunately , that opportunity was missed and is no longer being sought again.
But the course that we are undertaking now -seeking to `convince' Pakistan about the high price it will have to pay for its covert war against India -is fraught with danger. Given the numerous faultlines in Pakistan, it is not difficult to turn up the heat there. The question is whether that is the best course to take. It is easy to begin a war, but very difficult to predict the course it will take.
India's agenda with Pakistan goes beyond terrorism. Yes, it includes Kashmir . It also includes the need to manage the dangerous nuclear competition between the two countries. Beyond this, is the need to promote the development agenda, which cannot happen without acting on the above problems.
The Economic Times October 31, 2015

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