After the Pathankot terror attack we again find ourselves to be on the receiving end in another round of proxy war imposed upon us by Pakistan. However, the old narrative on Pakistan continues to be prevalent in India though many presumptions on which it is based simply don’t add up.
Indian national discourse on Pakistan is based on many suppositions, assumptions, conjectures and surmises which do not match up with our past and present experiences. This article is not about making out a case against talks with Pakistan. It is an appeal to be realistic about Pakistan and accept it as it is and deal with it as it is instead of being wishful about it.
- Terror during the Talks – It is widely understood that terror attack on Pathankot Air Base happened because PM Modi reopened talks with Pakistan. There is no direct evidence to prove this except an assumption that the Pak Army and its proxies like Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar don’t want good relations between the two countries. If we extend this logic, PM Modi should not have visited Afghanistan either to prevent attack on Indian Consulate in Mazaar-e-Sharif as there is wide consensus in Pakistan against good Indo-Afghan relations. The harsh reality is that such attacks have always happened no matter whether India was talking to Pakistan or not.
Terror attacks do not necessarily happen during India-Pak dialogue to break it. Such attacks happen because war by terrorism is the primary leverage Pakistan has against the Indian State. The game works like this: First, Pakistan tries to push India into talks by harassing it through terror attacks and ceasefire violations.
The peace lobby in India which is unable to contemplate any scenario between absolute war and absolute peace with Pakistan and is ostensibly more concerned about India’s economic development than ordinary Indians raises a hue and cry. Ultimately Indian Government of the day agrees to open talks.
And as the Indian political and bureaucratic leadership sits for negotiations, Pakistan unleashes another deadly phase of terror attacks, this time to extract a deal by inflicting unaffordable collateral damage which essentially involves popular backlash against the Indian government of the day as ordinary Indians find it incapable of protecting human lives and the national pride.
Pakistan thinks that a harassed and helpless Indian Government will yield to at least some of its demands. Even if that does not happen it will contribute to making party in power less popular and hence the Government of the day more insecure and unstable. It’s a nasty game of bullying and subversion.
And Pakistan has had near successes in this game. By harassing Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments through these tactics, Pakistan almost got them to endorse the so called ‘Musharaff Formula’ which requires India to give up its claim on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and vacate the Siachen Glacier.
Given Pakistan’s well known record of never honoring written agreements it signed with India, it would have been start of another phase of the Kashmir dispute and not the end of it as once Pakistan legally gets 1/3rd Kashmir, it can still continue the proxy war and fuel internal unrest in the rest of it. Now, Pakistan is trying the same game with the Modi Government as it has been assertively claiming POK and also giving some ear to the plight of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Harsh reality is that Pakistan never turns off the terror tap. Talk to Afghans, they will tell you. Last year, Pakistan hosted the Murree talks between Afghan government and Afghan Taliban. These talks were preceded and succeeded by horrific terror attacks in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban.
Last month, when Pakistan hosted the Heart of Asia Summit on Afghanistan (which was also attended by India’s Minister of External Affairs Mrs. Sushma Swaraj), its proxy Afghan Taliban carried out majestic suicide attacks on the Kandahar Airport. Afghan Intelligence Chief Rahamatullah Nabil felt so betrayed that he vented out his frustration about Pakistan double games on his Facebook page before resigning from his job.
Fact is that Pakistan wages a relentless sub-conventional war against its financer USA as well as against India and Afghanistan. It is Pakistani way of bullying these countries into accepting the deal they are offering. Pakistanis are confident that one day they will succeed.
- We can’t change neighbours– This is the catch line of reopening talks with Pakistan and the rationale of case for uninterrupted dialogue with Pakistan. No I am not making a case for no talks with Pakistan. But the problem is that every time we repeat this line publicly, we actually acknowledge that we either have no other options (and thus helpless before Pakistan’s terror onslaught) or we lack will power to exercise the other options. We go to talks with Pakistan with ‘No Other Options’ placard. So, Pakistan does not even take our polemic seriously; neither when we talk nor when we do not talk.
Then there is another problem with the “we can’t change neighbors” line of thought. It basically lacks strategic, historical and futuristic imagination. We did change neighbors in 1971. And the bigger question we need to ask ourselves is what we will do if our neighboring country itself changes for more bad. Pakistan is becoming a more radicalized society with each passing day; it has a booming small nuclear weapons program (to which terrorists may get access one day) and aggravating secessionist movements. Are we prepared to handle the contingencies if nightmares about Pakistan turn into reality?
- Pak Army does not want talks with India- Actually there are times when Pak Army does want talks with India. Wasn’t General Musharraf all the time trying to have talks with India particularly after Operation Parakram? Recently, when PM Modi and PM Nawaz Sharif decided to engage with each other, Pakistan’s military complex was in the line of fire from international media as the San Bernardino attack (first by ISIS ideologues on US soil) was traced back to Islamabad’s Red Mosque which Pak Army had claimed to have cleansed of Jihadists long ago. Soon, international media’s focus got diverted to breakthrough between India and Pakistan. Talks with India also sometimes help Pak Generals to portray themselves as responsible guys. For instance, in the present scenario; it may help them to rescue the proposal of US-Pak civil nuclear deal out of the taboo zone. Generals also look forward to again propose the “Musharraf Formula” to Indian political class as a cure for its Pakistan migraine.
- Nawaz Sharif is great friend of India– This myth was floated by Americans in the immediate aftermath of Kargil war to help India get out of intense feeling of betrayal. According to this story (widely assimilated by Indians), Gen Musharraf kept Nawaz Sharif in dark about the Kargil infiltration and he genuinely wanted to pursue peace with Vajpayee.
So according to this theory there was a good guy in Pakistan who did not want to do that to India. Tune into any TV Debate or open any Newspaper, you will be told that Nawaz Sharif wants peace with India but Pak Army is not allowing him to have his way.
This narrative ignores many insider accounts which tried to inform us about Nawaz Sharif’s double games with India. For instance, in his recent book “Where Borders Bleed: An insider account of India-Pak relations”, former Indian Consul General in Karachi, Ambassador Rajiv Dogra described how Nawaz Sharif was aware of the fact that Pakistani soldiers had already occupied Kargil heights when he was welcoming PM Vajpayee to Lahore.
The same book also claims that as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif had approved 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. In 2013, Vajpayee’s Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh told PTI that “I do not think a Prime Minister [Nawaz Sahrif] can remain unaware”. Bruce Riedel who was present in one on one meeting in Washington between President Bill Clinton and PM Nawaz Sharif on July 4, 1999 notes in his book “Avoiding the Armageddon” that when confronted and threatened by Clinton, Nawaz Sharif “reluctantly” agreed to withdraw troops from Kargil, knowing “he would be castigated at home for giving up Pakistan’s territorial gains with nothing to show for it.”
He would later be removed when he tried to shift the blame of Kargil debacle on his Army Chief. Actually, if Pak Army had succeeded in Kargil, Nawaz Sharif would have readily claimed the credit of victory. In an Interview, a Pak Army whistleblower Lt. Gen Abdul Aziz claimed that Nawaz Sharif wanted to know when the Pak Army “gifting him Kashmir”.
Nawaz Sharif was not going to ask a winning Pak army to withdraw from Kargil for the sake of friendship with India. He had to announce withdrawal for multiple reasons: Pak Army was loosing, Indians were threatening to give up self-imposed restraint, Indian Navy had adopted aggressive postures in Arabian Sea, Americans threatened sanctions and Chinese left Pakistan in cold.
Sharif tried to cover up his double game and tried to make General Musharraf and his Lieutenants scapegoats and got toppled in the process. Musharraf blamed Nawaz Sharif of betraying the Pak Army. A victim of his own double game with India became a subject of Indian sympathy.
And here lies another big problem. Nawaz Sharif can’t afford to be seen as yielding to India. He is damn careful about that. After PM Modi’s Lahore trip, Pak Foreign Secretary took great pains to explain how PM Modi invited himself to Lahore.
Recently, Nawaz Sharif wrote an open letter of support to Kashmiri Islamist Asiya Andarabi. Asiya Andarabi has been in news for addressing Hafiz Saeed’s rally over phone. Last month three potential ISIS recruits from India’s Hyderabad were nabbed when they were going to board a flight to Srinagar where Asiya was going to put them in direct contact with ISIS commanders.
Leaving all this aside even if we are to go by the popular narrative that Nawaz Sharif wants peace but is powerless, the next question that naturally crops up is if he is powerless what goods he can deliver? And if is not all that powerless then isn’t he complicit at least by way of omissions?
- Civilian versus Military Leadership- According to this popular Indian narrative Pakistan’s civilian and military leaderships have conflicting interests and they are not on the same page on foreign policy issues. However, reality may be a bit more nuanced. Off course no civilian Prime Minister wants himself to be toppled and imprisoned by Generals but that does not make him a great friend of India by default.
Firstly, if the civilian leadership portrays itself to be soft on India, it will be weakening itself.
Secondly, except the 1999 coup whereby Nawaz Sharif was toppled there was no India factor in whatever happened to the civilian leaders of Pakistan. It was mostly their internal political dynamics.
Thirdly, the civilian leadership in Pakistan belongs to the feudal elite class which was at the forefront of Muslim League’s Pakistan movement. These civilian leaders are not at all interested in so advanced a democratic system which destroys the feudal turfs on which they thrive. So, they too have some convergence of interests with the military deep state.
Even a cursory glance at the career of most Pakistani Civilian leaders including that of Late Benazir Bhutto makes it clear that anti-India rhetoric and conspiracies have been their favorite pursuits and they were always counting upon ISI’s proxy war against India to extract something on Kashmir.
However, there is utter confusion in India on this issue. When there happens to be Army rule in Pakistan, we say that it will be easier to deal with a democratically elected government. When such a government comes to power, we say it is powerless and it would have been easier to deal with a General.
More interestingly, the assumption that the civilian and military leaderships are not on the same page is extended only to Pakistan’s policy towards India. You will never hear anyone suggest that PM Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel Sharif are not on the same page regarding Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy, whereby it wages another deadly war by means of terrorism.
- Economic relations will help check terrorism– According to a school of thought in India, if India somehow succeeds in upgrading its economic relations with Pakistan, we will get a leverage which will be helpful in ebbing the tide of India centric terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil.
However, before believing all this there is a need to understand the psyche of Pakistan’s rulers and how Pakistan as a Nation sees itself. In his recent exhaustive and seminal work on the Partition historiography, “Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late colonial North India”, Prof Venkat Dhulipala notes that “it [Pakistan] was not just envisaged as a refuge for the Indian Muslims, but as an Islamic utopia that would be harbinger for renewal and rise of Islam in the modern world, act as the powerful new leader and protector of the entire Islamic world and, thus, emerge as a worthy successor to the defunct Turkish Caliphate as the foremost Islamic power in the twentieth century”.
So, Pakistan was primarily conceptualized as a Nation State with a pan-Islamic mission and everything including economics comes next. In 2008, Start for author George Freidman noted that Pakistan is “modern day remnant of Muslim rule over medieval India”.
And what were the Mughal rulers of Delhi trying to do all the time at great cost of human lives and money? They were trying to capture Afghanistan and expand into whatever was out of their domain in India. They failed again and again but never stopped sending new armies to conquer Kabul and south India and ultimately ended up weakening and finishing their own empire.
Pakistan’s rulers see themselves as their proud legatees. They all the time try to capture Afghanistan as well as expand into India through Kashmir. And for that they are ready to afford the unaffordable cost of nurturing the Jihadist forces which are also ruining Pakistan.
The whole world has tried to explain to Pakistani rulers how this war by means of terrorism is ruining them and their nation but they never heed these sane counsels.
If something does not fit into Pakistan’s religious-strategic revivalist theories, its economic rationale doesn’t matter much. If it does even the losses are welcome. So, Pakistan is happy with China despite the fact that Chinese exporters have ruined Pakistani exporters simply because Chinese diplomatic and military backing helps Pakistan in pursuing its dreams and wage proxy wars.
Pakistan sponsors Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network who kill American soldiers in Afghanistan despite knowing that only Americans give Pakistan economic “grants” (even Chinese have declined) and help it secure finances at International monetary institutions.
Let’s consider the case of TAPI Project about which Pakistan is making all the good noises. Project will not be financially viable unless India joins it and Pakistan suffers from acute energy crisis. But once India joins it and becomes a bit dependent upon supplies, Pakistan can exploit the opportunity through its proxies.
Let’s not forget how Pakistan’s proxies burnt NATO supply trucks passing into Afghanistan through Pakistani territory (for this transit route Pakistan draws bills on NATO) whenever US tried to be tough with Pakistan. This does not mean that India should not explore such economic opportunities but expecting that such projects will give us some leverage over Pakistan which will make it roll back its proxy war against us is expecting too much.
- Dossier Diplomacy– After 26/11, India embarked upon what came to be known as the dossier diplomacy which involved supplying Pakistan with evidence about the involvement of Pak proxies and Pak intelligence officers in the 26/11 carnage. It was like giving evidence to a ganglord against his gang members and expecting him to punish them. It placed Pakistani State in the seat of a Judge in a prosecution where it was itself an accused.
Under intense international pressure, Pakistan did institute a trial, arrested some members of LeT and placed some others in preventive detention. Many are already out on bail and trial is most likely to collapse as bizarre things are happening in the trial court.
For instance, last month, a hostile prosecution witness told the Court that Ajmal Kasab is alive and may be produced in the Court! Pakistan banned Lashkar e Taiba and Jaish e Mohammed after attack on the Indian Parliament.
Today, the recruitment networks and operational capabilities of these terror groups are even more potent and their stock is higher in the Jihadist world. After the Pathankot attack we are again sharing evidence with Pakistan.
PM Nawaz Sharif has promised to PM Modi to take “prompt and decisive” action against the perpetrators of the attack. But it is unlikely that this decisive action will go much beyond then rounding up some Jihadists, placing some under preventive detention and instituting a trial which ultimately may go nowhere.
In the meantime, terror infrastructure will continue to thrive on Pakistani soil as before and terrorist threat to India will continue to persist. What we need to understand here is that counterterrorism is not necessarily about proving things to terror sponsors; it is more about knowing and acting upon what we know.
- American and Chinese Pressure– Despite trying both carrots and sticks with Pakistan, US has not been able to dissuade it from supporting Afghan Taliban and Haqqqni Network. So now with Pakistan’s help, it wants to make a deal with these groups whereby the democratic regime in Kabul somehow survives after US troops leave Afghanistan and Jihadist won’t be able to claim that they have defeated another Superpower.
Pakistan enacts a drama and says it will get the deal done but Washington should extract some concessions for it from New Delhi. This is the genesis of much talked US pressure (I would prefer the word persuasion as US-India mutual stakes in international politics are so high now that US can’t pressurize India in the manner it could have done 10 years back).
Indian leadership should ask Americans that if they can’t stop Pakistan from getting their own troops killed through its proxies, how India can rely upon their guarantees. Actually, the occasions on which Americans took our complaints seriously are the ones when we threatened to redress the wrongs done to us instead of obeying the American advice of being good boys.
China’s case is quite similar though a bit more complex. It is fine with Pakistan waging a sub-conventional low intensity war with India. It wants Pakistan to act as a strategic drag which does not allow Indian horse to run too fast. But that’s it.
China knows that if Pakistan does too much mischief and India responds with its full State power either covertly or overtly, Pakistan’s efficacy as a strategic drag may get severely corroded. So, Chinese always refused to help Pakistan in its direct wars with India-be it 1965,1971 or 1999 Kargil war- though during each of these wars Pakistan’s military or civilian leaders traveled to Beijing seeking help. Moreover, unlike Pakistan, Chinese do care about economics and there is lot of economics between India and China.
The limited point is that unless we don’t learn to impose back crises instead of just patiently weathering the ones imposed on us, no one is going to take us seriously.
- Proxy War and Pakistan’s Comfort Zone– After defeat in Kargil War, Pakistan’s leaders- both civilian and military- know it in their bones that they can’t even win a limited war with India. So, all of them want talks.
But they simultaneously continue to wage a proxy war against us to bully us into a deal and they carry out this sub-conventional war under the Nuclear Umbrella. US war college-trained generals fully understand that any kind of nuclear adventurism may finish Pakistan but they are also aware that Indians have missed the fact that an umbrella is not meant to hit.
Pak generals want to carry on this proxy war from their low risk comfort zones because they know that we won’t invade their comfort zones. They sponsor a terror attack during talks with India and then say that the dialogue should not be interrupted because of that.
We need to beat them at their own game. We should also respond to a terror attack during talks with both over and covert means and then say that such a response should not interrupt the dialogue as we are just acting against terrorists. As soon as India starts dragging Pakistan’s leaders into high risk zone they will learn to behave themselves. Until we don’t do that we will keep reeling under the Pakistani strategy of bleeding India through thousand cuts.
Divya Kumar Soti is a national security analyst and a Lawyer specialising in comparative business and tech laws. He avidly studies geopolitics, history, radicalism and theology