On an official visit to India, US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates announced loudly that India’s patience on (Pakistan based) terrorist attacks was running thin. For good measure, he added that the Pakistan based Laskhar-e-Toiba (LET), along with the Al Qaeda and affiliates were planning another major terrorist attack on India. It would be presumed that Dr. Gates was hinting at a Mumbai “26/11” type strike. This was on January 19 in New Delhi.
Secretary Gates then flew into Islamabad and met all the top Pakistani leadership – Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari, Army Chief Asfaq Kayani and others. He praised Pakistan’s war against terrorism especially against the militant Pakistani Taliban, and indicated that the US was considering giving Pakistan UAVs to fight the militants. According to US media reports quoting unidentified US military officials, the US has already decided to supply Pakistan 12 “Shadow” UAVs. The “Shadow” can take real time photographs and intelligence. But unlike the Predator drones which the US is using to fire hellfire missiles against terrorist targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan border, the Shadows are unarmed. Pakistan already possesses some low level UAVs, but has been pressing Washington for Predator type drones and technology.
In his confidential discussions with Prime Minister Gilani on January 20, Mr. Gates appears to have mentioned India’s acute concerns with Pakistan based unabated terrorist attacks and with little forward movement by the Pakistani government to bring to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack, an unprecedented terrorist attack on India.
Mr. Gates would expectedly have discussed the links between Pakistani American citizen, David Headly and US based Canadian citizen Tawwahur Rana with the LET in the Mumbai carnage, and their plans for further attacks in India, especially against Jewish targets.
Prime Minister Gilani’s reply, leaked to a media entity in Pakistan, was classic. He said that Pakistan could not guarantee against another “26/11” type of attack on India as it was unable to stop militant attacks, many times over, on itself. What Mr. Gilani added was far more educative. He said terrorist attacks could stop if India returned to the peace talks but sans terrorism, and must include the Kashmir question and river waters (flowing from India to Pakistan) issue. Interpreted, Prime Minister Gilani conveyed that Pakistan based terrorist attacks in India will continue, and India must accept it in course of the bilateral dialogue. That is, Pakistan will continue to sponsor terrorism against India in an open ended time frame.
Pakistan’s alacritic Interior Minister added his two bit, saying “The responsibility of any such attack will lie totally on India as they are not ready to share any information with us”. The unpretentious but unfazed Mr. Malik would want India to share actionable intelligence with Pakistan, which they can pass on to their terror tanzims! Something the ISI did with information shared by the CIA on the South Waziristan militants.
Mr. Gates would have come on the India-Pakistan tour with a well crafted agenda. Either he lost the track during the visit or the brief from the very beginning was unimaginative. It reads like an Indian proverb, “tell the thief to steal, but also alert the victim about it”. What Mr. Gates did finally was to tell India that there was serious threat from Pakistan based terrorists, while trying to persuade Pakistan on the US agenda, promising military assistance that can eventually be used against India. As he told the Pakistanis, countering terrorists on the Pak-Afghan borders was one common target, but there are many other common perspectives between the two countries. USA will not let Pakistan down, he added.
His four-day tour of India and Pakistan was mind boggling. Mr. Gates almost laid down the line of a war between the two nuclear armed neighbours. He raised the Pakistani red flag to India. On the other hand, he assured Pakistan of US support in Pakistan’s times of distress and an enduring partnership.
We need to pause and ask a couple of larger questions. True, the USA’s priority at the moment is to eradicate terrorism that targets US interests. But will the US army really withdraw from Afghanistan and Pakistan in an indicated time-frame? Given the post cold war American strategy that existed before Barack Obama and will continue beyond him, the Central Asian region with its critical location and rich energy resources has assumed new power equation importance. This is to do with China and Russia.
The Pakistani government, which in reality is the ventriloquist’s puppet of the army and the intelligence establishment, promotes the fundamental interest of the very same establishment to remain in controlling power. Within the power frame the armed forces, the land lords and industrialists have carved out a cosy arrangement. Efforts by politicians, who are mainly scions of the landed gentry and industrialists, to break out of this arrangement is rarely allowed. An armed force, which remains without conflict situations for a long time, begins to lose power to the political establishment. Hence, a perpetual conflict situation is necessary for them.
Conceding that the 1947 partition of the subcontinent still lingers in the minds of the current generation, after 60 years thinking in Pakistan has begun to change among the younger generation and the educated and enlightened. But the vitriolic anti-India propaganda by the government media and the government supported media have become a major impediment to understanding the reality. The controlled media is an instrument of vested interests.
Eminent Pakistani journalist, Kamran Shafi, has made an expose of Pakistan’s “Strategic Depth” military doctrine in Afghanistan in the Dawn of January 19. He demolished this strategy in a searing indictment. Mr. Shafi asks if the Pakistani army in its entirety can withdraw to Afghanistan and fight India from there? And what will the Pakistani garrisons, the air force (and the navy) do when left behind? And how will the Pakistani army fight from Afghanistan when the Afghans hate the Pakistanis?
Another important question – Will India be so foolish as to enter into a war against Pakistan and jeopardise its own development and economic growth targets which are among the highest in the world? Mr. Shafi also reminds us that the two nations are nuclear armed which should be a natural preventive situation against a war.
Does Mr. Kamran Shafi’s analysis make any sense to the Pakistani army leadership – a strategy that has been handed down from the President Zia-ul-Haq era to successive leadership generations? The question begs answers. But if Gen. Musharraf’s Kargil adventure is anything to go by, Pakistan’s military doctrine is only half done. It has all the ingredients for an attack or an adventure, but has no end game. It is a doctrine of “perpetual conflict”.
From Gen. Zia-ul-Haq to current Pak Army Chief Asfaq Kayani, the doctrine of “perpetual conflict” with India has been abiding. Musharraf had once said even if the Kashmir issue is resolved, conflict with India will continue. At a NATO meeting on Pakistan and Afghanistan in Brussels in 2008, Kayani had stated there was no commonality between Pakistan and India – religion, culture and history. Kayani wiped out reality. He only emphasized conflict.
The Pakistan armed forces benefited greatly with their anti-India programme. For decades, they have been the recipient of Chinese military and economic largesse to keep India under a conflict situation. The weaker and more Pak-centric India was, the less would it be a challenge to China’s rise in Asia. There has been no change in the Pakistan-China relationship. If anything, it has become more enhanced, and more sophisticated. China made Pakistan a stand alone nuclear power, flouting all international proliferation regime restrictions with impunity. The cold war is long over and old parameters have given way to new exigencies. But the learning process of the West has been slow, immature, and short sighted.
Robert Gates came to India offering a few platitudes, tapping Pakistan on the knuckles as little children are admonished by teachers, and hoping India would be overwhelmed. This is no longer comforting to the Indian people. In some ways, the Americans and the Pakistani establishment are plying similar routes to counter terrorism. The American administration must admit, if they want to pursue the war against terrorism with some significant success, that they erred in targeting only America specific terrorists from Pakistan, while mulling over Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism against India carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and others. In their short sightedness, that Pakistan would cooperate to eliminate the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Washington divided terrorism into two – bad terrorism which afflicted the USA and unimportant terrorism which targeted India.
The Americans refused to see that Al Qaeda leader Ossama bin Laden had created an international franchise of terrorist modules who in turn, were creating new modules. The LET is being looked at more seriously after the latest discovery that David Headly and Tawwahur Rana were LET activists determined to hurt the USA and the West also. Pakistan’s counter terrorism efforts are focussed only on those terrorists like the Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) who have turned against the state, protesting against Pak-US collaboration. The Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar and the dreaded Haqqani network are Pakistan army’s strategic assets in Afghanistan, as established beyond doubt. The Pakistan army is resisting US pressure to pursue militants in North Waziristan, as the Afghan-Pak mixed militants are located there, and they are Pakistan’s future proxy in Afghanistan against India. Pakistan claims the LET and the JEM are banned organizations. Yet they flourish. It was only after severe pressure from India on the Mumbai carnage, that Lakhvi and others were arrested. The founder and mentor of the LET, Hafeez Sayeed, remains free apparently because of lack of evidence against him. The LET has become much more powerful and with a longer reach than the Al Qaeda. A product of the ISI, it has several advantages with support from within the Pakistani intelligence and military. This, especially the ISI links, has helped the LET to enlist the Islamist among the Pakistani scientific, technological and intellectual community, which enables them to reach similar minded people across the world.
The LET, today, may have emerged as the biggest and most effective international terrorism group. Pakistan is sitting in the lap of the LET. After their experience with Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP, also created by the ISI, the Pakistan establishment should be careful. If they do not go after the LET, the organization will eventually try to control Pakistan. In LET’s international activities Pakistan will have a price to pay. Yet if Pakistan cracks down on the LET, the reaction against the state would be far more severe than the TTP’s. The LET is well ensconced in major centres in Pakistan, like the business capital Karachi, and Mudrike near Lahore. There is also a possibility that a serious move against the LET could divide the ISI and, at least, some sections of the army. Hafeez Sayeed is untouchable till now. His influence among the various religious and Islamist groups is enormous, and Pakistan would not like to disturb this hornet’s nest. But the discovery of Headly – Rana duo’s involvement in “26/11” and in the US and West finally stirred Washington into some action. Pressed hard, Pakistan has admitted evidence exists that Lakhvi and the six others were involved in “26/11”. It is just the initial step.
How does the Obama administration plan to deal with this new complex situation? Even if India is damned, there is no visible sign of understanding from the American administration. Obama’s Af-Pak strategy-I failed. The Af-Pak strategy-II is about to meet the same fate, if lessons from Mr. Gates’ tour is anything to go by. President Obama appears to be confused on the India-US strategic partnership. A look at his Pakistan, China and South East Asia policy including downgrading intelligence collection on China from Priority-I to Priority-II, has astonished many including in the USA. Is he trying to justify the Nobel Peace Prize bestowed upon him? Intentions of breaking the Olympic 100 metres record is one thing. Given the gold medal in advance for the record is a pressure, and trying to justify the advance trophy can be disastrous. Mr. Obama must realise this.
India must look at the Obama policies squarely. India and the US have entered a new and unprecedented relationship which has tremendous potential for regional and global peace, security and development. But their potential cannot be fully consolidated if India is sacrificed on a particular altar that militates against India’s security interests.
Pakistan’s position that Indian troops along the Indo-Pakistan border is a threat, is a charade. A large reduction of Indian border troops can only facilitate infiltration of Pakistani terrorists under the Pakistan Rangers’ cover fire. This is happening now. And the US knows it.
Will there be American pressure on India to scale down its reconstruction and rehabilitation work in Afghanistan, which has overwhelming support from the Afghan people? The US Commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in his first situation report on Afghanistan, had praised India’s civilian assistance in Afghanistan, but warned this would also attract Pakistan’s ire. In the final analysis, India has to make its own policy on Pakistani sponsored and based terrorist attacks.
Kamran Shafi’s astute analysis is based on realistic assumptions. But what happens if realism gives way to surrealism? Pakistan’s Prime Minister has put up his hands saying they cannot prevent another “26/11”. Very well. It is an invitation to India to take care of itself which could include precision strikes on terrorist targets inside Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani, in his words, should have no objection to that!
(The writer Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent analyst based in New Delhi.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)