These are my answers in reply to E-mailed questions received from the Islamabad correspondent of a well-known US weekly
What is India’s role in the war on terror?
Exchange of intelligence, knowledge, experience and capabilities and mutual assistance in legal matters with interested countries, including the US.
– India has been the victim of several terror attacks recently. What is your opinion on New Delhi’s approach to combating terrorist attacks? Do you think there is untapped potential for exchanging information between India and Pakistan on how to deal with terrorist actions?
Since much of the jihadi threat in India is from Pakistan-based organisations working under the control of the ISI, there is no scope for exchange of intelligence or mutual legal assistance between India and Pakistan. Terrorism is one of the weapons in Pakistan’s anti-India arsenal. It is not going to help India in blunting that weapon. Having said this, I have been arguing in my interviews and writings that there must be some kind of institutional interface between the ISI and the R&AW to reduce the present high level of distrust between the two. This could come about only over a longer period and not in the short-term, but this should be an important objective of both.
With an increasing presence in Afghanistan, what role do you think India could play in Kabul following the U.S. withdrawal?
By helping in the economic development and in the spread of modern education in Afghanistan and by assisting Afghanistan in strengthening the capabilities of its armed forces, India could contribute to preventing the re-Talibanisation of the Afghan State and society and the return of Al Qaeda to its sanctuaries in Afghan territory after the US and other NATO forces thin out.
Do you believe the Haqqani network is still based in Pakistan or have they moved to Afghanistan, as claimed in recent interviews with Sirajuddin Haqqani?
My assessment is that the Haqqani network no longer operates from North Waziristan. It now operates from the Kurram agency of Pakistan. The cadres and the training camps are in the Kurram Agency, but the leaders, who are high-value targets for US Drones, are spread out across Pakistan in order to escape Drone attacks. The cadres carry out hit and withdraw raids into Afghanistan.
What role could India play if conditions between Pakistan and the U.S. continue to deteriorate?
The US will never strategically co-operate with India against Pakistan. While the CIA and the Pentagon are not averse to ideas of limited Indo-US co-operation in dealing with threats originating from Pakistan, the State Department has always been cautious in endorsing such ideas. I had seen this vividly while I was in service and I continue to see this in my retirement. The only role India can play is to keep nudging the US to act more strongly against Pakistan without unrealistic hopes that the US will, in fact, do so. When the US talks of strategic co-operation with India, it has China in mind and not Pakistan.
In interviews, Pakistan Army leaders have said they still consider India to be their biggest threat. Do you think India feels the same about Pakistan?
India can any day deal with Pakistan and put it in its place. What India is worried is the increasing strategic threat from the developing Sino-Pakistani axis. Unfortunately, Washington does not seem to view this axis with the same concern as India does. The developing China-Pakistan axis is the real axis of evil.
Despite its efforts in the war on terror, Pakistan still has a substantial terrorist problem. Can peace be achieved between India and Pakistan while suspected terrorists still reside here?
There is unlikely to be a normal good-neighbours relationship between India and Pakistan in the short and medium terms. Pakistani complexes relating to India will come in the way. That doesn’t mean the two countries should not try for a more benign and less malign relationship. There is a need for a common vision. The leaders of the two countries should meet more frequently to get to know and like each other and work painstakingly and without undue illusions towards such a common vision.
Following Al Qaeda, what terrorist group is the biggest threat to stability in South Asia, in your opinion.
The Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the two Talibans in that order.I do not consider the Haqqani network as a separate terrorist organisation. It is a wing of the Afghan Taliban, but with some autonomy in its operations.
(The writer Mr B Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . Twitter : @SORBONNE75)