Pragmatic | Not business as usual

Indian diplomats shouldn’t pretermit the Mumbai terror strike while explaining the need for talks with Pakistan.

New York Times story titled “Pakistani Military Still Cultivates Militant Groups, a Former Fighter Says” tells us that Pakistan has 12,000 to 14,000 fully trained Kashmiri fighters, scattered throughout various camps in Pakistan, and is holding them in reserve to use if needed in a war against India.

Another New York Times story titled “Pakistan’s Spies Tied to Slaying of a Journalist” reveals new classified intelligence showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in an effort to silence criticism.

In an academic paper titled ‘Pakistan’s Strategic Use of Lashkar-e-Taiba: It’s Not Just Kashmir’, Ms. Christine Fair contends that irrespective of any concessions that India makes to Pakistan, there is no likelihood of Pakistan turning against the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

India’s just-retired Home Secretary, Mr. GK Pillai in an interview to the Deccan Chronicle:

Q. How do you see Pakistan’s inaction on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks?

A. Pakistan is not sincere. The evidence is clear that even during 26/11, instructions were coming from the handlers across the border. Now the voice samples of those handlers from Pakistan are available with us, they are available with the FBI, and I am sure they are available with the Inter-Services Intelligence. We say the voices belong to (Zakiur Rehman) Lakhvi and so on. It is enough for the Pakistan authorities to check the voice samples. Don’t give me the samples. You have Lakhvi in jail. Take the voice samples and see whether they match, or take voice samples of any of the other four handlers who were instructing. Such a simple exercise is to be undertaken since he is in their custody. And if it matches, you say yes, he’s the man. And if it does not, please come to us and say, you’ve got the wrong guy.[DC]

India’s foreign secretary, Ms Nirupama Rao in an interview:

Interviewer: In other words, you see a change in Pakistan’s attitude.

Foreign Secretary: I think the prism through which they see this issue has definitely been altered. …I think when they speak of the fact that non-state elements in this relationship need to be tackled, that we must look at safe havens and sanctuaries that we must look at fake currency, we must look at all the aspects that are concerned with the business of terror, I think that is a concrete development.[MEA]

Obviously, India’s top diplomat must be echoing the views of the Indian Prime Minister. Here is what Dr. Manmohan Singh told the five editors he met last week:

Q-31:What about the current situation with regard to Pakistan? Will you undertake a visit to Pakistan?

A- I have always said that there must be something solid before I can visit Pakistan. We should have solid evidence that they have stopped using terror as an instrument of state policy. Jaish e Mohammad, Lashkar e Toiba, Lashkar e Jahnvi, they are all offshoots of the ISI. We are not a big player in Pakistan. But whatever our role, engagement is a commitment to our shared geography. They have not done enough on terror. I still feel they need to do more. We need to keep engaging them.

Interjection – They have not done enough on terrorism?

A- Its goes without saying.[PMO]

This is a rather unique situation where India’s foreign secretary is asserting something which completely contradicts what other top bureaucrats, international media and even the Prime Minister is saying about Pakistan. It would be worrying in any other circumstance but the kind of drift prevalent in the current UPA administration means that no one will take notice of what India’s foreign secretary has boldly proclaimed. Fortunately Ms Rao is retiring as the foreign secretary at the end of this month. But more worryingly, she has been rewarded with another important diplomatic assignment post retirement — India’s ambassador to the United States.

Leaving the foreign secretary’s pronouncements apart, this should lead us to a more substantive question. Why is India talking to Pakistan?

Of course, we all know that Pakistan has not moved an inch in bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai terror strikes to justice. Both the terror and the prism through which Pakistani state sees anti-India terror remains unaltered.

The Prime Minister says that engagement with Pakistan “is a commitment to our shared geography”. In effect, it means that irrespective of what Pakistan does to India, India has to engage with Pakistan because both happen to be neighbours. Rhetorically speaking, if Pakistani military or the military-jehadi complex were to undertake a nuclear strike on Indian soil, would the PM still advocate engagement as “a commitment to our shared geography”? Of course, he wouldn’t. So, where are the Red Lines at which India foregoes this commitment to that dreaded school subject, geography? Of course, Pakistan’s refusal to act against the terrorists and their handlers in ISI who massacred 166 Indians in Mumbai comes under the threshold of that red line.

There exists a fundamental reason, however, as to why India is talking to Pakistan now, as if the Mumbai terror strike never occurred. It is the dreaded Politician’s logic from Yes Minister: “We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it.” That ‘something’ is talks with Pakistan.

Indian diplomats, analysts and journalists have created a paradigm where India’s engagement with Pakistan is looked in binary terms — either talks or war. And then the argument is suitably distorted to suggest that talks equate peace, and if you are not for talks with Pakistan, you are seeking war with Pakistan. Now that both India and Pakistan are nuclear-weapon states, war would be such a catastrophe. The insinuation, often unstated, is that you are for a nuclear war with Pakistan by not supporting talks with Pakistan.

This argument is flawed and former foreign secretary, Mr. Shyam Saran has demolished it rather comprehensively.

We have to recognise that the approach adopted so far, by the present government and the Vajpayee government, has not yielded results.

A pattern has come to be established. We show our willingness to engage in dialogue. This peace process can go forward in an atmosphere free from violence and cross-border terrorism. We get assurances but attacks keep increasing. The worst have been on our Parliament and on Mumbai. Our response is to interrupt the talks. Then we again justify its resumption on the basis of verbal assurances. This has been the established pattern since the time of General Zia-ul Haq. That is when the strategy of keeping India off-balance — short of going to war — crystallised.

Unless you can convince Pakistan that its strategy will no longer be low-risk, low-cost, Pakistan will carry on in the old way. This is our fundamental challenge, and is not especially related to WikiLeaks. For diplomacy, I’d say you should never present your political leadership with a binary choice — either war or appeasement. Therefore, we need to develop a range of options to convince the other side that there is a cost attached.

Just as Pakistan exploits what it sees as vulnerabilities on the Indian side, what are the vulnerabilities you can take into account there? Then convince the Pakistani leadership of the downside. Disrupting dialogue is not a diplomatic tool. Talks should be held to deploy our leverage.[link]

Another argument made in favour of talks is that in the minimum, it is likely to prevent Pakistan from undertaking another terror strike on Indian soil. History proves otherwise, and if Pakistan’s strategic calculations demand a terror strike on India, bilateral talks are not going to dissuade the Pakistani military-jehadi complex.

Finally, it has been suggested that if Indian government could successfully engage Pakistani government after the Kargil conflict, why can’t it do so now, three years into the Mumbai terror strike. To start with, India won the Kargil conflict and most Indians believe that Pakistan was humiliated, both militarily and diplomatically. The contrast with Mumbai terror strikes could not be starker. India was humiliated in Mumbai and the perpetrators of that terror stike continue to threaten India from Pakistani soil. When the US marines land in the middle of the night at Abbottabad to eliminate Osama bin Laden, comparisons with India’s inability to do anything to Hafiz Saeed — however improbable — are made in the Indian media.

Pakistan was not the focus of the world’s attention post-Kargil. Today, due to the US involvement in AfPak and the terror threat emanating to the West from Pakistan, the eyes of the world media are focused on that country. While the US government has been involved in the Headley interrogation and the Rana trial in Chicago, most of the stories about Pakistan’s perfidy in GWoT and the machinations of its military-jehadi complex have been broken by the international media. Proliferation of the internet and web technologies means that these stories are now easily available to most Indians. While the Indian government may hope for a quick burial of the Mumbai terror strike by complicit silence of the Indian mainstream media, changing times mean that Indians will continue to demand a satisfactory closure of that tragic event.

Perhaps now that the process of bilateral talks with Pakistan has started, India needs to continue with this engagement. Like the recent CBMs on Kashmir, India must beget all initiatives that benefit even a small section of it population. But it must not overstate their significance or assume that these limited measures will solve all the problems between India and Pakistan. The rationale for these talks needs to be clearly defined and explained to the nation, and not in the manner this government official tried to do in an off-the-record briefing to the media.

Most importantly, however, talks or no talks, India need not give a certificate of good behaviour and change in conduct to Pakistan when it comes to terror. Bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai terror strikes to book remains an avowed aim of the Indian state, and no Indian official, not even the foreign secretary with her deceiving statements, should try to dilute that intent. To reiterate the Prime Minister’s words, “It goes without saying” that Pakistan has not done enough on terrorism.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.