Friday, December 12, 2008




    The Parliament has unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the Mumbai terror strikes and backing all necessary measures by the Government to safeguard national security. The Prime Minister has apologised for not preventing the attacks. The home minister has been sacked and his successor in the hot seat is promising to set in place systems that will plug the loopholes in the security architecture of the homeland. The political class and the chattering class have expressed their anger and outrage from every available forum. The media has fought its own war on the air waves with its counterparts across the border and has come out on tops on the sheer strength of evidence. It has also discussed the various military options which could be exercised theoretically but will never be exercised practically. The international community has stepped in to ensure that things don't spiral out of control and has gone a step further this time by banning the organisation that perpetrated the Mumbai carnage. In short, all that could realistically be done has been done and after a decent interval it will be business as usual – Mushairas, candle-light marches, CBMs, Composite Dialogue, Cricket, and what have you – until the next attack takes place.

    Part of the problem is, of course, that India has simply not built the overt and covert leverages, capabilities and capacities that will allow it to not only deter terrorist strikes by state and non-state actors in Pakistan but also exact a heavy price if such attacks take place. But the more fundamental problem is how to put pressure on a state that is itself on the verge of collapse and is probably in no position to deliver on its commitments to the international community, much less clean up its act at home. It's no longer about pressure on the civilian government paving the way for another round of military rule in Pakistan. The struggle today isn't between the civilians and the military; the fight is between the state and non-state actors. Worse, the non-state actors seem to be winning this war, with a little help from elements within the state who sympathise, if not openly support, the non-state actors' ideology and world-view. If truth be told, the crux of the problem is that the state of Pakistan has never been as fragile as it is today. The danger is that if the pressure crosses the tipping point, then even the last vestiges of state authority could crumble, practically overnight.

    No, this is not an argument in favour of letting Pakistan get away scot-free for export of terror from its territory. Nor is this an attempt at providing an alibi for Pakistan's inability to crack down on terror groups so that the peace process is not derailed, even though one of the objectives of the Mumbai attacks was precisely this. But unless the limitations facing the Pakistani state and the very precarious position it is in is understood, the medicine being administered might lead to the death of the patient. The dilemma for India and the international community really is how to force compliance on a state that is losing control over the situation at an alarming rate. Ten years back, when the Pakistani state was still in a position to deliver, the sort of pressure being applied now might have worked. Today, the Pakistani state is merely biding its time, almost as though it is waiting for the inevitable collapse.

At a time when the Pakistan army is fighting with its back to the wall against the Islamists in trans-Indus Pakistan, the last thing they would want is to open a second front in Punjab against the Jihadist militias. More than the ISI or the 'ISI within the ISI', the real state within the state is the jihadist network in Pakistan's hinterland, Punjab. Therefore, no one should be surprised if despite the ban on organisations like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and arrest of Jihadist leaders, no meaningful action is taken to disband and destroy their terror infrastructure. Chances are that some sort of understanding will be reached with these outfits, which share a symbiotic relationship with the Pakistani security agencies, to lie low and let the storm pass after which they can re-appear in a new incarnation. If however such a deal is not reached and the jihadists decide to resist, the Pakistani state will find itself stretched to break point.

The Americans perhaps understand the seriousness of the situation and don't really want to push Pakistan over the edge just yet. Also holding the American hand is their involvement in Afghanistan. Until the US gets an alternative route to supply its troops in Afghanistan, it will push Pakistan only enough to ensure that hostilities don't break out between India and Pakistan and the Pakistan army remains engaged on its western border against the Taliban and other Islamist insurgents. The bottom line is that at this point in time the Americans can do nothing more than make the right noises demanding action from Pakistan against terrorist groups, and hope that the Pakistanis comply. Let alone economic pressure, even military pressure will prove infructuouse simply because the Americans have still not worked out how to live with a 'failed' Pakistan.

As far as India is concerned, the fact is that India's conventional superiority over Pakistan is not of a sort that allows it the option of using military force. It is one thing to debate military options on TV chat shows, and quite another to exercise these options. Launching military strikes against Pakistan is a little more serious than a game being played on Xbox or Playstation. In any case, what will be achieved by these strikes? What is the end-game? Taking out a terrorist camp or compound is all right for chest thumping and a great ego massage, but it really doesn't add up to anything in terms of dismantling the infrastructure of terror. What is worse, if things escalate, it could lead to all-out war. Even if you win the war, you will end up with a failed state on your borders, which in turn will have disastrous consequences for national security.

The dilemma for India and the international community is clear: on the one hand if the pressure being put on Pakistan is not carefully calibrated, it will lead to state failure; on the other hand if Pakistan is allowed to continue with its double-speak and double-game on terrorism, the control over the state will continue its inexorable slide into the hands of the non-state actors. Clearly then, cosmetic measures like a few billion dollars of economic aid and restoration of democracy have run their course and will not help improve matters. The time has come for the international community to prepare an action plan for rescuing Pakistan from itself.

One way this can be done is by putting Pakistan under international receivership for a few years, with an international administrative and security force that rebuilds the security services, refurbishes the state structures, revamps the educational sector and social goods sector and initiates economic development projects that improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. Indeed, if the international community is serious about dousing the flames being lit by Jihad International from Afghanistan and Pakistan, then recreating a Pakistan that is at peace with itself, its neighbours and rest of the world, is unavoidable.


    <1232 Words>                    12th December, 2008



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