Friday, November 12, 2010




    Try as it might, India just doesn't seem to be able to get over its much disliked hyphenation with Pakistan. Even when the 'hyphenators' make a studied effort to avoid hyphenating India with Pakistan, the Indians seem hell bent on raising the 'P' word and descending back into the quagmire in which it had been enmeshed for better part of the last six decades. This needless obsession with Pakistan came tumbling out during the visit of the US President Barack Obama. Until Obama backed Indian claim for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, it almost appeared as though Pakistan was the biggest agenda item in the US-India summit. Everything else - defence deals and compact on fighting terrorism through intelligence sharing, capacity building and technology transfers, investment and trade pacts, cooperation in space and education, collaboration on energy, health and environmental issues, easing of the technology denial regime, support for India's membership to groups like the NSG, Australia group and Wassenaar group, India's role in East Asia and Afghanistan – seemed to recede into the background.

    This is not to deny that Pakistan's relentless use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy poses a big threat to peace and security in the region and as such is a matter of serious concern to India which has faced the brunt of Pakistan's export of terrorism. It is also true that post 26/11, a lot has changed in India as far as Pakistani sponsored terrorism is concerned. Indeed, India is on a short fuse, and to the extent that this sentiment was conveyed to the Americans in full measure, the outcry in the media over Obama's nuanced approach towards Pakistan served the purpose. But to expect the US president to indulge in unrestrained 'Paki-bashing' while he was on Indian soil was trifle unrealistic. Not only is the US dependent on Pakistan for its logistics lines to Afghanistan, it also harbours fond hopes of the Pakistan army putting an end to the sanctuary and support it is giving to the Taliban/Al Qaeda insurgents fighting against the ISAF forces in Afghanistan.

    It was not as if Obama glossed over Pakistan's complicity in terrorism, only his subtlety was lost on his hosts. After all, by staying in the Taj Mahal hotel and addressing the Indian and American CEOs at the Trident, Obama had sent out a strong and unmistakable message against terrorists and their patrons. While his not blaming or naming Pakistan for its involvement in the 26/11 attacks could be compared to someone paying tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks without condemning Al Qaeda, Obama made suitable amends for this oversight later on during the visit. The Joint Statement not only calls for "elimination of safe havens and infrastructure for terrorism and violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan" but also states that "all terrorist networks, including Lashkar e-Taiba, must be defeated" and Pakistan must "bring to justice the perpetrators of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks."

    If what Obama said on terrorism must have sounded jarring to the Pakistanis, he would have added injury to insult by what he did not say – the 'K' word – at least not in the way the Pakistanis expected or hoped. If anything, Obama's take on resolving the Kashmir issue was almost entirely in sync with India's position. Although Obama offered to "play any role that the parties think is appropriate", he was quite candid in stating that "the United States cannot impose a solution to these problems". His endorsement of the Indian line that talks between Indian and Pakistan should first concentrate on building confidence before they grapple with an issue like Kashmir should have dashed the desperate efforts of the Pakistanis to try and convince the Americans that the road to Kabul went through Kashmir.

    It is actually quite bizarre for a Pakistan which is on the verge of an economic and political meltdown and is dependent on handouts from the West to meet its day-to-day expenses to expect the US or other Western countries to lean upon India to appease Pakistan. After all, if these countries haven't been able to stop the double-game being played by a tottering Pakistan, how delusional is it for the Pakistanis to imagine that these countries can pressure a rising (if you accept Obama's hyperbole, then 'risen' and 'emerged') power like India to surrender its vital interests and compromise on its territorial integrity and unity to satisfy Pakistan?

Contributing to the failure of the Pakistani gambit to link Kashmir with Kabul is the fact that nobody in the West seems to know what exactly India is supposed to do to assure Pakistan that India doesn't have any hostile intention towards Pakistan provided Pakistan stops sponsoring terrorism into India. Clearly, nothing short of India abandoning Kashmir to Pakistan and disbanding its army is ever likely to satisfy Pakistan. In the given situation, the choice before Pakistan is simple: either Pakistan learns to accept the realities and adjusts to them by entering into a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with India; alternatively, it continues with its ruinous hostility towards India and consequently its slide into anarchy and bankruptcy.

Apart from the 'K' word, the Pakistanis have been raising the bogey of Indian Army's 'Cold Start doctrine' to deflect pressure on them to stop their sponsorship and support to Islamist terrorist groups and undertake military operations to wipe out the terrorist safe havens in places like North Waziristan. Rather disingenuously, the Pakistanis use the Cold Start doctrine as an excuse to avoid redeploying the troops required for draining the terror swamps in FATA and other parts of Pakistan from the eastern front with India to the troubled western borderlands. As far as India is concerned, the Cold Start doctrine's value is similar to that of the nuclear weapons. While the latter serves the purpose of deterring conventional warfare, the former appears to have been successful in deterring, or at least severely degrading, the proxy or sub-conventional war that Pakistan had been waging against India. The Cold Start doctrine will remain in the cold storage as long as Pakistan behaves; but if Pakistan continues to spawn terrorism into India, then surely it must expect retaliation, of which Cold Start is but one component. Paradoxically, far from being a destabilising factor in Indo-Pak relations, the Cold Start doctrine has actually introduced stability in the region by holding out the prospect of swift retaliation by India in the event of an audacious terror attack on Indian soil by Pakistani proxies.

By deterring and dissuading Pakistan from adventurism by using its own national power and means holds a lesson for India. Instead on depending on the US or any other country to intercede on its behalf to make Pakistan behave, India needs to have its own game plan in place to protect itself from malign actions of its adversaries. Such a plan of action must not only be centred on tackling the threat, but also on grabbing the opportunity for normal relations with countries like Pakistan, should such an opportunity present itself. In its dealing with other countries India must avoid raising the 'P' word; rather it should let other countries initiate discussions on this issue. When India mentions the 'P' word, it inadvertently hyphenates itself with Pakistan. On the other hand, if India studiously avoids mention of the 'P' word, it will be in a better position to not only dictate terms to its interlocutors when they raise the issue, but also make them see the logic and correctness of the Indian stand on the issue.


    <1270 Words>                    12th November, 2010




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