Saturday, January 09, 2016

            Grand diplomatic gestures can certainly play a big role in breaking logjams between countries, provided you are dealing with a normal country. Since Pakistan doesn’t quite fit the bill of a normal country by any stretch of imagination, the extremely unconventional and bold gambit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ‘drop in’ on his Pakistani counterpart in Lahore was always fraught with risk. And as the Pakistani perfidy unfolded in Pathankot, it became clear that what was always being feared – a stab in the back – had come to pass. Of course, that Pathankot happened within a week of the PM’s stopover in Lahore is quite breath-taking in terms of the audacity of betrayal. But this too is true to Pakistani pattern – remember how within weeks, the clouds of hope and optimism that arose after the Lahore Bus diplomacy of Prime Minister Vajpayee came crashing down on the cliffs of Kargil?
            Frankly, even though a big terror attack was always on the cards after the flurry of meeting between Indian and Pakistani leaders – Paris, Bangkok, Islamabad, Lahore – that it would happen so soon did come as a bit of a surprise. The timing is important because if this attack took a few weeks, even months, to prepare, it means that even as the smiles and handshakes were taking place, the Pakistanis were sharpening their knives to stick in India’s back – Kargil 2.0? Alternatively, if the visit of Mr Modi was the provocation, then the fact that the Pakistani terrorists and their handlers have the capability to launch such a major attack within a week of the visit should set alarm bells ringing, nay shrieking, in the Indian security establishment.
Perhaps, the ‘spoilers’ were seriously spooked by the somewhat surreal bonhomie that was on display and thought that the longer they took to sabotage the engagement process, the more difficult it will become. Strangely enough, even though everyone is talking about the ‘spoilers’, no one in any position of authority has so far taken the trouble to identify who these guys are. All sorts of alibis are being offered – ‘rogue elements’, ‘enemies of humanity’, and what not. Again, nothing new here. After 26/11, the UPA persisted with the fiction of ‘non-state actors’ and ‘elements within the Pakistani state’ being responsible for that act of mass murder, just so that some space was left for re-engaging the Pakistanis. This despite the fact that it was quite clear that that attack wasn’t possible without the active involvement of the Pakistani military establishment.
Clearly, like Mumbai in 2008, Pathankot in 2016 is inconceivable without the connivance, complicity and even cooperation of the Pakistani military establishment. The nature of attack, as well as the target – Air Force base – leaves little doubt about the involvement of the dirty tricks department of the Pakistani state. It is, of course, entirely possible that details of the plot were not shared with some people in the top echelons of the Pakistani establishment. If so, it still doesn’t mean that this was a rogue operation. Information about such operations is shared only on a need-to-know basis. More importantly, officials and leaders are often kept out of the loop so that they can appear genuine in their denials when they meet their interlocutors from other countries. In any case, we only fool ourselves by drawing a distinction between ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ actors, civilian and military establishments, ‘rogues’ and ‘regulars’. They are all one and the same and play good-cop-bad-cop as the situation demands.
Even though India keeps talking about what it will do in the event of ‘another 26/11’, it is highly unlikely that the Pakistanis will repeat 26/11 or the Parliament attack. But Pakistan will continue to carry out high impact attacks to keep testing and probing India’s resolve and preparedness, as also the threshold of tolerance. In the case of Pathankot, the attack could also be a test to check India’s sincerity and commitment in re-engaging Pakistan. An even more sinister, serious, and scary angle to not just the Pathankot, but also the Gurdaspur attack a few months earlier, is that both these attacks were a qualitative jump in what they could have resulted in. In Gurdaspur, if the bombs on the railway track had blown up a train there would have been mass casualties, and if in Pathankot, a few aircraft or choppers had been damaged or destroyed, it would have literally pushed the two countries to the brink of war. So is Pakistan deliberately trying to provoke war?
The Modi government confronts a Hobson’s choice: walking out of the talks will appear a churlish, even knee-jerk, reaction and is unlikely to get much traction internationally, and will hardly be a punishment for Pakistan; but going ahead with the talks comes with its own complications, not just political but also security. The Pakistanis might well come to the conclusion that its business as usual and henceforth talks and terror will go together. Therefore, not doing anything is also not an option. The challenge for the Modi government will be to use the talks as a test of Pakistan’s sincerity and hold its feet to fire on the issue of terrorism. Hollow commitments and pro forma condemnatory statements won’t be enough; visible action must be seen to be happening. And if Pakistan doesn’t deliver, as is more likely, then to use it’s perfidy as a tool to not just disengage but also change India’s tired old template of talks followed by no talks with a more robust, hard-hitting, unrelenting, uncompromising policy to inflict punishment on Pakistan and its proxies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the right time to start to disintegrate Pakistan once and for all.

11:32 PM  

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