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India - Pakistan: After the Pathankot attack act with prudence to save the agenda of entente

11 January 2016

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[Three sane voices advocate continued dialogue between India and Pakistan]

  • After the Pathankot affair by I.A. Rehman
  • Pathankot Air Base Attack: Why This Hysteria? by Amar Bhushan
  • The Pathankot Attack Must Not Be Allowed to Derail the India-Pakistan Dialogue by Satyabrata Pal

Dawn, January 7, 2016

After the Pathankot affair

by I.A. Rehman

The terrorist attack on the large Indian Air Force base at Pathankot threatens to undermine the prospects for the India-Pakistan understanding that had improved somewhat following the Indian prime minister’s decision to invite himself to his Pakistani counterpart’s birthday party. Both governments will need to act with great prudence to save the agenda set by the two leaders and, for obvious reasons, a special responsibility has fallen on Pakistan.

An incident like Pathankot would have seriously upset any Indian government. It is especially embarrassing to the present rulers as it came in the midst of their campaign to derive maximum advantage from the Jati Umra episode. After having claimed distinction for sending both of its prime ministers to Pakistan over the past 15 years, while the Congress holder of this office could not travel to Islamabad even to sign an accord on Kashmir that he had worked out with Gen Musharraf, the BJP was beginning to celebrate the Lahore encounter as a victory for its communalist designs.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh declared that the Modi visit to Lahore had washed away the charge of India having become an intolerant state. The BJP general secretary, Ram Madhav, was reported as saying that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were going to be reunited as Akhand Bharat through people’s goodwill. His explanation that he had made this observation much before Modi’s brief stopover in Lahore made little difference as his remarks fully echoed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh credo.
In the aftermath of the IAF base attack, Indian public opinion has not totally surrendered to the hawks.

While a BJP spokesperson, M.J. Akbar, tried to ward off protests by recalling that as prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had accepted Pakistan as a sovereign state during his 1999 visit to Lahore, a union minister (Paswan) said reunification of the subcontinent now meant a federation. And the Communist Party of India and Congress were sticking to their stand that the grave issues that stood in the way of India-Pakistan rapprochement could not be resolved through the exchange of pleasantries over a cup of tea.

The Pathankot incident not only put a stop to these exchanges it also enabled the hardliners in the Shiv Sena to warn Modi that terrorism and talks with Pakistan could not go together. Soon enough, unnamed Indian officials began to refer to the possibility of this month’s foreign secretaries’ meeting being put off. Significantly, however, the Indian public opinion has not totally surrendered to the hawks. For one thing, public debate came to be centred on the inadequacy of the security forces’ response to terrorists, and for another, the BJP supporters saw that terrorist attack as a bid to discredit Modi.

Thus, it was possible for The Hindustan Times to declare on Monday that “disengaging with Pakistan after the Pathankot attacks, is to play into the hands of terrorists”. The home minister was also quoted as saying that a single incident of terrorism could not be allowed to derail the process Modi had initiated.

Now the Indian government has chosen to defer acceptance of the hardliners’ call till Pakistan has responded to the questions it has raised regarding the identity of the terrorists and their handlers. The situation is too grim to allow room for prevarication. The uproar in the Indian media will keep the Modi government under pressure and reinforce its plea for confining the India-Pakistan talks to terrorism alone, at least for the present.

As matters now stand, the resumption of negotiations between India and Pakistan will depend on the Pakistani national security adviser’s success in convincing the Indian side that this country cannot be held responsible for the latest act of terrorism. The task that Gen Nasir Janjua faces is by no means easy.

The first question to be tackled will be regarding the origin of the raiders. Efforts have already started to attribute the Pathankot attack to the militants operating from the Indian part of Kashmir. First, we had a story told by the Indian citizen who was left half-dead by the terrorists so that he could spread the word that they had come to avenge the execution of Afzal Guru. Now a hitherto unknown outfit is not content with owning responsibility for the raid but goes on to rebut the Indian media’s attempts to implicate Pakistan The government of Pakistan will be better off without such self-appointed counsel.

This country cannot forever rely on the excuse that the terrorists who mount attacks on India do not spare Pakistan either. This argument means, in the final analysis, that Pakistan cannot overcome the challenge to its own sovereign status, an admission no self-respecting state can hope to live with. If some non-state actors in Pakistan can seriously threaten India and thus precipitate an India-Pakistan clash, then they can also find some other ways to undermine the Pakistani state. It should not be impossible for Islamabad to realise that whenever any Pakistan-based terrorist group assaults India it threatens the integrity of Pakistan itself.

Besides, Islamabad should avoid dealing with the Pathankot affair the way it responded to the Mumbai attacks. As a former chief of the FIA pointed out in these columns sometime ago Pakistan must be “prepared to muster the courage to face uncomfortable truths and combat the demons of militancy that haunt our lands”.

The challenge Pakistan faces is not confined to defending itself against any Indian allegations of exporting terrorism or convincing the world of its innocence; much more real is the need to prevent the cancer of extremism from destroying Pakistan. While the bills for our folly of preferring the good Taliban to the bad ones are still coming in we are now required to stop, for our own survival, dividing terrorists operating within our boundaries into benevolent jihadists and the malevolent ones. This calls for a fresh look at the National Action Plan in order to ensure that the enemies of the state and the people are not able to escape under any garb or pretence.

o o o

The Quint - January 5, 2016

Pathankot Air Base Attack: Why This Hysteria?

[by] Amar Bhushan

• Defence analysts vouching for proactive military action are forgetting that it will mean full-fledged war, which is unpredictable and expensive.
• Carrying out covert military operations in Pakistan will mean that India becomes the perpetrator, not victim of terror.
• Prevent another Pathankot by remaining vigilant against both internal and external enemies.
• The entire Pak Army is not against normalisation of relations between the two nations.
• As far as Modi’s visit to Pakistan is concerned, it must take place as scheduled.

Proactive Military Action Will Prove Expensive

The Jaish-e-Muhammad fidayeen attacks on Pathankot airbase on 2 January have evoked ill-informed reactions, betraying immaturity to comprehend strategic realities. Defence analysts are screaming for proactive military action, meaning that you carry out trans-border raids on training centres and staging posts of terrorists in Pakistan.

But you can not do this unless you are prepared for a full-fledged war, which will cost a huge number of lives. Besides, you have no idea of how it will end and whether or not nuclear arsenals will be emptied. You are not Israel, nor are you dealing with Palestinians. Such is the world military equation today that even Russians cannot attack Turkey to avenge the downing of its military aircraft.

Let’s stop talking of military adventurism. It is true that more of our security personnel are getting killed than terrorists, but in any defensive war, casualties are always disproportionately higher for those at the receiving end. What then we must do is to make the border security impregnable and get in the habit of trusting inputs of intelligence agencies – however insipid and laughable they may appear – and take follow-up measures. The Pathankot attack clearly illustrates the lapse in following up the leads, seriously and assiduously.

An Impractical Alternative

As an alternative to military action, security experts are making a strong pitch for covert operations, suggesting that we train agents and push them inside Pakistan to destroy Pak defence installations and engineer blasts. They want the agencies to hit Pakistan so hard that it realises the depth of pain that goes with sending terrorists in India on suicide missions.

This idea is maddening. If you practice this, you will be branded not a victim but a promoter of terrorism with far reaching, adverse consequences for your economy, your defence preparedness and your quest to be counted in the comity of nations. The only way you can prevent another Pathankot is by remaining eternally vigilant against both your internal and external enemies.

Confused, Ill-Informed Political Discourse

Meanwhile, political commentators have made outrageous remarks. Some say caustically that Prime Minister Modi has been back stabbed by Nawaz Sharif within a week of hosting him over tea. Others maintain that if he has to talk, he should instead talk to Raheel Sharif, Army Chief in Rawalpindi.

They argue that notwithstanding former ISI’s chief’s meeting with the NSA in Bangkok, Pak Army would never allow its politicians to compromise on military support to Kashmiri separatists and creating instability in India through terrorist operations, no matter how much Delhi humours the civilian leadership. Hence, they want Delhi to freeze all interactions with Islamabad for next several years and PM to cancel his forthcoming talks with Nawaz Sharif.

To believe that the entire Pak Army establishment is against normalisation of relations is not wholly correct. It is true that majority of rank and file who were radicalised during General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule are still inimical to India but the way to neutralise them is to keep them engaged in dialogue. The communication must not end with only Janjua’s meeting with NSA but opportunities should be created for top level officers of the Defence Forces of the two nations to meet and exchange their concerns freely and frequently.

Modi Must Visit Pakistan

As far as PM Modi’s visit is concerned, it must take place. If nothing else, it will at least give him an opportunity to confront Sharif and question him on why he had to invite him over tea when plans were afoot to attack Pathankot air base. An embarrassed Sharif will surely pour his heart out about what went wrong. This will also make Sharif’s political life difficult if he has conspired with the Army to hurt us strategically, as our hawkish experts would like us to believe.

Finally, in an operation of this nature, politicians must avoid making brave and inaccurate claims about casualties and the nature of the operation. It is also inadvisable to indict the Pak Army unless we can prove conclusively the handler’s connect with them. It is true that such attacks will not take place without the active assistance of Pak Army, but mere suspicion will show us only as cry babies. Let evidence speak for our charges, only then we will be taken seriously.

We Must Not Exhibit Panic

We must also refrain from exhibiting panic. There was no need for our Foreign Minister’s brainstorming session at this time with ex-foreign Secretaries and former High Commissioners to Pakistan. It sends wrong signals all around. Such discourses produce only a cocktail of outdated ideas and add confusion to the decision-making process. It is saner that you trust your men in harness and encourage them to break the logjam that bedevils India and Pakistan relations.

(The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat)

o o o

The Wire - 10 January 2016

The Pathankot Attack Must Not Be Allowed to Derail the India-Pakistan Dialogue

by Satyabrata Pal

When India engages with the whole range of bilateral issues, including those dear to Pakistan’s heart, the government in Islamabad can take steps and make gestures that it cannot if these appear to be capitulation to Indian ultimatums

After putting relations with Pakistan in a deep freeze, our prime minister has been figure skating on its surface, leaving his countrymen dizzy trying to follow him as he spins frantically round and round. His bhakts are cross-eyed and dumbstruck, the knickerwallahs have their eponyms in a twist. These are consummations devoutly to be wished for, so this manic pirouetting is not without value. But when he has done his last twirl, which way will he head? Towards Pakistan, or away from it? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Like a skater, an Indian prime minister dealing with Pakistan sweeps into a larger circle, apparently moving forward but returning to where he started. A skater on thin ice, like Narendra Modi, could get a cold shock.

The latest spin is the announcement on January 7 that India will wait for Pakistan to take prompt action on the “actionable leads” it has been given on Pathankot before deciding whether the Foreign Secretary will make another yatra to Islamabad. The rengagement our Prime Minister started is now like Schrödinger’s cat, both dead and alive.

The prime minister was absolutely justified in asking his counterpart to walk the talk after Pathankot, and has been promised prompt and decisive action. This is where he must be realistic in his immediate expectations, reining in hotheads who make demands that the Pakistan government cannot meet. It would be self-defeating for the talks between the foreigns secretaries to be put on hold, deferred or scratched if what Pakistan does over the next few days seems token or meagre. Since those who sent the terrorists wanted the re-engagement to be aborted, they would be given exactly what they wanted. (It misses the point entirely to argue that since an operation like Pathankot would have taken months of training and planning, it could not be a riposte to Lahore, or have been meant to derail the talks in Islamabad. Powder is kept dry, to be used when needed.)

Why talks matter

The prime minister’s advisers must have told him that from past experience, any attempt at a rapprochement would run the risk of inviting a terrorist strike; the more serious the attempt the graver the provocation would be. It would be reasonable to expect that he spoke to Nawaz Sharif in Paris, and did his effortless glissando from Kabul into Lahore, with his eyes open, determined to press ahead despite the violent opposition that would inevitably ensue. If he backs off at the first hurdle, however, it would be equally reasonable to believe that his trip to Lahore and the commitment he made there were impulsive, to promote himself rather than any national interest. He would come across as a vain, irresponsible man, without the gravitas or intellectual grip to lead a country like India.

The fact that those who sent their protégés into Pathankot followed up with attacks on our consulates in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat shows, of course, that these have a strategic purpose, which benefits those in the Pakistan army who fear any developments that might lead to peace. Why then, critics ask, try to talk to those who do not matter?

There are several answers to this. Firstly, our calling off talks after provocations has become a conditioned reflex, which hardliners in the Pakistan army exploit; there is no need to continue to give them these walkovers. Secondly, a sustained engagement, which they will of course try to disrupt, strengthens the political establishment there. The more relations between Pakistan and India move towards the normal, the harder it is for the Pakistan army to justify the special position it claims for itself on the grounds that it is the country’s bulwark against a hostile India. This is a slow process, but the signs were visible in the first half of the last decade.

Though the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed were created by the ISI, and are still nurtured by them, they now have an independent standing in the Punjab which frightens the civilian government and constrains the ability of the army to act against them. Jaish, we must remember, tried to assassinate General Musharraf in 2003. Masood Azhar went on the run, but the police and Army could not track him down, even with Musharraf breathing down their necks. In 2007, one of the general’s closest advisers told me that they would get intelligence on his whereabouts, carry out raids and find that the birds had flown: Azhar and his cohorts were being tipped off. And this while he was being hunted, not for any operation against India, but for trying to kill a president of Pakistan who was still Chief of Army Staff. Once Musharraf fell from grace, Azhar was quietly rehabilitated.

After Mumbai, under international pressure to act against Hafeez Saeed and the Lashkar, the Pakistani prime minister told EU ambassadors that in the Punjab, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa – as the LeT had rebranded itself – was seen as a charitable organisation, to which the poor, both urban and rural, were indebted. Acting against its founder and against the institution would send the Punjab up in flames, a risk the PPP government could not take, particularly when FATA was restive under the army assault that had begun under US pressure in mid-2008. This was self-serving, of course, but carried a grain of truth, which Indians need to acknowledge. (We should remember that for years it was impossible for the Indian government to act against the LTTE in Tamil Nadu because of the fear of massive local opposition.)

In 2016, with the army’s operations in FATA continuing under Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which has displaced a million Pusthuns so far, and Karachi restive under the continuing army-led crackdown on the MQM, neither the PML government, with its base in the Punjab, nor the army, which recruits from there, would want trouble in the Punjab. Action against Masood Azhar and his murderous crew might not, therefore, be either prompt or decisive. We have to hold Pakistan’s feet to the fire, but that can only be done through a continued engagement. When India engages with the government there on the whole range of bilateral issues, including those dear to Pakistan’s heart, the government in Islamabad can take steps and make gestures that it cannot if these appear to be capitulation to Indian ultimatums. If we want some satisfaction on terrorism, we must work with Pakistan on all other issues. The talks between the foreign secretaries must therefore be held and the dialogue resumed across the board, without preconditions.

Five bad options and a good one

This is not of course received wisdom. The wise men of Indostan, to learning much inclined, are not as inclined towards Pakistan. There are six broad views on what the prime minister should now do, as there were on what the elephant was:

  • the talks between the foreign secretaries should be called off;
  • the foreign secretaries should meet only after the national security advisers first discuss the attack and the broader problem of terrorism, as envisaged in Ufa;
  • the talks should be postponed until there is proof that, honouring the assurance the prime minister received from Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan has taken and is taking action against Jaish and those who back them;
  • the talks could continue but simultaneously India should shame Pakistan abroad with the evidence of its complicity in this attack and with terrorism generally, backing it into the international doghouse;
  • the talks may continue, but we should also “do what needs to be done”, which means doing to your neighbour what your neighbour does to you, or beating the ISI at its own game.
  • And finally, the forlorn view, dismissed as naïve by the wise, that the talks must continue without preconditions, reservations or retribution.

Those who reject the resumption of talks, or place these conditions or caveats on them, are in the lineage of prophets who understood the language of birds, whisperers who know, as lesser mortals do not, what “the generals” are trying to say. Through the attacks in Pathankot and Mazar-e-Sharif, the generals, according to them, are saying that it’s pointless for India to try to make peace with civilians in Pakistan, or to aspire to a role in Afghanistan, and if the Indian prime minister keeps making overtures to ciphers who don’t matter, the generals will think he’s a wimp, just like his predecessors.

As against that, we should bear in mind that, over the last week, the Pakistan government has issued three statements in which it has condemned the attack in Pathankot, conveyed its condolences to the government and people of India and reiterated that it is working on the leads it has received from India. These are fair words, though they leave our parsnips dry. But we should surely note that on January 8, a meeting which Pakistan’s COAS attended, with the DG (ISI), DGMO and the NSA in tow, issued a statement which included the following sentence:

“The people of Pakistan have evolved a political consensus for action against all terrorists and terrorist organizations without any distinction, and have resolved that no terrorist would be allowed to use Pakistan’s soil for committing terrorism anywhere in the world.”

This, with the apparent concurrence of the military, restates the commitment given by President Musharraf to Prime Minister Vajpayee in January, 2004, “that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner”. That assurance was followed in the 2004 statement with the line that “President Musharraf emphasised that a sustained and productive dialogue addressing all issues would lead to positive results.” In other words, it would be easier for the President to deliver on his promise if it was part of an ongoing process.

Some might argue that this was a threat, and agreeing to it was succumbing to blackmail, but Vajpayee was neither weak nor an idealist. As a consummate politician, he understood the limits of the possible, even for an adversary. And, as a statesman, understood that to get an adversary to do something he found hard to do, he had to strengthen, not weaken, him. Prime Minister Modi would do well to draw on the wisdom of his predecessor.

Satyabrata Pal is a former Indian diplomat. He served as India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, and as a member of the National Human Rights Commission


The above articles from Dawn, The Quint and from The Wire are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use