Tag Archives | Pakistan

Time to end lists

India’s endless handing over of lists of wanted terrorists has become something of a joke with continuing shifting of focus and redlines which can be mitigated by establishing a hotline between ISI & RAW

Each time there is a terror attack, India adds new list of terror suspects on the most wanted list. This list is handed over to Pakistan after much hullabaloo. Much is being made of reported arrest of Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) after the recent Pathankot attacks. What we seem to be missing is that Pakistan arrested the 26/11 mastermind Lakhvi within a week. He became a free man in no time. Masood Azhar is an interesting case because it was India who handed him over after the infamous swap after Kandahar hijacking in 1999.

The Multi Agency Centre (MAC) of India coordinated a two week effort with various other agencies to hand over the latest list. Former Research & Analysis Wing(RAW) chief Vikram Sood says that India is tracking so many groups and attacks that we lose focus. Another RAW chief AS Dulat has a different view who says that let us forget Dawood Ibrahim and we should focus on getting Masood Azhar for the Pathankot attack now. There is merit in what the RAW chiefs say having had the ring side view of talks and diplomatic initiatives at the apex level.

My colleague, Pranay Kotasthane in his analysis has laid out some assumptions one of which is that Pakistan can be brought to target militants of all hues and colours (Peshawar school tragedy in December 2014 altered its calculus). The perpetrators of that massacre have been hanged after due process of law.  Presently, there is a hotline existing between the DGMOs of both the armies. This hotline pertains to matters which are more of operational nature pertaining to infiltrations on the border.

Establishing a hotline between ISI & RAW can be one of the policy options. If a hotline between ISI & RAW is realised, then the question of these endless lists will no longer become salient or generate the emotive appeal that they do at present. Even at the height of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) & Russian KGB maintained contact with each other. Otherwise, the US could not have exchanged its spy pilot Francis Gary Powers for captured Soviet agents. All the indications are that such arrangements do not exist at present. Even if it exists, it does not seem to be working. A hotline between the spymasters shall surely keep the escalatory matrix in check. Because both know what their own ‘boys’ are up to. This is not to argue that just by establishing a hotline, we can expect peace. The spy chiefs, after all further the national interests of their own countries. The aim is to ensure stability in a highly volatile environment.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image credit: Spies at ajcann.wordpress.com licensed from creative commons.

Comments { 0 }

Drug-Terror Nexus: Pathankot attack

The recent terror attack at Pathankot has raised a concern over the imminent drug-terror cartel in the region. There is a  likelihood  of  arms and ammunitions pushed across the international border before the terror strike. The terrorist have entered the base on 1 January 2016 thereafter followed by an intense combing operation. The attack on Indian Consulate at  Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan preceded the Pathankot air base attack and both these attacks pointedly confirm the hand of JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed). Is the Border Security Force (BSF) not fully operational  in the region as Jammu and Kashmir is something that has to be seen. Is the emerging triangular drug-teror-money triad the probable reason for this lapse.

There is a flourishing narcotic network between Pakistan and Punjab. Lots of speculations on alleged  narcotic trade across the border to have played hand and glove in the attack.  Often drugs move at ease across the borders and then it is simply transported to  the mainland.  Despite Government measures to safeguard the border , this area continues to remain   primarily a conduit  for drug traffickers,  smuggling drugs and arms into India. There is huge money laundering and lobbying mafia which operates that could fuel the terror networks across the border.The border though heavily guarded continues to be a major apprehension for the Indian Government.

The drug-terror duality is growing menace and often terror groups tap this source as it is the most vulnerable and lucrative source.The combination of money traded against weapons could be a strong reason for the breach of security , thus synergising the    drug-money-weapons combination. The region is  famous for drug infiltration and notorious for heroin. Pathankot also has drug-deaddiction centre which could further testify this strong connections. Sprawling houses, multi-storeyed building dominate the area and could further act as a storage for the drugs before it reaches the market. There is a  noticeable youth population in Pathankot, who were possibly used in this racket. The attackers probably could have used this medium to transport heavy weapons across the borders.

There are challenges that India faces across the borders despite heavy patrolling and border fencining.  Due to geographical features there is no clear distinction or uniformity in this border creation.The 460 km long international border in Punjab is impenetrable and guarded. The recent terror attack at the Pathankot air base has raised major concerns on the border safety. There have been attempts made by the militant outfits to cross the border, a noticeable one was the gunning down of a militant who attempted to cross the border outpost in KMS Wala area near Ferozpur Sector of India’s Punjab on 5, September 2014. This confirms the fact that there are has been sporadic incidents of militants movement across the border.

The weapons used in the attack confirms that armaments  could have been transferred from Pakistan. There is a possible involvement of  several groups in this terror connection. The absence of latest technology to counter attacks could be one strong contending factors leading to security lapse. Several question remains unanswered, how efficient  is the  continuous and controlled operation across the border and the level of preparedness  in handling such terror strikes.

Priya Suresh is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution . She  tweets @priyamanassa.

Comments { 0 }

Afghanistan’s India outreach

The likely transfer of four attack helicopters from India to Afghanistan marks a significant change in the positions of not only India and Afghanistan, but also that of the US.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Suhasini Haidar reported in The Hindu on November 4, 2015:

India is discussing the transfer of attack helicopters to Afghanistan when Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar visits New Delhi this weekend (November 7-8) for meetings with NSA Ajit Doval.

As Haidar details further, these four Russian-made Mi-25 helicopters will be India’s first offensive weaponry transferred to the National Unity Government in Afghanistan.

This transfer marks a significant change in the positions of not only India and Afghanistan, but also that of the US, as explained below.

Up to this point, the Indian government had rolled back its engagement with Ashraf Ghani’s administration following his efforts (backed by the US) to reach out to all sections of Pakistan in the hope of getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. Back then, it made sense for India to let its displeasure be made clear to the Afghan government, which chose to throw its weight behind Pakistan-led talks while keeping the Indian connection on the back burner.

However, we had argued in our writings that India should look to refresh its Afghanistan relationship in light of three new developments: failure of the Murree round of talks, splintering of the Taliban movement and its relative weakness in the South, and the changing geopolitics of Afghanistan, Central and West Asia over the last six months.

It finally appears that the Indian leadership has decided to re-energise its Afghanistan desk. Reports suggest that it was the Indian government that reached out to Afghanistan—the invitation to Mr. Atmar was extended by Mr. Doval during a telephone conversation a few days back. This is a welcome change—India looks to have overcome its fear of aggravating Pakistan in order to boost Afghanistan’s quest for strategic autonomy.

Second, this move also reflects a change in the Afghan government’s position. Already frustrated by the failure of the Murree round of talks, the Kunduz attack turned out to be the last straw. Following the Taliban takeover of the important northern city, the Afghan government was forced to re-evaluate its relationship with all its neighbours. The Chief Executive of the government, Abdullah Abdullah welcomed Russia’s potential assistance by saying:

If any country wants to assist Afghanistan in war on terror, Afghanistan welcomes the offer.

This outreach to India is a reflection of this realignment of Afghan government’s priorities.

Third, the National Unity Government’s change of heart is impossible without a change in the US position. We had indicated that the U.S., in search of an honourable exit from Afghanistan, had been shaken by the Kunduz incident and was looking for more options:

The Kunduz attaack makes it clear that the optimism generated by Pakistan-led round of talks was misplaced. The halt in troop withdrawal until 2017 is meant to buy time until the U.S. finds a better roadmap to peace in Afghanistan. While the U.S. and China still continue to place their bets on Pakistan-backed efforts, there is a growing realisation that the price Pakistan demands will never be acceptable to large sections of Afghans. Nevertheless, the U.S. is said to be examining various other possibilities for securing peace.

It is most likely that in search of new options, the US would have encouraged the national unity government to re-engage with India.

A few important questions emerge in the light of the new development: given the new start, will India further deepen its military relationship with the Afghan government? And more importantly, will India help the Afghan government and the US in starting a new peace process with sections of the Taliban? These questions will be answered in the days to come. In any case, well re-begun is almost half done.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

Comments { 1 }

Pakistani national movement: sufficiently imagined

A brief note on Creating a New Medina by Venkat Dhulipal.

The view that “Like other countries that brought together disparate ethnicities as the colonial era came to a close, Pakistan became a state before it was a nation” is a popularly held interpretation in the intellectual history of Pakistan’s creation. What lies beneath this understanding is the idea that up until transfer of power and later, the idea of Pakistan was vague and unformed. This has been contextualised by historians in the way political elites who demanded Pakistan, only had an equivocal idea of what Pakistan was. In the words of Salman Rushdie, Pakistan was ‘’insufficiently imagined’’. Further, Farzana Shaikh, a leading Pakistani historian, contends that Pakistan’s nationalism lacked any positive content because Pakistan only imagined itself as opposed to India. It came to be believed that the idea of a Pakistani nation came into existence after the creation of certain state institutions.

In other words, the argument has been that the instruments and institutions of a state were put in place before any substantial content could occupy this political space.

However, this view, which has become orthodox among Pakistan scholars, has recently been challenged by Venkat Dhulipala in his book Creating a New Medina. The book fleshes out in length ‘’ how the idea of Pakistan was developed and debated in the public and how popular enthusiasm was generated for its successful achievement …‘’ In the case of Pakistan, as this book makes sufficiently clear: the instrument which potentially generated nationalism was expressed through politics and the arts; beginning not in the 1935, when the Government of India Act was passed, but very much since the 19th century. Further, Dhulipala argues that the existence of Pakistan being anti-India is a limited view. In the Pakistani nationalist movement there was fusion of the religious sanctioning of the Deoband with the ground-level politics of the Muslim League. Often the role for post-independent Pakistan articulated in pre-independent India was for it to be a locus of pan-Islamism in the world; to house the new caliphate after the fall of Turkey. To come to this understanding, the techniques of the global historian were used, which is reflected in one of the main tenants of the monograph: that the intellectual arguments which went into imagining Pakistan were also the frameworks that were used to understand the world.

As this book does, good historical writing lies in complicating events and processes. Venkat Dhulipala traces the historical argument for Pakistan and contextualises it not just in national identity, but also in global aspirations. These ideas were not just restricted to the elites but were also thrashed around and debated by ordinary people.

Adhip Amin is a Research Associates at Takshashila Institution. Adhip tweets @AdhipAmin1.

Comments { 0 }

I know what you did last August feat. Military—Jihadi complex

Senator Mushahidullah Khan’s interview gives a sneak peek into the rumblings inside the Pakistani Military—Jihadi complex

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

This year’s August 14th was a day of mixed feelings for Pakistan. On one hand, it marked the 69th independence day of the nation-state. On the other, this day marked one year of the protest demonstrations by the PTI—PAT combine which threatened to push the country back into a state of anarchy and overt military control. The agitations formally ended on 17th December 2014, following a terrorist attack on Army School, Peshawar. The Nawaz Sharif government was back in (nominal) charge, after agreeing to a stringent set of “terms and conditions” determined by the military high command.

What has sparked a raging controversy in Pakistan, however, is a BBC Urdu interview of by PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan in which he directly blamed the then ISI chief Zaheerul Islam Abbasi of orchestrating these protests leading to an eventual coup.

As The Dawn reports:

He [Mushahidullah] alleged that former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam Abbasi wanted to overthrow Pakistan’s civil and military leadership during last year’s sit-ins by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

In his interview, Mushahidullah alleged that during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on July 28, 2014, an audio tape was played in which Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam could be heard giving orders to ransack the PM House and spread chaos.

On hearing the audio tape, Gen Raheel summoned the ISI chief to the meeting and played the tape in front of him, said Mushahidullah. When Zaheerul Islam confirmed that the voice was his own, the army chief asked him to leave.

As expected, these revelations did not go down well with either the military or the weakened civilian government. Nevertheless, these statements indicate the politics and the forces of repulsion within the Military—Jihadi complex(MJC). These indications can be summarised as below:

  1. Tensions within the complex have intensified. Some factions are not satisfied with the MJC’s covert control of the government. Such factions would rather prefer a direct control over decision-making. Doing so means that overthrowing a civilian government isn’t sufficient anymore. It should be accompanied with a coup in the MJC itself. Thus, we can expect further clashes within the military node of the MJC going ahead.
  2. The revelatory audio tape which finds mention in the interview was reported to have been obtained by officials of the civilian intelligence agency – Intelligence Bureau. This is the second point of fracture within the MJC. Afraid of the ISI’s proven record of causing internal disturbance, the civilian government and a few sections of the MJC are strengthening the IB as a bulwark. It will be interesting to see how the ISI gets back at the IB after this incident.
  3. This incident highlights how easy it is for the MJC to orchestrate a “civilian” protest. All political parties in Pakistan owe their existence to the military in one way or the other. Whenever the MJC or some factions within it desire to shakeup the civilian establishment, they have a long line-up of political parties who can front protests, dharnas and violence.
  4. Perhaps the most damning part of the interview was an acknowledgement that Zaheerul Islam Abbasi and his co-conspirators would not be tried for treason, as the civilian establishment has neither the credibility nor the capacity to anger elements of the MJC.

What happens next in this story will help us understand how the military—jihadi complex can be dismantled.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

Comments { 0 }

Confronting Pakistan’s drone challenge

The need to invest in improving anti-drone technologies 

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

ISPR’s press release on Monday featured a few photographs of Indian border posts, reportedly taken from the drone shot down by Pakistani troops on July 15th 2015. After this release, the Pakistani Urdu media quickly followed suit. The daily Nawa-i-waqt even carried a news item alleging that the Northern Command chief Lt. Gen. DS Hooda had admitted that it was an Indian drone (while this was contested by many other reports).

Nothing of this orchestrated reaction from Pakistan is surprising. Expect a few more claims and counterclaims from both sides over the next few days. More importantly, this incident gives a glimpse of the role of drones in the India—Pakistan conflict in the years to come.

Drones are not new to Pakistan. The US has been conducting drone strikes since 2004. This continues till date, albeit with one massive difference: the change of narrative regarding drones in Pakistan.

Before 16th December 2014, usage of drones was castigated in Pakistani popular opinion. There was a huge build-up of public resentment against the ‘flying robots’ who killed terrorists and innocents alike. However, this perception started changing post the gruesome attack on the Army school in Peshawar. That incident softened the public opinion against drones — giving legitimacy to all actions that could be used against the enemies of the Pakistani state. In fact, just three days after the attack, the Pakistani army spoke about employing drones to kill TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah.

With this change in narrative, Pakistan has found it easier to talk about drones. With the US drones operating in the country for over a decade, the Pakistan army has had a sufficient exposure to this technology. And with Chinese help forthcoming in ways more than one, Pakistan tested its laser-guided missile mounted drone Burraq in March 2015.

It is possible that the Pakistani drone technology (indigenous or otherwise, surveillance or armed) is ahead of that of India’s. This means that the Indian defences will have to quickly ramp their efforts in anti-drone capabilities. While India has focused on procuring drones, there is little work done on fighting drones coming from the adversary.

Traditional techniques like using Surface to Air missiles might prove to be monetarily costly against drones. As a result, in the US, anti-drone technologies took off with communication and radar jamming techniques that decapitate the control mechanism of drones. Other technologies like using drones against other drones are still in the works. Given the nascent nature of this technology, India would do well to acquire anti-drone defence expertise from its partners like Israel or US in the short term.

The role of drones in the future of conflict will be significant, particularly in the India—Pakistan simmering conflict because drones are perceived low on the belligerence scale and have the added benefit of an increasing plausible deniability if things go wrong. Keeping this in mind, India needs to up its anti-drone game.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

Comments { 0 }

Playing the Mullah Omar card

How is Mullah Omar’s reappearance (or the absence of it) likely to affect India?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

After the conclusion of the first official round of talks between the Taliban and Afghan unity government in the Pakistani resort town of Murree, Pakistan was desperately looking for a pat on the back. Pakistan’s wish was fulfilled, almost incredibly, when a message on the Taliban’s website, believed to be from Mullah Mohammed Omar, endorsed the peace talks process.

This message shifted the world’s attention to the enigma that is Mullah Omar. He’s not been seen since 2001 but recordings of his video messages, and his written statements make periodical appearances on the Taliban website. In fact, even the latest comment regarding the talks was made in a message that appears every Eid-ul-Fitr.

His previous online projection was in the form of a 5,000 word biography which appeared in April this year. Coinciding with the rise of Daesh, the purpose of this exercise was to emphasise that Mullah Omar is still the Amir-ul-Momineen, the unquestioned leader of the Taliban. Ahmed Rashid, who has written extensively on the Af-Pak region called this essay a ‘healing device for the reported divisions within the Taliban’ and an essay which ‘reasserts Mr Omar’s leadership and commands all Taliban to unite and obey him’. He goes on to say that the ‘essay suits the ISI and the moderate wing of the Taliban, which are keen to get peace talks started. To do that the agency needs to demonstrate that Mr Omar is alive and in command.’

Why should these unsubstantiated news reports be of concern? Because Mullah Omar’s presence can still rally the various Taliban factions together. The Taliban is no longer a monolith and has various streams of thoughts, each having a different plan of action. In such a scenario, the side that wins Omar’s support will have narrative dominance.

From an Indian perspective, Mullah Omar’s return, if that ever happens, will reassert ISI’s leadership in the talks. This is because Omar couldn’t have survived without the agency’s involvement. As a precedent, In what can be seen as a precedent, Taliban’s second-in-command Abdul Baradar was found in a comatose state after his individual overtures to the Karzai administration. The possibility that Omar will meet the same fate cannot be overruled.

There are two evidences supporting this hypothesis. One, the biography hailing him appeared to be an effort by Pakistan to ramp up pressure on the Taliban to engage with Kabul under Pakistan’s leadership. After prevailing on Akhtar Mansour to agree to talks, Pakistan was indicating that Mullah Omar continues to be relevant. Two, in the “endorsement” message for Murree talks, there is an explicit mention of how Taliban is not an agent of Pakistan. The fact that Taliban needed to clarify this message suggests something otherwise.

On the other hand, Mullah Omar’s physical absence is resulting in diminishing returns to the Taliban movement. Elements in the group are losing hope of his coming back. If the news of his death comes out, it would accelerate the pace of the divisions within Taliban. In such a case, it might be in India’s interests to open channels with at least a few factions which are not directly opposed to India.

The next round of talks is believed to be taking place on July 30th. Peace will remain elusive in the absence of agreement over Taliban’s core demands of a Sharia state, and US forces’ complete removal. Nevertheless, these talks will give interesting insights into the internal dynamics of Taliban.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

Comments { 0 }

The devil is not in the detail

From an Indian standpoint, what matters is the big picture that emerges from the Seymour Hersh report controversy

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

A report by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest. Considering the speculative nature of the report, and the uncomfortable situation that it puts all the protagonists in, the report has received a lot of flak.

Diagram of Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, image courtesy: Mysid, Wikimedia Commons

The objective of this post is not to vouch for or to find holes in the report but to throw some light on the consequences of this controversy, particularly from an Indian standpoint.

  1. India stands to gain more with the report coming out than without it. The controversy surrounding the report gives credence to what India has always maintained: the complicity of the Pakistani state with terrorists. The fact that the epicentre of the controversy is US is even better, it will make future engagements with the Pakistan military establishment tougher.
  2. The controversy is good because it has enough and more in it to convince everyone about the existence of the Pakistani Military Jihadi Complex (MJC) — a dynamic network of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance. It is interesting to note that this entire episode which involved military action by one state in the heart of another country hardly features the civilian government of Pakistan. This is just one of the many indicators of the power that the MJC wields over decision-making in Pakistan.
  3. The episode also puts into perspective that this dynamic network can and does get unwieldy at times. On one hand, there are cohesive forces such as enmity towards India and the ideology of radical Islamism that bind the MJC. On the other, there are forces of repulsion caused by the underlying inconsistencies of the project and the confusion surrounding the objective of the Pakistani state. The balancing act is not an easy job and is bound to have its moments of failures.
  4. Overall, this episode is itself a result of exogenous forces which have moulded the MJC’s responses in disparate ways. First, a splurge of military aid in return of Pakistan’s partnership in the war or terror meant that it was in the MJC’s favour to keep the hunt for Osama Bin Laden going on for as long as possible. Then came the new forces: the Kerry-Lugar-Bergman legislation tightened the noose on military aid  and US increased drone strikes within the Pakistan territory. This increased the costs for the MJC in keeping the hunt for Osama going. Eventually, was it the diminishing marginal utility that caused the MJC to co-operate with the US in this operation still remains an unanswered question.
  5. How the MJC reacts to this clearly uncomfortable situation will serve as a test case to understand how strong the cohesive forces that unite it are. The Urdu media will play its part: there are already reports that project the ISI as a hero, claiming that Osama was already in ISI’s custody and the entire operation would have been impossible without the ‘help’ of the ‘generous’ Pakistani establishment. Given this narrative, the jihadi node of the MJC is bound to view the military with even more suspicion going ahead. 

India would do well to keep a close watch on the firefighting that happens going ahead in order to devise strategies that can dismantle the Pakistani military jihadi complex – an irreconcilable adversary.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

Comments { 0 }

Flashback: constructing a narrative for Pakistan

Glimpses from a 1957 Pakistani Urdu movie Bedari about the ideas concerning a young Pakistani State. 

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)


The 70mm screen is a powerful tool for political communication. An example of this tool at work is the Pakistani Urdu movie from 1957 called Bedari (meaning: Enlightenment)The movie is a patriotic Pakistani film. The movie was, in Bollywood jargon, inspired by a 1954 Hindi movie called Jagriti. The lead role in both movies is played by Nazir Rizvi (better known by his screen name Rattan Kumar). Nazir migrated to Pakistan in the 1950s and went on to act in many Lollywood movies thereafter.

CL50511

The most interesting part of the movie are its four songs—set to the exact tune of the very popular songs in the original Jagriti.  There are several notable references in these songs.

1. Aao Bachchon saer karaien tumko Pakistan ki

This song is set to the tune of the popular Bollywood song Aao Bachchon tumhe dikhaaiyen jhaanki Hindustan ki. The screenplay is that a teacher takes a few students to various parts of Pakistan, singing a few lines in praise of each of the provinces. Sindh is described as the area where the tyranny of Raja Dahir (Sindh’s last Hindu ruler) is overthrown by the Lashkar of Muhammad Bin Qasim. Punjab is described as the place which was enlightened by Iqbal’s poetry. The brave soldiers, who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the nation hail from here. NWFP, referred to as the land of Pathans is described as a place where even children are familiar with warfare. Interestingly, the fourth territory discussed is Kashmir, and not Balochistan.

 2. Ae Quaid-e-Azam tera ehsaan hi ehsaan 

This song is set to the tune of De di hamein aazaadi bina.., another popular song praising the non-violent efforts of Gandhi. In Bedari, the roles are completely reversed. The song is in praise of Jinnah and the projected villain (dushman) is Gandhi, who is out to foil the idea of Pakistan.

3. Hum layein hain toofaan se

is a copy of a song by same name. This song ends with how Pakistan’s ambitions are incomplete unless the flag of Pakistan is hoisted in Kashmir.

This is just one, but nevertheless an interesting data point in the early stages of nation building of Pakistan.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

Comments { 0 }

India’s options for reducing risk from China-Pak alliance

R.Srikanth

While the internal debate has predictably settled down on questioning the morality of executions in a democratic republic, few questions have been asked about whether Kasab’s execution has increased or decreased India’s options with respect to its long-term adversaries in the region, China and Pakistan.

Hafiz Saeed, leader of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba is being legitimised in the public space in Pakistan, as he makes a foray into Pakistani politics. Given Pakistan’s penchant for denying its hand in anti-India terrorism, it seems like poor strategy to execute Kasab at this time, as he is the only living being that was proof of 26/11. Can Indians afford to be sanguine about the mainstreaming of terrorist groups in Pakistani politics?

The central place of religion in politics is not surprising given that Pakistani Constitution and Republic and even the Army define themselves in terms of religious doctrine. The side effect of religious propaganda in the Pakistani school curriculum over the decades has resulted in religious fundamentalist groups garnering immense public support for right wing political groups. In this environment, terrorist masterminds like Hafiz Saeed are able to seek legitimacy by entering politics and making pretensions of abstaining from terrorism.  Hafiz’s actions of offering prayers for a 26/11 terrorist, but not its victims, says enough about his pretensions of seeking a life of peace.

It does not seem to be in India’s interest to let Pakistan get away with providing validity to groups like Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Toiba as a legitimate political party via an election. This will result in the permanent mainstreaming of terrorist groups into Pakistani politics. However, in Pakistan, it is a truism that no matter which political party wins, the Army actually is in control. So, in that sense, not much has changed in Pakistani politics, except for the death of secular and liberal political parties. Frequent headlines in the international print media that portray the Army submitting to the civilian government of the day have always turned out to be false.

Even mainstream political parties such as the PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami are very vocal about their aggressive intent towards India, should they come to power. All these political parties have openly stated their antipathy for friendly relations with India, with constant background refrain of promising more terrorism in India unless India relinquishes Indian territory in Jammy &Kashmir to Pakistan.

Buckling down to Pakistan’s blackmailing tactics to exchange land for peace, whether in Siachen or elsewhere, are unlikely to yield results for India. This is mainly due to the Pakistani Military-Jihad Complex’s (MJC) antipathy to normalising relations with India, combined with their domineering role in Pakistani politics. Since the inception of Pakistan as a state in 1947, the Pakistani Army has always dictated terms to the civilian government in power.

In the early 80s and 90s, Pakistan was financially, politically, and diplomatically supported by the USA, China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Such support has waned in the recent years due to frictions between Pakistan and its donors. USA continues to finance Pakistan under strict controls and has downgraded military relations with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia still wields a lot of influence in Pakistan, though it has stopped subsidising Pakistan like it did in the past.

The only country that has made proclamations of everlasting, mutual, enduring relations with Pakistan is China.  This was evident from the fact only a journalist from Pakistan was given the privilege of being allowed to record the proceedings of the CPC. Ignoring the dubious value of the Pakistani presence in such a meeting- the showcasing of China-Pakistan relations- is a reminder that the chance of these two Indian adversaries colluding against India in the long term is a certainty. As long as the MJC wields power in Pakistan and the Communist Party wields power in Beijing, India needs to consider the likelihood of such collusion, a certainty.

Although China’s investments in Pakistan have decreased in scope and involvement over the last couple of decades, not least to the inability of the Pakistani government to secure the lives of Chinese engineers and workers implementing development projects in Pakistan. However, China has followed a strategy of proliferating weapons of mass destruction to states like North Korea and Pakistan, and there is no indication that the CCP has relinquished the use of WMD proliferation as a tool in the toolkit of Chinese foreign policy.

This is where China and Pakistan gain from their illegal occupation of Indian territory in J&K. Pakistani occupation of PoK and China’s occupation of CoK, has resulted in a physical border and land route connecting China and Pakistan. As long as this land route connects China and Pakistan, China’s capability to proliferate weapons of mass destruction to Pakistan via such a route remains in place. Proliferating such weapons by Air or Sea is a lot harder as the global commons is monitored. Thus, it is in India’s long-term interests to ensure that Chinese capability for such proliferation is neutered. Once a capability is neutered, China’s intentions towards India in that region do not matter if India regains control over all of J&K. Intentions of any geopolitical entitiy can change on a whim with no effort, but geopolitical capability needs to be gained and maintained.

Why is the completion of the accession of J&K to India necessary? Why does Indian government spend an enormous amount of revenue generated from other Indian states to sustain J&K? For one, there is a parliamentary resolution in effect today that declares India’s sovereignty over all of Jammu & Kashmir.  India retaining control would mean that India would have a border with Afghanishtan, establishing direct Indian transit into Central Asia. India has been denied land transit rights into Afghanistan and will continue to be denied such rights for the foreseeable future. Also, as explained earlier, such reclamation of control over J&K would ensure breaking a land route between two of India’s most bloody-minded and hostile adversaries, China and Pakistan. Seems prudent for India to proactively gain leverage over them in order to control events in the future that may be orchestrated by the collusion of these two hostile nations.  It should be noted that a political union of the two sides of the LoC in J&K is a logical first step towards Indian control over all of J&K.

What are India’s options with respect to Pakistan, especially given China’s significant capabilties today, to change the nature of India-Pakistan relations via WMD proliferation? India taking the initiative on foisting aggression on Pakistan is not an option, as this is exactly what the Pakistani MJC has been trying to do for a long time. Recall the 26/11 was orchestrated when the Pakistani Army was trying to prove to its American allies that maintaining a large army presence in the Indo-Pak border is essential, in order to avoid going after the Taliban in North West Pakistan.  The Army’s gambit would have worked had the Indian government reacted to 26/11 by escalating hostile intentions, thereby providing the Pakistani Army with a solid excuse to not cooperate in Waziristan.

If India escalates the situation on the ground, Pakistani army’s best option is to respond by claiming that various red lines have been crossed. Once this is done, what will follow is a drumbeat of “India-Pak nuclear flashpoint” from motivated third parties, mostly arms-control wonks. Such a falling out of events has never worked in India’s favor in the past. A more important reason to avoid a war with Pakistan is the effect it will have on the gap between India and China in terms of economic and military power. The already wide gap is likely to increase further, which is unwise given that there is no guarantee India can recover from such a setback post war with Pakistan. However, even if overt war is ruled out with Pakistan, the sub-conventional proxy war options that Pakistan avails is also available to India- it is a different matter that Indian political leadership seems to have failed to avail itself of such options.

Let us take a look at Pakistan today. Pakistan government’s choice to radicalise their population with religious dogma, hatred and violence in school textbooks has created multiple generations of Pakistanis that would fit the label of religious radicals or fundamentalists- people who are not averse to using violent means as a tool to further their religious-political goals. The end result seems to be that Pakistanis are increasingly vulnerable to terrorist bombings in their own country, and State of Pakistan is increasingly unable to exert control over its own territories.  This should seemingly increase India’s options, but it has not done so yet.

The Pakistani government effectively controls 3 out of 4 states in the country. The army dare not challenge militant tribes in the Northwest Frontier province that challenge the Pakistani army on the ground. Any election in Pakistan is likely to usher in a religious-minded political party in power- these parties have openly stated their concurrence with the goals of Al Qaeda in Pakistan. If such a religious party comes to power as a result of elections in Pakistan, it will legitimise anti-India terrorist groups in Pakistan, which means an increase in anti-India violence emanating from Pakistan, as it has happened in the past. When dealing with Pakistani MJC/Government it is prudent to watch what they are doing rather than what they are saying, as explained by Mr Vikram Sood.

If suggestions that Saltoro/Siachen be transformed into a “Peace Park” are taken seriously by the Indian government, then it would imply that the Indian Government has learnt no lessons from the Kargil War or has forgotten those lessons already.

R. Srikanth is a Senior Researcher at the Cyber-Strategy Studies Team at the Takshashila Institution and a GCPP alumnus.
Comments { 0 }