A distinct feature of India’s international relations in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime is that there is no lag between diplomatic initiatives and the moves aimed at strengthening national security. In the past, foreign policy seemed to be all about dinner diplomacy that would prevaricate on security issues and even seek to appease an aggressive adversary. Foreign policy, by definition, is the product of the nation’s economic and security concerns, but for long, in India, it revolved round the former to the neglect of the latter. India’s response to 26/11 in the time of UPA clearly proved this. This is not happening after 2016, as PM Modi has—with great clarity and boldness—based India’s foreign policy on the principle of bilateralism to advance India’s economic interests and ensure convergence on security matters.
The declaration that “terror and talks cannot go together” became the new foundation of Modi’s Pakistan policy after India cancelled the Foreign Secretary level talks following the move of the Pakistan High Commissioner in India to invite the separatist Hurriyat leadership of Kashmir for a meeting in Delhi in August 2014. India’s stand gave substance to its voice in international forums and later paved the way for a total symmetry being achieved between Prime Minister Modi and President Donald Trump on the question of Pakistan providing safe havens to terrorists across the Islamic spectrum. That the year 2018 opened with a clear announcement of Trump about termination of all aid to Pakistan, is a testimony to the success of India’s policymakers on national security. The US President made no bones about his contention that Pakistan had been indulging in “lies and deceit” on the issue of terror. This has jolted that country out of its cunning tactics and duplicitous conduct in handling the threat of Islamic radicals in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
It is the reaction of Pakistani leaders to the US stand that reveals the truly villainous character of the deep state in that country. Pakistan army had sensed the intrinsic intolerance Donald Trump had for the extremist violence fomented from within the Muslim world in the name of Islam across the board and had been trying to tap some alternate sources of strength. First, it has been successfully taming the militants of all hues—radical revivalists of Al Qaeda-Taliban combine, mainstream Islamists of LeT-Jamaat-e-Islami group who had been funded by Saudi Arabia during the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan, and the Barelvis who believed in the unity of God but recognised a place for Sufi saints as well. The Pakistan army has already established a working relationship with all Islamic militants as a part of its strategy for staying in power. The new-found importance enjoyed by Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan’s public life reflects this.
Secondly, Pakistan has taken to a new level of recalcitrance to thwart the agenda set by President Trump for Afghanistan. It has made a determined bid not to let India have any effective say in Afghan affairs and pursued the old objective of somehow retaining its “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. It has not only started playing the second fiddle to China on CPEC, but has brought in that country as a player in Afghanistan through the tripartite consultation between Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. It has calculated that the US is now a “distant” partner in Afghanistan—judging from the fact that President Trump liked to leave it to the Pentagon to deal with the Afghan situation—and has decided to cleverly use the card of Western dependence on it for staying in the picture in relation to the “war on terror” there. Pakistan Defence Minister’s brazen response to Donald Trump’s tweet was that the aid from US was a “reimbursement” for all that Pakistan had done by way of logistic support, including grant of land for supporting the “war on terror”. He confirmed the reading that all through the Obama administration, Pakistan charged the US for what it considered to be an “outsourced” business and not an obligation for a partner committed to fighting the “war” against Islamic radicals.
And lastly, the Pakistan army-ISI combine enjoying complete civilian subservience to it, is preparing to stand up to the new convergence between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi on issues of Islamic terror in general and the role of Pakistan in particular. While some Pakistani spokespersons have directly attacked President Trump, some others have, as anticipated, taken it out on India and the Modi regime. References have been made to the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan on the one hand, while on the other hand, India’s domestic situation in the particular context of treatment of the Muslim minority has been questioned. The Pakistan army-ISI mindset is likely to result in Pakistan stepping up infiltration and cross border terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, in the belief that the possibility of an open India-Pakistan war is effectively checked by the Pakistan nuclear “deterrent”.
We may thus be running into a phase of further violence triggered from across our borders. India, however, is confident that our Army and the security agencies will adequately deal with any Pakistani mischief. National security is a bipartisan matter in a democracy. It is important that in the coming period, if any Pakistan agents or Pakistan apologists, masquerading as neo-liberals, indulge in something that weakens our forces, they should be hauled up for anti-national activity.
President Donald Trump’s forthright denunciation of Pakistan for hoodwinking the Americans and playing a fraudulent role as an “ally” in the war on Islamic radicals, is a vindication of India’s own evaluation of Pakistani duplicity. However, the reality also is that the three kingpins of Pakistan-nurtured terror networks—Hafiz Sayeed, Masood Azhar and Syed Salahuddin—designated as international terrorists are totally India-centric and beyond a point do not strain the US-led West, which is preoccupied with the radicals of Al Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS and their affiliates. Pakistan is testing waters with the US on the happenings in the Pakistan-Afghan belt and may still try to avoid running into a situation of total break from the Trump administration. The focus of Pakistan’s hostility is on India and the Pakistan government is determined to use Hafiz Saeed for consolidating the forces of Kashmir jihad and developing militancy as the major instrument of its India policy. Pakistan’s announcement that it is taking over the charities of Saeed is eyewash, meant to meet the US reprimand. The distinction of state and non-state entities does not exist between Hafiz Saeed and the Pakistan army. India has to find a way of neutralising this triumvirate of terror leaders with or without active US support.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.