The resumption of India-Pakistan talks at the Foreign Secretary level, on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference in Delhi, has come in the midst of the Pakistan army’s continuing deniability of any responsibility in regard to the cross border terrorism facing India. This threat was strikingly highlighted by the audacious attack on the forward airbase of Pathankot by militants of Jaish-e-Mohammad, an outfit mentored by the ISI. The opposition in India, noticing the taciturn response of Pakistan even after the conclusion of the visit of Pakistan JIT to Pathankot, hastened to allege that policymakers in the present dispensation in India were being weak-kneed in handling Pakistan.
This would be an incorrect presumption. However, since the JIT was allowed to come with full knowledge on our side of the forces that had organised the planned attack on Pathankot, the intention of India evidently was to give a long rope to the Pakistan army in order to expose the latter on the issue of cross border terrorism. India also desired to put on test the authority of the civilian Prime Minister of Pakistan to take strategic decisions.
In all of this, India’s larger objective possibly would have been to get the international community, particularly the US, to acknowledge its case against our recalcitrant neighbour.
Judging from the content of the meetings between the two Prime Ministers and the interactions between the two NSAs, it seems that terrorism was being kept on top of the agenda. This is precisely why the Pakistan army, which runs foreign policy in Pakistan, lost no time in replacing the civilian NSA with a general to make sure that responses on this issue would be totally fixed by it. The strategy of Pakistan was to produce a wishy-washy response on Pathankot and even introduce an indeterminate process of legal follow up, while building pressure for resumption of dialogue on Kashmir, the issue that helps it to keep up its own hold domestically.
To counter the “deniability” card played by the Pakistan army, the NIA, in its interaction with the JIT, apparently marshalled details to an extent that made it difficult for the Pakistani generals—used to glib interpretations of anything that proved too inconvenient for the army—to take a definitive stand. The Pakistan army must have rolled through options like blatantly suggesting that Pathankot was “stage managed” by India to “defame” Pakistan, blaming it all on some non-state actors who were acting on their own, or putting forward the new plea that the attack on India was carried out by the same forces that were targeting Pakistan establishment itself.
The Pakistan army seems to have chickened out of these primarily because none of those lines would sell, as the Pakistan authorities had already been compelled to make some arrests from amongst JeM members due to the information placed in the public domain by the Indian agencies.
The present regime, however, has to deal with the reality of the Pakistan army’s unchanged hostility towards India, its iron grip on policymaking, which enables it to use the civilian dispensation as a mere fig-leaf, and its belief that notwithstanding its military collaboration with China, the US would bank on its help in protecting American interests in the Pakistan-Afghan belt against the revivalist forces of radical Islam. China’s stand on Masood Azhar bothers only India, but not the US so much; and Pakistan knows this.
India’s satisfaction is that it has been able to expose the true character of the Pakistan army as the breeder of terrorism in this region and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has—by reaching out to his counterpart in Pakistan unilaterally—shown to the world how difficult it was for a democracy like India to conduct diplomacy with a country effectively controlled by the army.
The Prime Minister of India did well to warn the international community at the recently held Nuclear Security Summit that the tendency to draw a line between “my terrorist” and “your terrorist” must end at once if a global fight against the menace was to be made successful.
During the first “war on terror” the US had made this distinction to keep Pakistan in humour. But now that the ISIS on one hand and the regrouped Al Qaeda-Taliban combine on the other, have laid the run up for the second “war on terror”, the world must come down heavily on those fostering violence in the name of jihad in any part of the globe, including the groups patronised by the Pakistan army-ISI combine.
The comments of US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter confirmed that US-Pakistan relations are conditioned by American security considerations in relation to the threat of Islamic radicals.
To strike a balance he talked of the importance of the India-US grid for the larger strategic cooperation. The fact, however, is that the American tilt towards Pakistan on the issue of cross border terrorism has not gone away.
It is not surprising that while Pakistan retreated into unexplained silence on Pathankot, the Pakistan army reverted to the old tactics of fomenting unrest in Kashmir—the events at Handwara indicated this—to bring back the focus on Kashmir.
At the FS level interaction, while India stuck to the policy of putting terrorism on top of the agenda and raised questions about Pathankot and 26/11 case, the Foreign Office of Pakistan put out a claim that the “core issue” of Kashmir had been raised. This is a move made obviously at the instance of the army to convey to the people of Pakistan that Kashmir, and not terror, was their issue with India.
India has no option but to deal with Pakistan bilaterally with the toughness that this deserves, while continuing its effort diplomatically to isolate that country in the world community as the architect of faith-based militancy.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.