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Being second brings hope

Pakistan's ISI could have just taken the first step towards a rational line of thinking.

india Updated: Aug 20, 2010 23:45 IST

India can be pleased it has been demoted to second place on a list of superlatives. An internal assessment of the Pakistan military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is reported to have conceded that domestic Islamicists pose a greater threat to their country than India. This has been patently obvious to anyone outside Pakistan and even to many within that country for a number of years. The military, however, having helped incubate these militant groups has tended to see them as brothers in arms guilty only of straying from the fold. India remained the only genuine threat Pakistan faced. If anything, because India remained enemy number one it was all the more imperative that Pakistan did not crackdown on its homegrown militants. This had obvious consequences. One, terrorist strikes against India were to be tolerated, if not encouraged. Two, the most basic Indian negotiating demand that Islamabad curb the activities of jihadi groups was a non-starter.

The ISI assessment is only half a loaf. The only militants it concedes are a problem are the Tehreek-e-Taliban and its allies, the so-called 'Punjabi Taliban'. It has no concerns regarding the Afghan Taliban, whose members are trying to conquer Kabul, and still sees the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba as an organisation of great utility because of its India focus. But at least accepting that there is something extremely rotten in the state of Pakistan is an accomplishment. The military establishment has to go further, shedding some more deep-seated illusions. One is that one can compartmentalise different Taliban and jihadi groups. Two is that such terrorists are, in the medium term, not a great

threat to Pakistan's fabric given their hatred for all sectarian and religious minorities. Third that terrorism can still serve to balance the rapidly widening gulf between the capabilities of India and Pakistan.

It would be nice to believe this ISI re-assessment would strengthen the argument inside Pakistan for dialogue with India. This does not follow automatically. It would be equally natural for the military to conclude that if India is not an immediate threat, it ignore the latter and focus on its internal rebellions. It could also conclude that given its multifold problems it would only be negotiating with a weak hand. The real silver lining in the ISI assessment is the hope that the various myths that have hampered rational policy thinking in Islamabad — like blaming the US and India for all problems, believing that Pakistan and India remain on par, insisting that all roads lead to Kashmir — are starting to fall by the wayside. And a realistic view of what India-Pakistan relations should be can then emerge.

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