Even as Pakistan reels under the shock of the killing of Akbar Khan Bugti, the Indian intelligence apparatus seems to have spotted yet another threat to India in this development. Bugti’s killing is threatening to convert Baloch dissidence into a full-scale insurgency. To contain this, Musharraf will have to send more troops to Balochistan. Since this will be vastly unpopular, he may be tempted to play the nationalist card to whip up popular support. One way would be to start a small war against India, perhaps in the form of a Kargil-type operation.
To establish the credibility of this scenario, a section of the intelligence establishment has swaddled its hypothesis in a heap of detail. The proof it cites is Pakistan’s decision to move one reserve division and sundry other troops to Chakoti, near the Line of Control in the Jhelum valley, and another three brigades close to the LoC in Rajouri. It admits that it has not unearthed a blueprint for military action, but points to Musharraf’s repeated accusations that India is financing the Baloch National Front, as a ready-to-hand casus belli, should its need arise.
One must question the IB’s interpretation of the details. For instance, could Pakistan’s decision to move more troops to the LoC not reflect its own fear that India might take military advantage of its moment of weakness? It takes only a moment to spot the most serious flaw of this hypothesis: how likely is it that a country already facing an intensifying conflict on two fronts would want to open up a third? And even if Pakistan wanted to, does it have the required military manpower?
The ‘realist’ answer to the first question is that Pakistan would willingly open a third front in Kashmir if this somehow dampened separatist sentiment in Balochistan, reduced the pressure on its armed forces in Waziristan, or strengthened President Musharraf’s position in the country. However, since there is no anti-Indian or anti-Hindu sentiment among the Balochis or the Pashtoons, doing so would not divert their attention away from their own problems with Islamabad. As for strengthening Musharraf’s position, opening a new front with a vastly larger neighbour would be suicidal, for it would send a message to the insurgents in both areas that Pakistan has no more troops to send to either place.
There is also the question of feasibility. The IB itself admits that the Pakistan military command has moved no fewer than eight additional brigades from various other locations to the NWFP to fight the Taliban. In the coming weeks, it will need additional troops in Balochistan, too. The only place from where it can draw these troops is the Indian border. So how does a responsible general undertake a war with a dwindling number of troops?
The above scenario could have been dismissed as a typical construct of people who make a living out of paranoia, had it not dovetailed so neatly with the dire warnings that security hawks have been giving the Prime Minister to not trust Musharraf because the underlying goal of Pakistan’s military establishment remains the weakening and disintegration of India.
Over the 18 months since President Musharraf visited New Delhi, this warning has taken many shapes, but a single leitmotif runs through them all: Pakistan continues to sponsor terrorism in Kashmir and the rest of India. Earlier, this was aimed mainly at keeping the pot boiling in Kashmir, but in recent months it has taken the far more dangerous form of trying to trigger a communal holocaust in the rest of India. Pakistan’s protestations that it does not exercise sufficient control over the various fundamentalist and jehadi groups has been routinely discounted on the grounds that it has not even done what it easily can.
The linking of the Pakistani State to terrorism in India and Kashmir reached a crescendo after the July 11 blasts in Mumbai and Srinagar, all traceable to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. Although official pronouncements continued to draw a line between the Pakistani government and terrorists based in Pakistan, commentators within and outside the government were less restrained.
Eventually, the argument that Pakistan was at least passively, if not actively, involved, won the day and brought the Indo-Pak composite dialogue to a halt.
A close examination shows, however, that evidence of such a link is tenuous at best. The level of violence in Kashmir this year is far below what it was last year or in 2004. There were 14 car bomb attacks last year against three so far this year. There were nine fidayeen attacks in 2004 and 10 in 2005, against only one this year.
What has gone up is the number of grenade attacks. By the end of July there had been 117, against 121 in the whole of 2005. But 2005 may have been exceptional, for there were 206 grenade attacks in 2004. What has
distinguished the attacks of last summer is the targeting of Indian tourists. This could be part of a plot to prevent the return of normalcy to Kashmir, but many in the state government believe that it was simply a choice of soft targets by a greatly weakened militancy.
So far as the attacks in the rest of India are concerned, while the hand of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba is clearly visible, the link from it to the Pakistani State is far harder to establish. This is because, with a few exceptions, the persons involved in the recent attacks have been of Indian origin. And almost all of those interrogated so far have been motivated by a desire to exact revenge for the deaths of Muslims in various communal riots. The availability of highly motivated local recruits has made the task of the Lashkar and other jehadi organisations much easier, for instead of sending their own cadres, they have had to provide only organisational support and training. It has also made it far easier for the Lashkar to act on its own, without the support of the Pakistani State.
After Bugti’s killing, there is abundant evidence that instead of seeking popularity by launching a jehad against India, Musharraf is moving rapidly to contain its fallout in Balochistan, reduce the alienation of the Pashtoons and restart the peace process with India. In Balochistan, he is no longer talking tough against insurgency but has asked for a dialogue with Balochi leaders. In Waziristan, he has appointed a retired Pathan general as governor and is moving rapidly back towards the old consensual form of government. As for addressing India’s concerns, the arrest of the head of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, upon the discovery that some of the would-be airline bombers had connections with the organisation, and his prompt re-arrest on fresh charges last week when the high court released him, provide a pointer.
What is abundantly clear to anyone who has visited Pakistan since Bugti’s death is that the threat of another Bangladesh has brought the entire Pakistani establishment behind the effort to minimise Pakistan’s vulnerability by, among other things, mending its fences with India. There is disappointment, and not a little depression, over New Delhi’s chronic allergy to any suggestion that emanates from Pakistan, simply because it emanates from Pakistan.
The proposed Havana meeting between Musharraf and Manmohan Singh has, therefore, assumed far greater significance. If the two leaders can publicly commit to reining in their intelligence services, whether in Bangladesh or Balochistan, and making them cooperate with each other to confront common threats, instead of trying to sow discord in each others’ countries, the path will be clear for a more substantive meeting in the coming months.