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The Pakistan conundrum

Complex problems require complex strategies. This is the simple truth eluding critics of the outcome of the India-Pakistan summit in Havana on September 16, writes Manoj Joshi.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2006 04:16 IST

Complex problems require complex strategies. This is the simple truth eluding critics of the outcome of the India-Pakistan summit between Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh in Havana on September 16.

Many professed to be baffled by the decision to set up a joint counter-terrorism mechanism. But a detailed analysis will show that it is a nuanced response to a complex problem. It is based on facts: first, that Pakistan is both a victim and a perpetrator of terrorism — sectarian killings and attacks on Musharraf are as much evidence of this as the continuing support to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba; second, in recent years, India has not been able to get clinching proof of official Pakistani complicity in acts of terrorism.

So, an agreement has been reached with the goal of working on Islamabad’s sense of victimhood and its pragmatic self-interest to isolate and eliminate terrorism. Even if it works partially, it will be useful; if it doesn’t, it can be discarded. It is similar to Washington’s strategy of compelling Pakistan to fight terrorism incrementally. Twenty-five years of fighting this battle in India should have taught us that there is no magic bullet to resolve the problem. Like cancer, it can be approached only with a mix of chemotherapy and surgery, which works only at times.

Yet, we have no alternative but to keep trying.

What has worked till now? Critics like B. Raman and Ajit Doval advocate only medicines that we have been administering in the past — aggressive counter-terrorism at home and keeping Pakistan at arm’s length abroad. These views of former intelligence officers, who have spent their working lives countering Pakistan’s covert war against India, are understandable. However, they represent a one-dimensional and paranoid understanding of Pakistan. The Malegaon, Mumbai, Varanasi and Delhi blasts — all in the last one year — show that their remedy is not working and that the disease is getting worse.

A more sophisticated and forward-looking approach must drive the country’s policies. Pakistan of 2006 is not the Pakistan of the Nineties, when, flush with the victory against the Soviet Union, the GHQ had ordered the ISI to turn jehadis under its control on India. Today, not only are its Taliban protégés in the wilderness, its strategic space has been hemmed in by the US and by its domestic misadventures, including the recent ones in Waziristan and Balochistan. The army has lost the respect of the Pakistani people, and its chief just about controls the army itself.

While the army has been able to maintain a ceasefire along the LoC for the last three years — leading to the lives of hundreds of security personnel and civilians being saved on both sides — it has actually lost control of some of the terrorist groups. For the Pakistani authorities, the Jaish-e-Mohammed has become a rogue outfit, Kashmiri militants are now a millstone around Azad Kashmir’s neck and the Lashkar, long nurtured by the ISI, has gained so much authority after the 2005 earthquake that it must be carefully handled to ensure that it does not turn rogue as well.

Ever since Pakistan was compelled to make a turnaround in the wake of 9/11, it has become difficult to determine the links between the official machinery and terrorist outfits. This is in part because Pakistani officials, under intense American pressure, have actually cut or drastically curtailed their links with the Taliban and the terrorist groups. Undoubtedly, in part,  it is also because Islamabad has become adept at maintaining plausible deniability in its relations with these groups. As a result, despite suspicions, India has no real proof of official Pakistani complicity in the Parliament attack of 2001, the Delhi blasts of 2005 and the Varanasi and Mumbai blasts this year. This is in sharp contrast to the Mumbai blasts of 1993, when India was able to gather a mountain of evidence of official complicity, including details of the training of several of the terrorists, and the supply of passports and travel documents.

We have to recognise that substantive chunks of the Pakistani establishment are now firmly against terrorism, not for moral reasons, but because they know that their country is having to pay the price for their complicity. This establishment remains, for the most part, anti-India. But it also has a healthy survival instinct. Pakistan is awash with jehadi forces aiming to turn it into a Talibanised State. And the sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni extremists continues apace. The change from seeing Pakistan as part of the problem in 2004 to now seeing it as a possible part of the solution only reflects the complex, if untidy, reality of Pakistan.

The Manmohan Singh government’s latest move, therefore, represents a deepening of India’s grand strategy towards Pakistan —  a strategy of reconciliation, rather than unremitting and sterile hostility. This was inaugurated by Rajiv Gandhi, continued by his successors and given its greatest impulse by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The point of departure is generally accepted to be the January 6, 2004, joint statement in Islamabad, which committed Pakistan to stop all aid to terrorists and India to solve all disputes, including J&K. At its core, it is based on the belief articulated by Vajpayee and, more recently, by Manmohan Singh that “while we can choose our friends, we cannot choose our neighbours”. And that the best way of living with neighbours is to do so in peace and in relations of mutual benefit.

The January 2004 agreement was based on the premise that any resolution of the Kashmir dispute would be situated in a larger India-Pakistan reconciliation. This, in turn, would have to be linked to a cessation of Pakistani support of, and shelter to, terrorists. The ensuing two-and-a-half years have been marked with substantial achievement. The Havana agreement also gives a greater push to the resolution of the Siachen and Sir Creek issues. As for J&K, the statement is clear that the two sides are still searching for common ground. They have also agreed to move faster on LoC-related CBMs, including bus services and crossing points.

India has three choices of grand strategy in relation to Pakistan. First, eliminate Pakistan. This is the lunatic option, unthinkable and undoable. Second, subordinate it. This, too, is not achievable because Pakistan is not a small country and it has enough options and self-esteem to prevent this outcome. The third option is to reconcile with Pakistan by resolving outstanding disputes and shaping a relationship of common benefit. This is the option that we have followed since 1990, despite official Pakistan support for acts of terrorism and insurgencies in India.

Those who cite the past to deny new approaches should know that history can never guide policy. If it did, no problem in the world would ever be solved. The only guide has to be enlightened national interest. At present, at least, this interest demands that we press on with the process of reconciliation, despite the distractions and depredations of terrorists.