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Unlikely suspect

india Updated: Oct 06, 2006 03:38 IST

The revelations made on September 30 by Mumbai police chief AN Roy of the way in which the July 11 bomb blasts were planned and executed have emboldened the hawks in the Indian armed forces and intelligence establishment who have been arguing that it would be rank folly to trust Pervez Musharraf's declarations on Kashmir or his desire for peace with India. Their scepticism has been strengthened by Roy’s bald assertion that not only the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), but also Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was directly involved. According to him, the LeT could not have dispatched as many as 10 operatives from Pakistan without at least a nod from the ISI. The fact that LeT’s operatives seem to have entered India through Nepal and Bangladesh, where the ISI is well entrenched, has strengthened their belief.

This assumption needs to be treated with caution. The conception of Pakistan as a monolithic State in which all organs of government and  civil society work in perfect harmony is fanciful, to say the least. Pakistan is, in fact, a somewhat chaotic, half-formed State in which the authority of the rulers is being constantly contested. The most that the LeT’s involvement with the Mumbai blasts and the possible involvement of the ISI with the LeT reveals is that the disarray in the Pakistani State is far greater than the most pessimistic assessments made so far. The alternative explanation, that Musharraf is backing attempts to trigger a communal holocaust and bring about the disintegration of the Indian State while lulling it into a false sense of security is far-fetched, because it requires a level of brinkmanship that is not far from suicide.

Musharraf already faces threat of insurgency in North Waziristan and Balochistan. These have forced him to deploy more than a quarter of the Pakistani army in these areas, dangerously thinning Pakistan’s defences on the Indian border. Since his military commitments in Waziristan and Balochistan are open-ended, he needs to keep the Indian border quiet at any cost. Inciting and assisting the LeT to spread terror in India is hardly the best way to do so.

On the contrary, common sense would expect a head of State in his predicament to minimise the number of fronts on which he has to fight in order to concentrate on the ones most important to him. By this yardstick, maintaining peace in Waziristan and bringing the rebellion in Balochistan under control are infinitely more important than poking away at India in the hope that it will blow up, for India poses no immediate threat to Pakistan’s existence.

Viewed from this perspective, all of Musharraf’s overtures to India in the last two years — from his retreat from the demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir before the Saarc summit at Islamabad in 2004, to his carefully unveiled plan for limited autonomy to a federal Kashmir in October 2004, to his visit to Delhi in April 2005 — make perfect sense. Even India’s ‘postponement’ of the composite dialogue after the Mumbai blasts did not end his overtures. In the interview he gave to A.G. Noorani for Mainstream, he mooted the need for the two countries to control the activities of their intelligence agencies, a tacit admission that he did not have the measure of control over its activities that he would like, but also an indirect rebuke to India for allowing the R&AW to meddle in Balochistan. He also took advantage of the exposure of the London bomb row to put LeT head Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed in jail and has kept him there since. Thus, if the LeT continues to operate with impunity or, worse, with the help of elements within the Pakistani State, it is because Musharraf is unable to fully control one or both of them.

In recent weeks, the pressure exerted on Musharraf by developments within Pakistan for brokering a peace with India has, if anything, become greater. Not only has his attempt to invoke (not for the first time) the help of the Sardars of Waziristan to control the Taliban run into a storm of criticism from a beleaguered US and Nato, but the flare-up in Balochistan after the killing of Sardar Bugti has brought him face to face with the possibility of an insurrection that he may not be able to control. These developments paved the way for the resumption of the dialogue with Manmohan Singh in Havana and the decision to create a joint mechanism for intelligence sharing between the two countries.

But if the Pakistani State is in disarray, so is policy-making in India. Nothing underlines this more sharply than the way in which Roy’s press conference has all but destroyed the Havana initiative. The arrest and interrogation of 12 out of the 15 Indians who were allegedly involved in the bombing had created a golden opportunity for the Indian government to test Pakistan’s sincerity. For they had revealed the names and whereabouts of several of the Pakistani participants in the plot as well as the LeT’s involvement. Had these names and the supporting proof been given quietly to Pakistan, its agencies would have had an opportunity to cooperate with India, shielded from the public gaze. We would soon have found out how much control Musharraf genuinely had over them and how sincere he was in Havana. But that opportunity was destroyed by Roy’s public accusation of the ISI. Not only did it leave the Pakistani foreign office with no option but to make a blanket denial, but it also forced its spokesperson, Tasneem Aslam, to make it clear, in advance of any investigation, that the question of deporting anyone to India did not arise. For those in the ISI who looked at the Havana initiative with as much horror as their counterparts in India, Roy’s press conference must have been pure music.

Had Roy done this on his own, he could have been accused of jumping the gun in order to capture kudos for  the Maharashtra police. But as he himself made clear, he was given the  green light to hold the press meet by the Centre. One is, therefore, forced to ask who in the central government? Was it the Home Ministry or the PMO? Did it have the clearance of the Prime Minister and, if so, did Singh not realise that it would make a mockery of his Havana initiative? If Singh was not consulted, then who went out of his or her way to sabotage the Havana initiative and hold up the Prime Minister to ridicule?

These questions have not only to be asked, but answered. For, the accusation that Roy jumped the gun is not being made by the ‘doves’ and ‘peaceniks’ alone. It has also been echoed by some in the intelligence services who have complained that they were not given enough time to tie up the loose ends of the investigation. It is, therefore, difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that while Roy’s press conference may have been designed to reassure the Mumbai public, its timing was designed to torpedo Singh’s Havana initiative.

Close watchers of the political scene in Delhi have remarked during the past year that the government is virtually paralysed by its own internal dissensions. Many have jumped to the conclusion that this is because of the ‘dyarchy’ within the Congress that has resulted from power being shared by Sonia Gandhi and Singh. But the sorry tale of the peace-that-may-now-never-be shows that the dissension exists within Singh’s government and because he allows it to exist. Over two years, it has grown to the point where it is no longer a battle to give advice to the government. Today, the struggle is over control of the government’s agenda.

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