‘Battle fatigue has set in in New Delhi — particularly in the PMO and the Foreign Office.’ That is the way the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment and Pakistan-based jehadi organisations are likely to interpret Saturday’s India-Pakistan joint declaration and the remarks made by Manmohan Singh in Havana. This view is likely to be strengthened by some observations made by Indian experts on the agreement to set up an India-Pakistan anti-terrorism cooperation mechanism.
I was disturbed to hear a retired foreign secretary tell the media, “We do not seem to be making any headway in our fight against terrorism. [The mechanism] may help.” These remarks will be read in Islamabad as an admission of the inability of Indian security agencies to control jehadi terrorism.
Since 1947, those wishing ill towards India in Pakistan — governmental and non-governmental, jehadi and non-jehadi — have shown a penchant for misinterpreting India’s mind. While such misinterpretations may have surprised us, they ultimately proved disastrous for Pakistan. The wars of 1965 and 1971, and the Kargil conflict of 1999 were all conventional conflicts in which we always had the upper hand.
The post-Havana misreadings being made in Pakistan are unlikely to result in another conventional conflict. They could, however, result in a further escalation of terrorist acts on Indian soil. This would be partly instigated by the ISI and partly initiated by terrorist organisations and their supporters in India.
The Havana agreement is ill-advised, ill-timed and ill-examined. I have always been an advocate of liaison between Indian intelligence agencies and those of our adversaries. Indian intelligence had liaised with its Chinese counterpart even before relations between the two nations started improving in 1988. It is not as if the Indian intelligence has not had interactions with its Pakistani counterpart. At Rajiv Gandhi’s initiative, it established tentative links with Pakistani intelligence in 1988. This continued till 1990. Three summit-level intelligence meetings were held — in West Asia, Western Europe and South-east Asia. They produced results in Siachen. They also helped in Pakistan returning Sikh soldiers posted in Jammu and Kashmir who had deserted and crossed over to Pakistan.
Those meetings were preceded by weeks, if not months, of examining likely implications. We were in a position of equal — if not superior — strength before we embarked on those meetings. This strength came from the successful development of a psywar capability against Pakistan and of covert chips we could use against Pakistan’s ‘Sikh and Kashmiri’ chips. India’s holding these chips contributed to making Pakistan realise the folly of its role in Punjab. But Islamabad did not produce any substantive results in Jammu and Kashmir or in the radicalisation of sections of Indian Muslims through organisations like Simi.
These arrangements were allowed to peter out after 1991 because of Pakistan’s double-game on terrorism. When P.V. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister, the Clinton administration, using the CIA channel, suggested that India set up an anti-terrorism cooperation mechanism with the ISI. Rao was not in favour of it. In 1997, we threw away our ‘covert chip’ in a moment of misplaced generosity towards Pakistan. We have paid a heavy price for it. But we continued to retain the ‘psywar chip’. At Havana, we threw this away.
The media have quoted a senior MEA officer as saying that the new mechanism would be similar to the joint working groups on terrorism that we have established with over 20 countries. It is not that simple. Those countries are not India’s adversaries. There are three components to anti-terrorism cooperation — intelligence sharing, joint operations and mutual legal assistance. We would be naive think that intelligence sharing and joint operations will have any meaningful role in the proposed joint mechanism. Even before 9/11, all countries, except Pakistan, were extending mutual legal assistance to India. What, in the proposed new mechanism, will bring about a benign change in Pakistan’s attitude of non-cooperation?
The worst of jehadi terrorism is not behind us. Indian police and security agencies are making valiant efforts to control jehadis despite the lack of satisfactory backing from the political leadership and operational backing from the Foreign Office. Their difficulties are likely to increase as a result of Havana.
Pakistan is a theocratic State founded on the belief that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together. We may call ourselves a secular State, but the Pakistanis look upon us as a Hindu State. If we think that such a State will genuinely cooperate with us against jehadi terrorism, we are living in a world of illusions.
The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai