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Call the Pakistan bluff

Even if we accept Zardari’s claim about non-State actors, there’s still a lot that Pakistan can do to help us. Nor is this unprecedented: it does more every day for the US. Vir Sanghvi elaborates.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2009 08:58 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Vir Sanghvi
Hindustan Times

It has now become increasingly clear that India is being naïve in expecting Pakistan to cooperate in the investigation into the Bombay attacks. Judging by the things that Pakistani diplomats and politicians said in Islamabad, Davos, London and Delhi last week, Pakistan’s attitude is defiant and unhelpful.

I’ve tried hard to understand the Pakistani response. After all, only a week before the Bombay incidents, we were talking about a no-first-use nuclear commitment from Islamabad and were hopeful that President Asif Zardari’s friendly statements marked the beginning of a new era in India-Pakistan ties.

Could it be, I wondered, that in our anger over Bombay we were being unreasonable in our demands? Were we expecting too much of Pakistan? Otherwise, why is it that even the so-called Pakistani thinkers and intellectuals who regularly appear at peace seminars and Track Two meetings are being so unsympathetic to India’s complaints?

The Pakistani position, insofar that I can understand it, has two primary components. The first comes from government sources and goes something like this.

Of course there are terrorists in Pakistan. But they are not part of the State machinery. Rather they are freelance jihadis who target Pakistan even more than they target India. Yes, Kasab is a Pakistani and so perhaps were many of the other Bombay attackers. But this, by itself, proves nothing. The 9/11 terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center towers were Saudi Arabians. Nonetheless, the United States did not take the attitude that this meant that the attacks had the support of the Saudi government. It recognised that the terrorists were as much against the Saudi regime as they were against the US administration.

The second component to the Pakistani response comes from the peaceniks, professional intellectuals and TV soundbite-wallahs. According to this view, Pakistan is engaged in a crucial struggle for its soul. The last election, for all its imperfections, at least installed a civilian government and led eventually to the exit of Pervez Musharraf. But now that India is talking tough and blaming Pakistan for acts it has no control over, civilian democracy seems to be in danger.

India should accept the genuine condolences of the Pakistani people and should stop ‘war-mongering’ because this will only have the effect of handing Pakistan back to the army.

I have listed both components of the Pakistani response in full and as fairly as I can because I do believe that peace between India and Pakistan is too important a matter to be destroyed by anger, rage, war hysteria or a thirst for revenge.

But here’s my problem: neither of the things that Pakistanis say in their defence strikes me as being at all convincing.

The entire Pakistani position is based either on lies and deceit or a selfish disregard for India’s own interests.

Let’s take the official position. Frankly, I do not believe that the Bombay attacks were entirely the work of “non-State actors” (in Zardari’s phrase).

But even if you do take the Pakistani position at face value, there are several problems with what Islamabad is saying. In effect, Zardari is now telling us roughly what Musharraf told George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 about Pakistan’s links with jihadi elements, with the Taliban and with al-Qaeda. “We hate them as much as you do but what can we do? We have no control over these terrorists.”

The US response, according to Pakistani accounts, was to dismiss this defence and to threaten to bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age unless it cooperated with the American War on Terror.

Faced with this ultimatum, Musharraf backed down, cut off aid to the Taliban and forced his security services to start arresting al-Qaeda leaders who were at large in Pakistan and to hand them over to the Americans. The US was also allowed to set up huge CIA and FBI stations on Pakistani soil from which it monitored anti-terrorist operations. Further, the ISI began handing over information on terrorist plots against Britain and the US to the SIS and the CIA — one reason why these countries have been relatively free from terror in recent years.

If Pakistan is sincere, if it really does have no control over terrorists, then it should do for India what it did for the United States. We should be allowed to interrogate terror suspects. Intelligence should be shared with us. And those terrorists who are wanted for acts of violence in India should be handed over to us.

The Pakistanis argue that India has not yet built up a convincing case against many of those we claim are terrorists and
that Pakistani laws prevent the government from handing such people over.

Even if this is true, there are still two objections to be made. The US has rarely handed over the kind of evidence that would stand up in a court of law. But Pakistan has handed over suspects anyway. Secondly, nobody in Pakistan disputes that the prisoners released in return for the hostages on IC-814 made their way to Pakistan. Of them, Latram went back to kill people in Kashmir, Omar Sheikh killed Daniel Pearl and Masood Azhar recruited more people for the jihad.

A minimal measure of Pakistani sincerity would be to return these former prisoners to India. But Islamabad has always refused to even consider this.

Further, we know that the IC-814 hijackers also found safe haven in Pakistan. We know their names. Nobody can dispute that they are terrorists. But Pakistan will not cooperate in finding them.

And finally, what about Dawood Ibrahim? Pakistani magazines carry photos of his home. We know that he is no freedom fighter; just a gangster who helped organise the 1993 Bombay blasts. But Islamabad refuses to even acknowledge that he is in Pakistan.

So, even if we accept Zardari’s claim about non-State actors, there’s still a lot that Pakistan can do to help us. Nor is this unprecedented: it does more every day for the US.

And yet, Islamabad refuses to lift a finger to help. Push Pakistanis about the double standard and they will say, “But America is our friend of long-standing and you are not.”

So that’s what it boils down to: help your pals (especially when they threaten to bomb you back to the Stone Age) and let terrorists kill your enemies.

It’s good to have that straight. Forget all this peace talk. When it comes to the crunch, India will always be their enemy.
Nor is the second component of the Pakistani response — the one offered by professional peaceniks and so-called
intellectuals about helping them strengthen democracy in their country — very convincing.

One defining characteristic of Indian peaceniks, for all their naïveté, is that they do not let foreigners judge India’s internal affairs. When Pakistanis hold forth on the horror of the Gujarat massacres, even the most die-hard peacenik will stand up and point out that as bad as those were, it was Hindus from all over India who denounced the Gujarat government.
Similarly, when so-called Pakistani intellectuals go on about how bad things are in Kashmir, our peaceniks point to the success of the recent Assembly elections. And when Pakistanis tell us how bad the BJP is, our intellectuals point out that it is not so simple: A.B. Vajpayee launched the peace process in Lahore and L.K. Advani travelled to Pakistan to laud M.A. Jinnah’s secularism.

Contrast our pride in India and our reluctance to let anybody interfere in our internal affairs with the pathetic Pakistani plea to amend our foreign policy so that we can influence their internal affairs.

When Musharraf was in office we were requested to oppose him so that a civilian government could get elected. And now we are being told that it is our duty to strengthen Zardari’s position against the military. Apart from the utter and complete lack of national self-respect this displays (would we ask Pakistanis to help us strengthen Manmohan Singh against L.K. Advani?) it is also nonsense.

It is not our business to save their joke democracy. As far as we are concerned, they attack us no matter who is in charge. The Kashmir operation was launched by Benazir in 1989. Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister during Kargil.

We must be guided by our national interest not by their invitations to meddle in their internal affairs.

With each passing day, even as I try and understand the Pakistani response, I am more and more pessimistic. It is not my case that war is the answer.

All I’m saying is that peace is not possible.

First Published: Jan 31, 2009 19:35 IST