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Sunday, Sep 15, 2019

Global scrutiny may not bring changes in Pakistan

26/11 Mumbai terror attacks: The Mumbai carnage saw an international condemnation that cut across all divisions in demanding that action be taken against its planners and perpetrators. None of that happened

opinion Updated: Nov 25, 2018 08:03 IST
TCA Raghavan
TCA Raghavan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
In the file photo, fire brigade officers are seen fighting fire at Taj hotel.
In the file photo, fire brigade officers are seen fighting fire at Taj hotel.(Hemant Padalkar/HT Photo)

We often overlook the fact that one of India’s worst terrorist attacks took place amidst a moment when India-Pakistan relations were looking up. The then Pakistan Foreign Minister was in India even as the attack took place. The fact that Pakistan’s most prominent political leader, Benazir Bhutto, had been herself killed less than a year earlier certainly suggested to some of us then that the restoration of civilian authority in Pakistan meant that the country would address terrorism more purposefully and substantively.

The Mumbai carnage saw an international condemnation that cut across all divisions in demanding that action be taken against its planners and perpetrators. None of that happened. Familiar sentiments of national denial and victimhood asserted themselves in Pakistan. A consequence has been that the tactical planners and ideological mentors of 26/11 remain unpunished. They have, in fact, expanded their profile and we are left with one more festering sore in the already crowded terrain of India-Pakistan relations. Post Mumbai, Pakistan’s descent into chaos appeared to gather greater momentum- The Osama bin Laden (OBL) raid a year and a half later, saw also an assertion of self-righteous denial. If anything, the reactions in Pakistan to the elimination of OBL help in understanding how deeply ingrained and all pervasive is the sense of victimhood and how strong a shield it provides against introspection and course correction.

For an elite as globalised as Pakistan’s, to live with the kind of international image they have acquired is not easy. That they have done so for well over a decade underwrites the structural roots of an incapacity to change. Equally what is evident is a deepening and widening of Pakistan’s internal crisis, as contradictions that have been with it for many years have further sharpened and intensified. The civil-military divide, the spread of extremism, the economic crisis, and the resort to great power support -- none of this is particularly new given Pakistan’s history. Yet, in the past decade, each has grown in strength and in terms of the impact they have.

The most obvious casualty of 26/11 was the India-Pakistan dialogue process. The Composite Dialogue had to be discarded and its mutation into a ‘Resumed’ dialogue and thereafter into a ‘Comprehensive’ Dialogue followed. That the mutations did not ever take off suggest that the 26/11 impact was deeper rooted than was earlier anticipated. The inability and the incapacity of the Pakistan State to act against those behind the attack meant there would be no early closure to this trauma and without closure moving on is that much more difficult. So, it is not surprising that India-Pakistan relations have remained to a great extent paralysed over the past decade and every effort to shake off this state of paralysis floundered because it was unable to provide a convincing answer on where Pakistan stood on terrorism. But possibly, Mumbai also reinforced the doubts created by Kargil: Is an upswing in ties potentially dangerous given the reaction it may provoke?

Why is it so difficult for Pakistan to accept this -- something which is regarded as self-evident by many countries and about which it is repeatedly counseled by its closest friends. To some extent, Pakistan is victim to its own strategic ambitions’ vis a vis India and Afghanistan. It knows of no other way to increase its geopolitical heft other than through the Taliban or other motley groups of terrorists in J and K. To question these ambitions or even introspect on what its Afghanistan and India policies have tangibly yielded it terms of advancing Pakistan’s national interest has been a non-starter because these considerations take you into the quagmire of civil-military relations. It is far easier to uphold dubious claims than question them. It is also no coincidence that Nawaz Sharif, the one Pakistani leader who was clear sighted about Pakistan’s future with India and Afghanistan, was deposed in the way that he was.

Terrorism is no longer a staple just of the India-Pakistan agenda. If anything, Pakistan has discovered how much space this issue now occupies in its foreign and economic policy as a whole. The Financial Action Task Force for instance has an impact that extends to the IMF and the structural adjustment program it draws up for Pakistan. It is however unrealistic to expect that international scrutiny or pressure will bring about change in Pakistan on an issue that is so deeply intertwined with its regional policies and with its own self-image. In any event, building an international consensus today is more difficult than it was a decade ago, even on an issue on which there is otherwise general agreement. To be realistic, Pakistan’s political process, post-Benazir and post-Nawaz, also does not presently suggest that it has the potential to come up with any new ideas.

(TCA Raghavan is a former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan and is currently Director General, Indian Council of World Affairs.)

First Published: Nov 25, 2018 08:03 IST