Pak is In­dia’s headache, not the US’

The Sunday Guardian - - World -

The re­lease of LeT founder Hafiz Saeed from house ar­rest, pri­mar­ily be­cause the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment never placed the in­crim­i­nat­ing ev­i­dence on his ter­ror-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties be­fore court, re-es­tab­lishes the harsh re­al­ity that Pak­istan is a rogue state de­ter­mined to carry on with its proxy war against In­dia and that our strat­egy of deal­ing with it has to reckon with the fact that be­yond a point the world at large would not fight that bat­tle for us. The new con­ver­gence struck by In­dia with the Don­ald Trump pres­i­dency on op­po­si­tion to all ter­ror groups “across the Is­lamic spec­trum” is, no doubt, a great suc­cess when con­trasted with the am­bi­gu­ity of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to­wards In­dia-spe­cific groups like LeT, JeM and HuM, fos­tered and in­sti­gated by Pak­istan’s “deep state”. Trump has fi­nally done away with the dis­tinc­tion be­tween “good ter­ror­ists” and “bad ter­ror­ists”.

The im­me­di­ate US re­ac­tion to the re­lease of Hafiz Saeed was to call upon the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment to re-ar­rest him forth­with for prose­cu­tion and thus val­i­date the Indo-US shared un­der­stand­ing of Is­lamic ter­ror as a com­mon threat. A White House state­ment, how­ever, de­clared that “the United States seeks a con­struc­tive re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan, but ex­pects de­ci­sive ac­tion against mil­i­tant and ter­ror­ist groups on Pak­istani soil that are a threat to the re­gion”. The US, un­der­stand­ingly, wants to do busi­ness with Pak­istan pri­mar­ily for its pos­si­ble help in the Amer­i­can han­dling of Afghanistan. This fits in with the ini­tial re­mark of James Mat­tis, US De­fense Sec­re­tary that Pak­istan will be tested “one more time” for mea­sur­ing up to US ex­pec­ta­tions. The learn­ing from all of this is that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity might unit­edly “voice con­cern” over the do­ings of Pak­istan—and this is wel­come—but it is en­tirely for In­dia to frame the strat­egy of “ac­tion” against this hos­tile neigh­bour.

The mind­set of the Pak­istan army, which, in ef­fect, rules the coun­try, is con­di­tioned by three fac­tors. First, it knows that Pres­i­dent Trump had lit­tle pa­tience for any kind of Is­lamic mil­i­tancy. The US pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the “war on ter­ror”, which was es­sen­tially a com­bat be­tween the Is­lamic rad­i­cals of the Al Qaeda-Tal­iban com­bine and the US-led West, and US’ mis­placed de­pen­dence on Pak­istan in that fight, might have ear­lier made US pol­i­cy­mak­ers look the other way on In­dia’s com­plaints about cross bor­der ter­ror­ism. By the time Don­ald Trump be­came Pres­i­dent, the dou­ble faced na­ture of Pak­istan in the “war on ter­ror” had been ex­posed and the Amer­i­can pol­icy to­wards Pak­istan shifted from ap­pease­ment to putting the lat­ter on a leash.

Se­condly, Pak­istan is clev­erly try­ing to save its value for the US on the Afghan front— its role in get­ting an Amer­i­can ci­ti­zen and her fam­ily re­leased from the cap­tiv­ity of Haqqani group says it all. Amer­i­cans are al­ler­gic to the Haqqani net­work, which has links with the Tal­iban. But they seem to have missed the point that Pak­istan’s ISI too is mixed up with this group, and also to an ex­tent with Tal­iban, and uses this equa­tion to re­tain its hold on Afghanistan. Pak­istan is test­ing waters in the new US Pres­i­dency, hop­ing that Trump’s de­ci­sion to leave it to the Pen­tagon to take de­ci­sions on Afghanistan and the his­tor­i­cal em­pa­thy that US gen­er­als had with their Pak­istan coun­ter­parts, would give it enough lee­way to ma­noeu­vre the sit­u­a­tion in that coun­try. In­dia has to watch out for the game of wits that the Pak­istan army is play­ing with the Amer­i­cans, ap­par­ently draw­ing strength from the Sino-Pak­istan mil­i­tary al­liance on the one hand and the strate­gic in­ter­est evinced by a ma­jor power like Rus­sia in the hap­pen­ings in Afghanistan, on the other.

The last fac­tor, and this works to the ad­van­tage of Pak­istan, is that the OIC led by Saudi Ara­bia is now even more firmly on the side of the US po­lit­i­cally, par­tic­u­larly after a strong cau­tion was ad­min­is­tered by Pres­i­dent Trump to Mus­lim states on his maiden visit to Riyadh. The prob­lem­atic as­pect of this US-Saudi re­la­tion­ship from In­dia’s point of view is that Pak­istan is piv­otal to the OIC. Gen Zi­aul Haq was a lead­ing light of this bloc and re­cently a for­mer army chief of Pak­istan was made the head of the Is­lamic Mil­i­tary Coali­tion of the OIC. While Pak­istan is able to pro­vide an um­brella to both Is­lamic rad­i­cals and LeT ex­trem­ists, who had been funded by Saudi Ara­bia, the OIC con­nec­tion gives it a pro­tec­tive cush­ion against US sanc­tions.

US pol­i­cy­mak­ers must un­der­stand that the Is­lamic rad­i­cals are “re­vival­ists”, who carry the his­tor­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal legacy of the ji­had launched by the lead­ing Ulema (in­clud­ing Ab­dul Wa­hab) in the early 19th cen­tury to clear Western en­croach­ments on “Mus­lim land”. These ulema con­tended that the po­lit­i­cal de­cline of Is­lam was on ac­count of the de­vi­a­tion of Mus­lims from the “pure” re­li­gion that ex­isted in the time of the Pi­ous Caliphs. Even to­day the rad­i­cals, un­der the Al Qaeda-Tal­iban com­bine on one side and the ISIS on the other, are able to whip up faith-based mo­ti­va­tion to a point where the youths on sui­cide mis­sions be­come an in­stru­ment of their new asym­met­ric “war” against the US-led West.

In­dia has al­ready drawn the red line on the ques­tion of hold­ing a di­a­logue with Pak­istan, ad­her­ing to the stand that ter­ror and talks could not go to­gether. Naren­dra Modi’s em­brace di­plo­macy has done a lot and en­sured that in­ter­na­tion­ally In­dia’s de­ci­sion to go after the ter­ror­ists in­fil­trated by Pak­istan agen­cies into In­dia mil­i­tar­ily, and even chase them be­yond the LOC, was ap­pre­ci­ated by the US and other democ­ra­cies.

Pak­istan to­day is prone to be­ing swept off by Is­lamic ex­trem­ism as the anti-blas­phemy protests at Islamabad show. The army there is be­ing em­pa­thetic to­wards mil­i­tants of all hues. In­dia must step up the cam­paign against ter­ror­ist vi­o­lence in the name of Is­lam. It has suc­ceeded do­ing so on sev­eral in­ter­na­tional fo­rums like BRICS and ASEAN. Diplo­matic ef­forts apart, how­ever, In­dia has to re­main pre­pared to deal with both Pak­istan and China on the bor­ders, in the air and sea. The world opin­ion is with In­dia in its pur­suit of na­tional se­cu­rity and global peace. D.C. Pathak is a for­mer Di­rec­tor, In­tel­li­gence Bureau.

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