If India acts, the world will believe. But India must act first
Proof has been demanded, yet again. And proof, rather India’s need to furnish it, has become the centrepiece of Pakistani diplomatic rhetoric. At the same time, there is increasing heartburn in India with regard to Washington’s publicly articulated disbelief in India’s contention that the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai had a Pakistani connection. Don’t trust the United States when it comes to Pakistan, columnists warn, not without justification. Since it is the cause of so many understandings and misunderstandings, it is important to put this little business of proof in perspective.
First, it is pointless getting all upset with the United States, or any other country for that matter, for not being convinced by any proof that India may put on their tables. Washington will officially ignore, even if it has to lie to its own lawmakers and people, any facts that are contrary to its own perceived interests. It was not for the want of proof that in the 1980s that the Reagan administration regularly certified that Pakistan was not attempting to develop nuclear weapons. It was not for the want of proof that Washington allowed A Q Khan to go about his nuclear business for the last two decades. It only acknowledges facts when it is expedient to do so. And this is par for the course in international relations.
Second, ‘proof’ finds good use as a justification for military action. It can be used as casus belli to start a war. In 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia after a Serbian terrorist assassinated the heir to the Austrian throne. More recently, the United States attacked the Taliban regime for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden. The proof itself was not called to question once the wars started. But proof becomes more important in cases of preventive or pre-emptive war. That’s why finding proof of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme was so important for the Bush administration. However, presenting only the proof without an intention to take punitive military action has the effect of making it into a debate over the proof, which for the reason cited in the preceding paragraph, is unlikely to be decided on the basis of facts alone.
Third, merely producing evidence does not make the proof credible in international opinion. It has to be backed with a commitment to action. Why does the world, for example, believe that the attacks on the Indian parliament in December 2001 was carried out by Pakistan-linked jihadis whereas it finds it difficult to accept that the July 2006 attacks on Mumbai are even linked to Pakistan? Well, a large part of the reason is Operation Parakram—the massing of Indian troops at the border with Pakistan.
That exercise has been criticised for a lot of reasons, but it convinced the world that Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba were both culpable. The fact that India was willing to risk war made the evidence credible. On the other hand, the UPA government’s decision to continue with high-level talks less than a month after the Mumbai attack undermines the credibility of the proof it insists it possesses. This is not an argument for another Operation Parakram, but the proof of Pakistani involvement would have been far more credible in international opinion if the Indian government had truly suspended the peace process.
Demanding proof, like Pakistan is doing, or insisting that such proof exists and similar proof has been handed over in the past, as India contends, makes for colourful diplomatic theatre. But there is little point in attempting to convince Pakistan, for if Gen Musharraf wanted to dismantle the jihadi infrastructure he does not need proof of who carried out the Mumbai attacks to start. As for convincing Washington and the rest of the world, India will find that they will accept the proof only when the Indian government’s actions make it credible.