After the mea culpa

India shouldn’t expect that it can defeat Pakistani terrorism on the cheap

So little do people expect out of Pakistan that when it did admit that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai came from Pakistan, it was seen as major step in a good direction. That step, we are told, was due to pressure from the United States. It’s possibly true—but in the Islamabad scheme of things, it is still better to be seen as caving in to the United States (unpopularity rank #2) than to India (unpopularity rank #1). Just like July 1999, when it was President Clinton—no, not the Indian armed forces—who got Pakistan to climb down from Kargil.

India’s diplomatic success in getting Pakistan to concede its role in cross-border terrorism and take nominal action is in line with the logic of containment that C Raja Mohan wrote about: “using external pressure to secure internal change in Pakistan.” Beyond the game of diplomatic cut-and-thrust, what is the strategic score?

In the December 2008 issue of Pragati, I wrote: “India must not only seek to deliver exemplary punishment on the terrorist organisations and their Pakistani sponsors, but also make it prohibitively expensive for anyone to use terrorism as a political strategy.” While the Zardari government has moved against some mid-level jihadi leaders, the top leadership and infrastructure of the Lashkar-e-Taiba remains intact. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed has merely gone under the purdah, to use Sumit Ganguly’s apt description of the kind of “custody” that the Pakistani government places its surrogates under when there is too much heat on them. Can we expect Pakistan to really punish any of the alleged culprits? Going by its record, the answer is no. And as long as the military-jihadi complex remains intact, terrorism remains an affordable instrument for Pakistan.

In other words, the strategic score remains where it was on November 29th, 2008. In the absence of any strategic move by India, how can it not be?

That strategic move has been out there for some time now. We have argued that India’s “strategic response must be to engage the jihadi adversary in Afghanistan.” Richard Holbrooke’s statement in New Delhi today indicates that the United States is open to the idea. India should offer.

Related Links: We are all hawkish now, on Pragmatic Euphony

12 thoughts on “After the mea culpa”

  1. Good point.

    Another 26/11 before the polls could really force GoI’s hand. Hence, I see all quiet on the western front till at least May 2009. After that, Pak will, true to form, probe the new GoI’s will with a bayonet.

    India needs that the US not openly take Pak’s side in the event of armed conflict between the 2 countries. It was precisely open support tot he pak side that stayed our hand post ’71 (when Bhutto figuratively prostrated before Indira, wept profusely promising mending of ways and got away with all the 90,000 Paki PoWs freed and zero written assurances in return) and Kargil (when ABV declared the LoC wouldn’t be violated and stuck to that declaration).

    If the US stays out this time, we could and should finish the Pak story decisively. The aar-paar ki ladai ABV talked about is yet to happen. We also shoulkd make clear to the Chinese that it is their wepaons and designs being used by Pak and should they go off on Indian soil, there will be nuclear consequences across the great wall.

    All in all, still left wondering what the end-game will be like.

  2. Update:

    Holbrooke’s visit is not heartening. He sings the mantra that Dilli must invest in a stake in Islamabad’s stability and join the good fight against the common enemy – the Taliban.

    Seems to me the sooner Dilli formally rejects the false notion that India’s security is enhanced by Islamabad’s stability, better off we’ll all be.

  3. Holbrooke’s remarks make sense when seen in light of current US dependence on Pakistan’s army. As a good diplomat, he is merely trying to convince others into accommodating his country’s interests.

    The US wanting a stable Pakistan should be seen in this context. However, IMO a balkanized Pakistan best serves India’s long term interests. No, I don’t believe this aar-paar ki ladai thing. These things take time. Lest someone talk about Pakistani nukes – what about Pakistani policy towards India? Have India’s nukes helped?

    BTW,

    @Sud

    Seems to me the sooner Dilli formally rejects the false notion that India’s security is enhanced by Islamabad’s stability, better off we’ll all be.

    I think New Delhi should actually publicly agree with the envoy. Being a good student of Pakistani policy already, see? 🙂

    @Nitin

    What exactly did you mean by ‘engaging the jihadi adversary’ in Afghanistan? Sending troops? What will happen if there is another 26/11 in India meanwhile?

    As you said in Pragati, the raising-the-cost strategy seems to be a much better option on many counts.

  4. Photonman,

    I agree that the public face of our diplomacy must be as smilingly unscutable as that of the Chinese, for example.

    But GoI’s actions don’t inspire confidence. What, for instance, was the reason to actually go out on a limb and *support* an IMF loan to Pak when even traditional Pak sponsors like PRC and KSA (i.e. Saud) kept mum at the IMF exec board meet?? WOuld be sop nice if GoI knew when to say nothing and when to rain brimstone. We seem adept at mixing up the two.

  5. It is better that Pakistan is beholden to institutions like the IMF with at least some oversight, rather than allow KSA and China to tighten their grip on Pakistan by providing aid of all sorts, mostly military and a diabolical relationship closed to outside scrutiny. Besides, the Pakistanis usually steal all the IMF money and buy weapons with it anyway, so that is hardly a loss to let them dig their hole deeper than it already is.

  6. @ Sud:
    What, for instance, was the reason to actually go out on a limb and *support* an IMF loan to Pak when even traditional Pak sponsors like PRC and KSA (i.e. Saud) kept mum at the IMF exec board meet?

    Good point. Either GoI screwed up big time, or knows something that we don’t know. Personally I am inclined to believe the former. Hopefully I am wrong 🙂

    Coming to the IMF loan itself,
    @ Alagu Periaswamy
    Besides, the Pakistanis usually steal all the IMF money and buy weapons with it anyway, so that is hardly a loss to let them dig their hole deeper than it already is.

    IMF doesn’t really inspire confidence as an overseer (to me atleast). In any case, the basic question why GoP should be loaned money is not clear to me. If everyone knows how such money will be used, why give it in the first place? Unless, of course, such use doesn’t harm the donor’s interests…

  7. More military adventurism in Afghanistan is not what is needed. Our army is already bogged down in the Northeast, not making much headway in Kashmir and still needs to keep a reserve which can be called out when state governments can’t handle the law and order situation and President’s rule is imposed. The British and the Soviets didn’t make much headway in Afghanista despite massive occupation efforts and mass violence; the Americans aren’t doing much better (making deals with local warlords and propping up the thugs of the Northern Alliance is not nation-building) and somehow people think WE can do better? Good God, I hope there is more sensible foreign policy advice going round than shipping off our boys to get butchered in southern Afghanistan – I mean the last time we went down this route and sent the IPKF it was a real success wasn’t it?!

    The stupidity of our middle-classes clearly knows no bounds. A really effective-counterrorist strategy will involve upgrading the outdated equipment of the security forces, better surveillance and screening procedures, serious investment in counter-intelligence and most of all better pay, training and working conditions for the security forces. All of which require more money and a sustained programme. If our middle-classes didn’t whine so much about paying taxes and actually exerted some effort towards properly scrutinising public expenditure to make sure it reaches its targets then this would make some difference, instead of grandiose tub-thumping or cosying up to the US.

  8. Photonman, IMF is a plaything of the economically powerful countries, and while it is certain IMF monies will be diverted towards terrorism towards India, that is less of harm to India than allowing the chinese to pass on WMD to jihadists or otherwise have the ability to influence the Jamaat-Islami jihadi terrorists, because that can be one of the consequences of weakening western influence on Pakistan via IMF — it will strengthen worse influences like the chinese.

  9. Photonman, as to the question of why such monies need to be given to pakistan, that is a question you should ask the geniuses in the Indian government who have been repeatedly saying that “a strong pakistan is in India’s interests”. Surely you don’t expect pakistan to be strong (for Indian interests) without annual IMF grants to Pakistan!

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