Beyond the cosmetic crackdown

Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex remains unaffected by the latest ‘crackdown’

It would be one thing if Pakistan’s ‘crackdown’ on its jihadi groups was sincere and thoroughgoing. But it’s not. It is as much a temporary, cosmetic and unsatisfactory exercise as the ones under General Musharraf five years ago (see this archived post). The leaders and operatives of the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Mohammed will be ‘released’ once the heat is off and the dust settles. Pakistani officials are saying as much, actually. Unless India produces evidence, the jihadi leaders will be let off from “preventive custody”. The United Jihad Council, a clique of jihadi outfits led by Syed Salahuddin and focussed on Kashmir ‘disappeared’ by the simple expedient of taking down its signboards.

Perhaps this is as much as the Asif Ali Zardari and his government can do. Yet it won’t do. If the civilian government cannot take meaningful action to cleanse Pakistan of the military-jihadi axis that is directed against India, then the genuineness of its own sincerity is of little consequence.

There is much to say for the assessment that there are deeper, structural reasons why Pakistan’s governments will not take decisive action against the jihadi infrastructure. And it is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal that protects Osama bin Laden and Hafiz Mohammed Saeed right down to the jihadi foot soldier. In other words, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons not only deter India from militarily attacking Pakistan, but, more importantly, deter any country from targeting the military-jihadi complex. Where does this leave us? Pakistan’s nuclear weapons must be made irrelevant if the global war against Islamist terrorism is to be won. They used to call it the Islamic bomb. It certainly has become the Islamists’ bomb.

China and Hamid Gul’s chestnuts

Why did it pull them out?

The Christian Science Monitor reports that:

India also sought to have the UN committee include on the list Hamid Gul, a retired Pakistani Army general who headed the country’s main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, in the late 1980s. However, China, a close ally of Pakistan that has veto power on the Security Council, apparently blocked Mr. Gul’s inclusion. [CSM]

So China could no longer afford to continue stonewalling on sanctions against the Jamaat-ud-Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba, a position that can only be understood as part of its strategy of containing India. But saving General Hamid Gul’s skin…now, that’s interesting.

The ridiculous routine of asking for evidence

…shouldn’t be taken seriously anymore

It is about time the Pakistani government—as indeed some of the country’s more enlightened newspaper editors—stopped this ridiculous business of asking for evidence and promising legal action. These demands may be a fig leaf to cover their own impotence against their military establishment, but they only have the effect of reinforcing the impression that the language of diplomacy is merely a frivolous sideshow when it comes to engaging Pakistan.

So if the good people of Pakistan want to begin to prove that their demand for ‘proper’ evidence is driven by bona fide concerns, here’s what they should do: extradite to India Dawood Ibrahim (a.k.a Sheikh, Dawood Hasan) against whom there is an outstanding Interpol red corner notice. It might even be in line with the late Benazir Bhutto’s promises.

If President Zardari and his government wish to be seen as credible interlocutors then it is about time they dispensed with this routine. If it fails to act forcefully against terrorists of various stripes that operate out of Pakistan, then it must be prepared to cede authority to an international coalition that will.

Related Posts: How evidence becomes credible.

The right way for India to respond to the terrorist attack

We call for a well-considered, national response to the war that has been thrust on India

The most important national response at this time is to support and strengthen the government and the state’s security apparatus to enable it to finish the job. Pragmatic Euphony recommends:

Support the Indian state in the immediate near future irrespective of your political or social beliefs, prevent breeding of cynicism against the inefficacy or imeptiitude of the state, avoid calls for increased securitisation of the state, disabuse the Indian electronic media of its notion of unbridled “freedom without responsibility” and hold the political parties accountable for a vision and worthwhile action plan for internal security when it comes to choosing the next government. [PE]

Offstumped reinforces the message and calls upon citizens to support police efforts to apprehend the escaped terrorists by greater civic vigilance civic “to verify the identity and antecedents of those around them and make sure no one has gotten away or found shelter in a safe haven in the dark alleys of Mumbai.”

There are reasonable grounds to believe that the attack was planned, supported or executed by international terrorists. There are also reasonable grounds to believe that it could not have been carried out successfully without local participation, support or connivance. Getting to the bottom of this is a question of fact, not opinion, diplomacy or geopolitics. This does not mean that the Indian government must wait until everything is proven in court—it can and it must act once it has enough information to convince itself of the identity of the attackers and the design behind the attacks.

Yet, that does not call for a knee-jerk response. And certainly not a repeat of Operation Parakram—when India mobilised its armed forces for a war against Pakistan. The geopolitical context is different today. In fact, getting India to raise military pressure on Pakistan suits the interests of two quarters. Al Qaeda, Taliban and the Pakistani jihadi establishment would see this as a way to get the (anyway reluctant) Pakistani Army off their backs along the Durand Line. The Pakistani military establishment would also like the “risk of a India-Pakistan military confrontation” to change the way the United States frames the problem in the subcontinent.

On the contrary, an Indian strategic response ought to focus on Afghanistan, and its border with Pakistan. That theatre is a key front in the global war on terror—and India’s own.

And finally, as Offstumped, Retributions and Swaraj have started doing, it is necessary to call out the motivated, mistaken or plainly wrong commentaries that have started pouring out into the domestic and international media.

Praveen Swami’s book on the secret jihad in Kashmir

The Indian edition of a must-read book

Praveen Swami’s 2006 book India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The covert war in Kashmir, 1947-2004 is a book that you must read. Now, for reasons best known to the marketing department of its publishers, the international edition was priced out of reach of most people. Yet it is ‘most people’ who should read it, and not only scholars, academics and deep-pocketed specialists. That’s why the largely unheralded release of the Indian edition should be welcome. Here’s the introduction to the book:

This book explores the history of Jihadist groups in Jammu and Kashmir, documenting the course of their activities and their changing character from 1947 to 2004. Drawing on new material, including classified Indian intelligence dossiers and records, Praveen Swami shows that Jihadist violence was not, as is widely assumed, a phenomenon that manifested itself in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir only after 1988. Rather, a welter of jihadist groups waged a sustained campaign against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir from the outset, after the Partition of India. This book first analyses the ideology and practice of Islamist terrorism as it changed and evolved from 1947-1948 onwards. It subsequently discusses the impact of the secret jihad on Indian policy making on Jammu and Kashmir, as well as its influence on political life within the state. Finally, looking at some of the reasons why the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir acquired such intensity in 1990, the author suggests that the answers lie in the transfiguration of the strategic environment in South Asia by the nuclear weapons programme of India and Pakistan. As such, the book argues, the violent conflict which exploded in these two regions after 1990 was not a historical discontinuity: it was, instead, an escalated form of what was by then a five-decade old secret war.[Cambridge University Press/Foundation Books]

It’s available in bookstores as well as from the publisher’s website. The other book you should read is Chandrashekar Dasgupta’s War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48. While Mr Dasgupta’s book is focussed on the political milieu of that period, Mr Swami’s book documents Pakistan’s uninterrupted covert war since then. Both are slim, highly readable volumes and if you’ve not already read them, you ought to do it soon.

(And if you’ve got additional suggestions, share it with the others in the comments section)

General Kayani knew

…about the plot to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul

The New York Times reveals that “Analysts at the CIA. and other American spy and security agencies believe not only that the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July by militants was aided by ISI operatives, but also that the highest levels of Pakistan’s security apparatus—including the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani—had knowledge of the plot.”

No, you won’t find too many people in India going et tu Ashfaq! But what is interesting is that this nugget of information is cited in a report whose main story is that President George W Bush personally authorised the raid by US special forces into Pakistani territory. So seven years after 9/11, the US government has decided that it has to be more assertive with its major non-NATO ally, and the new policy is to notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks…but that they will not ask for its permission.”

With this report of General Kayani’s knowledge—but not culpability—the US authorities have come to the last, tantalising stage of the narrative strip tease over the Kabul embassy blasts. Reports started with the ISI having a hand in the bombings. They have now come to General Kayani knowing about them beforehand. There’s only one small bit of fabric covering the General’s modesty. His latest remarks—that Pakistan’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity…would be defended at all costs”—indicate just why it has come to this stage. The US revelations on the one hand serve to put pressure on him to accept US military incursions. On the other, they also make him less endearing to India, thus circumscribing how much comfort Pakistan’s political leaders can have on their eastern frontiers.

So as General Kayani goes into a huddle with his corps commanders today, the image, as one astute observer put is of the US and Pakistan squeezing each others’ throats (yes, it was a different part of the body in the original). The Pakistani army has already begun squeezing the West’s supply routes to Afganistan, at Kurram. While this will make life difficult for US and NATO soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, the US could retaliate by squeezing the dollar flow to Pakistan. It then becomes a question of who can bear more pain, and bear it longer.

Related Link: Chidanand Rajghatta’s report in TOI

Chair and peace

Sequels in real life

What a remarkable coincidence. First, Charlie Wilson writes an vitamins-is-good-for-kids type of op-ed in the Washington Post that suggests he’s back in the lobbying business, this time handling Georgia’s brief. Previously, he had formally signed-up as a lobbyist for Pakistan a month after 9/11, but then quit in 2005 due to health reasons.

And then, Sepoy shocks us by publishing an open letter written by some American academics to their bosses at the University of Texas at Austin, protesting against the institution of the “Charlie Wilson Chair in Pakistan Studies.” The Charlie Wilson couch or hot tub would have been the appropriate piece of furniture to endow. Whatever they call it, Sepoy is eminently qualified to occupy it.

The ISI in the dock

Two many Musharrafs…and too much noise

The gloves have come off. The US government has let it become known that not only was the ISI responsible for the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, but also cut the kerry that went by the name of “rogue elements” (who used to do things like passing information to the Taliban or fly C-130s to North Korea). This is a historic day in the history of US-Pakistan relations—and an unfortunate one in the career of Yusuf Raza Gilani. Not because the US government offered proof to the Pakistani government that the ISI has been up to some very naughty things. But rather, because the US government told the rest of the world about it, albeit through the New York Times.

So what happens next? Well, it’s hard to say. In the good old days, the army chief would issue orders to the commander of the X Corps in Rawalpindi, who would, in turn, task the commander of the 111 Brigade to hop over across the bridge and take control of the government. That is tough these days. Because taking control of the government is not a predicament that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani will wish onto himself. Forget those uppity lawyers and just-won’t-retire judges, who wants to go to the White House, and pleasantries and photographs done, to answer questions like “Who is in control of the ISI?”.

Asif Ali Zardari might well have found a whipping boy in Prime Minister Gilani, but these are ultimately his problems. To be sure, reforming the ISI is a solution—for the United States and for India, and most importantly, for Pakistan itself. But to execute it will be a political task of the toughest kind. It will require popular and elite support, it will require determination and will, and it will require great tact. Other than some popular support, Mr Zardari lacks the rest. If last weekend’s fiasco over the ISI is any indication, Mr Zardari looks like he is way out of his depth.

For the time being, as Bruce Riedel put it, every meal the US troops eat, and every bullet they shoot arrives in Afghanistan courtesy of the Pakistani military. The US government might authorise more missile hits from unmanned aerial vehicles, but this is limited by the counter-productive effects caused by the collateral damage. Unless the US is ready to explore alternative ways—a rapprochement with Iran comes to mind—this is about as much the US can do.

What does all this mean for India? Well, the good news is that the Pakistani government has almost no wiggle room left on ending its support for the Taliban enterprise. The bad news is that the Pakistani ‘government’ is nowhere near being in charge of the Taliban enterprise. Where once there were two players India had to engage—those who control its jihadis and those who control its nukes—it now has to engage them through those who make the speeches. C Raja Mohan argues that “India needs several simultaneous policies towards Pakistan”, ranging from shaping Pakistan’s internal politics, to direct talks between the two armies, to signaling that India is ready to impose a two-front war on Pakistan. The Pakistani army is unlikely to be warm up to the first two, but a two-front war? They’ll probably have to game that before making up their mind, not least because the US Congress is said to be linking aid to developmental goals.


Putting the ISI in its place

For a few tense hours between late night on Saturday and the wee hours of Sunday morning, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was “under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division”. That’s about as long as the civilians that presumably run the government can even pretend to keep it under their control.

It was endearing to see Major-General Athar Abbas, the army’s spinmeister, tell us why Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s order was misunderstood: “The MI-5 is responsible for internal security, while the MI-6 deals with external security matters in the United Kingdom. It is illogical to place the MI-6 under the MI-5. Similarly, the ISI cannot be placed under the Interior Ministry’s control.” [Yes, yes, we know. General Athar was misunderstood too. He meant the UK Home Office, not MI-5. A clarification is on the way]

But seriously, what was Mr Asif Ali Zardari thinking? That Rule 3(3) of the Rules of Business of 1973 would suddenly start applying…that too to the ISI?


What’s come over M K Narayanan?

There was no fig leaf about “rogue elements” or suchlike. The national security advisor’s words appear as if the gloves are off.

”We have no doubt that the ISI is behind this. We are in the favor of the peace process, but the ISI is not in any way part of it. The ISI is playing evil. The ISI needs to be destroyed,” said M K Narayanan. [NDTV]

In a comment that perhaps reflected the sentiments in the government, Narayanan was also quoted as saying that such acts of terror need retaliation. “I think we need to pay back in the same coin. We are quite clear in our mind,” he said.

Indicating that the joint anti-terror mechanism with Pakistan had run its course, Narayanan was quoted as saying: “The anti-terror mechanism was one piece of this picture. The hope was that in course of time both sides would share whatever information they have and come up with a holistic idea of what was going on.

“Talk-talk is better than fight-fight. But it hasn’t worked so far. In some way, we haven’t arrived at the decision that we should go for fight-fight so let talk-talk continue for the moment.” [TOI]