It didn’t start in 1988

A brief review of Praveen Swami’s “India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947-2004“, first published in the November 2008 issue of Pragati

A retired senior police officer complained to Bahukutumbi Raman, a former intelligence officer and prolific commentator, that intelligence agencies and police show a greater readiness to share their information with Praveen Swami, than with each other. And that “we all wait for his columns in The Hindu to know what information other agencies and the police of other States have.” That is as much an indictment of the internal security set-up as it is a compliment to Mr Swami. Those familiar with Mr Swami’s reportage will know that some of India’s best writings on terrorism and internal security come from his MacBook.

So it is a mystery why the publishers of India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The covert war in Kashmir, 1947-2004, a book Mr Swami wrote in 2006 did not adequately market it in India at a price that ordinary readers could afford. The paperback edition is now available in bookstores, but you won’t know it until you ask for it. (Update: It’s a little more widely available now). That’s a real shame because Secret Jihad is the one book on the issue in Jammu & Kashmir that everyone should read.

If it reads like a spy thriller, it is because it is one. In just over 200 pages of engaging prose, Mr Swami demonstrates that contrary to what most people think (and India’s median age is around twenty-five) the troubles in Jammu & Kashmir didn’t start in the late 1980s, after an infamously rigged election. Rather, as the introduction to the book says “a welter of jihadist groups waged a sustained campaign against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir from the outset, after the Partition of India.” Mr Swami’s narrative takes the reader back to the days of the Master Cell and Al- Fatah—entities that appear quaint by today’s standards—and their subsequent evolution into and inspiration of terrorist organisations that exist in contemporary times.

Similarly, Mr Swami reveals the now-in, now-out relationship of the state’s major political parties with Islamist and Kashmiri-nationalist ideologies, and the reader arrives at the inevitable conclusion that for all the paeans celebrating Kashmiriyat, secularism has always been less than skin-deep in Kashmiri separatist politics.
To the extent Secret Jihad relies on sources from within India’s internal security establishment, it largely illuminates only one side of the war. Mr Swami admits this himself, conceding that Pakistan’s secret archives, if they exist at all, are necessary to improve the completeness of the account. But even so, Mr Swami’s book joins Chandrashekar Dasgupta’s War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48 as an indispensable book for anyone seeking a well-researched and readable account of the Kashmir issue. Secret Jihad ends in 2004 but the secret jihad continues. An updated edition, or better still, a sequel, is in order.

Related Link: Saurabh Chandra has a brief history of events, in today’s DNA. 

Lashkar-e-Taiba vs Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan

Is the fratricidal war here?

It was in 2009 that this blog suggested that a fratricidal war among Pakistani militant groups is possible: the likelihood of this happening would increase as long as Pakistani army persisted with its policy of appeasing the United States while simultaneously nurturing Islamist militancy. The Pakistan army has long relied on groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba to act on its behalf—so it is conceivable that they will be employed against Pashtun insurgents, like those belonging to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. (Militant proxies are already being used against insurgents in Balochistan and to terrorise religious minorities in Gilgit-Baltistan).

There were some rumblings of conflict between militant groups the following year. However, this month, the fighting is out in the open.

Mukarram Khurasani, spokesman for the TTP’s Mohmand chapter chief Omar Khaliq, told Dawn.com that hundreds of militants had attacked the Pakistani Taliban positions in Shongrai and the bordering village of Jarobi Darra.

Khurasani also accused Lashkar-i-Taiba commander Haji Abdul Rahim of leading the attackers.

The Taliban’s Mohmand chapter chief also claimed that the attack had been repulsed and said that one attacker was killed while three were injured.

Meanwhile, Lashkar-i-Taiba spokesperson Mahmud Ghaznavi rejected the allegations that the group was involved in the clashes. [Dawn]

The report also claims that the Afghan Taliban had also lined up with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, but pulled back after TTP sought Mullah Omar’s intervention. As I wrote in this week’s Business Standard column, this is a tricky situation where the TTP is at war with the Pakistan army but swears allegiance to Mullah Omar, who for his part, is beholden to the Pakistan army. Yes, it’s complicated.

The TTP is spoiling both General Kayani’s and Mullah Omar’s party. Not to forget, there are factions within the Pakistani military establishment that are backing the TTP.

Leave it at the tactical

Media-fuelled public outrage must not determine New Delhi’s strategy on the tensions along the Line of Control

Success or failure in a contest between two states is not measured by merely by the relative numbers of soldiers killed or bits of territory gained or lost. It is measured by the relative well-being of the people in the states concerned. What is the national interest if not “the well-being, prosperity and happiness of the nation”? The Arthashastra puts this in pithy terms: “The possession of power and happiness in a greater degree makes a king superior to another; in a less degree, inferior”.

Since the nuclear tests of 1998 and the Pakistan’s invasion of Kargil, leading to a brief border war in 1999, there has been a fairly commonplace lament in the popular discourse that India is unable to “do anything” to respond to Pakistani provocations. Let there be no doubt—Pakistani provocations have been many, they have been systematic and they have caused the nation physical, social and psychological harm. Let there be no doubt that India’s responses have been more restrained than they need to be—not least to a predilection among India’s prime ministers to see the need for “a peace process with Pakistan”. Let there also be no doubt: a flawed logic—the presumption that the Pakistan they do the peace process with is the Pakistan that attacks us—informs this policy.

Even so, by most measures, Indians in 2013 are better off than their Pakistani counterparts (see this Gapminder chart). This is despite the UPA squandering a good part of a benign decade and bringing the economy on the verge of a fiscal crisis. This is despite the neglect of governance reforms and bringing the polity into a wrenching political churn. Pakistan, for all its provocations and too-clever-by-half exploitation of its ‘geopolitical positions’ is back into the international doghouse it was in. It is being devoured by its own domestic monsters, without the need for any help from India.

So folks, we are winning this one.

Back in 2003, in a conversation with Sameer Wagle, a friend and intellectual sparring partner, this blogger had argued that the solution to our problems from Pakistan is economic reform. In fact, as argued in this Pragati cover story, Reforms 2.0 is our China policy, our America policy, our Europe policy and every-other-country policy. From this perspective, the UPA government’s abandonment of the reform agenda is its biggest foreign policy failure.

The purpose of national defence is to ensure that India’s growth and development can take place undisturbed. Defence policy is not an end in itself (a point that Pakistan has missed).

The recent escalation of tactical conflict between India and Pakistan at the Line of Control comes at a time when India is in the grip of a grand moral panic and political flux. The media and public discourse tends to rapidly end up in outrage and anger. For this reason, it is all the more important to be more careful and dispassionate and not precipitate actions that might end up being self-defeating.

First, it is important that the Indian side does not give Pakistan an opening to end the ceasefire along the Line of Control. For if the ceasefire goes, the Pakistani military-jihadi complex will rub its hands in glee and attempt its strategy of the 1990s—essentially infiltrate men and war material into Indian territory under the cover of armed conflict. The broader situation is a lot like the 1990s, as ranks of the jihadi alumni from Afghanistan begin to swell in 2014, and though the Indian armed forces are better prepared than two decades ago, who needs the resumption of a proxy war?

Second, it makes sense not to disturb the adversary when he is making a mistake. Pakistan is in deep turmoil. A number of internecine rivalries are tearing the country apart. It will get worse in 2014 when international troops leave neighbouring Afghanistan and the militants no longer have a foreign enemy to fight. It is hard to predict which way Pakistan might go, but it is smart not to give the warring factions a reason to join forces and focus on a common enemy in the shape of us.

Third, let the armed forces sort out the tactical game along the Line of Control away from the media glare. The Indian Army has been engaged in this conflict for decades and is well-aware, well-trained and well-equipped to handle the matters. General Bikram Singh’s statements make this amply clear. The army “reserves the right to retaliate at a time and place of its choosing”. This is as it should be. It is imprudent, risky and counter-productive for media-fuelled public outrage to force the army’s professional assessment.

None of this is an argument for the manufactured and contrived ‘peace process’ activities. Rather, that New Delhi must use the detente to its strategic advantage. What the public debate ought to be about is not how New Delhi plans to react to a tactical attack but to chart out how it will exploit the detente to strengthen India’s strategic advantage.

Finally, one of India’s strategic projects has to be the systematic containment and eventual dismantling of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. So much of New Delhi’s policy is short-term, the here and the now. Worse, India’s public discourse is even shorter—momentary surges of awareness and emotion on one issue that quickly lapse and move on to the next one. All the more important then, for thinking Indians, to never forget that the military-jihadi complex must be destroyed.

TAPI’s confused objectives, risky implications

India should not invest in making itself vulnerable to geopolitical blackmail

Kabir Taneja quotes me in an article in the Sunday Guardian on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project. Here are my views in greater detail.

What is your general consensus on TAPI? Does it benefit India geo-politically?

It is unclear what India’s primary purpose is with respect to the TAPI and the IPI gas pipelines. If it is energy security, then clearly placing an important source of fuel in the hands of a hostile actor like the Pakistani military-jihadi complex defeats the purpose. If it is geopolitics, it raises the question if energy security is being sacrificed at the altar of wishful thinking about potential geopolitical gains.

India would do well to invest in LNG terminals and infrastructure, enabling it to purchase gas from anywhere in the world, including from Iran and Russia. Energy security lies in trying to make the international natural gas market as competitive as possible.

What are your main reservations on the project?

Any project that relies on Pakistan is fundamentally risky.

First, even before the resurgence of the Baloch insurgency, pipelines were routinely targeted in inter-tribal political violence. Now with a full-blown insurgency, the extent of which is unclear, but where Pakistani air power and armour is being employed, the political risk rules out any pipeline investment.

Second, the Pakistani military-jihadi complex has entirely different incentives compared to the the putative Pakistani state. It’s tendency to pursue actions that undermine Pakistan are well-known: it conducted nuclear tests in 1998 despite knowing that this will cripple the economy. More pertinently, it has blocked the transit routes for US & NATO forces since Dec 2011 even at the cost of more than $1.2 billion in coalition support fund payments that it is owed. The transit route business is highly profitable to the army and its business empire. A conservative estimate is that the Pakistani military establishment collected around $360 million in different forms of rent, over the last five years.

This puts paid to the assertion that the Pakistani army will permit transit if it benefits financially. Clearly, its behaviour shows that is not the case. The Pakistani army is likely to use the gas pipelines as leverage against India and Afghanistan, regardless of the economic consequences to itself.

Supporters of TAPI suggest that it will help tame the populations of troubled regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan by creating mass employment. Thoughts?

This is a dubious suggestion. In fact, it would be terrible to impose a “resource curse” on a population wracked by radicalism and violence. What the region needs is investment in human capital and political stability that allows normal economic activity to take off. Putting gas fields and pipelines in regions of turmoil will create political economies that might worsen the conflict by providing more funds to warlords. Unless the fundamental security problem is tackled, gas revenues, like drug revenues, flow into the war chests of militant groups.

Examining the US-Pakistan standoff

The Pakistani establishment is grappling with the consequences of underestimating the United States

There is a lot of commentary on how US-Pakistan relations are in crisis and “hitting new lows” each day. Much of this is indeed true—not because of what the Obama administration says or does not say, but because of how the US Congress perceives the situation. If US politicians, across party lines, have turned hostile towards Pakistan, it is because they are sensitive to public opinion. Until the public mood changes, it will be much more difficult for any US president to paper over Pakistan’s shenanigans for reasons of foreign policy expediency. Washington’s ‘South Asian’ commentariat is slowly coming to realise that both the Obama administration and public opinion has left their old Pakistan narrative behind.

The current standoff has come about due to two reasons: first, General Kayani overplaying his cards; and second, the Zardari government giving up manoeuvring room by passing the buck to the parliament.

The Pakistani army thought it had a trump card in choking the supply lines and played it. It didn’t work, not least because similar acts and threats in the past had caused US military planners to work out alternatives. Shutting down the supply routes backfired on Pakistan: it has been frozen out of the diplomatic scene, US Congress has cut financial assistance and it has ended up back in the doghouse of international public opinion. The Pakistani military establishment still doesn’t get it. Judging from views expressed by pro-establishment opinion makers, they still seem to believe that US and NATO desperately need the supply routes to get out of Afghanistan. They do not consider the possibility of an exit strategy involving a combination of airlifts, passage through the Northern Distribution Network, asset transfers to the Afghan security forces and destruction of the rest. Speed matters when troops are getting in. It matters less when they are going back home. However, the Pakistani military establishment’s blinkered smugness is bolstering intransigence. (Munir Akram, a former Pakistani diplomat, even advocated showing nuclear teeth to the US.)

Under attack from a stridently anti-American media, a populist Imran Khan and the galvanisation of militant politics, the Zardari government handed over the hot potato of US-Pakistan relations to Parliament. This was clever, because it passed the buck to parliament and diffused responsibility. However, it has tied down the government’s hands now, because it requires a lot more political capital for Mr Zardari to “give and take” on anything unless the US delivers on Pakistan’s maximalist claims—an official apology for the Shalala encounter and a complete cessation of drone attacks on Pakistani soil.

The United States is in no mood to yield on either of this. An official apology would not only weaken President Obama during his re-election campaign but will be very unpopular among the US military rank-and-file. For all the diplomatic contortions Washington has engaged in over the last ten years, it is the US military that has suffered the ground reality of Pakistan’s duplicity. So an apology is unlikely until after the US election season is over. Ending drone strikes is even less likely, as they remain the most important instrument the US has to combat the international threat to its national security.

This standoff will be hard to resolve. Even so, both parties have subtly changed the framing of the issue to enable a resolution. Note Washington’s public statements tend to be about supply routes—suggesting that if Pakistan offers a reasonable compromise on this issue, the process of rebuilding the relationship can start. Similarly, while Pakistan’s sentencing of the doctor who assisted the CIA in identifying bin Laden is surely a tit-for-tat response to President Obama’s snub at Chicago, it has done so in a manner that allows compromise. Trying him under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) allows the Pakistani government to arbitrarily change the sentence or acquit him without involving the judiciary. It is willing to trade.

Despite this negotiating room, the Zardari government is unlikely to be capable of grabbing the negotiating lifeline and arriving at a deal on the supply routes. Getting Sherry Rehman, its US ambassador and Bilawal Zardari-Bhutto, the party co-chairman to reinforce the demand for a US apology was a mistake if they didn’t already know that the US was likely to yield. It has now only made it harder for Mr Zardari to compromise. Similarly, while the US is concerned about the fate of Dr Shakeel Afridi, it is unlikely to yield to a prisoner-swap deal.

Neither side is likely to blink. But one side is bleeding.

Why Pakistan interferes in Afghanistan

A strong, independent Afghanistan is perceived as an existential threat to Pakistan

Just why is Pakistan interested in installing a friendly regime in Afghanistan? If you read books and articles written over the last couple of decades, you will come across arguments such as the need for “strategic depth” to counter India, to prevent a pro-India regime in Kabul that will result in the Indian encircling of Pakistan and, even more grandly, to create an Islamic centre of power that stretches from the shores of the Arabian Sea to the Caucasus mountains. Going by the statements of members of the Pakistani establishment and some of its commentators, these are indeed the reasons why Pakistan wants to dominate Afghanistan.

Yet, to a large extent, the ambition and the paranoia that motivates these goals are in the realm of fantasy. Important people might believe in these fantasies, which means they must be taken seriously, because those important people do act on the basis of their delusions. However, there is also an argument to be made that these fantasies, paranoias and strategic sophistries are used to mask the real motive.

Pakistan’s real motive in seeking to dominate Afghanistan is the fear of its own dismemberment. Until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Islamabad’s main agenda was to prevent Kabul-supported Pashtun and Baloch nationalism from escalating into full-blown movements for independence. The strength of Pashtun nationalism and Kabul’s rejection of the Durand Line (which continues to this day) create deep insecurities in Islamabad, causing it both to bolster Islamism as an ideological counter, sponsor political instability in Afghanistan and attempt to install a friendly regime there.

It is a matter of historical fact that Pakistan—under President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—began training Islamist militants in 1973, long before the Soviet invasion. Burhanuddin Rabbani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Massoud received training in Pakistani camps so that Bhutto could counter Kabul ‘forward policy’ towards Pakistan. Kabul’s policies over the Durand Line had caused Pakistan to close its borders with Afghanistan in 1961. When the Baloch insurgency erupted in the early 1970s, Kabul (under the Daoud regime) supported it. Bhutto’s response was to nurture proxies in the form of Islamist militants—an old trick for the Pakistani establishment—under the leadership of the then Brigadier Naseerullah Babar, who as Inspector-General of the Frontier Corps, set up training camps in North and South Waziristan. More than 5000 militants were thus trained between 1973-1977. Again, it must be stressed, before the Soviets invaded. The narrative that most people accept—that Pakistan’s sponsorship of the mujahideen was a response to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—is factually incorrect. [Rizwan Hussain’s Pakistan and the Emergence of Islamic Militancy in Afghanistan has a good account of this]

The Pakistani establishment fears that a strong independent Afghanistan—like the one that existed up to the mid-1970s—will pursue an irredentist agenda, claiming the Pashtun areas of Pakistan. People in the tribal regions of Pakistan have only a tenuous association with the Pakistani state, and even for people in the so-called ‘settled areas’ of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, age-old Pashtun solidarity is often stronger than allegiance to a geopolitical entity called Pakistan. Afghanistan can well decide to support the insurgency in Balochistan to weaken Pakistan enough. Therefore, Pakistani strategists can see an existential threat in a strong, independent Afghanistan.

They can’t, however, state this as the official reason, because to do so would be admit the hollowness of the idea of Pakistan. That’s why fantastic notions of strategic depth, pre-empting strategic encirclement or building a Central Asian caliphate come in useful. “Strategic depth” is a plausible justification to convince patriotic Pakistanis of why their military is interfering in Afghanistan. Islamabad’s case appears a lot more ‘understandable’ to international opinion if it cites the fear of Indian encirclement rather than fear of Pashtun and Baloch self-determination as the reasons for its actions. Domestic and foreign Islamists will be enthused by the idea of flying the green flag of Islam all the way to the borders of Russia.

Theoretically, Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex might be persuaded to stop destabilising Afghanistan if it were convinced that Kabul will not lay claim to Pashtun lands east of the Durand Line. In practice that would be nearly impossible, not least because Afghan nationalism will not accept it. Even Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime didn’t.

Some matters will be decided by the force of arms. If at all.

Let the Buzkashi begin!

The implications of Barack Obama’s policy shift in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Barack Obama has executed a very smart policy change—he has effectively dehyphenated Af-Pak by extricating the United States from the long-running Afghan civil war and focusing Washington’s attention on Pakistan. The United States will put in a genuine effort to mitigate the risk of a Taliban take-over in Afghanistan but will essentially leave Afghans to fight out their own affairs. It will, instead, maintain a security presence in the region tasked with keeping military pressure on jihadi militants that pose a threat to its own security.

What does this imply?

First, as far as the United States is concerned, not only Hamid Karzai but the post-2002 Afghan state is dispensable. If the Afghan state cannot secure itself against Taliban revolutionaries or other factions that seek to destroy it, Washington will not be concerned beyond a point. This message, as we will see, has (predictable) consequences.

Second, although the United States will withdraw its troops in 2014, it is not in a form that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex expected. Pakistani generals had long assumed that US withdrawal from Afghanistan automatically implied that they could take over the place the next day through a combination of Mullah Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqanis. They had also assumed that they held the cards because international forces depended on their goodwill to make a face-saving exit. President Obama has delivered the Pakistani generals a nasty surprise—the residual US presence on the Afghan side of the Durand Line and drone strikes on Pakistani soil will calibrate how much Pakistan can influence the security and stability of Afghanistan. We have not reached the point yet, but it may well be that international forces need not rely on Pakistani routes on their way out.

Third, as a consequence of Washington extricating itself from Afghanistan, we are bound to see political factions emerge around tribal and ethnic lines, fighting and allying among themselves and seeking external support. This process will strengthen if the Taliban were either to take or share power. Let’s not forget that the mujahideen separated into factions after the Soviets left in 1989 and fought each other. Let’s also not forget that there was no ‘Northern Alliance’ before the Taliban became a dominant political force. So just because there isn’t visible opposition to the Taliban today, it doesn’t follow that there won’t be one if they come to power. Just because Messrs Omar, Hekmatyar and Haqqani are Pakistan’s proxies today, it doesn’t follow that they won’t reach for each others’ throats tomorrow. Of course this means “civil war”, if only because the Afghan civil war has been ongoing for a couple of decades now.

Fourth, if and when the “civil war” does take place, the United States will become the swing power between the China-Pakistan-Saudi and the India-Russia-Iran alignments. It has so far been engaged in the self-weakening business of preventing India, Russia and Iran from cooperating over Afghanistan. Washington will have to decide which side it intends to back. The smart thing for it to do would be to back neither permanently, rather to back them selectively, while retaining for itself the power and influence that comes from its role as the balancer. For this, though, it will need to have better relations with each of these alignments than they have with each other. Therefore, its ability to swing will depend on whether it can get over its Iran dogma and work out a modus vivendi, at least in Afghanistan.

Fifth, if Pakistan need not keep appearances of being an ally in the war on terror, the military establishment might well prefer to install in power a regime that it is to its liking. To the extent that Pakistani army’s needs for an ‘acceptable civilian face’ to extract money from the United States is diminished, Imran Khan’s—and Hafiz Saeed’s—political fortunes are set to improve.

Finally, India will need to remain open to support political factions in Afghanistan that seek it, even while robustly backing the legitimate leadership of the Afghan state. The most important risk to India’s national security comes from the spillover of veteran Afghan militants. In the early 1990s, Pakistan solved two problems at one go by diverting the surplus militant manpower to Jammu & Kashmir. Given that it has been unable to even begin address the problem of deradicalising its militant manpower base, its leaders—both military and civilian—will be tempted to do the same now. The longer these militants have reason to fight in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the better it is for India. This should be one of New Delhi’s policy goals.

It’s time to dust off histories of Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Calculating Pakistan’s Al Faida income

The military establishment seeks more rent

Pakistan, the United States and NATO are currently engaged in negotiations over a transit fee for the route from Karachi to the Afghan border. Pakistan has demanded $5000 per container (in either direction) although other reports suggest that it would seek a ‘nominal fee’ of around $1800. It is important to note that these are over and above what Pakistan has already been making from the container traffic.

Here’s a conservative estimate of how much the Pakistan makes from permitting US and NATO troops transit routes from Karachi to the Afghanistan border. Between 2005 and June 2010, Pakistani military and civilian government entities made $290 million (Update: At least $360 million, including toll revenues—see details below], or a little over $1000 per container, from allowing US and NATO transit to Afghanistan. The military establishment’s share of this is just over half, all of it in terms of pure rent or, as we like to call it “Al Faida”. The civilian government’s share came from taxes and through port charges.

Click to enlarge

An earlier post, from February 2009, has another estimate of the takings. Those figures are higher than these because they involve a different period and perhaps a different count of the number of containers. In the present analysis, the number of containers is taken from a report on the ISAF container scam by the Pakistani government’s Federal Tax Ombudsman, from January 2011. That report provides some interesting details about the political economy of the transit business—how a lot of people make lot of shady money. Also, it notes that 3544 US/ISAF containers are ‘missing’.

Update: According to Gen William Fraser, US Transcom commander, more than 35,000 containers were delivered through Pakistan in 2011. This would give the Pakistani military establishment $18.375 million in rent and an income of $17.5 million for the civilian government entities for the year.

If the US/ISAF traffic is in the range of 600 trucks per day, then Pakistan will earn around $129 million in 2012, of which the military establishment will pocket $66 million. Note that this excludes the transit fee/tax that is under negotiation.

Update (May 23, 2012): A senior Pakistani government official has testified to the Public Accounts Committee that the Pakistani army’s construction wing, the Frontier Works Organisation, has occupied all toll plazas along the route, and pocketed all the Rs 6.5 billion in toll revenues. That’s around $71 million at the current exchange rate, but higher given that the Pakistani rupee has been depreciating over the last few years.

Related Links: Pragmatic Euphony on the truth about the NATO supply routes.

Cheering Pakistan’s missile test

May they have ever longer ranges!

It is in India’s interests that Pakistan should acquire missiles with very long ranges. The greater the range, the better it is for India. No, this is neither sarcasm nor flippancy, this is logic.

Pakistan does not need more nuclear warheads or missiles to deter India. It achieved that deterrence in the mid-80s even before testing nuclear weapons on its soil. There is no Indian leader who will risk as much as a radioactive wind blowing towards an Indian population centre, leave alone suffer a nuclear attack. The moment Pakistan had one nuclear warhead that it could deliver on one airplane, it had already substantially achieved the deterrence it sought. Pakistan now supposedly has over a hundred warheads, is feverishly cranking up fissile material (for others) and has scores of missiles of varying ranges and payload capacities. It is even claiming to develop “second strike” capability, which is absurd given the India-Pakistan nuclear relationship (It’s MUD, not MAD). Again, this absurd claim is being used to obfuscate the inventory it is building for Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan doesn’t need any more warheads or new missiles to deter India. Why then did the Pakistani establishment feel the need to react with a ‘test’ of its fully-developed and working Hatf4/Shaheen 1A (?) in response to a development test of India’s Agni-V? Well, as my colleague Rohan Joshi remarked on Twitter today “Pakistan’s desire to match India trumps its desire to deter India.”

In doing so the men in khaki have been trading security for a psychological kick. Every new warhead, every new missile, every bit of additional range actually diminishes Pakistan’s security. Why? Because a strategic arsenal is not target-specific. Even if every single bomb, missile and aircraft is aimed at India, every single country within range will feel a non-zero increase in threat perception from Pakistan. The threat perception is subjective, depending on the country’s relations with Pakistan, so Israel might be more worried than Saudi Arabia today. But the point is that even Saudi Arabia will be a little more worried than it already is. Now imagine if Pakistan’s missiles were capable of reaching Japan, Russia, Western Europe and, err, the continental United States.

India’s leaders have been scared of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons for three decades now. They are already beyond the point where they can be further scared. But the more Pakistan’s behaviour scares the leaders of other countries, not in indirect ways like a subcontinental war or through the export of terrorism, but in direct ways, the more they will see a need to tackle the military-jihadi complex that lies at its source. Few countries of the world, whether they admit it or not, are oblivious to military-jihadi complex’s use of nuclear weapons to shield its jihadi terrorists. If a direct nuclear threat is a high threshold risk, a nuclear blackmail has a relatively lower threshold of probability. (See That’s Washington’s problem)

The effect of all the stockpiling and all the launching by Pakistan will be to spread the risk among a wider group of nations. The quantum of risk India faces doesn’t change…but it will have others sharing similar risks albeit at a lower level. If the men in khaki in Rawalpindi think scaring the important powers of the world is in their interests then, to use a phrase I heard from Arun Shourie (but attributed to Napoleon) we must not interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake.

So let’s join them in cheering the Pakistani military-jihadi complex on the successful launch of Hatf-4/Shaheen1A missile—incidentally a gift from the Clinton Administration—and encourage them to acquire missiles with ever greater ranges. (There’s a small question of whether China will sell them this stuff, but let’s not be curmudgeonly and discredit the scientific talent in Pakistan.)

Pakistan’s new big jihadi show

Where militant defend the military from foreign sponsors and domestic puppets

When the jihadi face of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex brazenly showed itself in the form of a Difa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) rally in Lahore last month, it appeared that the military face had used ‘non-state actors’ to send a signal both to Washington and its own people. The street power and anti-Americanism of jihadi militants would impress upon Washington the need to continue to do business with the relatively more reasonable military establishment. At the same time, the rally and the rhetoric would channelise public anger at the US/NATO attack on a border position in the Mohmand Agency in a way the military establishment liked.

It also revealed the utter contempt the military establishment has for the game of dossiers-and-lawsuits over the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai the powerless civilian government of Pakistan has engaged New Delhi in. For here was Hafiz Saeed, the chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba, not only out in the open, but addressing a massive, high profile public rally. It is unlikely though, that the show was staged for India’s benefit.

A month later, and after another such rally in Multan, it appears that the Difa-e-Pakistan project has at least two other objectives.

First, the presence of Deobandi leaders and groups at these rallies suggests that the military establishment is attempting to close the gap that arose between the two after the Lal Masjid massacre of 2007. If the military establishment can forge a ‘common minimum programme’ with the key Deobandi groups, the likelihood of the Pakistan Taliban and related groups ratcheting down their war against the Pakistan army increases considerably. There is a price Pakistan will have to pay for such a compromise, but because it benefits the military establishment, that price will be paid.

Second, the Difa-e-Pakistan movement provides the military establishment with a way to split Imran Khan’s base. Why would they do that, because wasn’t Mr Khan their man? Well, whether or not he is their man, it would not suit the military establishment’s purpose for him to more powerful than it would like.

It may well be that Mr Khan, convinced of his own power, is dancing less to the piper’s tune. In his interview on Indian television in November 2011, Mr Khan declared that he would bring the armed forces under civilian control, wind down all militant groups and deweaponise Pakistan. That’s not quite what the men in khaki would like. That’s certainly not what the jihadi groups would like. So even if Mr Khan is trying to be everything to everyone—he didn’t turn up at the Difa-e-Pakistan rally, but sent a letter that was read out—the prospect of a popular Prime Minister Imran Khan attempting to boss over the military-jihadi complex would be unwelcome to both the generals and the jihadis. Difa-e-Pakistan claims to be, err, ‘non-political’. It nevertheless can exert pressure on Mr Khan. More importantly, it can split his vote in the upcoming elections.

All this is fine as far as Pakistan’s domestic power struggles go. The immediate question for India and the rest of the world is the risk of spillover. Would emboldened jihadi groups be satisfied with mere rhetorical attacks against India and the United States?