A little less conversation, a little more action

Nawaz Sharif must provide credible proof of his intent before New Delhi resumes dialogue with his government

While India’s response to the killing of Indian soldiers in the Poonch region along the Line of Control must be calculated and cold-blooded (see an earlier post), it is untenable to contend, as some commentators have done, that dialogue with the Pakistani government must continue regardless of the provocation.

There is no case for New Delhi to engage the Nawaz Sharif government in serious dialogue at this time. While Prime Minister Sharif has made verbal overtures to the need for better relations with India, he has demonstrated little by way of putting this sentiment into action. Talk is cheap. It is action that matters.

We have seen nothing by way of tightening the pressure on outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the prosecution of the 26/11 accused has run aground and the Pakistani military establishment has raised the temperature by attacking Indian diplomats in Afghanistan. On Mr Sharif’s side of the equation, “it’s only words…”. His predecessor, Asif Ali Zardari, did try to match words with actions. Although he didn’t go far enough, although his party colleagues undermined the effort, and some of his associates paid a heavy price for those actions, it made some sense in pursuing dialogue with his government. Mr Sharif’s party, on the other hand, relies on political support from Islamist militants in his home province and has shown no sign of taking on either the military or the jihadis so far.

Maybe it’s too early for Mr Sharif to act in ways that make his words credible. Maybe he needs more time. That’s both reasonable and fair to him. In the meantime, what’s the hurry for New Delhi to pursue dialogue with his government, even if there had been no attacks in Jalalabad and gunfights along the Line of Control? Why not wait to see credible signals that Mr Sharif has the intentions and the wherewithal to deliver on the pre-requisites for a serious dialogue?

There is no case for resuming dialogue—leave alone for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan—until that time. As even simple people know, it is foolish to make an advance payment to a person who might not actually have the goods he’s promising to sell.

Related Link: Why Pakistan is really two distinct entities—the military-jihadi complex and the putative Pakistani state. The former holds all the cards as far as peace is concerned. The latter is feeble.

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. 

Zabiullah talk, Taliban walk

The Taliban’s actions signal a different message from their words

Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman, has been dressed up to sound like a realist. “It’s possible for the Taliban and India to reconcile with each other” he told his interviewer, “(our) complaint is that India backed the (Northern Alliance) and is now supporting the Karzai government.” He’d like you to believe that it’s all a misunderstanding because “unlike the Lashkar which is focused on Jammu and Kashmir, the Afghan Taliban concentrate on Afghanistan. (Taliban) have never taken part in any attack in India, nor do we attack anyone at Pakistan’s behest.”

Given that everyone thinks it is that stage of the game where they should be seen talking to their adversaries, Mr Mujahid can be forgiven for self-serving lapses of memory. But Mullah Omar’s Taliban are joined at the hip with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). The HuM and its derivative organisations have been engaged in fighting Pakistan’s proxy war against India since the early 1990s. (Speaking of which, whatever happened to Fazlur Rehman Khalil?) When President Clinton ordered missile strikes on training camps in Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, among those killed were members of not only the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen but also the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen. [See B Raman’s 1998 assessment] So Mr Mujahid is not technically not lying. He’s just taking enormous liberties with the truth.

And we are not even talking about the Taliban’s role in the IC-814 episode. As if giving free passage to terrorist hijackers somehow absolves the Mullah Omar of complicity in the affair.

India must reach out to various groups and factions in Afghanistan. But a lot of options will have to be exhausted, and then some, before trying to sup with Mullah Omar’s outfit. If the Taliban were so keen to engage India, attacking Indian officials in Kabul would be exactly the opposite of what they would do. There’s not only a big gulf between history and Mr Mujahid’s telling of it. There is a huge one between his words and the Taliban’s deeds. Believing in the Taliban’s bonafides is not the stuff of imaginative diplomacy. It is a recipe for delusional diplomacy.

The coming fratricidal war among Pakistan’s jihadis

And the battle for supremacy within the military-jihadi complex

Yesterday, it was Peshawar again. Not a day passes without a major terrorist attack in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of these attacks are attributed to the “Taliban” as if it were a monolithic entity, clouding our understanding as to who might have carried out the attacks and why.

As The Acorn has previously argued, the radical Islamist faction within the Pakistani military establishment gained critical mass around April 2007. It has only strengthened since then. (See these posts)

It is inevitable that this should happen, given that both the officer corps and the rank-and-file of the post-Ziaul Haq Pakistan army have been raised on a diet of Islamic fundamentalism. Pressed by the United States after 9/11, Generals Pervez Musharraf and Ashfaq Pervez Kayani could well remove some, sideline others from the radical faction, but given their numbers and the popularity of their cause, but couldn’t completely purge them from the army. Yet given the international environment, the radical faction—that we like to call Gul & Co—cannot take over.

Now, Kayani & Co who wield power at the GHQ are hardly the sort who will pull the shutters on the use of cross-border terrorism to pursue their interests in Afghanistan and India. But given the choice, they are unlikely to want to impose a Taliban-like regime over Pakistan. They depend on the US largesse, which is available to them only when they play along with Washington’s demands. They also must continue to demonstrate that they—and not any other political actor—are the United States’ ‘indispensable allies’ in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

So, on the one hand, General Kayani has every reason to use his proxies in Afghanistan—the taliban of the Haqqani network and Mullah Omar’s Quetta shura—to destabilise that country until the United States hands Kabul over to them. It is this faction that is fighting the US-led international forces in Afghanistan. (Similarly, Kayani & Co use the Lashkar-e-Taiba to carry out attacks against India).

On the other hand Gul & Co—General Kayani’s doppelgänger—won’t stop attacks on the Pakistan army until the latter stops doing Washington’s bidding. This faction uses the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other Punjabi jihadi groups to carry out attacks within Pakistan, and on the Pakistan army. Kayani & Co are retaliating against these attacks through Operation Rah-i-Nijat in South Waziristan by selectively targeting the taliban belonging to the Hakeemullah Mehsud group. Like all operations against jihadis, the Pakistan army will find it impossible to sustain such operations for too long—eventually soldiers will begin to ask why they are fighting their ‘innocent’ co-religionists and compatriots.

Despite their principals in the military establishment being at loggerheads, the proxies themselves have so far not attacked each other. Shared ideology, old boy networks and management by the ISI on the one hand and by the al-Qaeda leadership on the other have prevented a large scale fratricidal war among the jihadis. While a hot conflict between the jihadi proxies of the GHQ and Gul & Co factions is unlikely, it is not impossible. If the management mechanisms come under stress, the jihadis could train their guns against each other.

The longer Pakistan army proceeds on its current course—appeasing Washington without eliminating the jihadi element—the greater the chance that this will happen. Pakistan is no stranger to wars between sectarian-political militias. If the security situation continues to worsen—as it will unless the military establishment decides to co-operate with the civilian internal security machinery—Kayani & Co might well decide use their jihadi proxies to target their adversaries. Indeed, the popular agitation that ejected General Musharraf from power is still fresh in people’s minds, making the imposition of martial law (less a military coup) less likely. Thus, for Kayani & Co, the jihadi proxy becomes relatively more attractive as an option.

If the United States bails out of Afghanistan, it is possible that Mullah Omar, the Haqqanis and other Gul & Co proxies will all make a play for power in Kabul. The power struggle there will have repercussions in Pakistan. Even in this case, Kayani & Co might have to employ their own proxies, in Pakistan, to fight for their interests.

In recent weeks, a sustained terrorist campaign has thrown Pakistan into turmoil and enveloped its citizens in an atmosphere of fear. The situation could get much worse if jihadi groups start targeting each other. Given its weakness, it is unlikely that civil society—as Pakistani optimists argue—will be able to forestall a fratricidal jihadi civil war.

Unless Kayani & Co eliminate both Gul & Co and their own jihadi proxies this is the way things will go. General Musharraf blew his chance in 2002 when he could have acted against Gul & Co and the jihadi groups when they were relatively weak in number. He chose not to. It’s much harder now. Just how does General Kayani demobilise several tens of thousands of functionally illiterate, combat-hardened, thoroughly radicalised men? That’s not all, these fighters are backed by hundreds of thousands of supporters and millions of sympathisers. This is one of the most important policy challenges for international security in the first half of this century.

Tailpiece: It is time to stop referring to the “Taliban” with a capital “t”. That term correctly refers to Mullah Omar’s regime, remnants of which are currently hosted by the Pakistani military-jihadi complex at Quetta. The groups that refer to themselves by that names are largely inspired clones and copycats. It is more informative to refer to them as jihadis or “taliban” (with a lower-case “t”) in general and cite the specific group they belong to. For instance: the Haqqani taliban, the Hakeemullah Mehsud taliban etc.

Ilyas Kashmiri, Stanley McChrystal and the Obama wobble

India should ensure that the main location of Pakistan’s proxy war remains far away from home

Those who believe that the India-Pakistan ‘peace process’ that began in 2004 is responsible for the decline in terrorist violence in Jammu & Kashmir are making the oldest policy mistake—confusing correlation for causation. To understand, take a look at the curriculum vitae of Ilyas Kashmiri, an exemplary product of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, and who was reportedly killed in a US drone strike recently.

Ilyas Kashmiri onced belonged to the Pakistan army’s Special Services Group (SSG), just like General Pervez Musharraf. He fought the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, and when that war came to an end, devoted his attention to the jihad in Kashmir, changing uniforms, organisation-names and affiliations in the process. He was active on that front until he fell out with the ISI management over a corporate restructuring exercise, but by 2003, moved to Waziristan to join battle against American troops across the border. There he fought until the US drone got him. Ilyas Kashmiri didn’t move from Afghanistan to Kashmir, and from Kashmir back to Waziristan alone. His group moved with him. Nor was Ilyas Kashmiri’s outfit the only one that moved back-and-forth in this manner.

So the reason why the jihadi guns fell silent in Jammu & Kashmir was, in all likelihood, because the Pakistani military-jihadi complex didn’t have the capacity to fight a two-front war. To the extent the ‘irregular’ jihadi army was employed along the Western front it was unavailable for the proxy war against India. Now, if President Barack Obama myopically decides to retreat from Afghanistan it follows that the jihadis will make their way back to the east. Whatever this does to the geopolitical stature of the United States, it is possible that the Obama administration will attempt to appease Pakistan in order to purchase political cover for its exit from Afghanistan. As Marc Ambinder writes on his blog (LT @dubash) over at The Atlantic, Kashmir’s fate will be seen as “crucial” to the “dynamic” of Pakistan’s quest for “for living space to the north.” [Also see Manish Vij’s post on Ultrabrown]

Let us be clear: it is in India’s interests for the United States to stay in Afghanistan and fight Pakistan’s proxies and allies there. India is engaged in a proxy-war with elements, surrogates and offshoots of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. This is a war that is imposed on India, and New Delhi should persevere to keep the battlefields of that proxy-war west of the Hindu-Kush, not east of the Pir Panjal range.

Given the stakes, it is unfortunate—and unforgivable—that India has not been more than a mere spectator with respect to US policy. Indeed, even after the Obama administration began its series of policy reviews, the Indian input to the equation has been invisible. Invisible might not necessarily mean non-existent, but if there was something, then it seems to have been ineffective. Keeping Kashmir out of Richard Holbrooke’s mandate was a minimalistic achievement—ensuring that Pakistani jihadis stay out of India is the real prize.

That General Stanley McChrystal’s report was leaked to the media is understandable, not least after Mr Obama’s national security advisor had made it clear that the White House was prejudiced against strengthening US military forces in Afghanistan. Yet, even as President Obama began the initial movements of U-turn on his own commitment to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is nothing from the UPA government to try to make him stick to his old promises.

To be sure, India’s first option should be to encourage the United States to repeat the MacArthur programme in Pakistan. If the chain of Af-Pak strategy reviews are throwing up unsatisfactory policy recommendations it is because they are too fearful to accept the reality: that the solution to the problem of international jihadi terrorism lies in dismantling the military-jihadi complex in Pakistan. But if this is asking for too much, the second-best option is to ensure that the US stays on in Afghanistan.

New Delhi needs an entirely different orientation towards Washington’s Af-Pak policies: it must cast aside its quietly, quietly defensive approach to a more assertive, muscular stance.

What about the Balochistan on the table?

India need not be defensive, apologetic or overly concerned about correcting Pakistan’s allegations of meddling

Yesterday’s post pointed out why the mention of Balochistan in the India-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh hurts India’s interests.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s giveaway enables Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex to distract attention from the Talibanisation of the Pakistani state, and unite the people against the old external enemy, India. It allows the military establishment to not only cite the India threat to avoid committing troops for fighting the Taliban. But also—now that the separatism in Jammu & Kashmir is petering out—use Balochistan as a pretext to provide fresh justification for long standing strategy of using terrorism to contain India.

In addition to this, it is quite likely that Pakistani officials and commentators will use Indian meddling to counter/mitigate charges of their country being a source of international terrorism. But the debating points and PR value apart, this won’t make a material difference: to the extent that Pakistani terrorists are a threat to the international community, and Baloch militants (whether supported by India or not) only threaten Pakistan, the rest of the world is unlikely to take too much notice.

It is also likely that Balochistan will figure on the bilateral diplomatic agenda—but it is unclear how Pakistan wishes to benefit from it (See M K Rasgotra’s piece). Because if Pakistan takes the position of “you stop hitting us in Balochistan and we’ll stop hitting you in Kashmir and elsewhere”, India could well say, “OK, that’s a deal.” Such a move is understandable only if the Pakistani authorities want to wind down the anti-India jihad and need a face-saving deal to sell to its own population. Since the chances of this happening are lower than that of snow in Chennai, it is unlikely that Pakistan will want to propose such a deal.

While the utility of bringing up Balochistan in the joint-statement is limited from this perspective, it is just what Pakistani government needs to tar Baloch nationalism in the eyes of the its public, and use it to carry on the ongoing, bloody repression of the Baloch population.

How should India deal with the outcome of Sharm-el-Sheikh insofar as it concerns Balochistan? First, there is no need for the Indian government to be defensive, apologetic or even too fastidious in trying to correct Pakistani allegations that it is carrying out covert operations in Balochistan. It should be fair game to respond to a proxy war by opening up another front and going on the offensive. If Pakistan protests too much, it can be told that its allegations are baseless, asked to submit evidence and made to do the very things it asks of India. If the ISI chief wants to engage with someone equivalent in India, he could be introduced to the national security advisor.

Second, since it was Mr Gilani who presented information on threats in Balochistan, it is only natural for the Indian government to begin to take official positions on the developments there. To the extent that the ferment in Balochistan is due to colonial exploitation, denial and violation of human rights, India should impress upon its dialogue partner the need to address the genuine grievances of the Baloch people. It is time for the Indian media to read up on Balochistan matters, for think-tanks to arrange workshops and seminars on the subject, and for civil society to take greater interest in what happens there. All this might sound sarcastic, but it is not. Surely, unless India does all this, how can it promote its own interests in “a stable, democratic Islamic Republic of Pakistan”?

A case of exploding myths

So what if Pakistan is misunderstood?

Commenting on Mohammed Hanif’s attempt to dispel ten myths about Pakistan, Dhruva Jaishankar writes (in an email):

Mohammed Hanif is clearly very smart, and his prose both entertaining and readable, but his attempt at overturning Indian myths of Pakistan also exposes some of the myths that Pakistanis—particularly upper-class, educated Pakistanis—have about their own country (for the record, I’m not suggesting that middle-class Indians aren’t sometimes similarly deluded).

It is absurd to think, as Hanif suggests, that the Pakistani establishment (I like your formulation—the “military-intelligence complex”) does not use terrorism, just because it is indeed fighting other terrorists on its northwestern frontier. That’s clearly a fallacious argument. Also, it’s not just Indian journalists that have reported terrorist training in major urban centres in Pakistan, as he claims (see Pearl, Daniel; Henry-Levi, Bernard; Coll, Steve). He also appears to admit, despite stating that it’s a myth, that Zardari doesn’t have the kind of control that Musharraf has. And while he’s right about India still being a poor country, that’s not the so-called myth that’s propagated—there are clearly marked differences between the natures of the two economies and consequently their overall healths during the global financial crisis. Finally, he cleverly equates R&AW with ISI, institutions that are clearly not analogous in terms of the power they hold in their respective countries and the resources to which they have access. All that said, he is right about Pakistan being a diverse country—something that is frequently overlooked—and the question of loose nukes, a threat which is often over-exaggerated in India, the United States and elsewhere. [TOI]

Dhruva is right on the ball. If Mr Hanif’s argument is that the Pakistani people are victims of a grand misunderstanding perpetrated by the media, then one wonders how he would explain public opinion rallying behind the military-jihadi complex at the drop of a hat—bringing the four year old ‘peace process’ down like a house of cards. Or is that a myth too?

That people in one part of the world nurture myths and stereotypes of other parts of the world is one of those facts of life. It need not become an international problem. What good people like Mr Hanif need to do is ask themselves, if not explain in op-ed columns, why a large number of their countrymen are so willing to condone, connive or be a party to a proxy war fought by their military-jihadi complex using terrorism for aggression and a nuclear arsenal for defence?

Why terrorists are called “militants” in India

Owing to the Panthic Codes

It is not uncommon for the Indian media to call the terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir, or Assam or elsewhere “militants”. In India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The covert war in Kashmir, 1947-2004, Praveen Swami tells us why:

Indian journalists who reported on the struggle for the creation of a separate Sikh state, Khalistan, had traditionally used the terms “extremists” or “terrorists” to describe the character of the groups engaged in this enterprise. Khalistan groups subsequently imposed a set of codes on civil society in general, and on the media in particular, which among other things deemed the use of these terms impermissible. Known as the Panthic Codes, these rules of reportage were imposed upon the media at gunpoint. The term “militant”, now widely used in the Indian press to describe armed opponents of the State, was the product of this coercion. As a journalist who worked through that period, and because the term “militant” conflates non-violent political radicalism with specific forms of armed activity, I find its use unacceptable. [India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad]

Ill-conceived dialogue

…played into the Hurriyat’s hands

Praveen Swami’s indictment is damning: “New Delhi’s well-meaning but ill-conceived dialogue process communalised Jammu and Kashmir and laid the ground for the ongoing crisis”

Experts have been telling New Delhi that the solution to this Islamist upsurge lies in negotiations which will give power—if not independence—to secessionists. Both the premise of this received-wisdom and the prescriptions it lends itself to are false. In fact, the crisis now unfolding in Jammu and Kashmir can also be read as the consequence of New Delhi’s peace process. In its effort to make peace with the Islamist-led secessionist movement in Kashmir, this counter-intuitive argument suggests, India ended up fuelling competitive communalism in each of the State’s three regions.

New Delhi deferred the (round table conference) dialogue process until after the Assembly elections scheduled for October. Islamists in Kashmir, though, feared that the elections would lead to their annihilation, and began sharpening their knives. To anyone other than Prime Minister Singh’s house-intellectuals, whose eyes seemed to have been paper-clipped shut, the brewing crisis was evident. [The Hindu emphasis added]

The dialogue process in Jammu & Kashmir was in piece with the UPA government’s policy DNA: entitlements based on communal socialism, accepting competitive intolerance and yielding to the resulting political violence.

After the Kabul embassy bombing

How should India respond?

Shanthie Mariet D’Souza argues that India should stick to its strategy:

In the aftermath of the July 7 attack, some Indian analysts have suggested an active role for India in the security affairs of Afghanistan. They characterise the Indian Defence Minister’s April 2008 ruling out of the option of sending troops to Afghanistan as “deficient strategic thinking”. Such analysis, to say the least, is based on a complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of insurgency in Afghanistan. It also ignores the far reaching benefits flowing to the Afghan people from the activities that India has been engaged in and which in fact has troubled the Taliban and its sponsors.

It needs to be understood that India, like many other countries, is operating in a highly insecure environment in insurgency-ravaged Afghanistan. In such a scenario, while attacks of the magnitude of the July 7 incident can be better avoided with adequate security preparedness, these certainly do not call for a dramatic reconsideration of India’s non-involvement in security operations. The Government of India should maintain its present course of minimal presence of its security forces personnel coupled with long term developmental activity that weaves aid delivery around greater Afghan ownership and participation. Sending troops to Afghanistan would merely serve as a red rag for the Taliban and its sponsors, even as it causes resentment among common Afghans at the introduction of more foreign troops into their land. Better security for Indian personnel and projects can actually be ensured by working in conjunction with Afghan security forces (including community policing) and other stakeholders interested in building a stable Afghanistan. [IDSA Strategic Comments]

Dr D’Souza has a point. The security situation in Afghanistan today is very different from what it was two years ago. So India would do well to avoid becoming a significant military combatant in the Afghan war. Rather, it would do well to press the United States, and especially NATO, to enhance their military commitments to Afghanistan.

However, additional troops might be necessary to secure Indian re-construction efforts. This is the other factor determining troop levels. Therefore, instead of a policy that rules out additional troops, India’s response should be one of constantly calibrating its security presence.

In any case, the point of focus is quite likely to be Pakistan. As Praveen Swami writes in The Hindu today, an unavoidable (from India’s perspective) “proxy war” is already going on in Afghanistan. Given the state of affairs in Pakistan, reading the signals right, and achieving escalation control in the proxy war is the fundamental challenge to India’s Afghanistan policy.