Matter of proof

If India acts, the world will believe. But India must act first

Proof has been demanded, yet again. And proof, rather India’s need to furnish it, has become the centrepiece of Pakistani diplomatic rhetoric. At the same time, there is increasing heartburn in India with regard to Washington’s publicly articulated disbelief in India’s contention that the recent terrorist attack on Mumbai had a Pakistani connection. Don’t trust the United States when it comes to Pakistan, columnists warn, not without justification. Since it is the cause of so many understandings and misunderstandings, it is important to put this little business of proof in perspective.

First, it is pointless getting all upset with the United States, or any other country for that matter, for not being convinced by any proof that India may put on their tables. Washington will officially ignore, even if it has to lie to its own lawmakers and people, any facts that are contrary to its own perceived interests. It was not for the want of proof that in the 1980s that the Reagan administration regularly certified that Pakistan was not attempting to develop nuclear weapons. It was not for the want of proof that Washington allowed A Q Khan to go about his nuclear business for the last two decades. It only acknowledges facts when it is expedient to do so. And this is par for the course in international relations.

Second, ‘proof’ finds good use as a justification for military action. It can be used as casus belli to start a war. In 1914, Austria declared war on Serbia after a Serbian terrorist assassinated the heir to the Austrian throne. More recently, the United States attacked the Taliban regime for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden. The proof itself was not called to question once the wars started. But proof becomes more important in cases of preventive or pre-emptive war. That’s why finding proof of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme was so important for the Bush administration. However, presenting only the proof without an intention to take punitive military action has the effect of making it into a debate over the proof, which for the reason cited in the preceding paragraph, is unlikely to be decided on the basis of facts alone.

Third, merely producing evidence does not make the proof credible in international opinion. It has to be backed with a commitment to action. Why does the world, for example, believe that the attacks on the Indian parliament in December 2001 was carried out by Pakistan-linked jihadis whereas it finds it difficult to accept that the July 2006 attacks on Mumbai are even linked to Pakistan? Well, a large part of the reason is Operation Parakram—the massing of Indian troops at the border with Pakistan.

That exercise has been criticised for a lot of reasons, but it convinced the world that Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba were both culpable. The fact that India was willing to risk war made the evidence credible. On the other hand, the UPA government’s decision to continue with high-level talks less than a month after the Mumbai attack undermines the credibility of the proof it insists it possesses. This is not an argument for another Operation Parakram, but the proof of Pakistani involvement would have been far more credible in international opinion if the Indian government had truly suspended the peace process.

Demanding proof, like Pakistan is doing, or insisting that such proof exists and similar proof has been handed over in the past, as India contends, makes for colourful diplomatic theatre. But there is little point in attempting to convince Pakistan, for if Gen Musharraf wanted to dismantle the jihadi infrastructure he does not need proof of who carried out the Mumbai attacks to start. As for convincing Washington and the rest of the world, India will find that they will accept the proof only when the Indian government’s actions make it credible.

This post is based on numerous conversations. email exchanges and discussions on other blogs, and expands on a recent post on the same theme.

7 thoughts on “Matter of proof”

  1. Nitin,

    I concur (you know this ofcourse).

    Howver if the contention is accepted what next ?
    How do you convince Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure ?
    (This is also largly rhetorical, I think you know my position)


    PS Nitin for PM 🙂

    PPS Does that remind you of Julius Caeser

  2. B Raman is saying something very similar here:

    If one thinks through all the “options” it is apparent that fighting terror entirely on ones own land is counter productive. Targetted assasinations, sending $2Million missiles and smart bombs after the two bit ‘terror infrastructure’ is useless.

    What is needed is a resolve to make the people who ‘make things move’ in Pakistan pay a price. These people include the US army presence there, the Chinese presence, the ruling feudals and the Pakistani army and middle class itself. They need to understand that as long as there is Jihadi activity in India, if they do nothing to curb it, they will be made to pay with their own blood.

    Something along these lines needs to be done, and now: after a certain point in time, the Jehadi conflict in India will become self sustaining with an action-reaction theme to it, with recruits coming from Bhiwandi and Bhopal not from Bahawalpur.

    Action items may be:
    1) Stoke up the Baloch independance struggle.
    2) Step up support to MQM.
    3) Extend support to the Waziristani/Afghani resistance to carry out spectacular attacks on Pakistani feudals/army/others who support them.

  3. Sudeep: great link to B Raman’s piece. His reading of India’s political determination to separate the two wings of Pakistan is very interesting. So is his analysis of our retaliation policy for their meddling in Punjab. We need to find the same determination to make Pakistan face severe consequences of its actions again. A focussed strategy will yield gains 5-10 years from now. Downside is it doesn’t look like the good Dr Singh and his brain-trust is doing anything useful in this regard.

  4. What are you talking about Sudeep? Did you not know a strong united Pak is in the best interest of India! So what if they want to convert India into another Afghan with end less terror attacks and thousands dead every year. Don’t forget our moral obligation to our brothers (even if they are pricking us at every exposed body part)!

  5. The only option is for Pakistan to be dismembered into the independent democratic states of Balochistan, Sind, Punjab, & Waziristan.

  6. Nitin: Keep your super-blog gaining steam. At some point this forum will have enough momentum and a following that it can serve as a citable source for punditry and policy. Your point on “proof” is well-taken.

    Huvishka: best of luck ensuring the Pakistanlets are democratic. That’ll be a first in that neighborhood. Also let’s forget to reintegrate PoK as an integral part of India in our map-making exercise 🙂

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