Sunday, February 21, 2010

AF-PAK: THE TIDE IS TURNING BUT INDIA HAS NO PLAN

"There is a rising tide of Islam around the world." This is what Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria said just a year ago. America's armed opposition to Islamic fundamentalists, he noted then, had "made this whole enterprise feel very much like a clash of civilizations, and a violent one at that."

Has anything dramatic happened, unknown to many of us, in the last 365 days days or so to suggest that the "entire terrain of the war on terror has evolved dramatically...and the tide is turning", as Zakaria is saying now without citing anything really new in support?

Last year, acknowledging that things were going badly for US troops in Afghanistan, Zakaria had outlined a strategy by which the situation could be salvaged there by the US. Making a distinction between the Al Qaida and the Taliban, what he had suggested then in sum was that the US should talk to what he called the "good" Taliban, cut a deal and hand Afghanistan to them after Al Qaida was defeated. The "good" Taliban, according to him, were those had no links with the Al Qaida which was waging a war against the US, did not advocate global jihad and wanted Islamic rule locally only.

A year later, with no improvement in the ground situation in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has authorised sending of 30,000 additional troops there and has expanded the war inside Pakistan by increasing the areas covered by drone attacks. But, for some reason, Zakaria has not only completely de-linked the Taliban from the Al Qaida but also wants us to swallow the lie that "jihadist ideology has wrapped itself around a genuine ethnic struggle in which Pashtuns feel that they are being dispossessed by rival groups"! The enemy, as Zakaria sees now through the eyes of the US, is the much weakened Al Qaida alone.

If this line represents the latest US thinking, then India has much to worry about. The tide is turning but against it: America is looking for a way to get out of Afghanistan at the earliest. To do that honourably, it seems to be willing to hand over Afghanistan back to the Taliban and give generous doles to Pakistan, if the latter guarantees that it will not allow the territories of both nations to be used by the Al Qaida, or any other group, against the interests of the US, as they were before 9/11. As long as this Laxman Rekha is not crossed, as far as the US is concerned, jihadis can keep doing what they want in Af-Pak, Kashmir and the rest of India.

Unfortunately for India, some of its own analysts and thinkers also believe that a 'strong and stable' Pakistan is just what India needs, and that the thorn that it has become can be turned into a flower if India gives whatever concessions are needed to enhance the credibility and power of Pakistan's government. One has to daft or dishonest to even imagine that the all-pervasive hold of Pakistan's military is going to be weakened in this manner and that any civilian in power there is going to be in a position to pursue an India policy that conflicts with the one being relentlessly pursued by its military since 1947. As Musharraf admitted with misplaced pride, Pakistan exists as a state only because of its military and the ISI which - we tend to forget - is a powerful arm of the military itself. Its politicians and civilian officials have been and will be effectively subordinate to the military. The Army Chief is going to remain Pakistan's most powerful man and the supreme authority no one can overrule, as far as national security and India policy is concerned. The military, as is well known, is founded and grounded in a rabid anti-India mindset that cannot be shed for ideological and practical reasons by its leadership.

Our leaders and policy makers surely must know all this. Why, then, are they intent on giving fake lollipops to unsuspecting Indians directly by making hapless pacifist noises and indirectly through elitist tamashas like 'Aman ki Asha'? Why does our economist PM Dr Manmohan Singh not get himself armed with some hard professional advice and stop bleating that India can do nothing at all except talk to Pakistan?

Is it not matter of grave concern that it has taken American Senator Larry Pressler, to voice disappointment that India is not raising a voice about what's happening in Afghanistan, and warn the country that once the US leaves that country, "India is going to have on its border a highly armed loose canon in Pakistan, a rogue state whose government is not what we espouse or support. A rogue Pakistan on steroids of US money"? With Afghanistan back in Pakistan's pocket, Pakistan's military will have at its disposal thousands of jubilant jihadis who it will redirect to achieve victory in Kashmir and, at the same time, create mayhem in the rest of India. Let us not forget that Pakistan has been assiduously preparing the ground for greater jihadi intervention in India. Musharraf, in an interview to Karan Thapar, repeatedly spoke of the role of the LeT in protecting the interests of Indian Muslims. More recently, the way Hamid Mir twisted the reaction of Shiv Sena to Shahrukh Khan's idiotic statements, to appropriate for Pakistan the role of his friend and protector of India's Muslims, shows that, behind fake civil facades, its anti-India agenda remains unabated. The objective of luring more and more Indian Muslims to terror by creating disaffection in them against India is not limited to Pakistan's military alone.

The US, no longer rich enough to afford a long, costly war in Afghanistan, much less expand it into Pakistan where it must end if the war on terror has to be decisively won, is likely to take an extremely narrow and short-term view, and get out, claiming a pyrrhic victory. Is any effort being made by India to tell the US that the reprieve that it may get will be only temporary and that a gun in jihadi hands can and will be turned devastatingly towards the US again at an opportune moment with much greater planning and preparation than before 9/11? Is India even thinking of effectively countering what for it will become a far graver threat than ever before?

Tragically for India, nothing of the sort seems to be happening. As even Barkha Dutt is discovering now, India has no long-term plan to deal with Pakistan or terrorism; it is being made up as we go along. Can anything be more shocking? More than 20 years after Pakistan unleashed terror and despite the loss of the lives of thousands of sons of India, no one in the government knows what India must do to put an end to it quickly and decisively. No other large nation has ever allowed a much smaller one to bleed it so effortlessly at such low cost for such a long time. And since no workable, result-oriented strategy has even been thought of, some zombies are still talking of a 'nuanced' approach while our pacifist and strategy-blind PM stutters from one mistake to another in total darkness. Talks, as MJ Akbar notes, are only about civilians pretending to be civil, not about finding solutions. Worse, such talks, rather than discouraging or controlling jihadis, are actually going to motivate them to fight on with renewed vigour.

This mindless non-strategy is going to blast in India's face if the US does leave Afghanistan with the Taliban intact and Pakistan strong. I can hear Pressler saying: "You have been warned". He and others can keep shouting. If India keeps pitting disinterested, status-quo-loving, uninformed civilians against focused, result-driven, professional generals who rule Pakistan, defeat is guaranteed. No one has ever won a war without a plan; these guys don't even know how to make one.