Wednesday, July 28, 2010

AFGHAN WAR DIARY: TIME TO GET REAL ABOUT PAKISTAN

When I wrote on July 22, 2010 that the audacity of a small country like Pakistan to take on two much bigger countries for such a painful ride for so long with barely concealed disdain and deceit needed to be admired, I had no way of knowing that within a week, a mountain of explosive US military classified data would appear on Wikileaks as Afghan War Diary 2004-10. At that time, to some what I was saying looked to be just another conspiracy theory. No fault of theirs; for decades they had been fed on poppycock drenched in criminal denial and vain hope that their poorly informed and strategy-blind leaders had it in them to move Pakistan to give up its violent, congenital agenda on the strength of the calls of their weak hearts alone.

A few weeks back, Headley's disclosures that Pakistan's outstanding covert operations outfit, the ISI, controlled and directed the 26/11 attack on Mumbai right from the beginning, had rocked the Indian establishment. The revelations not only raised very serious questions about the credibility and competence of India's spy agency, RAW, but also about the role of India's national security apparatus that is clearly not organised, structured and staffed to deal with and respond to an adversary who is not only waging war but is also determined to settle all matters in its favour, all means fair.

As subsequent developments showed, deeply entrenched interests and ossified experts who have made a living out of leading India down the wrong road, were not going to throw in the towel so quickly and admit that they had screwed up and screwed up real bad. Some, quite predictably, questioned the veracity of Headley's disclosures; such was their abiding love for and faith in Pakistan.

Wikileaks, notwithstanding doubts about the manner in which so much of information has been leaked, leave no room for doubt that Pakistan has been using the ISI, whose DG Kiyani was before he became Army Chief and real ruler of Pakistan, to defeat the Americans in Afghanistan through the Taliban, and also get the Indians out of there. All this has been known to the US for long. But it has chosen to look the other way primarily because 70% of the supplies to the 1,50,000 troops in Afghanistan go through Pakistan and because an open war with it is not yet a practical option for many reasons, including the fact that it will not be easy to sell such an idea to the American people unless there is another 9/11 type attack.

As far as India is concerned, the damning evidence that has come out is that the ISI paid the Haqqani network to attack Indian consulates and road construction teams more than two dozen times and that the Taliban attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 was also organised with the help of the ISI. In isolation, this may not appear very grave. In fact some die hard Pakistan-loving Indians will still refuse to shed their blinkers and, as always, dismiss it by saying that Pakistan has legitimate concerns about India's intentions in Afghanistan and is, therefore, entitled to take steps to safeguard its interests in it backyard where India has no business to be. And, having done that, they will restart the usual clamour about talking to and trusting Pakistan.

As I had written earlier, we need to understand clearly that the Pakistanis see the ISI as their first line of defence and that for them Pakistan includes Afghanistan and Kashmir. If the ISI is doing what it has been right under American noses in Afghanistan to evict the Indians, can there be any room for doubt, even without the mountain of evidence that has been collected in the Valley over decades, that it has been doing and will continue to do worse in Kashmir which "flows in it blood", till it succeeds in throwing the Indians out?

Even Fareed Zakaria, who has for long been saying that a solution in Afghanistan will have to be coupled with concessions on Kashmir by India, and who only a few months back said that the tide was turning for the better in Afghanistan, has been forced to do a rethink. Taking part in a discussion on Face the Nation program on CNN IBN on July 27, he acknowledged something that the Indian establishment and intelligentsia have been deliberately glossing over for decades. Pakistani terrorism, said Zakaria, was the result of "forty years of bad habits entrenched and institutionalised...this is an existential problem for Pakistan: what does the Pakistan Army do if it does not engage in this kind of business?" It is worth adding that even Pakistan's civil establishment faces the same problem: the military-civil divide is ideologically artificial, and is cleverly played up to deny culpability and fake hope.

Are we to believe that those who run our national security apparatus and those responsible for gathering intelligence about a neighbouring country that is culturally very similar have for years failed to collate the mass of information being virtually slapped into their faces every single day, to fail to arrive at this elementary conclusion that one can barely escape even if one tries to? Or is it that they have for long been in the know but have been willfully misleading the country, with the help of the media and intelligentsia, about the war that India is fighting and the serious threat that it faces from a rogue army waging a deniable war? Why have they been doing so? Is India paying an unacceptable price of turning its national security machinery into another committee of secretaries, babus who have little knowledge of and interest in anything else except capturing all power turfs no matter what the cost to the nation? In which other big nation, forget one which has been at war for two decades, are generalist civilian bureaucrats in near-total control of national security? How long are we going to keep paying the price of political apathy and bureaucratic empire-building? How long are we going to keep selectively picking and ignoring developments to fool ourselves?

Would there have been an Indian surrender at Sharm-el Sheikh after 26/11 had Dr Manmohan Singh received honest, professional advice about the extent of involvement of Pakistan's military in that attack and others? Would he, an economist, been parroting the defeatist no-option-but-talk mantra had hard facts and available options been placed before him in no uncertain terms? Would Pakistan's nonsense about non-state actors have ever been bought if RAW had done its job properly and the then NSA been interested in and competent enough to do anything more than tapping phones and worrying about security of the Gandhis? Would paid journalists have been asked after 26/11 by vested interests to sell to Indians the preposterous idea that it was in India's supreme national interest to strengthen Pakistan, and not weaken/destroy its ability to continue to wage war against India? Would the Islamabad fiasco have taken place had diplomats unschooled in strategy and security not been allowed to let their craft take precedence over the result that India should have demanded from Pakistan after the Headley disclosures that put their ruler in the dock? Would Vajpayee have been allowed to fall into Musharraf's trap, despite the enormity of Kargil, to virtually surrender Kashmir had he too been properly briefed directly and daily by upright professionals and not sycophants who gave wind to his vision but failed to ask him look at the slippery slope that he was standing on, on very weak knees?

Headley's disclosures and Wikileaks are, in a way, heaven-sent blessings for India. They will force India's inept leaders to get real about Pakistan. Hopefully they will also compel them to do what they should have done much earlier to make India more secure had they not been advised by generalists who have been repeatedly exposed to be blind amateurs who cannot see even what is placed in front of their eyes. It is not that these guys would not have been warned by multiple agencies that Pakistan is playing a dangerous game of such high stakes that not only can it never be seen to be defeated on the negotiating table but that it is well past the point of rolling in its terror network or reining in the ISI. They would probably have been inundated with such warnings. But, the fact that they have deliberately chosen to ignore them for many years and put the nation on a path that has left it with no option but to become helplessly dependent on the goodwill of a much smaller nation that is soaked in hostility, is a damning indictment of frightening proportions. One cannot but have serious apprehensions that the ISI has powerful moles deep inside India's babudom as also in its intelligentsia and media. It is simply not possible that otherwise intelligent individuals could have been innocently getting it so wrong for so long, to the detriment of India's national interest and to the furtherance of Pakistan's.

The Americans are not going to be in Afghanistan forever. The hearts-and-minds strategy that they are talking about with usual swagger is going to be a bigger failure than their military one: they only have to look at Kashmir to understand that with Pakistan in business, that is doomed. Notwithstanding the Wikileaks, it is also unlikely that Obama will order any punitive action against Pakistan or degrade the combat potential of its military. The reverse may well happen to enable the US to cut its losses and pull out. What Pakistan will do in Afghanistan after that is something that the Americans need to worry about. What Pakistan will do to India then is what should give Manmohan Singh sleepless nights. It is not going to be pretty and it is not going to be short. If anything, it is going to to be far worse than the PM's advisors have been leading him to believe. The only way to counter it is to prepare for it resolutely on ground, defensively and offensively, and bring about radical, sweeping changes in the national security structures to make them contemporary, professional, and, above all, apolitical.

It is time to shed the idiotic notion that India can win on the table what it has not in war. You win on the table when you have a clear upper hand on the ground and the other party can see defeat on that path. India, as I said earlier too, has lessons to learn from history if it wants to get Pakistan to walk. Let us not continue to delude ourselves into believing that Nobel-seeking midgets can achieve what Mahatma Gandhi, undivided India's tallest leader, a man of impeccable moral strength and courage, failed to.