Friday, July 16, 2010

ON THE NEGOTIATING TABLE, INDIA CANNOT WIN

If it were not for the fact that thousands of Indians have died due to Pak-sponsored terror, that thousands of young men have laid down their lives fighting terrorists in Kashmir, over which wars, big and small, have been and are being fought, one would have sat back and laughed at what has been happening between India and Pakistan on the negotiating table.

Yesterday was one such event, awaited with baited breath primarily by the media, always in search of an exciting 'story' to fill the day, and experts, always on the look out for opportunities to supplement their incomes. Before the much talked about joint press conference of the two foreign ministers began eight hours behind schedule, there was great expectation that a breakthrough was likely because, for the first time since 26/11, India had devastating information straight from Headley's mouth that the ISI was fully involved, start to finish, in the terror attack on Mumbai. And since this information was given by him on American soil in presence of American officials, some were sure there was no way that Pakistan would be able to dismiss it as it had the many dossiers India had given it earlier as worthless literature. HT correspondent Vinod Sharma, who always has a lot of inside information and who has always been advising India to trust Pakistan and earn its trust, actually let a 'secret' out on CNN IBN that this time Krishna would not return from Islamabad "khali haath", empty handed.

Adding to the unfounded excitement was the deduction drawn from the reaction of the Pakistanis to the attack on the Data shrine in Lahore. Fond as we are of clutching at even the tiniest of straws to support our view that friendship between the two countries is actually possible under the present circumstances, some of us quickly concluded that this attack had opened Pakistan's eyes to the dangers of violent extremism and that it would finally act against them. Even before any action was taken by Pakistan, the public outcry there was, God knows how, extrapolated to conclude that Pakistan would act against terrorists that it was employing against India too. The times were a changing, they said, adding wisely that they had actually detected the change even earlier from the body language of the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan when they had met in Thimphu.

To my uncluttered and relatively simple mind, it was, however, clear as the clichéd crystal that one had to be hopelessly gullible to believe that Headley's exposing of the ISI would make any difference whatsoever to Pakistan, much less compel it to abandon its congenital agenda, yes the one about Kashmir and thousand cuts. At best, it would make its leaders look for a way out to let the adverse wind blow over without conceding a real inch to India. In the event, even that did not happen.

Forget about being even mildly defensive, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi actually went to the extent of putting Haifz Sayeed's words and deeds in the same basket as the statement of India's Home Secretary about the revelations made by Headley, as a hapless SM Krishna watched stunned. All that India got out of Pakistan was a patently fake promise that it would take "serious & credible steps to brings perpetrators of 26/11 to justice".

Pakistan was evidently surprised and bitten by the Home Secretary's well-timed tough words, used as it had got to mild private protestations of a country that has been for long deluding itself that durable peace can be bought through weakness and compromise, by walking the disastrous "extra mile". But, despite having been caught for committing an act of war as a state, Pakistan was not going to back off, yield even a little. To add insult to injury, Qureshi went to the extent of asking India to be "flexible" about the issue. The message was unmistakable: you have to yield on Kashmir, our position is non-negotiable except for semantics; those you call terrorists are our soldiers, trained and sent into battle to defeat you, don't expect us to punish them for that means we have to punish ourselves; this is the way we are going to settle the matter in our favour, you do what you can, if you have the balls, which we can see you don't.

If Headley's revelations are correct -- and there is no reason to believe that he has gone rogue -- then the implications are more serious than some of us even want to consider. The ISI is the covert arm of Pakistan's Army. Before he became Army Chief and de facto ruler of Pakistan, Gen Kiyani was the Director General of the notorious outfit. Only the naive will believe that the ISI would have been involved only in the 26/11 attack.

A vital fact that seems to have escaped most of us that there is no space for "rogue elements" in any military; they are summarily and severely punished because any challenge to the laid down rules, roles and leaders cannot be accepted under any circumstances. If soldiers start breaking rank, the very foundations of a military organisation and its command and control structure are destroyed, and it ceases to be an effective instrument of war. So, we have to be very clear that wherever the involvement of the ISI is revealed, it has to be of the organisation, not individuals. There is no room for buying Pakistan's argument that some rogue soldiers have acted on their own. It is simply not possible, except in a rare case, nipped with swift punishment. Has anyone ever heard of that happening in Pakistan, ever?

That leads us to straightforward deduction that the involvement of the ISI in 26/11 and other terror attacks flows out of a policy decision taken decades ago at the highest levels not only just in the ISI but the Army GHQ. Which means that the previous heads of the ISI, indeed the entire military top brass, is not only in the know of what is happening but has to be actively engaged in some manner or the other in its execution. And since the military defines and rules the state of Pakistan, no matter that civilian puppets have the titles, there is no getting away from the fact that acts of terror by Pakistan, notwithstanding which the executing element, must be seen as acts of war against India.

These acts of war are not going to stop. Even though Pakistan has been nailed for 26/11, and despite the presence and pressure of the Americans, there has been no visible change in its long standing policy of employing terror as a tool of war. The recent upsurge in violence in some pockets of the Kashmir Valley is clear evidence that the US can at best compel Pakistan to temporarily change tactics till US troops are in Afghanistan: its agenda remains unaltered, its focus clear, and will remain so, no matter what.

As I had written earlier and as a former diplomat also said in a discussion on TV yesterday, for Pakistan these talks mean little. In his view, which appears correct at the moment, Pakistan is close to substantially achieving its goal of becoming the major stake holder in Afghanistan after the Americans leave. When that happens, it will redeploy the Taliban and additional elements of the LeT in Kashmir and, if I may add, elsewhere in India too, in a deliberate and professionally calibrated manner. That is what should be worrying India now, that is what India should be preparing to defeat on the ground, no matter what the cost, how much the blood, which is, in any case, cheap for the leaders of Pakistan who send the jihadis. But, if the discourse visible to the public is an indicator, we are doing the ostrich trick again.

India is never going to defeat Pakistan on the negotiating table. That is primarily because there is a serious imbalance that India has never tried to address. On the Pakistani side those talking are soldiers, -- ignore the civilian façade -- professionals who are in focused pursuit of an well-defined national objective. On the Indian side are ill-informed civilians who have neither a national objective to guide them nor the expertise to dissect and understand the military mind and defeat it. Add to that the lack of will and vision to proactively engage and defeat the products of a military mind reinforced by an extreme and violent ideology, and we get the repeated sorry spectacles of India being made to look like a confused, bewildered, even headless, weakling that is hopping from meeting to meeting on hope.

This is something we should have understood long back, but have obdurately refused to. Are we ever going to learn? Or are we going to keep allowing generalist babus, theoretical think tanks and a romantic media to dictate India's agenda, only to be toyed with by a nation that does not allow itself to be so distracted and misled, even by the US? Battles, as Liddel Hart has written, are won and lost in the minds of generals. Here we have tough generals on one side and soft Nehruvians on the other, rose in hand. Should the outcome surprise anyone? How long can India afford to keep losing these engagements like it has been?
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