Journalist | Writer | Analyst
15 June 2009
The road to justice in Mumbai might well lead from Swat
Manmohan Singh and Asif Ali Zardari need to find ways of engaging each other so that the common enemy of terrorism is defeated.
New Delhi: When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg this week, the first point on his agenda will be to form an opinion on how serious Pakistan is in dealing with the jihadi terror that is destroying the very foundations of that country. Based on what the Pakistani president tells him about the conduct and future course of the war being waged against extremist forces in Swat, Dr. Singh’s next step would be to devise a strategy of flexible engagement that can help Pakistan – or at least those sections of its establishment that see this as a joint problem – take the fight against extremism to the finish.
Justice for Mumbai and the ending of cross-border terrorism may be the immediate contexts for India’s interest in the nature and outcome of this war but these goals pale in significance compared to the objective the Pakistani army seems finally to be pursuing. For the past few weeks, the fight against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has moved from the stage of phony war to serious battle. The regular Pakistani army is taking casualties and, despite the suffering and displacement which has affected millions, Operation Rah-e-Rast has popular sanction within the country. A search on Youtube turns up ample news footage of the funerals of these soldiers, complete with grieving parents saluting the martyrdom of their sons, in what is obviously an officially sanctioned marshalling of public opinion against the jihadis.
India’s goals post-Mumbai may not yet have been reached but policymakers here need to recognize the terrain in Pakistan today is far more propitious than what it was even a month ago.
Indian policy towards Pakistan over much of the past decade has suffered from a fundamental flaw. We have been clear about our goal – the stopping of cross-border terrorism — but our preferred instrument for action – suspension of official dialogue and, at times, civil society engagement as well – does little to advance our “core issue”.
Thanks to the false sense of security provided by this misguided approach, we have neglected the one strategy crucial for fighting terrorism – intelligent homeland security – even as our own reluctance to engage Pakistan when opportunities present themselves means we end up on the same side as the hawks across the border who insist there should be no normalization until their favourite “core issue”, Kashmir, is settled.
A break was made with this approach in January 2004 with the resumption of the composite dialogue, and again in April 2005, when India and Pakistan declared the peace process “irreversible”. Irreversibility meant recognizing that while there would be setbacks and differences on a wide variety of issues, the two countries would not undo the gains of engagement. It meant not allowing terrorists to hold the bilateral relationship hostage to their actions. Irreversibility also meant recognizing that the enemies of peace, whether they are state or non-state actors, would not be deterred or weakened by India and Pakistan suspending their pursuit of the fruits of the dialogue process – trade, cultural exchange and dispute resolution.
The theory was fine, except there was no accounting for politics. The Mumbai train blasts of 2006 led to the first test of irreversibility. It took the creation of the joint terror mechanism, now unlamented on the Indian side, to get the process back on track. And then came the terrorist attacks of November 26-28, 2009. India suspended the composite dialogue process, though other sorts of official interaction continue.
Today, as it considers its options anew, India has to ask itself whether the war being waged in Swat and Malakand is a real war. The answer is that it seems to be. Is it then in India’s interest that the TTP is fought and defeated? Yes. Do the TTP have links with groups involved in targeting India? Yes. As the TTP’s allies take the war into the Punjab heartland, is there a likelihood that the Pakistan army will need to extend its war against jihadis to the radical extremists in Punjab? Again, the answer is yes. Wouldn’t such an outcome put the Pakistani security forces on a collision course with anti-India elements operating on Pakistani territory? To the extent to which these elements side with the Taliban rather than with their mentors in the establishment, the answer is yes.
Even if this scenario doesn’t play out in a linear or logical way, it is clear that India should do everything possible to encourage the process. Maintaining a posture of diplomatic hostility and a military high-alert do not help. Nor do high-decibel or frequently repeated public demands for Pakistan to do more to fight terror contribute anything substantial. This does not mean an immediate resumption of the composite dialogue is needed or will help either. But diplomacy abhors a vacuum. If India and Pakistan do not signal to each other their intention to resume normal contact, other, less benign players and outcomes have a way of imposing themselves.
One problem Indian policymakers have faced in the past is the dissonance between the military and civilian sides of the Pakistani establishment.
President Zardari wanted high-level intelligence contacts immediately after Mumbai but the Army there opposed him. The Federal Investigation Agency appears to have taken its probe into Mumbai fairly seriously but it is not clear whether the Inter-Services Intelligence will allow action to be taken. And then there is the house arrest fiasco of Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed. Has the military offensive of the TTP in the aftermath of the Nizam-e-Adl process in Swat brought the military and civilian establishments on the same page? And if so, for how long? Dr. Singh should press Mr. Zardari on these and other issues. India needs some way to be able to judge the credibility of the process under way in Pakistan over the next few months. Tracking any milestones President Zardari reveals to them will allow Indian policymakers to judge the extent to which he wields power or not.
In the interim, the back channel between the two principals needs to be revived, and perhaps even augmented with a dialogue between intelligence chiefs. This will allow the two sides to rework and strengthen the format of their dialogue when it is resumed a few weeks down the line.