The fiasco in Islamabad

While India considers the Pakistani strategy of using terrorism as a state policy a self-destructive one, it does not have any animosity towards that country. It is obvious from the results of the Islamabad talks that Pakistan, as of now, is not prepared to give up terrorism as a state policy. Viewed in this background, the Islamabad talks were a tactical setback for India but a  disastrous image-projection for Pakistan.

By K. Subrahmanyam
A majority of the people in India and Pakistan look at India-Pakistan relationship as a zero-sum game and, therefore, they will be looking at the just concluded Islamabad talks as a victory for one side and a setback for the other. Viewed objectively and rationally, this is a totally wrong approach. This view originates from the basically erroneous Pakistani perception that India is an existential threat to Pakistan. The reality was asserted more than once during External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna’s press conference that India considers that it is in its interest to have a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan. On the other hand, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, “Pakistan has always wanted friendly, cooperative and good neighborly relations with India. We’ve started a process to achieve this objective.”

Implied in Pakistani formulation is the perception that India is not a friendly, cooperative and good neighborly country, and Islamabad is initiating steps to bring about such a development. Given these different perceptions, for Pakistan the relations with India is a zero sum game, but it is not so for India. While India considers the Pakistani strategy of using terrorism as a state policy a self-destructive one, it does not have any animosity towards that country. It is obvious from the results of the Islamabad talks that Pakistan, as of now, is not prepared to give up terrorism as a state policy. Viewed in this background, the Islamabad talks were a tactical setback for India but a disastrous image-projection for Pakistan.

This came out clearly in Qureshi’s outburst against the Indian Home Secretary, who had referred to David Coleman Headley’s disclosures about the involvement of Pakistan’s ISI in the planning and execution of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai during a press interaction. These disclosures were made during his interrogation under the supervision of the FBI and had been included in the dossier handed over to the Pakistani Minister of Interior by the Indian Home Minister weeks ago. Qureshi chose to equate this with   the   outbursts of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed and asserted that both he and Krishna considered such disclosure of the Indian Home Secretary was uncalled for.

Krishna did not choose to rebut this during his Islamabad press conference, and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao subsequently explained that this might have been due to the pell-mell prevailing at that time. Subsequently, Krishna made it clear that he stood by the Home Secretary.

More revealing of the Pakistani state of mind was the subsequent press conference held by Qureshi on the morning of July 16 for the Pakistani media even as Krishna was yet to take off from Chaklala airport. He accused Krishna of not being fully prepared for the negotiations and making frequent telephone calls to Delhi for instructions, a charge totally denied by Krishna. This was a deliberate attempt at insulting Krishna. Some observers in India are of the view that Qureshi might have been directed by the Army and ISI leadership to hold such a press conference and insult Krishna to provoke India to sever the present engagement with Pakistan so that it could be made a justification for future terrorist attacks. India has not walked into that trap, and the authorities in New Delhi continue to maintain that there is no alternative to engagement with the nuclear neighbor in spite of its provocative behavior.

Qureshi maintains that Krishna told the Pakistanis that his negotiating mandate was limited to terrorism only and he was not prepared to discuss the Pakistani concerns. The Indian side maintains that Pakistan concerns were discussed and progress was made on many issues. Qureshi contradicted himself when he said at the joint press conference that further negotiations on Kashmir would be on the progress achieved during the last three years, and asserting in the second press conference that Pakistan’s concerns were not addressed. Nor all the extra time taken in the conference, making the Press wait for six hours, lends credibility to Qureshi’s assertion that India’s negotiating mandate was restricted to terrorism only.

The reason for Pakistan’s provocative behavior is to be traced to their perception of the situation in the Af-Pak area and the validity of that perception. The Pakistan Army appears to have convinced itself that it has outsmarted the Americans and has succeeded in persuading Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to dismiss his anti-Taliban Interior Minister and Chief of Intelligence and enter into secret negotiations with pro-Pakistan elements in the Taliban. By allowing the use of Pakistani territory as safe haven by the Haqqani faction, they have increased US and NATO casualties in Afghanistan. They have also dodged the US pressure to take action against any of the terrorist organizations other than the Pakistani Taliban.

Therefore, they seem to be in a triumphant mood. It is very much like their over-confidence in June 1999 during the Kargil operation, in August-September 1971 in the aftermath of Sino-US rapprochement with China, during the 1971 East Bengal crisis and in August 1965 in the wake of Operation Gibraltar. The clever tacticians of the ISI and Pakistani Army Headquarters always have tended to ignore strategic aspects. Such an approach ended in disasters on three previous occasions. It looks as though they are likely to repeat past blunder, risking Pakistani integrity and internal security.

The Pakistan Army’s calculations are based on a totally erroneous perception, no doubt, widely prevalent even outside Pakistan that the US will withdraw from Afghanistan, starting in the middle of 2011. President Obama has made it clear a number of times that he has no intention of abandoning Afghanistan, and there will only be a beginning of a drawdown in mid-2011. Now Ambassador Blackwill has unveiled his plan of reordering the force deployment in Afghanistan to vacate Pashtun areas and concentrate on non-Pashtun areas and use air power to decimate the terrorist elements in Pashtun Afghanistan as well as Af-Pak tribal territory.

When the US vacates Pashtun Afghanistan, there are distinct possibilities of the Afghan Taliban uniting with the Pakistani Taliban and establishing the long-cherished Pashtunistan. Secondly, there are reports in Pakistan of different jihadi groups combining to form a common network. In that event there is a high probability of that network with hundreds of conditioned suicide bombers at their disposal turning their anger against the Pakistan Army and state for their collaboration with the US. Such collaboration is absolutely essential to save Pakistan from bankruptcy.

If the Pakistan Army is not blundering again they will have a lot to worry about the future moves of the US in Af-Pak area, the future behavior of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and the threat emanating from the ego-maniacal terrorist leaders with deadly arsenals of hundreds of  conditioned suicide bombers. Since India has no animosity against the people of Pakistan and considers it in its interest to have a stable and prosperous Pakistan, it has every reason to be concerned about the reckless adventurism of their Army.
Courtesy: The Tribune

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