By Balbir Punj
11 April 2016
The Pakistan Army can never be comfortable with any move by the civilian and elected Government in Islamabad to normalise relations with India. It shall keep making Pathankot-type attempts to kill talks
Bilateral talks between India and Pakistan often adopt a predictable course. After an uneasy lull and an unpleasant stalemate, there is a dramatic initiative, mostly on India’s part, to break the impasse between the two countries, followed by an equally warm response from Pakistan.
However, the re-discovered bonhomie soon hits a speed breaker. Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus trip to Lahore resulted in a Kargil conflict; Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover at Lahore to greet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday had the Pathankot episode on its heels; then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s peace initiative too was greeted in the form of Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks. The history of 69 years of India-Pakistan relations is replete with such examples.
What motivated a large section of Indian Muslims in the pre-independence era to stand with Mohammed Ali Jinnah in his demand for the creation of Pakistan was a home for the ‘pure’, sliced out of the land of the ‘impure’ Kafirs does not allow it to live in peace with its neighbour. Implied in the idea of ‘Pakistan’, was the rejection of everything non-Islamic and pre-Islamic by the newly-born nation. The new homeland of the ‘pure’ was supposed to emerge as a base, to be used by the ‘faithfuls, to ‘purify’ the residual India of Kafirs either by conversion or through ethnic cleansing as was subsequently done in Kashmir valley.
Pakistan has pursued this goal overtly and covertly. After three unsuccessful invasions, it has resorted to a proxy war against India. Over decades, it has emerged as a petri-dish, breeding terrorists and treating them as ‘strategic investment’ to be used to bleed India to death through a thousand cuts.
In the current situation, when after months of complete freeze in diplomatic dialogue between the two countries and the touch-and-go position again and again on resumption of a dialogue process from lower to upper levels, Husain Haqqani’s 2006 evaluation of almost exactly the same upsets to the dialogue process, comes to mind. His dialogue with Ashley Tellis at Carnegie Foundation-sponsored book, India and Pakistan: Is Peace Real this Time?, is very instructive.
Then too, when the dialogue process began after a long confrontation due to Pakistan-sponsored terror, Haqqani had frankly confessed his doubts. “We are unlikely to see major conflict-resolving breakthrough anytime soon.” His view in 2006 has turned out to be almost prophetic. Haqqani is a leading Pakistani intellectual and aformer diplomat.
That the Lahore blast on Easter day, manipulated by what is said to be a splinter group of one of the main Jihadi terror outfits, was meant to convey a message both to the Pakistani Government and to its friends in the West led by the US, is quite obvious The key to the thinking behind the Easter attack was to tell Washington, DC that the Jihadi groups would not allow any peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi to move even an inch forward.
The Lahore blast happened when a Pakistani investigative team was in Delhi and talking with the Indian authorities on the Pathankot attack by Jihadi terrorists who had come from Pakistan into India. It was also meant to warn Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that certain elements in Pakistan would not allow any peace process that he initiates with India, to go forward. In effect, these Jihadi terror groups will decide what Pakistan’s policy towards India will be.
The fundamental weakness of Islamabad in resisting Jihadi terrorism at home while promoting it as a strategic weapon against India (and against a liberal democracy in Afghanistan), is what that country is suffering from. To add to the woes of the elected civilian Government there, in addition to the mullahs, the powerful military too fattens itself on a well-fuelled anti-India sprit coursing through its veins.
This means, at any given time, the civilian Government has to pick its way through the two powerful forces in its repeated attempt to convince the world that its writ cranks the national machine. The attempt to resume the dialogue process that it initiated with the Indian Prime Minister was an important move for its own survival.
If the Indian Prime Minister considered it worthwhile to respond positively (his out-of-the-blue visit to Lahore for the wedding of Nawaz Sharif’s relative), the subsequent Pathankot attack by terrorists to thwart that process early new year; the calibrated risks that New Delhi took to keep hopes of resumption of dialogue alive by making its willingness to go along conditional on Islamabad taking convincing steps to prosecute the perpetrators of the attack, had put the onus on the other side.
Pakistan has been very selective in going after Jihadi groups. That selectivity is no secret either — diplomatic circles everywhere, especially in the US, are fully aware of this attempt to market to the US lawmakers a duplicitous move separating ‘good’ Taliban from the ‘bad’ one the traditional sheep and goat division.
With the Lahore suicide event, the Taliban, good or bad, have told Nawaz Sharif that they reject this division and will target the civilian Government. Also, it’s the Jihadi groups’ privilege to draw the margin within which the Pakistani Prime Minister would be allowed to function.
The challenge for us Indians is to skilfully navigate a situation that the Jihadi groups create in Pakistan and here in India to raise the heat on the border, as the anti-India rhetoric is their daily bread. The opposition parties in India are critical of the Prime Minister’s tactical moves to get the Government of Pakistan to answer for Pathankot. Sadly, the Congress has joined them.
In 2006 and subsequently also when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister, he had collaborated with his Pakistani counterpart to restart the peace process. That was much against material from his advisors, as there was not even a verbal commitment from the other side to honour the process.
Failure was writ large on the move then, and Husain Haqqani had then commented, “We are unlikely to see major conflict resolving breakthrough any time soon.”
That same situation no doubt exists nine years down the line. The Jihadis have with them behind-the-curtains support of and probably persuasion from the Pakistani military, which has shown who the boss is as far as India-policy is concerned. But even more important at this juncture is for the Indian side to show maturity and prevent walking into the trap the jihadis and the Pakistani military has laid. Yet, we cannot let the peace process become a victim to manipulations.
A heightened threat perception along the international border will suit the Pakistani military and the jihadis perfectly. These two draw rising power from the streets in their country, but draw no responsibility to be responsible.