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Pakistan conundrum: Dealing with an unholy trinity

By Vivek Gumaste
March 04, 2010 14:48 IST
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Continued negotiation is a futile and counter-productive proposition with no deterrent value. It serves merely as a ruse for Pakistan to mollify the world community even as it persists with its anti-India activities, writes Vivek Gumaste.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's editorial summation of the recently concluded foreign secretary level talks between India Pakistan, apart from being out of touch with ground reality is excessively ingratiating, utterly naive and suffers from a gross conceptual obfuscation: a fatal combination of enfeebling traits that aid Pakistan in running circles around India even as it proceeds with the pretense of negotiation.

Speaking to a Saudi journalist ahead of his Riyadh visit, the prime minister asserted that there was "no alternative" to dialogue to resolve issues which "divide us" and that India was prepared to discuss all matters, including Kashmir, in an atmosphere free from terror.

Moreover he added that India seeks "peaceful and normal relations" with Pakistan and "in that quest we have consistently sought to engage those in Pakistan who are ready to work with us."

Dialogue is a definitely a commendable first choice to settle conflict between two nations. But we must realise that talks are only a means to an end and not an end in itself and must be constantly evaluated for efficacy. When dialogue per se has expended its utility or is unproductive, we are duty bound to move to the next phase or explore alternative means, economic, military or otherwise.

Being strapped inextricably to one modus operandi that has consistently failed to deliver a favourable outcome cannot be the only option as our prime minister indicates. Such straitjacketed thinking is a sure recipe for failure of our long-term objectives.

Secondly the prime minister's emphasis on engaging, 'those in Pakistan who are ready to work with us,' brings to the fore an even bigger conundrum and raises a host of questions about the fluid state of affairs in Pakistan. Who is actually in control in Pakistan? Is the civilian government that is 'ready to work with us' capable of effecting the change we desire?  Or are we going through the motions with an effete polity that is for all intents and purposes impotent? Are the terror groups a law unto themselves and beyond the reach of political authority? And finally the million dollar question: Is the Pakistan Army the ultimate puppeteer pulling all the strings?

Recently, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief and mastermind of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai who roams free in Pakistan made a pompous declaration: "We are not against composite dialogues. I ask (Indian Home Minister P) Chidambaram to first come to Lahore before going to Islamabad and hold talks with me. I will tell him a solid solution to the problems between India and Pakistan."

He went on to say: "There is only one solution to all the problems -- liberate Indian-held Kashmir. Otherwise the option of jihad is open for us."

At the outset this seemed like a hollow rant; an exhibition of vulgar machismo coming from the head of a militant organisation. In reality, however, it did contain an element of pragmatic reality that exposed the true equation among the players in Pakistan's power matrix and confirmed what we have always known.

Real authority does not lie with the civilian government. Nether is it the apex body that controls the working of Pakistan especially its India policy.

The scene that is being enacted across the border is a complex charade; one big lie without an iota of truth or a speck of sincerity. In fact, terror groups, along with the Pakistani Army and the political establishment (whenever it exists) form an evil triumvirate each with a distinct, scheming role in an ongoing Indophobic ploy aimed to deceive rather than negotiate making honest interaction almost impossible.

The sequence of events is all too familiar by now. First, the Pakistan Army trains terror groups which then commit violent crimes in India. Next, the Pakistan government steps in to assuage India's anger, silencing it into inaction with diplomatic mumbo-jumbo. This vicious cycle repeats itself with clockwork regularity every now and then.

Non-state actors is a terminology made popular by the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari post 26/11, but extra constitutional organisations have always been central to Pakistan's anti-India strategy. These unofficial brigands enable Pakistan to execute heinous crimes in India and yet disclaim responsibility.
Hark back to the early days of independence and the first Indo-Pak confrontation in 1947 to purview the origins of this interaction. The frontline of that assault was comprised not by commissioned officers of the Pakistan Army but by hordes of Pathan tribesmen who ravaged Kashmir in an ugly orgy of pillage and rape. These Pathan tribesmen were the original non-state actors.

The unholy nexus between the Pakistani Army and non-state actors was evident even then. The Kashmir raid was conceived and commanded by serving army officers. Historian Ramachandra Guha in his book India after Gandhi observes: "Overseeing the operation (Kashmir) was Akbar Khan a colonel in the Pakistan Army. Khan had collected 4,000 rifles from army supplies and diverted them for use in Kashmir."

Complementing the army and the non-state actors was the political polity ever ready with protestations to camouflage the shenanigans of the other two as Guha indicates: "Pakistanis disclaimed any involvement in the invasion -- they insisted that it was a spontaneous rushing of Pathan Muslims to the aid of co-religionists persecuted by a Hindu king and a Hindu administration."

Pakistan's present antics vis-à-vis the Mumbai attack and its aftermath dittoes the same formula -- the unholy trinity is still at work. Today, the non state actors are represented by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, a callous band of religious zealots well versed in modern weaponry and far more sophisticated in the execution of evil than its predecessors. The LeT stands directly implicated in the Mumbai assault. The logistics of the Mumbai carnage smacks of a military tutelage that clearly places the Pakistan Army in the dock. Support for anti-India terror organisations is no longer an ad hoc proposition as in 1947, but an institutionalized mission of the Pakistan Army.

The current civilian government like its predecessor in 1947 continues to play the role of the official spinmeister with aplomb carrying out its fire-fighting mission with Machiavellian finesse. At first, in a rare bout of sanity, the Pakistan government agreed to cooperate with the 26/11 investigation by offering to lend the services of the ISI chief, but soon backtracked apparently at the behest of the army. What followed next was a series of vacillatory statements and actions, notably the arrest and release of Hafiz Saeed which were in line with Pakistan's true visage.

Actions like this, question both the credibility and authority of the political establishment. Is the civilian government merely a facade for the all powerful Pakistan Army to carry out its bidding in a suave, diplomatic fashion? Or was the Hafiz Saeed fiasco a failed but genuine attempt by the political class to establish its writ? Either way it exposes the vulnerability or the complicity of the Pakistan government and underlines the futility of engaging a non-entity from India's point of view.

Pakistan's deportment at the recent round of talks did little to signal any significant change from past strategy or demonstrate new independent thinking bereft of the controlling influence of the Army. The same stalling tactics and the same lack of sincerity were on display. Rubbishing the evidence handed over by India against Saeed,  Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir suggested that it was "more of literature than evidence in the legal sense". Another glaring instance of the diplomatic shield provided by the Pakistan political establishment to its India-specific terror groups.

To deem Pakistan as a failed state is a generous overstatement. It does not qualify as a state at all, period. A state must have a degree of accountability. A state must have a functioning hierarchy. Pakistan has neither. At the helm is a dysfunctional government with little jurisdiction over its geographical domain or its subjects.

Calling the shots is the Pakistan Army, the fountainhead of anti-Indian choler. Still smarting under the humiliating defeat of 1971, the Pakistan Army has resorted to a proxy war (Mumbai, Kargil) with India through the deft use of terror groups to shift responsibility and will scuttle any conciliation.

Pakistan remains a conglomerate of anti-India interests masquerading as a nation and this is not going to change in the near future. The earlier this dawns on India the better.

In this protean setting, continued negotiation is a futile and counter-productive proposition with no deterrent value serving merely as a ruse for Pakistan to mollify the world community even as it persists with its anti-India activities. To date we are yet to see one sincere positive gesture emanating from Pakistan as a result of talks.

Lack of definite punition has only encouraged Pakistan to persist with its recalcitrant behavior and procrastination on our part is going to make things worse not better. The increasingly aggressive behaviour of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah should be a cause for concern We need to explore other avenues and be prepared. But the first step is to stop talking.

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Vivek Gumaste