Why not lend Pakistan a helping hand to self-destruct?

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Brahma Chellaney

DNA newspaper, December 25, 2008  


Fundamentalism, extremism and militarism have eaten into the vitals of Pakistan to the extent that it has become a de facto failed nation by Westphalian standards, with the tail (the military establishment) wagging the dog (the state) and with military-reared terror groups and the Taliban operating with impunity. The country’s president, with no control over the national-security apparatus, may be excused for making conflicting and confusing statements since the 67-hour Mumbai terrorist assaults, for he is little more than the mayor of Islamabad, albeit with the pomp and pageantry befitting a head of state. But the military establishment still fomenting terrorism across Pakistan’s borders with India and Afghanistan can hardly be excused. It cannot escape culpability in acts of terror by whipping up war hysteria at home.


It is the terrorist sanctuaries deep inside Pakistan, not just on its borders, that threaten world security, with terror groups enjoying a cozy relationship with “the state within the state” — the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). That may outwardly convey that it is incumbent on the international community to bring the Pakistani military, especially the ISI, to heel or risk the further spread of the scourge of terrorism.


Yet, unless New Delhi is willing to take the lead on countering Pakistan-sponsored terrorism through clear political direction and resolve, the international community is going to offer little more than sympathy to victim India. The only voice of the international community — the United Nations — is in decline, with its Security Council a seat of big-power intrigue. India needs no great power’s approval to defend its security and honour. If India acts on its own and succeeds, it will win international respect.


If it fails, some nations will make a little noise before ignoring the failure. But if it does little more than collect evidence to try and influence those pursuing their own narrow strategic interests, it will invite more Mumbai-style murderous rampages.


For the promotion of its near-term interests in the region, the U.S. continues to prop up the Pakistani military through generous aid and weapon transfers, instead of helping empower the civilian government in Islamabad. Had it supported the bold move of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani last July to bring the ISI under the control of the interior ministry, civilian oversight would have been established over a key terror-harbouring instrument. But by not backing the government, it allowed the Army to frustrate the attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control. The Army, similarly, has refused to hand over control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets to the civilian government. All this has happened despite Gen. Ashfaq Kayani’s professed intent to move the Army away from politics to its core functions.


Still, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declined to take the smallest of small steps against Pakistan even as a token expression of India’s outrage over the Mumbai assaults by 10 terrorists — all from Pakistan’s Punjab province. Instead, he has reposed his faith in the international community, urging it again this week to “use its power to persuade Pakistan” to dismantle its state-reared terror complex.


For India, the options are narrow yet clear. When the seat of official power and the seat of real power are far apart in a rotting state plagued by government atrophy, no effective action can be expected against military-nurtured groups fomenting terrorism against India unless the latter is willing to inflict pain on the real wielders of authority in Pakistan and show beyond doubt that the costs of continuing complicity in transnational terror are unbearably high for them. After all, the terror complex was set up by the Pakistani military to wage a war of a thousand cuts against India, not to dismantle it at the enemy’s bidding or the international community’s urging.


Between the two extremes — inaction and military strikes — are several dozen options for India, including economic and political opportunities against an increasingly vulnerable, near-bankrupt Pakistan. Such options cannot be the subject of a public debate though. Calibrated counteraction not only will demonstrate Indian intent but also help step up pressure on the international community to act.


Also, given the communications intercepts that link the Mumbai attackers to Pakistan-based masterminds and ISI handlers, why not add the name of the ISI head, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, to the Indian list of terrorist figures in Pakistan? Pasha cannot feign ignorance about his own agency’s aid to the Laskar-e-Taiba figures who masterminded the Mumbai assaults.


Make no mistake: India will have to fight its own war against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. In essence, that would entail lending Pakistan a helping hand to stay embroiled in growing problems at home, with the hope that an ungovernable state that already is a threat to regional and international security self-destructs.


The writer is an expert on security affairs


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