India outmaneuvered by Pakistan again

Too Crafty A Neighbour

Brahma Chellaney

DNA newspaper, January 12, 2009

The unparalleled November 26-29 Mumbai terrorist assaults were supposed to India’s 9/11. They were also expected to be a tipping point in India’s forbearance with Pakistan-fomented terrorism.

However, it is now clear that nothing will change fundamentally. Pakistan’s military-nurtured terror complex will remain intact, so also the cozy ties between the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence and terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The pusillanimity of the Indian leadership has been shown to be too entrenched to be possibly uprooted.

All this means that there will be more Pakistani terrorist attacks in India at phased intervals, with history repeating itself. Furthermore, a now-familiar Indian cycle of empty rhetoric — ritual condemnation of each attack and a hackneyed promise to defeat terror while allowing communal, electoral and vote-bank considerations to influence counter-terrorism action — will inexorably eat into the vitals of India’s internal security.

As if to make up for its faintheartedness, the Indian government has engaged in an almost-daily war of words with Pakistan — a war of words any victim can never win against an attacker. Pakistan, despite its internal disarray and eroding credibility, indeed has played its cards well to outmanoeuvre India. It has also demonstrated that its public-relations machine remains more robust than India’s.

Pakistan demanded evidence and when India, playing into its hands, compiled and handed over a dossier of detailed evidence, Islamabad heaped ridicule on that data, saying it was “little more than propaganda.” Now Islamabad intends to compile its own dossier on India’s alleged involvement in the Baluchi insurrection, although it knows that RAW’s covert wing was disbanded long ago by then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral and that New Delhi has no capability to help the Baluchis regain their stolen independence.

In fact, India kept its demands so modest as to weaken calls for Pakistan to irreversibly and verifiably tear apart its state-reared terror complex. New Delhi basically asked Islamabad to bring the Pakistan-based masterminds of the attacks to justice. Although it said it would prefer that the masterminds were extradited and “brought to Indian justice,” it signalled it would be satisfied if they were put on trial in Pakistan. But even if, at New Delhi’s insistence, Pakistan had agreed to extradite Zarrar Shah and Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi to India, it would have lost nothing other than a little pride. After all, the Lashkar and Jaish-i-Muhammed terrorist infrastructure, including sustenance from the ISI, would have remained in place.

In other words, New Delhi’s demands were such that Islamabad could easily have delivered on them. Yet, with New Delhi doing little more than make public statements, Pakistan refused to yield. All that Pakistan has done is to arrest Lakhvi and Shah, besides — in response to UN Security Council action — detaining the Lashkar chief, Hafiz Sayeed, and outlawing the Lashkar’s reincarnation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. But the Lashkar/Jamaat-ud-Dawa is in the process of being reborn under a new name, even as the terrorist body’s Muridke headquarters already remains in business. With the bodies of the nine other attackers still lying unclaimed in Mumbai, Islamabad took more than six weeks to grudgingly admit a fact that had become incontestable — that the sole captured terrorist is a Pakistani. Yet that admission cost the Pakistani national security adviser his job.

New Delhi exerted no pressure to make Islamabad give in to its fairly small demands. An array of discreet options was available to India, including diplomatic, economic and political. Between the two extremes — empty talk and war — New Delhi could have invoked measures commonly available to nations to step up political pressure, such as recalling its own High Commissioner from Islamabad, suspending the composite dialogue process, disbanding the farcical joint anti-terror mechanism and invoking trade sanctions. Yet a feckless leadership did not take the smallest step even as a symbolic expression of India’s outrage over Pakistan’s role as the staging ground for the Mumbai attacks.

Instead it repeatedly tied itself up in knots. Note the hurried manner the external affairs minister first ruled out the military option, only to later say “all options are open.” Note also that India accused state actors in Pakistan of involvement — in the prime minister’s words, “some Pakistani official agencies must have supported” the Mumbai attacks — and then the same day handed a dossier to Islamabad with the naïve expectation that the Pakistani state would act against state actors. India has had weak governments but never a more incompetent and weak-willed national-security team in charge.

India has to defend itself from the forces of terrorism, or else no united, plural, inclusive and democratic India will survive.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

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