India’s roller-coaster policy on Pakistan

India needs
statecraft, not stagecraft

Two successive prime
ministers have led India on
a roller-coaster ride on Pakistan,
highlighting the risks of a meandering, personality-driven policy approach, says Brahma Chellaney

The Economic Times, July 24, 2009

The national outcry over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s
cave-in at Sharm-el-Sheikh may have caught him by surprise. Singh probably
calculated that just as he had got away by embracing the sponsor of terror, Pakistan, as a fellow victim of terror — through
the infamous Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism — he could use another non-aligned
nations’ meeting to reverse India’s
post-26/11 policy at the US
urging. But the chorus of disapproval that has greeted his volte-face shows he
underrated the continuing anger in India over the unparalleled Pakistani
terrorist assaults on Mumbai. After all, India is being uniquely targeted
not just by non-state actors (NSAs), but by state-sponsored non-state actors
(SSNSAs), with Singh himself having admitted earlier that some Pakistani official agencies must
have supported” the Mumbai attacks.

Like his predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Singh has taken India on a roller-coaster ride on
counterterrorism, with an ever-shifting policy course on Pakistan. His latest U-turn on Pakistan, however, parallels the manner he
pushed through the controversial nuclear deal with the US. In both
cases, he broke his solemn assurances to Parliament. Also, like the nuclear
deal, Singh’s decision to delink talks with Islamabad from Pakistani action against
terrorism was the product not of institutional
but of personal choice. Yet another parallel is that the PM has himself moved
the goalpost to help cover his concessions. And just as he tried to spin the
reality on the terms and conditions of the nuclear deal, Singh has turned to
casuistry to camouflage his shift on Pakistan.

Calling Pakistan
“the epicentre of terrorism”, the PM declared in the Lok Sabha on December 11,
2008 that, “The infrastructure of terrorism has to be dismantled permanently.” Pakistan must meet the “minimum pre-condition”
of ensuring its soil will not be used for terror activities against India, Singh
had put on public record. Yet today, his government willy-nilly is moving back
to business as usual with Pakistan, although Islamabad has done nothing — as
New Delhi admits — to shut down terrorist-training camps along the Indian
border or to cut the lifeline its military establishment provides to the terror

Just as the nuclear deal bore Singh’s personal imprint, the
latest Pakistan-policy shift has been sculpted by him, with little regard for
professional inputs. Indeed, he has ignored the lesson from his 2006 action when he turned Indian policy
on its head and embraced Pakistan
as fellow victim of and joint partner
against terror. The stalled
Anti-Terror Mechanism has
stood out as an astonishing
blunder. Still, at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Singh
again obliterated the line between the victim and the aggressor by agreeing that
“terrorism is the main threat to both countries”, and then went one step further
to commit India
to “share real-time, credible and actionable” intelligence on terrorism with the
country still wedded to waging war by terror.

Now take the shifting goalpost. Singh first sought the
dismantlement of Pakistan’s
terror infrastructure against India.
His benchmark then narrowed to bringing to justice the “perpetrators” (the
actual executors, not the masterminds) of the Mumbai attacks. Next, on the way
back home from the G-8 L’Aquila summit, Singh further watered down his stance
by saying India was “willing to walk more than half the distance” if Pakistan undertook
not actual action but merely offered “a renewed reaffirmation” to “bring the
perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre to justice”. That is exactly what happened:
In exchange for Pakistan’s
mere reaffirmation of its anti-terror commitments, Singh changed Indian policy
course. Such a shifting goalpost is redolent of the nuclear deal.

The reliance on spin to cloak concessions has been another
defining characteristic. On Mumbai, India lost twice over — the first time when
10 Pakistani terrorists held its commercial capital hostage for almost three
days, and the second time when Islamabad outmaneuvered it in the diplomatic
game, to the extent that Pakistan managed to formally turn the insurrection in
its Baluchistan province into a bilateral issue to help brand its terror
target, India, as an accused. Yet Singh has followed a familiar pattern to cover up broken promises to the
nation. The
Sharm-el-Sheikh statement “does not mean any dilution of our stand. It only
strengthens our stand,” he claimed. Yet, on specifics, he has not explained the
false move on Baluchistan, or the delinking of talks from Pakistani action
against terrorism, or the placing on record India’s interest in a stable, democratic,
“Islamic Republic of Pakistan”, as if to endorse dictator Zia ul-Haq’s
Islamization and the jihad culture it instilled.

Let’s be clear: The inclusion of Baluchistan resulted from US pressure on India
to address Pakistan’s
concerns over Indian consular and other activities in Afghanistan.
And the agreement to share real-time actionable intelligence is part of a CIA
initiative to build cooperation between the Indian and Pakistani intelligence
agencies. Even Hillary Clinton publicly sought “sharing of workable
intelligence”. The Obama administration had made it clear it would wait for the
Indian elections to be over before nudging New Delhi
to reopen talks with Islamabad.
The Sharm-el-Sheikh statement can only boost Washington’s Afpak strategy, a key component
of which is to prop up the Pakistani state financially and politically. 

Take yet
another parallel:
Just as Singh argued that without the nuclear deal
India’s energy and economic interests would be seriously compromised, he now
contends that without settling differences and making peace with Pakistan,
India cannot be a great power. Every right-minded Indian would want peace. But
to say that the country cannot emerge as a major power without making peace
with the adversary is to go against the grain of world history and to embolden
the foe to stay implacably antagonistic. Did China
become a world power by coming to terms with Taiwan? Even if India surrendered Kashmir, would Pakistan
be willing or able to stop cross-border terror attacks?

India’s meandering approach on Pakistan
is just one example of Indian policy being unable to stay the course on matters
critical to national interest. In the absence of realistic, goal-oriented
statecraft or a distinct strategic doctrine, ad hoc, personality-driven
policy-making is becoming the norm. A secure, prosperous India, however, can emerge only
through institutionalized, integrated policymaking and the unflinching pursuit
of clearly laid-out goals.

The writer is
professor of strategic studies, Centre for Policy Research.

(c) The Ecinomic Times, 2009.

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