Chickens of terror come home to roost

Brahma Chellaney, Mint, December 23, 2014

Kids firing heavy weaponry at terror-training camp in Pakistan

Kids firing heavy weaponry at terror-training camp in Pakistan

For the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — Pakistan — the chickens are coming home to roost with a vengeance, as the Peshawar massacre has shown. Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had publicly warned Pakistan three years ago that keeping “snakes in your backyard” was dangerous as “those snakes are going to turn on” it. Pakistani generals dismissed her warning with disdain. With its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the vanguard, the Pakistani military has continued to blithely nurture “good” terrorists for cross-border undertakings while battling “bad” militants that fail to toe its line. Its dual-track approach has now become so deeply entrenched that Pakistan risks approaching the point of no return.

Ironically, Pakistani military officers learned how to rear and employ snakes from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). CIA and ISI partnered in the 1980s Afghan jihad by creating mujahedeen — the militants out of which Al Qaeda and the Taliban evolved. “We helped to create the problem that we are now fighting”, Hillary Clinton candidly told Fox News in 2010, referring to how the US equipped mujahedeen with “Stinger missiles and everything else”.

The problem so spawned undermined the security of India more than any other country. ISI, as the conduit, siphoned off large portions of the US multibillion-dollar military aid for the mujahedeen to trigger an insurgency in India’s Punjab and then Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the 1980s. The US did not penalize Pakistan.

Rather, narrow geopolitical interests after 9/11 prompted America to shower Pakistan with renewed military and economic aid, with that country still a top recipient of US assistance, which has aggregated to more than $30 billion since 2001. Such generous aid — by propping up Pakistan, including with weapon transfers—has given Pakistani generals little incentive to hunt down the snakes in their backyard or stop unleashing them on India and Afghanistan. Even as American aid continues to fatten the Pakistani military, a “Pakistan fatigue” — accelerated by the new US wars in Syria and Iraq — has left little motivation in Washington to salvage a crumbling Pakistan policy.

India thus is on its own to deal with the scourge of infiltrating snakes, with Pakistan’s jihad-inspired war on it showing no sign of abating. Indeed, with Pakistan’s ceasefire violations triggering a fierce Indian response, Pakistani generals are now using terrorist proxies to attack security camps in J&K, as highlighted by the cross-border raid in Uri that left 11 troops dead. The way Pakistani authorities recently helped UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed — the architect of the Mumbai attacks — to stage a large Lahore rally added insult to injury for India.

It was unrealistic to believe Pakistan would bring the Mumbai perpetrators to justice after having reared them. Manmohan Singh’s commitment to “uninterruptible dialogue” with Pakistan as part of his peace-at-any-price approach only brought serial outrages against India. Narendra Modi has done well to craft a clearer policy on Pakistan that blends a firm response to provocations (best illustrated by India’s mortar-for-bullet retort to Pakistani ceasefire violations since September) with friendly signals (for example, inviting Sharif to his inauguration and asking schools nationally to honour the victims of the Peshawar attack with a two-minute silence).

To focus on his broader regional and global agenda without being weighed down by a venomous issue, Modi has effectively sidelined Pakistan in his policy priorities. After all, no nation gets peace by merely seeking peace or staying put in talks with a recalcitrant neighbour. Securing peace demands that a nation must be able to defend peace, including by imposing deterrent costs when peace is violated.

Important countries go to extraordinary lengths to shun and squeeze scofflaw or renegade states. It has taken America 53 years to agree to establish normal diplomatic relations with tiny Cuba but without lifting its trade embargo. It took the US almost a quarter century to resume full diplomatic ties with Myanmar. And after 61 years, the chill in America’s relations with North Korea persists. New Delhi has always maintained full diplomatic relations with Islamabad, even though Pakistan is effectively a rogue or terrorist state waging a “war of a thousand cuts” against India.

Not just that, India continues to unilaterally extend Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade benefits to Pakistan and adhere to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty — the world’s most generous water-sharing pact that reserves over 80% of the six-river Indus system’s waters for Pakistan. With Pakistan expecting eternal Indian water munificence even as it bleeds India, the same question must haunt Pakistani generals as Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”

As long as Pakistan persists with its unconventional war, New Delhi must not reward it with talks or any new generosity. In any case, with the Pakistani military back in the driving seat without staging an overt coup, the politically castrated Nawaz Sharif is in no position to deliver on any deal with India. India, while shining an intense spotlight on officially sponsored Pakistani terrorism, should shun Pakistan until it adheres to well-established international norms.

How can Pakistan be a normal state when an abnormal situation prevails there? A moderate, stable Pakistan can emerge only if ISI is cut down to size and the military establishment brought under civilian oversight — steps still distant.

Until then, India must heed a German proverb: “Look before you leap, for snakes among sweet flowers do creep”.

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

(c) Mint, 2014.

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