Shireen M Mazari
Thanks to the pusillanimity shown by our leaders ever since the Mumbai acts of terrorism, Pakistan is being squeezed by so-called friends and foe alike. For India its own failures at Mumbai and the growing question mark over the death of the Anti-Terror Cell head, Hemant Karkare, leading to the possible role of Hindu extremists in the Mumbai carnage have made it imperative that all efforts be directed at shifting the focus to Pakistan and the internationally targeted religious groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. After all, such accusations would find a ready international audience – and that is exactly what has happened – with no questions asked. In addition, the present Pakistani leadership also played into Indian hands by its bumbling and confusion – first over the whole shameful “sending of the DG ISI” incident, followed by the UN Security Council fiasco and finally the absurd and ignorant claims of ‘technical fault’ on the incident of Indian airplane intrusions into targeted Pakistani airspace. Now the final stage of the Indian game plan is to deliver the so-called Kasab letter to the Pakistan High Commission, after the disinformation campaign regarding the Faridkot link!
With a non-questioning international media and eager foreign allies, India has not only shifted focus away from serious issues relating to its own failings and the role of rogue elements in its army alongside Hindu extremists in incidents of terrorism; it has also created a more favourable environment for carrying out surgical strikes against targets in Pakistan. Ironically, the only possible spanner in the cleverly crafted Indian design against Pakistan has come from soberly questioning domestic sources. However, let there be no doubt that India is going to carry out surgical strikes, probably beginning with AJK. After all, the extraordinary and unscheduled Envoys Conference can only have been called to contain the diplomatic fallout of such strikes.
Two developments can perhaps prevent these surgical strikes: first, the international community, especially India’s powerful allies like the US, shift their pressure from Pakistan to India and make it clear that any military action against Pakistan would be unacceptable. Second, that the Pakistan government surrenders to all Indian demands.
A third factor India is also having to consider is the level of success it can attain in these strikes – that is, can they be carried out successfully including the safe return of the aircraft? Missiles would be a less attractive option – although more furtive – for the Indians since the circular error probabilities (CEPs) are not low enough as Indian guidance systems are not that efficient and precise. Pakistani aircraft and missiles can ensure that India does not succeed in its strikes, but for that the political will of Islamabad has to be resolute. This is the chink in our armour the Indians are counting on, and to ensure our lack of rapid response, Mullen has been sent to persuade Pakistan to desist from responding militarily to Indian strikes against Pakistani-AJK targets.
Incidentally, India has been readying itself for surgical strikes against Pakistan since post-nuclearisation, through its Cold Start Doctrine. This doctrine seeks to gain a military advantage through rapid, surgical strikes from the air, ground and sea, before the international community moves in to prevent a Pakistani response. This is exactly what India is counting on right now. So coming to the two possible means of deterring Indian military adventurism, the most critical is the role of Indian allies like the US.
This is where Pakistan is going to come under massive pressure – in fact it already is. Mullen’s visit is one such move to persuade Pakistan to allow India to attack certain targets within the country. But the pressure was set in motion immediately the Mumbai carnage began – even before any information was available. One has been critical of the Indian media, but the US and British media (especially the BBC) were no better. It was almost as if the Indian government had the media handling in place before Mumbai actually happened! Then we had Condi Rice fuming and frothing at Pakistan and Obama once again talking of strikes inside Pakistan by India; and the British leadership jumping into the imperial role they still yearn for. All in all, Mumbai has offered the perfect opportunity for these players to seek fulfilment of their agendas within Pakistan – that is, target the nuclear assets and bring the country to its knees.
The US media histrionics against Pakistan are rising incessantly and the confusion and bumblings inside the government of Pakistan are sending signals of weakness that the US is ready to exploit. Already there is talk of buying off Pakistan’s nuclear assets a la Ukraine style – and one has to wonder whether the proclivity for profit that pervades our ruling elites has ever been a factor on this count. Mumbai has also offered another opportunity to the US to target the ISI and eventually the Pakistan army. Nevertheless, now that the US design has come into the open, let us hope our rulers will realise that the US is not an ally anymore, but an increasingly hostile state.
Which brings one to the second ‘deterrent’ for India – that of the Pakistan government surrendering to all their demands. This is why so many of us are perturbed – given the record of appeasement to India that has afflicted our leaders from January 2004 onwards. The US feels unless Pakistan act against certain groups within the country firmly – whatever that means in US lingo since it can also mean simply massive killings of our own people – Pakistan will collapse. However, the reality is that it is succumbing to US and Indian pressure that will lead to collapse and radicalisation. Already the erroneous policies of the US war on terror are shrinking the space for moderates in most Muslim polities including Pakistan. Giving in to Indo-US diktat can also result in a disconnect in civil-military relations, which will again benefit those seeking the destruction of Pakistan.
So what can Pakistan do? Certainly it is not in Pakistan’s interests to have opposition leaders refer to Pakistan as a ‘failing state’ simply to spite the government. At the risk of being repetitive, our rulers have to distinguish between state and government and not spite the former to get at the latter. But Pakistan can certainly take some immediate actions that will send the right determined signals of intent.
To begin with, we need to start moving our forces away from the western border – not simply making statements but actually moving on the ground – unless the US immediately changes its policy on the Pakistan-India question. Such a move will immediately alter our own environment for the better in the tribal belt and Pakhtunkhwa province, especially if our military moves out of these areas also. We also need to express our inability to receive US military and political leaders for some time – Mullen should never have been given the access he has had ad nauseum.
This is the first time that in a crisis situation, we have failed to send credible envoys to friendly countries like China, Iran and the Muslim world. In fact, we have taken no diplomatic initiatives at all – instead, very questionably, in the Mumbai aftermath, we chose to prevent our allies from rallying around us in the UN Security Council. Are we deliberately seeking to let our case go be default internationally or is this simply one more sign of the government’s ineptness? Finally, we need to show our military preparedness for any surgical strikes by India – on this count there should be no ambiguity – which means missiles and airplanes should be on high alert and visibly so. Neither side can risk a war, but lack of clarity can allow the other side an adventurism that we cannot afford.
Normally one would also have suggested a special session of parliament to give a national consensus to a firm Pakistani position, but having seen the fate of the APC resolve and parliament’s consensus on terrorism, one knows that using such consensus purely as window dressing loses its purpose and done often enough will only make such consensus-seeking devices a sad farce.
It is time the political leadership stopped focusing on political favours and set about more critical tasks at hand. Simply giving in to external demands to buy time for destroying institutions through corruption and nepotism will destroy the state quite effectively from within – without any Indian surgical strikes or US pressure. Or is that the real intent of the rulers?
The writer is a defence analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org