26/11 and India’s Pakistan dilemma


From a grand strategic point of view it is in India’s national interest to help Pakistan resolve its terrorism puzzle. The diplomatic aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks is being handled by the Indian government in an inept manner.

Purposefully addressing the issue of terrorism in the region, and working to halt attacks against India in particular, are clearly in the wider strategic interest of the country and ought to be what the nation should strive towards. At best, however, all that India has managed to do is throw together a muddled ‘shaming campaign’ against Pakistan. India has missed the forest for the trees, and the world has watched it do that yet again. Dealing with Pakistan and its myriad actors in times of tension and crisis demands a more superior level of political imagination and diplomatic manoeuvring than what the Government of India has demonstrated thus far.


India’s most prominent failure since the catastrophe of 26/11 has been that it has patently failed to make use of diplomacy to ensure that the perpetrators of terrorism in Pakistan are held responsible in an appropriately comprehensive manner. We have failed to de-hyphenate Pakistan from India. In doing so we have failed, once again, to negate the pervasive belief that all that we two neighbours can engage in is immature, tit-for-tat, counterblow relations.

New Delhi should have sent high-ranking diplomats and Track 2 negotiators to Islamabad to engage the various actors there. If this were done quietly and deftly, it may have been possible for New Delhi’s mediators to reason with Islamabad and Rawalpindi and to gain acceptance for India’s core argument: that by failing to rein in the terrorists who operate from within its borders, Pakistan stands to lose, and lose much more conclusively than India.

With the friendly Asif Ali Zardari regime more than willing to engage India through multiple-level negotiations, it would have been possible to turn the events of 26/11 into an opportunity to make diplomatic inroads into the Pakistani establishment.

That many of the current Pakistani decision-makers, including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani, have in the past been part of Track 2 dialogues with India should have made New Delhi more open to using this technique. Track 2 diplomacy can work in times of emergency, not just in times of peace.

Instead, India chose to fall into its traditional role of disciplinarian, behaving in such a way as to feed Pakistan’s already significant inferiority complex by getting Mr Zardari’s regime to back into a corner with its ill-thought-out rhetoric and cumbersome actions. Once on the backfoot, Mr Zardari (fearing a domestic backlash) was forced to react to, rather than engage with, New Delhi.

Moreover, not recognising the importance of smart diplomacy, New Delhi chose to outsource its responsibility to others, apparently thinking that foreign leaders were willing to do India’s work for it. The current game of brinkmanship between India and Pakistan can only achieve petty point-scoring. Instead of contemplating the downgrading of the diplomatic engagement with Pakistan, India should be focussed on strenuously stepping it up.


The failure of Indian diplomacy to move beyond tit-for-tat point-scoring saw a concurrent rise in media-generated pulp patriotism. Newspapers ran headlines such as “ISI chief summoned to India,” as though Pakistan were somehow at New Delhi’s beck and call. This prompted even the most liberal sections of Pakistani civil society and media to react with anger and in denial. Simultaneously, Mumbai morphed into a celebrity circus thanks to the banter of page-three ‘experts.’ Pop culture personalities and hawkish experts flashed across television screens egging on the Indian government to carry out ‘surgical,’ ‘pre-emptive’ strikes against Pakistan in order to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure there.

To do so would be to emulate the current disintegration in the Gaza Strip and give weight to the argument that Israel has ‘successfully’ protected itself against terrorism by using precisely such tactics. The reality, however, is that the anti-terror strategies Israel uses are inapt and unsuitable for India. We do not want to find ourselves in the situation that Israel finds itself in today: encircled by disgruntled neighbours whose obvious distaste for the Jewish state does not allow it to have any real sense of security.

As a result of its constricted, meandering domestic policies and unstable relations with its neighbours, Israel has isolated itself in its own region. Little wonder, it feels alienated and insecure. Using Israel’s technologies to combat terror is one thing, but following its counter-terror policies and politics is another matter entirely.


India has not yet evolved a forward-looking grand strategic approach that effectively addresses the question of how to deal with Pakistan. Most of India’s Pakistan policies have been reactionary in nature and serve only to achieve tactical short-term gains. It is thanks to the absence of a grand strategy that during the ongoing India-Pakistan stand-off India has so easily fallen in line with the wishes of the terrorists. These terrorists desire the end of the India-Pakistan peace process, civil society co-operation and media freedom in both countries. Their goal is to increase anti-India feelings amidst the common people in Pakistan and vice versa, and their ultimate aspiration must surely be armed conflict between the two countries, in whatever form. With every passing day, the ringmasters of Pakistan’s terror networks edge closer to achieving these horrifying aims.

To ask an oft-repeated question: what kind of Pakistan does India really want? One that is on the brink of total collapse, split into multiple centres of power, where jihadi terrorism and religious fanaticism rule the roost? Or a stable, democratic and economically powerful Pakistan minus the influence of the military, the militants and the mullahs? For many in India the answer to this question is not as straightforward as it should be.

The traditional delusion still exists amongst some that a final victory for India lies in the withering away of Pakistan. Little do they realise that having a nuclear Somalia for a neighbour, as Pakistani peace activist Pervez Hoodbhoy once put it, would not be the end of India’s Pakistan problem, but rather the beginning of India’s woes. India cannot simply attempt to fence its vast borders and hide inside, especially if Pakistan becomes a failed state.

Thus, from a grand strategic point of view it is in India’s national interest to help Pakistan resolve its terrorism puzzle. In order to do that, India needs to behave like a responsible, emergent power and prove that it has the diplomatic mettle to be a great power. Diplomacy is harder to sell in times of crisis than in times of war-mongering.

The use of crisis diplomacy requires a strong state and stronger political will. India has to ‘sell’ the use of diplomacy and negotiations, not only to the Pakistani leadership but also to the domestic audience in India. This task is not an impossible one. Crises such as this are a test of India’s strength as a rising power.


Not all is lost yet. We cannot afford to abandon the relative peace and stability that we have achieved vis-À-vis Pakistan in the recent past because of the wounds inflicted by Mumbai. That 26/11 should serve as a reason for India to strengthen its diplomatic footing vis-À-vis Pakistan. India must use more sophisticated and nuanced multi-layered mediation to reach out to the people who matter in the Pakistani state, and the various states within that state. Imaginative, targeted and high-level diplomacy helps in times of crisis: history has proved that time and again.

Diplomacy and dialogue may be the road less travelled between India and Pakistan, but now is the time to travel it. India must read the past to understand the future: it must learn to avoid the mistakes of the past when dealing with Pakistan in the present.

-courtesy The Hindu


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