By Radha Vinod Raju
In a recent Track-II event held in Bangkok between Indian and Pakistani experts under the Chaophraya Dialogue promoted by the Jinnah Institute at Islamabad and the Australia-India Institute at Melbourne, the Pakistanis insisted that India should try and understand General Kayani – that he is different and thinks differently, and that he is keen to improve India-Pakistan relations.
The Indians, however, pointed out that the General had openly referred to the Pakistan Army being India-centric. One also recalled that when President Zardari announced, immediately after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai by the LeT that ISI Chief Shuja Ahmed Pasha would visit Delhi which was overturned reportedly under pressure of the Army Chief. Earlier, the new civilian government in Islamabad had issued an order bringing the ISI under the Interior Ministry headed by Rehman Malik, an ex-cop. But this decision of the government also was overturned, again under the pressure from the army. It was clear who was most powerful in the Pakistan hierarchy.
While Indians knew that the 26/11 attack on Mumbai emanated from Pakistan, which was later confirmed by the arrested terrorist Ajmal Kasab, the subsequent disclosures of David Headley @ Dawood Gilani to the FBI and the NIA’s sleuths have brought in the role of a couple of majors of the ISI in training and funding Headley to do reconnaissance of the targets in Mumbai and elsewhere in India. It may be recalled that General Kayani was earlier the head of the ISI before taking over as Army Chief. India has no proof whether the Army Chief or even the ISI Chief General Shuja Pasha was in the picture about the 26/11 attack. However, India is aware of the close relationship between the ISI and the Lashkar-e-Tayeba, which has a lot of support of the Army establishment in Pakistan that has allowed it to grow into a powerful non-state actor.
The attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008, allegedly by the Haqqani group of the Taliban, was according to reliable intelligence reports, carried out at the behest of the ISI to deter India from getting close to Afghanistan. There have been other attacks on Indian interests and personnel in Kabul, also carried out by the Haqqani group under orders of the ISI. With the above background, it was difficult for some of the Indian participants to accept the view that General Kayani was different, and is keen on developing good relations with India.
Yet, the latest incident involving the straying of an Indian Army helicopter into Pakistan occupied Kashmir on 23 October on way from Leh to Kargil to assist another one which had developed some technical snag gives some hope that there may be some merit in the argument that General Kayani after all, would like good relations with India. According to reports emanating from India, an Army helicopter which had taken off from Leh at about 1 p.m. with 2 pilots and two technical personnel, including an engineer, to assist another helicopter that had been grounded, strayed into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir due to inclement weather. Reports from Pakistan said that the helicopter deliberately entered Pakistan air space in the Skardu sector, and there was a Lt. Colonel, two majors and an NCO in it, that it was forced to land by the Pakistanis and that all four crew members were in safe custody.
That set the stage for some intense communication between the Indian and Pakistani Directors General of Military Operations, as well as the Indian High Commission with the Pakistan Foreign ministry. The Indians apparently were able to convince the Pakistanis that the straying of the helicopter into their territory was accidental and not deliberate, and in about five hours the Indian helicopter and the crew members were allowed to return to own base. This certainly could not have happened without the blessings of General Kayani, and gives some hope of better relations between the two countries, given the General’s standing in the government. India has appreciated “the manner in which Pakistan worked with us in resolving the matter.” It may be remembered that the Abbotabad operation of the Americans in May this year is fresh in the minds of the Pakistani GHQ. Yet, the manner of handling of the incident by GHQ was professional and quick.
While this gives some hope of better future relations there were reports on the same day of Pakistani troops resorting to firing on Indian forward posts along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district after our forces detected an infiltration bid by militants. The terrorist infrastructure is very much in place in Pakistan, and the GHQ has not ruled out the option of using it. While hoping for better relations with Pakistan, we should also be cautious in moving ahead with the GHQ.
Radha Vinod Raju
Distinguished Fellow, IPCS and Former Director General, National Investigation Agency (NIA)