By Firdaus Ahmed
In wake of the Osama bin Laden killing, the hawks have carried the day in India. In pointing towards possible Pakistani complicity in harbouring Osama bin Laden, they make the point that the Indian initiative of reaching out to Pakistan that is currently unfolding will fail. Their ‘I told you so’ discourse will likely result in a ‘wait and watch’ attitude by the government. This would lead to another year lost in South Asia.
This time around the initiative appeared more promising with the commerce secretaries agreeing on many encouraging measures ranging from petroleum products, electricity etc to the more important issue of MFN status for India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared to be investing politically in his gut instincts. Reports were of the government having prepared its ground better by networking with the Pakistani army, later denied by both sides.
What will be the implications of bin Laden’s death? The major element forming the context is the end game in Af-Pak. The Obama plan of beginning pull out in July will gain momentum since the rationale for ‘hunting Osama bin Laden’ does not exist any more. Ten years have considerably set back the al Qaeda. It has metamorphosed in a manner as to make Af-Pak irrelevant. The Taliban, the key player, has not suffered by Osama bin Laden’s departure. Knowing the US may like a negotiated exit, they would drive a hard bargain. Pakistan would like to retrieve lost ground by backing them. This will ensure the dissipation of US triumphalism on the departure of Osama bin Laden before the spring is out.
The point emerges that Pakistan has at best lost face. It will compensate by increasing its energy in protecting its interests. The US, with elections coming up and an economy that continues as a concern, cannot but placate it. The ‘wild card’ would be a terrorist reprisal in the US with Pakistani connections. This could disrupt the relationship, forcing the US to exit the region leaving behind chaos. That it could go this route is evident from its departure and the aftermath in Somalia.
What does this portend for India? In the Indian debate, the hardliners want to use this opportunity to pressure Pakistan. There is commentary on learning from the manner US conducts its business. They do not mind if the ‘wild card’ plays out to Pakistani detriment. It would leave India as the key regional power and in charge of containing the consequences. This holds appeal since it would give India a role in keeping with its stature.
If all else fails, this approach may be all that India has left. Currently, it may not be very useful since with US pressure found wanting it is hardly likely India’s would be more efficacious. Pressuring Pakistan through the intelligence game and heightening of military competition has not succeeded in conflict resolution. Instead, Pakistan has drawn down its nuclear cover more tightly with two quick missile tests, Hatf IX and Hatf VIII, over the last month. Debunking the realist prescription first is needed to eliminate it as an option. In any case, precedent of squandering India’s preeminence in the wake of 1971 does not inspire.
India must instead be attuned to the counter-intuitive likelihood of increased US reliance on Pakistan to bring about a face-saving exit from Af-Pak. In comparison, India’s cards in Afghanistan are not strong enough to impress. Its utility in reconstruction can be substituted by China. Its reach in the intelligence game and the strength of its proxies is comparatively weaker than that of Pakistan and is well short of its heyday in the Massoud years. Therefore, India must realistically appraise the relative power positions, and determine that it needs to work with Pakistan than against it.
This could help save Pakistan. Rhetorically India has accepted that this is in Indian interest. But its inability and unwillingness to see the peace process through indicates that it has not done enough to put its money where its mouth is. The realist expectation that they can handle the aftermath of a radicalized state in Pakistan is self-serving. A Pakistan in chaos is only good for majoritarian radicals and hyper-nationalists in India. India must tune into what its interests are.
Its aim is to get Pakistan to disengage with finality from Kashmir. The possibility of offering Pakistan political space in Af-Pak resolution in return for a quid pro quo on Kashmir is past. When the Af-Pak deal is through, Pakistan can turn its attention to Kashmir once again. Precluding such an outcome should impel Indian efforts.
On the internal front, India must instead proactively tackle Kashmir. In case it is unable to do so by networking with Pakistan due to internal political weaknesses, it must at the very least dispel the environment in Kashmir that enables Pakistani interference.
The analysis here that Pakistan has lost only face and not its position; which indicates that a ‘wait and watch’ policy spells inertia. Strategy, sensitive to evolving equations, calls for capitalizing on the stake of ongoing talks that India currently has in the fire.
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