By Bhaskar Roy*
Depression can be treated. But self-inflicted deception which hurts neighbours can be controlled to an extent if the patient is locked up in a padded cell. This self-deception is like a jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing, frustrating everyone including even Pakistan itself.
A couple of recent examples. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke to US President-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his victory. They immediately published the conversation with comma, semicolon, exclamation mark, with no full stop. The aim was to project to the people of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan among others, how much Trump appreciated him. The Trump team had to clarify with their own account of the conversation, setting it in the correct perspective.
The Sharif account was criticised both in the US and by some Pakistanis like PPP leader and member of the Senate, Sherry Rehman, Sharif and his advisors completely upturned diplomatic protocol. Delusional, and self-deception at its worst.
Pakistani naval officers informed (Nov. 25, 2016) that the Gwadar Port had become operational and Chinese naval ships would be deployed there to ensure maritime security. Then they added that Russia had agreed in secret discussion to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which opens in Gwadar. This was rebutted strongly by the Russians officially. Egg on the face again. These officers would not have spoken unless cleared by upper echelons of the command.
These are only two small examples, but suggest something dangerously rotten in the heart of the nation. The army and the intelligence (ISI) are pulling in one direction, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in another, the Foreign Office in a third. The terrorists (Jihadis) and sectarian Sunni elements are feeding on this situation knowing that the powers that be, need them for some purpose or the other. They are, in fact, in clover. Some, like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, principal head of the LET, receive official funding from the Punjab government headed by Chief Minister and PML (N) leader Shabaz Sharif.
The sixth “Heart of Asia” conference recently held in Amritsar, had Pakistan on the mat on terrorism. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was bitter and non-sparing of Pakistan. He rejected Pakistan’s offer of $500 million for reconstruction of Afghanistan, and advised them to use the money to counter terrorist activities emanating from Pakistan. Ghani also referred to a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada saying that if the Taliban did not get safe havens in Pakistan, they would not last even a month. It may be recalled that Pakistan’s emissary to the conference, Sartaj Aziz had admitted during a lecture that the Taliban was present in Quetta.
Against advice from his intelligence chief, Ghani had extended warmth to Pakistan and even visited the GHQ in Rawalpindi. Ghani had sincerely hoped, at the behest of the USA, that Pakistan would help in resolving the Taliban problem,. His intelligence chief resigned in protest. And Pakistan pulled the rug from under Ghani’s feet. Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have since increased.
The Heart of Asia brought together fourteen primary countries with a stake in Afghanistan, including Pakistan, India, China, Iran and Russia, and seventeen supporting countries including the US and the European Union. The conference declaration named a clutch of terrorism organisations including LET and Jaish-e-Mohammad, two leading Pakistan-based and Pakistan supported terrorist organisations regularly targeting India.
In an article in the well- known Pakistani newspaper Dawn (Dec. 6, 2016), former Pakistani ambassador to China, India and Russia, Ashraf Jehangir Kazi made some pertinent points which the country’s politico-military class should take note of. Kazi who had served in three capitals very important to Pakistan wrote “Amritsar (stage of Heart of Asia Conference) reconfirmed Pakistan remains a target of joint criticism by India and Afghanistan. Domestic and international opinion by and large concurs with such criticism. Such is the failure of our Afghanistan and India policies. They cannot and will not be redressed by those who can only construct self-serving narratives. Control of our Afghanistan and India policies remain with those who are neither authorised nor qualified for the task. The situation is similar for much of our domestic security for much of our domestic security and political policies.
“Our India policy impacts our Afghanistan policy. This is not to say Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy should run through Delhi. But to a great extent it does because our short-sighted and incompetent policy makers effectively insist that it does – with consistently negative results. Consistent with Einstein’s definition of lunacy, our adherence to such an India focussed Afghan policy is endlessly pursued in the hope that somehow someday, it will produce positive results!”
Kazi, with all his experience also wrote “Pakistan cannot control and contain the longer term consequences of a hostile relationship with India. He also advised that Pakistan should ensure that the India-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral dynamics does not remain a “vicious circle for us”. He also said that Pakistan should also address India’s core concerns and move towards a principled compromise settlement acceptable to the Kashmiri people.
There are no prizes for guessing who or which institutions he had in sight. The army and ISI were asked to withdraw from areas like foreign relations and domestic politics of which they have no knowledge. The Pakistani foreign office is at odds with the army on terrorism against India, as Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida revealed.
Politicians have been asked to be bold enough to reject the shackles of the deep state and get down to serious business. The jihadi tanzims must be heeled a core concern for India. Forget about the strategic depth in Afghanistan as that will not work. And prosecution of a hostile relationship with India will only hurt Pakistan, as India is too big.
Voices like Ambassador Kazi’s are few. They have to convince a huge majority where sectoral interests are paramount and the means to the end are questionable. Pakistanis must ponder over why people like Kazi, journalist and commentator Khaled Ahmed and others, who for decades upheld the anti-India line are now beginning to speak differently.
Decades of relentless anti-India propaganda and more recently against Taliban-free government in Afghanistan had hard-wired these traits in the psyche of most Pakistanis. They turn blind and deaf to their writers who think rationally.
The Kashmir issue has been spun in a way to make it into an existential question for the people of Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan have to think and talk rationally for an equitable solution for all stake holders. Kashmir is not a zero sum game and various solutions, or at least approaches have to be investigated.
But first terrorism emanating from Pakistan has to stop. For the powers that be in Pakistan, keeping the Kashmir issue boiling is a tool to justify their existence. What will the Pakistani army do if it does not have India as its existential enemy? Ayesha Siddiqi’s book, Military Inc. provides some answers.
To say that Islamic militant and sectarian groups have no relevance because they hardly win any electoral seats is to miss the wood for the trees. They are not meant to win National Assembly or Provincial Assembly seats. They are instruments. And most of them have been set up by the ISI and supported variously. One such group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) has gone rogue and turned against the state. The Haqqani network could be the next.
Another report in the Dawn (Dec. 8, 2016) says the Sindh home ministry has identified 62 banned groups active in Sindh province. These include Sipah-i-Sahiba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, TTP, Hizb-ul-Tahrir, Al Qaida among others.
At a recent open meeting in Karachi (The Express Tribune, Dec. 5, 2016) Pakistan Awami Threek (PAT) Chief Dr. Tahirul Qadri warned “ISIS is gradually gaining foothold in Pakistan …. Its influence is also expanding” Qadri went on to say “we have to eliminate the acceptance of terrorism” adding that the Pakistani army and political class had to rethink their strategy. Significantly, Qadri mentioned in this context, that Pakistan’s enemies had set their eyes on the country’s nuclear assets.
The Islamic State has declared they have arrived in ‘Khorasan’, a region covering areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Afghan national forces have begun engaging Islamic State/Daesh fighters, and in one encounter in Nangarhar at least 37 Daesh fighters were killed (Tolo News, November 29). But no such reports have come from Pakistan.
This has raised questions in several capitals of the world. Does Pakistan’s ISI have plans for the Daesh fighters? Given the ISI’s track record, this is not impossible. The majority of Daesh fighters here come from terrorist groups once under the control of Afghanistan. And, of course, terror groups like the LET and Jaish keep flourishing.
India would have to tweak its Pakistan policy. The old policy delivered what it could but it seems to have reached its saturation point. Certainly, the Indian government should continue to expose Pakistan internationally and hold its feet to fire. But getting Pakistan declared as a “terrorist” state will not happen. New Delhi knows it. Pakistan is playing two cards simultaneously. One is its geographical location. The other is its nuisance value – ‘if you punish us too much, isolate us, we may become worse, the terrorist will get an upper hand, and remember we have nuclear weapons’. It raises the vision of a weak Pakistani state where the mad Mullahs can get their hands on nuclear weapons.
The US will do that much no more. Its own troops and intelligence agents have been killed with money given to Pakistan as aid. The US interest is not only in Afghanistan (through Pakistan, the primary player), but it should not cede the entire space to China.
China has major dividends from Pakistan and will stick to Pakistan come hail or high water. Much has been said and written about it. China will not help discipline Pakistan.
Russia is beginning to prove somewhat undependable regarding Pakistan. According to some news, rise of Islamophiles in the Russian government like Zamir Kabulor have dented the ranks of the Indophiles. Kabulov is a former Russian ambassador to Afghanistan. Currently, he is Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and head of the foreign ministry’s Asia and Middle East Department.
The Islamophiles in Russia are arguing that joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will give Russia an opening, a path to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, the Gulf and the Indian Ocean an objective that Russia has been seeking for most parts of the last century. Of immediate importance is the threat of the Daesh emanating now from Khorasan and moving into Central Asia and Russia. A trilateral meeting between Russia-China-Pakistan is scheduled to be held soon. The Russian Islamophiles may influence President Putin to do a Faustian bargain.
India must pursue the strategy of skipping over Pakistan and circumventing Pakistan to reach Afghanistan the Central Asian States. The Chabahar port and road construction in Iran need to be accelerated. Very important to pursue is the India-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral corporation on Chabahar project. Afghanistan has opened road connectivity with several of its Central Asian neighbours.
India and other South Asian Association for Regional Corporation (SAARC) members would have to review the efficacy of SAARC. Pakistan has churlishly blocked the development of SAARC to spite India- it is time to seriously look at a SAARC minus Pakistan and tie it with India’s Act East policy. But Act East and India-Myanmar Kaladan multi purpose project need to be energized.
A multi-pronged approach is the need of the day. And talking about Russia, India must refrain from criticism and dismay. Countries work for their own interest first as India does too. Moscow has a lot of interest in India which they are unlikely to jeopardise.
Finally, India has to wake up to its advantageous geopolitical location. It straddles the Indian Ocean and enjoys a land mass, both of which represent ancient and modern connectivity between the east and west and from the north to the warm waters of the south.
*The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected]