Kanwal Sibal

Kanwal Sibal is former foreign secretary of India and former envoy to the US and Russia

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BW Businessworld

The Pakistan Conundrum

Pakistan’s response to the Pathankot attack has not followed its traditional script of denial of any responsibility.

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The terrorist attack on Pathankot airbase has exposed once again the flaws of our Pakistan policy. Each terrorist attack uncovers our vulnerability. Pakistan is convinced that India has no option but to talk even if talks are temporarily halted after a terrorist attack. Even after the Mumbai mayhem, we resumed the dialogue. The Pakistanis are also convinced that the US will press India to talk, which means that it feels no real international pressure to abjure terrorism to allow a sustained dialogue. Obama has called Pakistan to delegitimise, disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks and has mentioned the Pathankot attack as another example of the inexcusable terrorism that India has endured for too long, but this will be taken as verbal pressure unless the US is ready to sanction Pakistan for its rogue conduct.

Growing terrorist attacks within Pakistan should have convinced it to cut links with all terrorist groups without distinction, and persuaded it that its dual policy of combating groups that attack the Pakistani state and nourishing those that target India has become unviable internally and externally. But Pakistan’s policy towards India is based not on rationality but deeply-ingrained hostility based on its Islamic identity. At the core of this is Pakistan’s Punjab, which makes the country structurally unable to make peace with us. Its Punjabi-dominated armed forces control foreign policy towards India. Punjab is also the home ground of the ISI nurtured “jihadi” groups targeting India. The Pakistan military uses its huge public relations apparatus to promote a negative narrative on India through the media outlets it controls.

We should know Nawaz Sharif’s limitations as a three-time PM. He is not trusted by the Pakistani military. His Punjab-based Muslim League is protective of Hafeez Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa and will not act against it for fear of a backlash, of the kind invited by operations against the Pakistani Taliban groups. Given Pakistan’s radicalised atmosphere, Nawaz Sharif will not be able to prosecute those accused of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Pakistan’s response to the Pathankot attack has not followed its traditional script of denial of any responsibility. It has expressed readiness to pursue the leads given by India. Because Modi’s dramatic Raiwind gesture shifted the diplomatic advantage on the stalled dialogue issue in India’s favour, Pakistan had to alter its traditional tactics. By offering cooperation it wants to negate India’s gain, knowing that it can always confound matters later legally and procedurally as in the Mumbai case. Pakistan may have also taken on board our tough message on potential retaliation if no action is taken on Pathankot.

We must have considered what we would do if a terrorist attack occurred, which was likely based on past experience, while we were reviving the dialogue process by reaching out to Pakistan at Paris, Bangkok, Islamabad and Raiwind. Predictably, Pathankot occurred within days and challenged the coherence of our initiative. Logically, it should not have distracted us from our dialogue plans, but it has. We now expect the Pakistani side to act credibly on the actionable leads we have given, with foreign secretary level talks rescheduled in February to give Pakistan time to do so. We have agreed to receive a Pakistani special investigative team in India to give Pakistan no excuse not to act. Whether the team will be allowed to visit the Pathankot base, if requested, is unclear as different views have been expressed on this eventuality.

All these years, no Indian government has found a satisfactory answer to our Pakistan problem. We want to be tough with Pakistan but are concerned about escalation. The option of breaking off the dialogue has been the easiest under the circumstances. Maybe the Modi government is seemingly giving a long rope to Pakistan but intending to tie it as a noose around its neck if its pattern of terrorist conduct does not change.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 08-02-2016)

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