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Post-Pathankot: Not by words alone

  By Vijay Darda | 11-01-2016

It does appear that the six Pakistani terrorists embarked on their mission to attack the Pathankot airbase with the idea of derailing the peace process that was highlighted with much fanfare by the Christmas day dash to Lahore by prime minister Narendra Modi and all that followed in the media glare. To the extent that their handlers and masters gave them the green signal to go ahead with the mission after the Lahore bonhomie. But the same cannot be said of the planning of the attack. The attack in itself reflects the long term security strategy of Pakistan. This is not a mystery that has to be decoded. Pakistan wants to hurt India, and this is the reason for its strategic existence in the geo political structure.

Even if the people of Pakistan do not want to have inimical relations with India, at least so far, its military has not been able to discover another cause for its survival. The only way for our foreign policy makers and security planners is to internalise this differential reality and then move ahead. The people of Pakistan and their army need to be treated differently. We would also do well to remember that in this process, Pakistan has two important allies-United States of America and China. Both these powers may be competing with each other but they help Pakistan militarily and strategically. In our fight against terror, we can minimise the relevance of these factors only at our own cost.

But this does not mean that we should not engage with Pakistan at a political level. This would be a short-sighted and counter-productive approach. However, we cannot have an ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue’ that gives Pakistan the immunity to have a dual faced approach. There should be an institutional mechanism to reward good behaviour and punish the wrong one through a sustained process of dialogue. There is lot of merit in the argument that six terrorists should not be allowed to disrupt a process of engagement that has been put in place painstakingly by two prime ministers.

Both of them have staked their political capital, and personal credibility in a process whose pitfalls have been predicted well in advance. The process deserves to be given its full run, if it fails it is a different matter, but then it should not be held hostage to elements whose agenda is well-known. It is only through this process that Pakistan’s claim to fight terror would be tested. It is the outcome of this process that would establish as to whether Sharif is sincere when he holds Modi’s hands or is this just another ruse to prepare for a bigger war?

However, the process of sustained India-Pakistan engagement requires much more than mere optics. Prime minister Modi is entitled to his personalised style of diplomacy, and this does break the ice. But then beyond the immediate headlines, there is the need for sustained hard work and patience of the classical diplomacy. It is heart-warming that prime minister Sharif did pick up the phone and call prime minister Modi after the Pathankot terror attack. But we are in a stage of our relations where words alone are not sufficient. Sharif’s words to Modi hardly inspire the confidence of the Indian people. He has to appreciate that for his ‘peace efforts’ to succeed it is the confidence of the Indian people that matters most. This confidence will come only when there is action against the perpetrators of terror.

The argument that outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad or Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba are not state actors do not wash with the people. When the terrorists come with packets of dry fruits packed in Lahore and attack the Pathankot airbase, the fight between India and Pakistan is joined. There remains no doubt on that count. It is a different matter that in order to salvage the dialogue process, prime minister Modi may call them ‘enemies of humanity’ (which they no doubt are) but the real nature of the hurt India is thinly disguised. For Pakistan’s prime minister to carry any element of conviction in the dialogue process with India, he has to ensure that nothing, and strictly nothing happens on his home soil that is anti-India. Rest all is eyewash.

We too have to draw our own lessons from Pathankot. The list is long and covers the strategic and political domains. Whereas the strategic part can be left to the domain experts, the political part concerns us all. Whatever we saw in those days concerning the home minister and the defence minister hardly makes us hold our heads high in glory. It is certain that these two functionaries did not play their constitutional role in this crisis. The home minister did protest by staying away from a post-Pathankot cabinet meeting, but that is symbolic. The prime minister trusts his NSA (who in turn has his own set of admirers and critics) above all and this could be a fine personal approach. But the security and safety of the country cannot be left to one person. His highly centralised approach is certainly ill suited for situations that involve the interplay of multiple agencies. In terror situations, this is unavoidable, as a single fighting force cannot be used to overcome the situation.

There are issues of command and control and thus there has to be an institutional mechanism. Hurting it simply does not help the country. Indeed given the fact that terror is not going to end any time soon, the cumulative lessons from Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Mumbai have to be activated. In the India-Pakistan context as well, we can be sure that the security breaches in our set-up are also a contributory factor for Islamabad’s continued adventurism. It knows that these are low cost-high media value operations and the damage to India’s prestige and sense of security is several times the expense. It is well known that the best defence against a terror attack is its prevention.

Before I conclude…

79-year-old J & K chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed breathed his last this week. To say that this is a national loss is an understatement. In our partisan polity, it is rare to find credible persons who can work with the Congress and the BJP. Muftisahab had that rare ability. He could form a coalition government with both the parties and still carry conviction with the people. Above all, he was a secular democrat and a man of non-violence. A Nehru era politician, Muftisahab was the first Muslim home minister of India, and though the episode was marked by the release of terrorists in exchange for his beloved daughter Rubaiyya, he does leave behind a rich legacy in the shape of his fighter daughter Mehbooba, who is poised to take over his mantle. We mourn Muftisahab’s loss and pray that he rests in peace and the family has the strength to bear this immeasurable loss.


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Post-Pathankot: Not by words alone


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