A breach of trust

Analysts have suggested a two-tracked approach; continue with talks and act pro-actively against terror groups inside Pakistan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore was probably the last proverbial straw for the elements of the Deep State of Pakistan, which is heavily opposed to any ideas of a peace process with India.

The chain of events involving the NSA talks at Bangkok followed by the high profile visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Islamabad were still within the ambit of scope of disruption. However, once the process entered the field of informality at Lahore, it got serious and the chances of breaking logjams were high.

The foreign secretary talks were scheduled for 15 January and something had to be done in a hurry to upset this. As it is, the Deep State – known to be outside the control of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – was under pressure. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif was probably leaned upon by the Americans during a recent visit to the US.

Unless terror in this part of the world is controlled, the feasibility of ridding it from other areas in West Asia and Europe remains remote. The Pakistan army, in all probability, grudgingly wilted under pressure, placed its own retired General as NSA and projected that it was on board in supporting peace with India (‘grudgingly’ would actually be an understatement, ‘unwillingly’ may be a better word).

The hurry to prove that the core elements of the Deep State are still supporting the ‘friendly’ terror groups such as LeT and JeM and that there is no support for peace with India, has led to the strike at Pathankot Air Force base.

The choice of the target was apt from the strategic angle. A major military asset which falls squarely within an area of North Punjab which any military assessment would classify as ideal for infiltration; broken riverine terrain, forested area bordering Himachal and Jammu and military stations in close vicinity. Targets exist elsewhere in Punjab close to the IB, but the terrain isn’t so conducive to move undetected.

The intent of the strike was clear; force Indian public opinion to pressure the government to call off the talks. It would have almost met its immediate objective had the terrorists not given away the game with some premature actions; waylaying a Police SP to get his car for easier access, releasing him almost unharmed and then, of all things, making mobile telephonic calls home.

The resultant alert ensured that the assets of the air base were well secured, although access could not be denied; personnel casualties do not attract the attention that a couple of aircraft on fire would. The last did not happen, thus salvaging some remnants for the national leaderships to maintain flexibility.

On the nature of operations still underway, Indian media and public, despite years of experience in following and handling terror situations, is yet to grasp just what is involved. There is immense pressure to hurry the operations and for information on how exactly they are progressing. This never favours the security elements who are deeply involved.

Conjecture from uninvolved people in the vicinity is also a dangerous thing and is an issue which always emerges in post-operation analyses. The system of immediately appointing a spokesman in such contingencies is an imperative.

The politico-diplomatic fallout follows a pattern of predictability. Responses have been muted at the official level with both governments as yet unsure. Possibly, the pressure on PM Sharif is far greater, both internally and from India. The Indian government can weather this with the rationale that everyone predicted the obstacles in the path to peace and staying the course would be contingent upon Pakistan’s clear indications that it was unable to rein in elements within its establishment.

Such an admission can perhaps be made privately, but publicly it would spell disaster for the civilian government. Social media saw lesser rancour than expected. So, even if the peace process has survived its first roadblock, how soon will it be before it is tested again?

Sticking to peace process
Some analysts have recommended a two-tracked approach; continue with talks and act pro-actively against the terror groups inside Pakistan. Reality may dictate that this would be impractical. Pakistan’s self-respect, or what is left of it, would take a beating if Indian Army elements were to operate trans-border mode. There would be response and that would mean end of any peace process.

It is not as if India is wishing to talk peace at any cost. A ‘No War, No Peace’ situation can continue interminably. However, the country is aware of the lar-ger implications of tension in the subco-ntinent. It has compromised sufficiently to look for peace despite very little movement from Pakistan on its past demands.

It took a fair amount of courage on its part to take the initiative; the current situation demands even more courage to stay the course despite a reluctant public and a frothing political opposition. Perhaps, it is time some immediate talks were held to evolve systems for joint contingency planning. India cannot agree to Pakistan’s private admission that terrorists are not in its control because JeM and JuD/LeT openly exist all over West Punjab.

Finally, if the government feels at any stage that its peace efforts are not drawing commensurate response from across the border, it should simply call off the peace process but not without painting Pakistan the villain. For far too long has Pakistan, in all its shades of existence, taken the world for granted. It would then be time to call its bluff and resort to measures which could cause it the pain that it has caused to others, especially India.

(The writer, a retired officer of the Indian Army, was the GOC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps and is presently a senior analyst with Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group)
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