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Archive | January, 2013

Phyrrhic peace

My response to Najam Sethi’s article on India and Pakistan.

In this weekend’s The Friday Times, Najam Sethi urges the governments of India and Pakistan not to derail relations in response to the recent skirmishes along the LoC.  In so doing, he alleges that the Indian army built bunkers in Haji Pir sector, which violated a 2005 India-Pakistan agreement, ultimately provoking the Pakistani army to shell Indian positions in a bid to stop the construction.  Incidentally, the position that India triggered the recent skirmish was also put forward by columnist and former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Maleeha Lodhi.

To Mr. Sethi, the alleged construction of bunkers by India was the “original sin” that triggered the skirmishes.  But Mr. Sethi is economizing on the truth here.  He may be right when he says that the 2005 agreement between India and Pakistan prohibits new military construction along the LoC.  But he conveniently forgets the very first CBM of that 2005 agreement, where both India and Pakistan committed to “uphold the ongoing ceasefire.”

This is important because Pakistan has violated the ceasefire almost every year since 2003; there were 28 ceasefire violations by Pakistan in 2009, 44 in 2010, 60 in 2011 and 117 in 2011.  If India has violated the 2005 agreement, Pakistan has done likewise, and with greater frequency.  But here’s another inconvenient truth: Pakistan itself has been busy building several bunkers and posts (1, 2, 3) along the LoC since the 2003 ceasefire.  Does that not violate the 2005 agreement?  If it does, why is India alone guilty of committing the “original sin,” and how does this justify Pakistan’s shelling of  Indian positions?  Is it that what constitutes a material breach of the 2005 agreement gets decided at the sole discretion of Pakistan?

To be sure, ceasefire violations happen routinely, by both India and Pakistan.  That these violations happen less frequently than prior to the 2003 ceasefire is a positive trend and of importance to the stability of the LoC.  However, pinning the responsibility of military altercations between the two countries on any one such ceasefire violation is a losing proposition.

But there are bigger issues with Mr. Sethi’s article.  Although he begins by accusing the Indian army of triggering the recent skirmishes, he proceeds to commingle India’s responses to the skirmishes with the broader bilateral discussions between India and Pakistan on border disputes.  On the latter, he accuses India’s news media of “sabotaging” the peace process.  Now, the Indian media’s response to the killing of two Indian troops was undoubtedly over the top.  And if Indian news media reaction was over the top, comments from some of India’s politicians were abominable.

But let us not conflate reaction to the skirmishes with internal dialog in India on the implications of the “peace process” on India.  Mr. Sethi alleges that India’s media scuttled alleged attempts by New Delhi to withdraw from Siachen Glacier and the possibility of prime minister Manmohan Singh visiting Pakistan.  However, what Mr. Sethi saw were not machinations of India’s media to sabotage the peace process, but India’s citizens questioning the actions of their democratically-elected government.  That some of these questions are conveyed through the medium of acutely hyperventilating TV news channels does not invalidate the questions themselves.

India’s citizens have a right to question the government they’ve put into office, when reports emerge of unilateral withdrawals from Siachen that many feel are not in India’s interests.  India’s citizens also have a right to know what Pakistan has done by way of bringing to book those responsible for the 26/11 carnage to warrant an official visit from the prime minister of the India.  These questions aren’t only posed by the Indian news media, but by Indian commentators of all walks of life (1, 2, 3, 4).  It would be wrong on the part of anyone to dismiss these legitimate questions as media propaganda.  It would be equally wrong to believe that Indian citizens registering their dissent frustrates and impedes attempts to promote someone’s version of what constitutes “peace” from across the border.

The fact is, Pakistan has done absolutely nothing to convince a large constituent of India’s electorate of the noble intentions it says it has (no, MFN does not count).   Hafiz Saeed lives large in Pakistan, delivering keynote addresses at Lahore High Court, while infiltrations from Pakistan into J&K continue.  Mr. Sethi’s version of “peace” requires India to unilaterally withdraw from a strategic position it has held unchallenged since 1984, and requires the Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan, while not making any demands of Pakistan on issues of interest to India.  Peace is great, but cannot be implemented at the cost of India’s national interests.  If this is Mr. Sethi’s vision of “peace,” then thank you, India is better off without it.

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Pakistan’s resurgent hardline narrative

India needs options to counter looming threats beyond current LoC skirmishes.

On January 8, Pakistani soldiers affiliated with 29 Baloch regiment infiltrated across the Line of Control (LoC) at Mendhar sector in Poonch, ambushed 4 Indian soldiers, and according to news sources, “mutilated” the bodies of two jawans.  Defense Minister AK Antony termed the act “highly objectionable,” while MEA’s official spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, called it “ghastly and unacceptable.”

Some reports indicate that at least one of the soldiers was beheaded.  If true, this would not be the first of such an occurrence.  Historically, beheadings of Indian troops were carried out by terror groups affiliated with the Pakistani army and by members of Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG).  In one such incident in 1999 2000, Ilyas Kashmiri, a member of the SSG (as well as future leader of HuJI’s 313 Brigade, and the “operational commander” behind 26/11) killed an Indian soldier, beheaded him, and allegedly presented the head as “trophy” to his then-COAS, Parvez Musharraf, for which he was highly commended.

In the face of such provocation, India’s response has been measured.  External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid promised a “proportionate” response.  Foreign Secretary Mathai summoned Pakistani High Commissioner Salman Bashir  to protest the incident, who in turn, flatly denied that it ever occurred (as is Pakistan’s m.o.).  To be sure, it is in India’s interests not to escalate the situation along the LoC and to ensure that the ceasefire remains in place.  Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex has never been a big fan of the 2003 ceasefire, as it poses certain challenges to its well-known bad habits.

It is therefore in India’s national security interests to ensure that these bad habits remain curtailed.  Military escalation, over an incident — heinous though the killings were — having little tactical or strategic significance (purely from a military standpoint) to India would not be wise.  Of course, non-military options are available at the government’s disposal, which can be used at a time and place of its choosing.

The Big Picture

But more broadly, what should concern India is the increasing assertiveness in Pakistan’s discourse of a more hardline narrative towards India.  Over the past several days and weeks, there has been disproportionate anti-India coverage in Pakistan’s Urdu press. (1, 2, 3).  This increasing assertiveness could have implications beyond the current skirmishes across the LoC.  The reasons for a more hardline stance towards India could be many.

First, there could be a realization in Rawalpindi that territorial negotiations with the UPA have reached a point of no success for Pakistan. Whatever faith the generals in Rawalpindi initially placed in prime minister Manmohan Singh to deliver magnanimous, Pakistan-friendly solutions to territorial disputes appears to have dissipated with the realization that negotiations have reached a cul-de-sac.  Trade talks, discussions on negative- and positive-lists may continue, but we are effectively back to square-one on issues of any real significance to Pakistan.

Second, while sections of our media misread recent updates to Pakistan’s “Green Book,” the inclusion of a section on “sub-conventional warfare” is interesting.  Pakistan is faced with a serious challenge to its internal security from well-armed militants.  It can seek to counter this challenge by [a] appealing to the militants to lay down their arms (ineffective), [b] military confrontation (costly), [c] absorbing those willing into Pakistan’s security forces, or [d] re-orienting them towards another target (i.e., India).

Indeed, recent statements from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has no direct quarrel with India, nor any capacity today to attack it, must be seen in this light.  This could pose a bigger challenge to India when hundreds of thousands of well-armed, but unemployed “mujahideen” return from Afghanistan to Pakistan in 2014.

The third is the Kayani angle.  Gen. Kayani, no doubt, did not endear himself to his Corps Commanders when he sought, and was given, an unprecedented extension as COAS in July 2010.  Now, while we can never be sure if he favored PPP’s on-going dialog with India, we know that he didn’t try to actively undermine it.  The big question mark is who will replace Gen. Kayani in November 2013, and what will his successor’s views be on India and the U.S.

There’s growing unease in Rawalpindi in the way Gen. Kayani handled the bin Laden raid, the Salala incident, the unrelenting U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, or peace talks with India.  What better way, then, for an aspiring COAS to present his credentials and ingratiate himself with the rank and file of the armed forces than by towing a harder line towards the neighbor on the east?

Lastly, Pakistan’s generals feel they are now in a position to affect a Pakistan-favorable solution to Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves in 2014, while continuing to be ensured of U.S. financial largesse in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism funds (this is a bad assumption for Pakistan to make, by the way.  Remember the Pressler Amendment)?

Securing an advantageous position in Afghanistan and continued economic assistance from the U.S. renders the need to play nice with India moot; or so the thinking of the military-jihadi complex goes.  The increasingly assertive hardline stance could mean increased attacks, both in J&K, and in “mainland” India in the months and years ahead.  New Delhi ought to be considering options to deal with threats emanating from the resurgent hardline narrative, beyond the current skirmishes at the LoC.

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