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Earnest in our impotence

Earnest in our impotence

Author: Ashok Malik
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 10, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/148959/Earnest-in-our-impotence.html

Six weeks have passed since the Mumbai terrorist attack. In this period, the Government has undertaken an admittedly robust diplomatic campaign. Its dossier on Pakistani involvement in the planning and execution of the terror strike and, more important, the release of the dossier to world Governments and the public has been a good move. If nothing else, it makes it impossible for a foreign Government to not take a position, to feign neutrality and to pretend that the provenance of the 26/11 marauders is somehow unknown.

The template for the dossier was not entirely untested. It had been designed during the Kargil War of 1999. On June 11 that year, the then Indian Foreign Minister released transcripts of conversations between Gen Pervez Musharraf and Lt Gen Mohammed Aziz - the Pakistani Army chief and one of his key subordinates.

Gen Muharraf was on a visit to China when the conservations took place. The transcripts established that the Pakistani Army knew about and was complicit in the incursions across the Line of Control. They proved India's charge that it was not just freelance militants and - to borrow an expression that is current - 'non-state actors' who had invaded Jammu & Kashmir but actually the Pakistani Army.

In a sense, the Mumbai terror dossier had the same intention. It sought to clarify that Pakistan's territory and weaponry and ammunition officially procured by that country's military had a role to play in the bloodbath at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi-Trident Hotels and at the Jewish cultural centre in Nariman House.

There is, of course, one crucial difference. In 1999, India used its intelligence findings to vindicate its military response, and its beating back of the Kargil invasion. Led by the United States, major powers recognised that Pakistan had deliberately, by an act of state policy, tried to change the LoC and supported India's contention that this could not be condoned.

The situation today is very different. There is no military assault that India is planning or seeking to build a case for. The presentation of the dossier to embassies in New Delhi was the culmination of India's diplomatic effort and, frankly, about as far as the Government can go - or wants to go.

For the immediate future, the UPA Government has a two-fold agenda. First, it wants to keep the pressure on Pakistan - using whatever international diplomatic control is possible on that country's state, para-state, semi-state, non-state or other type of actors - to prevent a repeat Mumbai-style attack before the Lok Sabha election.

Second, the Government wants some bauble for the Congress to be able to exploit politically. The extradition of a terror operative or two would help the ruling party boast that its hardball tactics worked.

In the best case scenario the Congress would have wanted Maulana Masood Azhar brought back to India. However, since the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief was not implicated in the Mumbai assault, a suitable Lashkar-e-Tayyeba member - the now infamous Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, for instance - would be deemed suitable. In the coming election campaign, the UPA Government's 'capture' of a top jihadi would be a good contrast to the NDA's 'surrender' at Kandahar.

This limited objective would suit the United States too. It would be able to simultaneously tell India and Pakistan that it had got the other country to back off; it would be able to simultaneously argue that it prevented conflict in South Asia and pursued a policy of bringing terrorists to justice.

There is no guarantee that this scenario will play itself out. It depends on the level of pressure maintained by the incoming Barack Obama Administration on the military brass in Rawalpindi. It also hinges on the Pakistani strategic establishment's ability to cold-bloodedly cut its losses, sacrifice a pawn to ensure staying in the game - much like Gen Musharraf's jettisoning of the Taliban in Kabul after 9/11.

It is clear then that all three actors in the fray - the UPA Government in New Delhi, the outgoing and incoming administrations in Washington, DC, and the Generals who run the show in Islamabad - have narrow, short-term goals in mind.

For common Indians, the larger and sobering realisation is that apart from strong statements from the Foreign Minister and, occasionally, the Prime Minister and documentation of the conspiracy behind 26/11, their Government has, really, run out of options.

Admittedly, it cannot do anything because of historical reasons. That India's counter-terrorism measures are essentially so feeble is not entirely the UPA's fault. Yet, because you inherit weaknesses doesn't mean it is not your responsibility to redress them. Unfortunately, successive Union Governments in India have adopted this stance.

Political correctness and woolly-headed notions of liberalism have manacled India's intelligence network, both domestic and external. In the late 1990s, India helped arm the Northern Alliance in its battle against the Taliban but it has done little to build covert capabilities in Pakistan.

Targeted assassinations, sleuthing and even insurgency promotion in Pakistan were all phenomena India was in a position to influence - even if it didn't actually undertake some of these - till even the early 1990s. Since 1997, three successive Prime Ministers have believed that peace with Pakistan is within reach and perhaps only a few unilateral concessions away.

The first of these peacenik premiers systematically dismantled and compromised Indian strategic assets within Pakistan. The next two didn't bother undoing the damage. India is now paying for that lost decade.

The United States' primary aim for 2009 is to prevent a widely apprehended attack on American soil. In the coming year, as American ground troops possibly take the Taliban war into Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a compelling battle for the future of Afghanistan will begin.

None of this, however, will take away from India's vulnerability - or its lack of heft. American Marines are not going to fight India's battle for it; a nation's strategic imperatives cannot be off-shored.

The future of Pakistan - its stability as a composite, modernist entity; its possible break-up; its absolute surrender to jihadi militias; its ability to rescue itself from toxic religious terrorists - will perhaps be decided in the months to come. India is Pakistan's immediate neighbour, the regional power next door. It is an embarrassment that whatever course events take in Pakistan, India has little ability and fewer proxies to shape them.

Even more than the Mumbai massacre, it is that impotence that hurts.

- malikashok@gmail.com

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