Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The possibility of Pakistan becoming a failed state unnerves Washington because there is no knowing who might gain access to its nuclear armoury and know-how in the light of its earlier record as a retail nuclear proliferator through Dr A.Q. Khan

Leaks, “Literature”, Lies, Liability

The Wikileaks flood offers further evidence of collateral damage and a curious abdication of responsibility as the USA jockeys to “manage” Pakistan.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 2 August, 2010

Not since the Pentagon Papers has the United States faced the embarrassment of such a massive leak about a dirty war in which it is involved. This time, among the primary victims of the collateral damage that is so easily shrugged off is India. The issue is not the alleged ethics or irresponsibility of the exposure by Wikileaks, the whistleblower, but the ethics and responsibility of those exposed, the US and Pakistan.

Little of what has been leaked pertaining to the diabolical attacks on India and Indian interests in Afghanistan by the ISI and its LeT and Taliban agents is new. India has proclaimed its concerns loud and clear for years, only to be fobbed off with occasional lip sympathy and advice to exercise restraint despite vicious and bloody provocation. This, so that the so-called war on terror in Afghanistan can be pursued without such awkward distractions as Pakistan “playing both sides”, in the words of David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, in Delhi last week, and being accorded license to practice terror across its eastern border and supplied more and more arms and sophisticated weaponry for its pains.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Richard Holbrooke, the US AfPak envoy, have just visited the region and chastised Pakistan for its truancy in strong terms. Mrs Clinton alleged that some in Pakistan know that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are hiding somewhere in the country but will not tell, and then left after announcing another tranche of $500 m in military aid to fight the good fight. The US military aid package of $ 7 bn to Pakistan for the War on Terror signed 18 months ago was qualified by the Kerry-Lugar amendment stipulating further releases of aid installments only on certification of appropriate use of preceding grants without unauthorized leakages and diversions for sub rosa jihad and terror operations. What has happened to this stipulation? Did Pakistan pass the test? The Wikileak papers clearly suggest that it did not. Mrs Clinton and Holbrooke have also said as much. Yet, it is business as usual with the aid faucet turned on full.

The Wikileak papers will aggravate unease in the United States and among its NATO partners that the War on Terror is not going well. As the US elections approach, political arithmetic will also increasingly come into play, casting a shadow on how and how long the operations in Afghanistan will be prosecuted. Will Iraq be stable by then or will it witness a new time of troubles? And how will US-Iran relations play out? Amidst these imponderables, David Blackwill, former US Ambassador in India, has advocated the virtual partitioning of Afghanistan, with the US and its allies buttressing the non-Pashtun northern and western areas, leaving the Talibanised east and south to be militarily “disciplined” through aerial action from there, and presumably from Pakistan, as and when necessary. Desperate men will do anything. But would such a policy be wise or viable? And with what consequences?

It is noteworthy that Gen. Kayani, currently Pakistan’s Army chief and ISI head during much of the period covered by the Wikileak papers, has been granted a three-year extension to ensure continuity in anti-terror policy and operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under his leadership, the Army has staged a political comeback after the loss of prestige it suffered in the closing period of the Musharraf era. Behind the civilian façade, the General is now in full control. The Americans know that and in buttressing Pakistan despite its Wikileak derelictions, it is reinforcing military supremacy in Pakistan and stacking the odds against civilian authority and incipient democratic forces in that country.

The possibility of Pakistan becoming a failed state unnerves Washington because there is no knowing who might gain access to its nuclear armoury and know-how in the light of its earlier record as a retail nuclear proliferator through Dr A.Q. Khan. Apart from Pakistan’s geo-strategic location for their military engagement in Afghanistan, the Americans believe that the Army constitutes the only cohesive force that might prevent the state from unravelling. But here too the US has a vicarious responsibility for willfully shutting its eyes to Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear programme in the 1980s and in preventing others in nipping the mischief in the bud. The Dutch, for one, had caught A.Q. Khan thieving advanced nuclear know-how from one of their laboratories where he was employed.

Pakistan’s predicament stems from a deep-rooted negative identity problem. Sixty years after its creation, it still sees itself as India’s “other”. This deeply flawed self-image is manifest in its inability to define its history, geography, federalism, culture or founding “ideology of Islam”, its constitution buffeted by a dubious “doctrine of necessity” that legitimizes military supremacy. A militarized, feudal society seeking coherence through Islamisation has led to radicalization, jihadism and Talibanisation, all of which the underlying liberal Pakistani detests. It is from this trap of “the Indian danger” and of making Pakistan “whole” by grabbing that part of J&K it could not forcibly seize in 1947-48 or since, that Pakistan must be freed. Such jihadi rhetoric, to which India’s alleged “theft” of Indus waters has been added, stems from a cultivated mind-set that is at variance with the warmth and goodwill for India otherwise evident among ordinary Pakistanis.

The answer to this is to keep talking to Pakistan at every level and to permit a free flow of information across the border, even while holding Islamabad to its commitment and duty to bring to justice those arraigned for complicity in 26/11 and stop using cross-border terror as an instrument of state policy. The US, UK, UN, Afghans and many others in and beyond NATO are saying much the same thing. Hollow protestations of innocence have worn thin. Pakistan too is hurting from terror but a terrorism of its own making. Washington must rethink its entire AfPak strategy which has made it as much part of the present problem as it could, potentially, be part of the solution.

Meanwhile, a recrudescence in parts of Kashmir of Friday protests and stone pelting following slogans emanating from mosques suggests a causality that is scarcely veiled. The moderate Hurriyat, the more hard-line Geelani and Salahuddin, the JuD leader sitting in Muzaffarabad, have been rebuffed by these youths. The Union Home Minister has once again said he plans to initiate quiet talks with all those willing to dialogue in J&K. This must extend to all regions and interests - the Hurriyat, Pandits and even the stone-pelters. Those who prefer to stay out cannot claim a veto. The Centre should simultaneously talk to the major national Opposition parties so that movement towards a (step-by-step) settlement is not torpedoed by a lack of consensus in Delhi.

Should the internal dialogue proceed briskly, aided by a trusted interlocutor that the Prime Minister might consider appointing, Pakistan and other spoilers may up the ante but will ultimately find it prudent to fall in line.

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