Monday, October 25, 2021

Beyond Pathankot attack: India needs intelligence-based diplomacy

For India's national security, the threats of ISIS and cross border terrorism are equally grave.

Written by DC Pathak |
January 8, 2016 4:40:07 pm
Security personnel at the perimeter fence of the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot on Wednesday. (Express Photo by: Gurmeet Singh) Security personnel at the perimeter fence of the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. (File/Express Photo by: Gurmeet Singh)

The impromptu consultations that our External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had with a group of former envoys of India to Pakistan – in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base – give her credit for trying to understand in depth how the Indo-Pak relations have shaped over the years. The government does face the challenge of formulating an appropriate but firm Pak policy in the aftermath of yet another huge covert offensive from across our western border.

The exercise of informal consultations with former diplomats – it is hoped – flagged an important reminder that foreign policy was the product of national security and economic concerns and that diplomacy is a vehicle for negotiating international relations to our advantage on these two fronts. Diplomatic protocols for creating goodwill towards a potential friend can not be replicated in the handling of a determined adversary. An interaction with a mixed group of foreign policy and national security handlers who dealt with Pakistan in recent years, would have reinforced the concept that a foreign policy response had to be in sync with the national security estimates.

We committed a faux pas at Havana by granting shared victimhood to Pakistan in regard to terrorism, totally disregarding our intelligence that clearly said that the militant outfits mentored by Pak army-ISI, such as the LeT and HuM, which were attacking India were different from the Islamic radicals of Taliban-al Qaeda umbrella. The latter were combating the US-led West and were hostile to Pak army’s perceived support to ‘war on terror’. The outfits let loose on India were an instrument in the hands of the Pak army and these remained on the right side of the West as they, in fact, represented the stream of militancy that had earlier confronted the pro-Left regimes in the Arab and Muslim world during the Cold War.

It has to be understood that the security imperatives of our problem with Pakistan have assumed a new dimension after the success of the anti-Soviet armed campaign in Afghanistan which became coterminous with the end of the Cold War. Flush with the victory in Afghanistan, the Pak army lost no time in making an ambitious plan of replicating the Afghan Jehad in Kashmir by despatching Mujahideen of the outfits under its control, to the Valley.

The insurgency in J&K promoted earlier on the slogan of plebiscite or Azadi was now fostered in the name of Islam. It was enlarged into a proxy war against India as cross border terrorists were asked to target strategic assets and communally sensitive establishments in other parts of the country, as well.

During the ‘war on terror’ that was provoked by 9/11 – an event that in turn had a background linkage with the ouster of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the Pak army was the blue-eyed boy of the US strategists who chose to look the other way when cross border terrorism was being unleashed on India. And now that the end of the ‘war on terror’ has been contemplated, the situation from India’s point of view remains much the same as the US is heavily dependent on the Pak army for protecting American interests in Afghanistan against the threat from the Islamic radicals of Taliban-al Qaeda combine.

The challenge that India faces in dealing with Pakistan is compounded by the continuing Indo-US differential on the Pak-sponsored cross border terrorism against India. Already there is an attempt to bail out the Pak army following the attack on the Pathankot air base – just like what was done after 26/11 – by promoting the view that the offensive was totally attributable to ‘non – state actors’.

India, because of its history of Partition, has an added vulnerability to faith-based militancy that the anti-India outfits shielded by Pak army – ISI are inflicting on India. We need to find our own strategy of countering it. While talking to the civilian leadership of Pakistan that unfortunately only fig-leafs its army, first an answer has to be sought for the accountability for the Pathankot attack and then an assurance on the concrete steps that would be taken to disarm LeT, Jaish-e- Mohammad and the United Jehad Council – a front of HuM.

The learning from the Indian experience through the regimes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh is that our strategy should be a combination of exposing the rogue character of the Pak army and compelling the civilian leadership of Pakistan to prove its hold on the governance of its country. A deterrent military response on the border should be accompanied by a determined bid to detect every militant on our soil through a joint centre-state and civil-military endeavour. This is an ongoing project that should be handled by a designated individual-one at the Centre and one in each State. Their responsibility is to ensure dissemination of ‘total’ intelligence to the concerned and pursuit of coordinated action by the central and state agencies, all the time.

With the US-led West preparing for a second ‘war on terror’ against the Islamic radicals posing a renewed and much larger threat to it – as is evident from the rise of ISIS and the revival of al Qaeda around Iraq and Afghanistan respectively – there is a political regrouping in the Muslim world that is reminiscent of the Cold War divisions. The recent initiative of Saudi Arabia in establishing an Islamic block of 34 countries to counter radicals echoes the event by which it had created the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1974 to build Pan-Islamism on a friendly grid with the West.

For India’s national security, the threats of ISIS and cross border terrorism are equally grave. The overriding danger of faith- based militancy that is being churned up by these two streams specially affect India which does not have the comfort of distance that US enjoys in relation to this problem. The threat to India will grow further as the Pak ISI has built many bridges with the outfits of the radical umbrella ever since it helped to install Taliban in power in Afghanistan in 1996 and is now in a position to instigate terrorist attacks on the added alibi of blaming it all on ISIS-al Qaeda camp. The attack on our Consulate at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan last week illustrates this, once again. Our foreign policy responses to Pakistan and the rest of the world must be based on our intelligence about these intricate maneuverings of the adversary.

The writer is former director, Intelligence Bureau

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