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NGI Politics: Post-Pathankot Speculations And Hopes

Kanchan Banejee

One wonders why gun battles in the 21st century seem as frequent as the tribal conflicts of the stone age. Is our civilization more barbaric? Today the world should worry more about the elimination of poverty and focus on the pursuit of higher goals in life. Ideologies of violence and monsters of war seem to be staying with us for a long time to come!

Just like you, I’ve been following the Pathankot, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad terror campaigns, but with an open mind. Frustratingly, PM Modi is silent after his initial statement! Speculations and commentaries are far and wide. Really speaking, how many of us even know how military operations, counterterrorism, and counterintelligence work and who are we to criticize or evaluate them?

Someone said that ‘PM Modi has a connection with the terrorists’ - fantastic! That made my day and I decided to write.  It won’t surprise me if someone claims that the Patankhot strike was planned by the PMO-NSA! I think some people in India and abroad are very disappointed that the Indian operation was successful, though with 7 supreme sacrifices.  As if they wanted this operation to fail. I’ve been an advocate of tough action against Pakistan’s military. After decades of utter neglect to modernize the military question may arise -  how much ‘war-ready’ India is! However, the turn of the events has opened a window to view this reality differently.

The commoners say: this was a fall-out of Modi meeting Sharif; the typical no-brainer. Vajpayee bus diplomacy followed by the Kargil war - repeat of 1999! The common theme is - you hug them, they will hog you! If you and I are thinking this way, then don’t you think that the same scenario went through Modi’s head as well? Lahore trip, entering the enemy den – impulsive? Whimsical? Did he bet his (and NSA chief Ajit Doval’s) life and reputation for a Nobel Peace prize? I know some of you are nodding assuming that Modi is so naïve and gullible! Think again, it is rather derogatory to think that way! And how long it took the terrorists to plan for this attack? 7 days? Wow!

Objectively speaking - the operation of the Indian security apparatus was quite successful, especially considering the constraints under which they had to work. On top of that, various Indian safety and security organizations, medias and bureaucracies are infested with agents of destruction – perhaps that’s the explanation of how they could enter the area with such heavy weaponry. Think about this: the terrorists had the most lethal weapons, not only to kill people, but to destroy the fighter jets and helicopters.  In addition, the lives of over 3000 residents were under heavy risk, apart from the lives of the personnel engaged and living there.  You are talking about a 25 kilometer area in the dark of night! How they were able to enter the airbase is a big question, but let us wait for the answer. For now, let us see how the episode fared.

Was there any prior intelligence collected? Yes.  Success #1

Were the security arrangements made in a timely manner? Yes. Success #2

All the targeted assets are safe. Success #3

No civilian casualties (except for the taxi driver). Success #4

And casualties are limited to 8. Success #5. Why? Because just one grenade could have killed many. The attack happened early during a dark chilly morning.

Could the 7 brave lives be saved? May be, maybe not!

While there are many questions for which we may or may not get the answers to and the so-called gaps and lapses will be debated forever, lessons learned from here will definitely help in future and at least gaps in the system will have a chance to get fixed.  

Now let us review Modi's diplomacy. Those who know the PM personally can tell what kind of mettle he has! He is not an arm-chair leader, he is fearless yet strategic, seasoned and one of the few political leaders in history who has dealt with so many tough challenges personally.  The world does not need leaders acting on instincts and whimsicality, even if 1.3 billion people egg him on to show off. The PM has been silent so far on his plans. Common sense tells, maybe he needs to tell the people of India what is on his mind and what his game plan is. But not all things, especially geopolitics are common-sense matters. Revealing his plans may make people feel good – but should he give away his strategy and perhaps make some uncertain promises? Because outcomes of these complicated matters are at times simply like a move in a chess game, unpredictable!

Let us quickly review the changes at the geopolitical scene since 1999. There are several new developments which were unthinkable then.

The moment the US army vacated Afghanistan, India’s threat from the Taliban has significantly increased, as it has put the burden back on the Afghan people. The Taliban, with the support of a section of Pakistanis have been emboldened. That’s bad news both for people and governments of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

JEM & LET are on the terror list of the US. So far their leaders and operatives were scot free when it came to their operations in Pakistan against India. But now, US authorities openly talk about this dubiousness; in the past the US has looked the other way due to effective Pak military’s blackmailing by showing nuclear arsenals, failed state blah blah. But recently many lawmakers in the US are openly criticizing and opening the door for the policymakers to seriously change the mindset.

A few days after the Pathankot episode, Sharif called Modi with near admission of guilt. Has this happened before? The popular phrase of Pak response in the past on these situations has been India’s ‘figment of imagination’!

Can Sharif do much? Good question. Should he be given a chance? What is there to lose?

For a second, let us hypothetically think that India has consensus with the US and Russia (and perhaps China) that there is an immediate need to break the teeth of Islamists in that region. PM Modi’s stormy three nation trip after Paris where he met with Sharif and Obama may give some hints!

Experts and laymen alike have the habit of blaming ‘America’ for many things. Which America are we talking about? People of America? Do they support violence? No.

The US Government? The answer should be a clear ‘no’, but one cannot be sure of that. On the surface, the government is at least on the side of India. The hawks and war mongers behind the scene? We can’t tell. Many of the American political actors have moved far away from the dreams of its founding fathers, sadly. However, it is encouraging that there is pressure on US lawmakers to show ROI for America on Pakistan. The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 which allowed aid packages to Pakistan to curb terror was a step forward if monitored and implemented properly – a departure from the past funding without any strings attached. Now there is pressure to only provide aid for the civilian government - that will be a major next step.  The time is ripe for America to stop all military aid, including weapons and fighter jets to Pakistan. Pakistan does not need these weapons!

Democratic Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard needs more support for her bold move. Republican Congressman Ted Poe’s call to stop aid to a terror state is encouraging. Where are the Indian-Americans who were gung-ho about the nuclear treaty? Pakistan must focus on their own revenue generating, job-creating industries and stop living off foreign aid, most of which goes to the military establishment. Pakistan’s prosperity and progress is a prerequisite to peace in the region. I see the eyebrows raised by some – peace and Pakistan?! Yes, we know it very well that as long as Jihadi Islamist ideology is around us, there is no permanent peace. But we also must look at the short term possibilities as well.

China also has its own concern about terrorism, though nowhere close to what India faces. It has tremendous geo-political and economic interest in Pakistan, yet, during the BRICS summit it said that it was willing to work with Pakistan and India in curbing terror. After all, the Pakistani military had helped China during the crackdown on East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in China’s Xinjiang province. Also the same Pak army assisted China in Waziristan and other tribal areas where Xinjiang’s separatist Uyghur militants affiliated to Al-Qaeda operated.

Yes, China has blocked India’s move at a meeting of the UN Sanctions Committee in June, seeking action against Pakistan for releasing Lakhvi in the 26/11 trial in violation of a UN resolution on grounds that New Delhi did not provide sufficient information. Modi personally took up the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

As China has such a cozy relationship with Pakistan, is it impossible for Indians to work with them to put pressure on Pak? Chances are low, but should India try? Yes! After all, the Modi Government has a workable relationship with China now.

Saudi Arabia’s dwindling importance due to the end of their oil power and collapse of the economy in a foreseeable future will help reduce the spread of Islamism. But in the interim the US, India, Russia as well as Pakistan need to reevaluate their equation with them.

The world is rightly concerned about the failed state of Pakistan. It is extremely dangerous with its nuclear arsenals. No one can deny that.

As we all can see, things are not the same as 1999. Sharif was exiled by Musharraf. Now Musharraf is in exile. Benazir Bhutto’s 1000-year war cry with India followed her to her grave. Sharif may be a gentleman, he may not be a hawk – even then, he has managed to form and head the civilian government. He has two choices – either create history or become an insignificant part of history.  Remain a puppet of the military and live in fear of being overthrown and of death or use India’s support to change the status quo. In 1999 Sharif was not aware of exactly what Musharraf as the army chief was doing during the horrific Kargil war. This time around with the global support, maybe, I repeat, maybe he can make some difference.

In addition, India has to worry about developments in Bangladesh and Nepal - terror breeding centers are increasing, especially in Bangladesh, though the Modi government has an excellent relationship with Bangladesh when it comes to curbing terror. As a matter of fact, Bangladesh could be a good role model for Pakistan if it wants progress. Though ethnically and linguistically a homogenous society, despite a huge population explosion, its economy is getting better. It is relatively competent when dealing with extremists though minorities are persecuted on a daily basis. They did not let go the war criminals of 1971. Yes, Bangladesh has India’s help and support. Is it possible that Sharif whispered in Modi’s ear – ‘I need your help - for myself and my people’! Wishful thinking? May be!

Now let us focus back on India.

India is home to 2nd largest Muslim population in the world. Radical elements are working incessantly with the forces outside. India really has a big challenge to contain and control the radicalization of its Muslim population. If the current Malda incident is any indicator, then the Indian government, strategists and security agencies have a huge task cut out for them! Vote bank politics allow criminalization of society, but more importantly states like West Bengal have extended these crimes into religious fanaticism which is rarely reported by the media.

Ajit Doval, the NSA chief of India, is in reality a super-cop. He has no mercy for the terrorists. He has been dealing with the menace for many years with ground zero experience when he went undercover in Pakistan as a Muslim for 7 years to breach the intelligence network in the region to safeguard India. So, anyone who underestimates the work of this ex-Director of the Intelligence Bureau must think again.

The combination of Modi and Doval leadership is the best for the security of not just India, but also all peace loving people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. So, let people give them the opportunity to execute their plans. Even if they could not achieve what people would like to, still, their efforts are guided by certain achievable goals.

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s contribution to the world is mainly hatred and violence. The people of Pakistan are also victims, extremists and seculars alike.  We have two choices at hand – isolate and destroy the nation or engage and sanitize it. Which one is more realistic and less impossible?  Is there a third option?

If Sharif cannot deliver anything, then India must be planning for the next step. Neutralize the county by helping the suffering Baluchs, the Sindhis and other ethnic groups who would like to be independent. That may happen naturally, but the world can help by expediting it. Hindus and Sikhs go through tremendous religious persecution every day there; they have no freedom and their numbers are dwindling.

Pakistan was created with the idea that the Muslims of India could not live with the Kafirs. At the end of the day, the root-cause is this hatred towards the Kafirs, the non-believers. A recent show-off of Muslim fanaticism in Malda, West Bengal is clear proof of that. As long as this animosity is there, generations of India-haters are created not in the madrassas only, but also in the regular schools in Pakistan.  While India must curb the influence of extremists in its own madrassas, secular and modern education must be spread faster in all 3 countries – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - that is the only viable long term solution.

Can the world seize the moment to wait and see what Modi’s plans are? After all, his meetings with the world leaders have shown his very unique way of building relationships and rapports. Let us not doubt that these relationships are going to yield positive results in the subcontinent in terms of peace and development. And for that reason he does not have to please the doubting Thomas’s. But it is very important that along with clear strategy and plan, the security leaders in India must cleanse the country of the fifth columns!

On the question of whether the Indian authorities are doing good job in terms of counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence etc., it is better to leave that to the qualified. As noted before, the combo of Modi–Doval gives great hope and should be supported by all, including all the political parties and the media; they can do lot more than many may imagine.

After all this, if we are wrong once more, it would be sad; one more opportunity wasted, but we should also be ready to embrace surprises. Let us put faith in people in responsible positions who are trying to put forth their best effort. After all, the hug between Modi and Sharif was not the Shivaji-Afzal hug, a different kind, for different purpose!  I’m not a security expert, but an eternal optimist, and that’s what keeps us rolling, even in the starkest of situations. And a final question – where is the sympathy wave of Paris, for India? Was it because the agencies and the brave cops ensured no civilian deaths?

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