Strategic Response to Pakistan’s India Policy

ByArvind Virmani
August 15, 2013


On 11th May, 2013 General elections were held in Pakistan, and on June 5, 2013 Nawaz Sharif, the leader of PMLN was sworn in as PM with a majority. One of the supporters of the PMLN, in Punjab was the JUD.Indian General electionresults were declared on May 16th giving the BJP a majority in the Lok Sabha. On 23rd May, 2014 the Indian consulate in Herat was attacked by LeT (as suggested by the Afghan President a few days later and confirmed by the US govt. a month later). The BJP-NDA govt was sworn in in the presence of SAARC leaders, including Nawaz Sharif, who were invited for the swearing in on 26th May 2014. It was subsequently announced that the Foreign Secretaries of the two governments would meet in August 2014. On August 14, 2014 PTI leader Imran Khan (Azadi march) and Tahirul Qadri laid siege to the Red zone in the Capital Islamabad. The indo-Pak foreign secretaries meeting was cancelled on August 14, 2014, a week before its scheduled date of August 25, 2014, because Pakistan ignored the call by Foreign secretary not to meet separatist leaders. What does this very event full year portend for Pakistan-India relations?
However, neither the use of force nor diplomacy can serve if we are confused about our Strategy and Objectives. The basis of ‘strategy’ is an unsentimental understanding of the opponent and his strategy and objectives.

Military’s Objectives
After the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the Pakistan Military, fully supported by the entire Pakistan establishment, developed a two pronged strategy of dealing with India: Acquire nuclear weapons and use these as a shield to carry out Jihad against India. Pakistan’s entire international policy and much of its internal policy was driven by this obsession of revenge against India. It was not just a policy of the Military, but was fully supported by and implemented by the Pakistani elites (political, bureaucratic, diplomatic, business, professional).
General Zia ul Haq (1977-88), imposed a policy of state-led Islamization, by bringing in his concept of Sharia, including the infamous blasphemy law. Under his regime, the fundamentalist Ahl-e-Hadith version of Islam, was introduced in (all) school curricula, as a result of which, “An entire generation of Pakistanis studying in public (and secular) schools has grown up viewing not only non-Muslim minorities but also Muslim minorities as “the other,” as “unpatriotic,” and as ‘not Muslim enough’.” Gen Zia Ul Haq, the “Godfather of global Islamic Jehad,” used to greet Indians with an expansive bear hug, so that they would assume that he too thought of them as long lost brothers.
Zia’s successor as Army chief, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg (1988-1991), developed the policy of “Strategic depth,” in an effort to incorporate Afghanistan as a training and operations base for Jihad against India and to improve “deniability.”About 90,000 Afghans, including Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban Emir, were trained by Pakistan’s ISI during the 1980s.
So the first question we have to answer is whether there is any change in this dual policy towards India? There are two parts to this: One relating to the Pakistan Military (PakMil) and the other to the non-military elites of Pakistan.

Jihad & its Supporters
The most important event that will shapethe behavior of the Pakistan Army in the next two years, is the accelerated withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan (by 2014). This withdrawal provides it a golden opportunity to restore its hegemony in Afghanistan. Ideally the Army would like to reestablish the dominant position it had before the Taliban was driven out of Afghanistan and had to shift its headquarters and operating bases to Pakistan (Quetta Shura, Waziristan, ‘Taliban prisoners!’). Failing this it would be happy with a regime that subserves the Pakistan Army’s interests. This is likely to be the central and most vital objective of the Pakistan Army and its primary operational instrument the ISI,during the next two-three years.
The tantalizing hints of a change in Pakistan Army doctrine purportedly downgrading India’s unchallenged position as “sole enemy,” are diplomatic publicity designed to restore Western perceptions of Army led Pakistan as a “trusted ally”. At the same time the Jehadis within the Army–ISI and the “Good Taliban” need to be reassured. The following statement of Maj-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, DG, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) keeps open the possibility of doing both: “Army prepares for all forms of threats. Sub-conventional threat is a reality and is a part of a threat matrix faced by our country. But it doesn’t mean that the conventional threat has receded(quoted in the Express Tribune).”

Signal & Pointers
What then was the motivation for therelatively small but aggressive action across the LOC in January 2013? Several commentators had asserted that this action was designed to send a signal to the Indian Army.To buttress this argument they have pointed to the increase in cease-fire violations compared to a year ago. It has been argued that with the resumption of military and civilian Aid to Pakistan, the Army is again emboldened to ratchet up hostile actions against India, without fear of a serious response from the Indian Government. The factors mentioned by these analysts are certainly relevant for the assessment of the motivation and timing of specific actions of the Pakistan Army and ISI. However, another possibility is that the hostile action is a signal to Pakistan’s own Jehadis, both within the army and outside it.
One of the interesting pointers in this direction was the statement of LeT’s Hafiz Saeed, that this incident was part of the hostile and violent Indian actions across Pakistan and India’s repeated attempts to undermine peace! When a terrorist wanted by the USA, with a reward on his head,a hate monger who gives vitriolic speeches against Indians, talks about “Peace” it is worth noting! Not because it reflects a change of heart, but because it reflects what his handlers would like him to say. The fact that newspapers report that Hafiz Saeed visited POK a few days before the aggressive cross-border actions in January and August, and may have had a direct or indirect role, suggests that the Army wanted the Jihadists to be fully aware of this action, even if India downplayed it (as perhaps they mistakenly expected). Subsequently Hafiz Saeed gave an interview to the US press trying to portray himself as an ordinary person
The second pointer was how quickly Pakistan’s civilian government (EAM Rabani) responded by its diplomatic statement of willingness to refer the incident to the UN, knowing full well that with Pakistan currently chairing the UN security council, India would be more than usually reluctant to refer the incident to anyone outside established bilateral channels. The civilian government has repeatedly faced demands from Pakistani Jihadists to take India to the UN on Kashmir. This was followed by an appeal from the OIC for a fact finding team to J&K. The Army knew beforehand that such an opportunity could arise and perhaps used it as an argument to obtain prior Civilian government approval for limited action on the LOC, that could be used to counter Jehadi criticism of the Army and government “inaction” on Kashmir.
A third pointer was the discovery of mines with Pakistani markings from the Maoist insurgents and reports of ISI activity in the troubled Rhongiya areas on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. The Huriyat leaders who visited Pakistan soon after the incident were reportedly told by the Army brass as well as the leaders of the LeT and the JeM not to participate in any Indian Govt. peace initiative for the next year. More recently the release of ‘Afghan Prisoners’ purportedly to meet the Afghan demand (for handover of Taliban leaders based in Pakistan)half way and to aid theAfghan peace process has been followed by reports that the released leaders are back fighting the US forces. As the middle ranks of the Taliban fighters had been depleted by US drone strikes, the Pakistan Army perhaps thought it could play both sides of the aisle by replenishing depleted Taliban ranks in Afghanistan while presenting this as a peace gesture to the Afghan government (and the USA/UK).
Current Priorities
The hostile Pakistani army actions across the LOC is a signal to the Pakistani jihadists( “Paltu Kuttas” – ‘Pet dogs’)that thePakistan army and Government are not abandoningtheir anti-India policy, in their respective quests: The Army for a dominant role in Afghanistan,financed and underwritten to the maximum extent possible by the USA and the civilian government for normalization of relations with India so as to remove the stigma of being dubbed “terrorist central” and to reduce the control of the Army over the political system and government.
The greater challenge for India is therefore to,
(a) Help stave off a fundamentalist takeover of Afghanistan,and
(b) Prepare for a renewed threat to India (including J&K) from Pakistan controlled jihadists operating from fundamentalist(re-)controlled regions of Afghanistan.
This requires a multipronged Indian effort to increase the cost to the Pakistan Army of a policy of training, financing and directing jihadists and terrorists across the sub-content.

Democracy & Elites
Past developments like the attack of Jihadis outside the control of the Military (Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan) on Pakistan Military officers, vehicles, offices and bases (Mehran Air base Karachi) and the successful killing of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan by the USA have lowered the prestige of the Army and provided some space for the politicians to assert themselves. The reassertion of constitutional rights by the Pakistan Judiciary has also helped in this process, though there are also negative effects. These and other developments have provided some opening for the non-military elites to start questioning the self-serving Anti-India narrative of the Pakistan Army.

Pakistani Elites After 9/11
The Al Qaida attack on the USA (9/11) set in motion a process of learning among the US, UK and other Western analysts and policy makers, who directly or tacitly supported this Pakistan policy by connecting all violation of global rules and practices by Pakistan to something that India did or did not do. The erosion of the international carte blanche for Pakistan, forced a rethink by the globalized English speaking elites of Pakistan. But Inside Pakistan they may be a shrinking minority, decimated by the murder of any one who exposes Pakistan military’s double dealing on Terrorism or draws the ire of the Sunni fundamentalists (misusing anti-blasphemy laws). With the coming of democracy, the leaders of the major Pakistani political parties (PPP, PML-N) have realized that their own and their party’s interests are not identical to those of the Pakistan Military and appear to be willing to consider changing the anti-India policy. Mr. Nawaz Sharif has gone further than Mr. Zardari could, in making clear that more normal relations with India would also be in the interest of his party.
However, in a democracy one must ask, what is the extent of support for changing a policy of anti-India Jihad, to one of Peace. Unfortunately, as the old (English educated) elite has begun to realize that the Frankenstein terrorists they have created may destroy Pakistan itself by taking it back into a medieval age, the new Urdu speaking (Sunni) elites appear to be behind the terrorists. General Zia ul Haq (1977-98), imposed a policy of state-led Islamization, by bringing in his concept of Sharia, including the infamous blasphemy law. Under his regime, the fundamentalist Ahl-e-Hadith version of Islam, was introduced in (all) school curricula as a result of which, “An entire generation of Pakistanis studying in public (and secular) schools has grown up viewing not only non-Muslim minorities but also Muslim minorities as “the other,” as “unpatriotic,” and as ‘not Muslim enough’.”
The impact of this policy is not confined to Hindus, Christians, Ahamadis, Aga Khani’s, Sufis and other offshoots and variants of Islam: “The anti-Shia militants roam with impunity, appear on prime-time talk shows on television and hold political rallies where they declare Shias as unbelievers and Wajib-ul-Qatal (deserving of death). These anti-Shia groups have ties to political parties that afford them both political influence and protection. They are rarely arrested, even after they proudly and publicly announce their deeds—like in the repeated massacres in 2013 of Hazara Shias in Quetta.” (Isphani op cit)“
“The anti-Soviet Afghan jihad of the 1980s not only helped the groups in Afghanistan, it had a massive blowback on Pakistan. Money from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries poured in for madrassas all over Pakistan, bringing curricular changes, a Wahhabi (or as it is referred to in South Asia, Ahl-e-Hadith) version of Islam and its views of both Muslim as well as non-Muslim minorities. The curricular changes were not only in the religious schools but also the secular ones. An entire generation of Pakistanis studying in public (and secular) schools has grown up viewing not only non-Muslim minorities but also Muslim minorities as “the other,” as “unpatriotic,” and as “not Muslim enough.”(Isphani(op cit))”

Elections and After
The period between the announcement of Pakistan’s General election and the announcement of election results were marked by a number of developments: These included disqualification of insufficiently Islamic candidates by the election commission and its officials, supported by the judiciary (in dismissing review petitions). A systematic campaign,by the TTP & related groups, against what were called “liberal parties (ANP, PPP)” in Pakistan context (not global), and the killing/assassination of these parties candidates. The open wooing of the “good jihadi” organizations (Jud, Let, LeJ et al) by Nawaz Sharifand his PML(N) and by Imran Khan and his PTI cannot also be ignored or dismissed as normal “dirty politics” .
The World (including India) perceived the elections in Pakistan as reasonably successful. This gave rise to intense speculation of the changed prospects of better relations between the two countries. Aggressive questions by Indian Media have forced Nawaz Sharif to express positive sentiments about peace with India and to invite the Indian PM for events normally not attended by foreign dignitaries. This led soon after to a counter statement by Syed Salahuddin, head of Hizbul Mujahedeen (HM) and member of the Defa e Pakistan (DeP) warning him not to dilute Pakistan’s anti-India policy. What is the likely policy orientation of a Nawaz Sharif led Civilian Pakistan Government and how if at all is it likely be to be different from policy under the previous Civilian Government?
Nawaz Sharif’s Support Base
Nawaz Sharif owes his clear victory in the election at least in part to, (a) The branding of PPP & ANP as “secular parties” by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its deceleration of war on them during the elections (assassinations/bombing of their candidates, workers and supporteres). (b) Close relations with and support of the Jehadi parties in Punjab like the Jamat U Dawa(JuD) / Lakshar-e-Toiba(LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad(JM). Add to this the votes and seats won by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamat e Islami (JI), the religious fundamentalist base is large. From occasional articles in the English Press it is appears that the post partition (new) Urdu speaking elites of Pakistan (Media, Judiciary, Professionals, Businessman) are much more fundamentalist in their religious beliefs and attitude towards non-Muslim countries, particularly USA and India.
Like any good politician PM Nawaz Sherif is unlikely to openly challenge the objectives of these parties (e.g. Salafi/Wahabi Islamization of Kashmir), which he perhaps shares as part of the Urdu speaking elites. In fact PMLN’s first budget makes an explicit budgetary allocation for the Jamaat U Dawa (JUD) the parent body of the Laksher e Toiba (LeT). PM Nawaz may however, try to convince the Jehadi’s to change their strategy and tactics in the interest of Pakistan’s global image and failing economy.
The other part of his support base, the lower middle class youth looking for jobs and earning opportunities and businessmen looking for profits, could in contrast provide him with an equally strong base for normalizing economic relations and exploring new avenues for mutual economic benefit. To the extent that terrorist bombings and assassinations in Pakistan are a threat to foreign, non-resident Pakistani and even domestic investment (capital flight), the base could support strong measures to restore law and order in Pakistan.
New India Policy?
Nawaz Sharif’s assumption of the reins of government with a democratic mandate reinforces these conclusions and fleshes them out more clearly. Nawaz Sharif in full co-operation of the Army is likely to promote a shift of Jihad related activities (promoting, training, organizing, managing jihad), out of Pakistan and into Afghanistan and the badlands of the Af-Pak borders to increase “deniability”. As he said, he will “not allow Bombay type attacks from the soil of Pakistan.” However, the Jihadi’s will need to be kept happy by reviving cross-border firing and infiltration attempts. As President General Musharraf was responsible for making the cease-fire on the LOC more effective (as part of the peace process), we cannot rule out the possibility of Nawaz Sharif repudiating it internally to allow the Army to revert to the pre-Musharraf posture.
He may also try to moderate the Jehadi’s anti-India & anti-US rhetoric and to keep it out of media that can be accessed easily by foreigners and foreign (including Indian) media. On the other hand he may give a freer hand to diplomats on speaking about Kashmir related issues, while simultaneously stepping up the decibel level on the need for Indo-Pak peace.

Economic Relations
If Nawaz Sharif and his party choose, they can bring about complete normalization of economic-business relations(including investment), trade and transit (to Afghanistan & Central Asia) policy and infrastructure connectivity between Pakistan (+PoK/AK) and India (including J&K). As these are mutually beneficial relations, on our side the need is to meet each other half way (there is no need for special concessions by either party). Many of these ideas were discussed at a Seminar that I attended at the Wilson Center in Washington with eminent Pakistani economists & retired bureaucrats in late 2012. If Pakistan chooses it could become the trading and transport hub for connecting thriving economies of Central Asia, India, Afghanistan (mineral resource potential) and Iran/Gulf countries. The TAPI pipeline project could be brought more firmly on the agenda. Permanent Normal Trading Status (MFN) is economically minor but politically important foundation on which this mutually beneficial relationship can be built. As noted by many observers, the two Punjabs could play a very important role in creating the positive narrative to smooth the political path.
In this, I differ somewhat with those who favor an incremental approach. I would favor an approach that asks the new Pakistan government how quickly and how far they are willing and able to go on all economically related issues and be willing to move as fast as (we judge) they are able to do. I must warn that moving fast does not mean making asymmetric concessions: If the new democratically elected government of Pakistan cannot convince its own electorate of the benefits to Pakistan of economic normalization, then no amount of concessions can help in convincing the masses: They would merely be seen either as a sign of Indian weakness or as attempts to bribe special interests in Pakistan to adopt anti-national policies in Pakistan. Both bilateral and SAARC processes need to be activated to provide a greater flexibility.

India’s Policy Response
India needs to separate non-concessional, mutually beneficial relations from concessional gestures and keep the former from becoming hostage to jihadist bombings in India. Friendly gestures and concessions affect a tiny minority of the elite in Pakistan and have little chance of affecting the behavior of the establishment in Pakistan. If they do not harm the Pakistan Military, its terrorist instrument the ISI, and the Jihadists managed by them (Haqqanis, Laksher e Toiba,HM et al), they have no effect on their behavior. Similarly deadlines and conditions regarding trial and conviction of 26/11 and other cross border terrorist attacks are routinely ignored by the Pakistan Government and retracted by them. This achieves nothing except reducing Indian credibility. The only purpose that these periodic demarches can serve is diplomatic, namely informing World Public opinion of the double faced nature of Pakistan’s statements and actions.
The only way of dealing with the Pakistan Military’s Jehad policy is to devise an anti-terrorist strategy covering not just India but the whole of Southern Asia. We have to be more innovative and bolder in disrupting the Jihad supply chain (including financing), taking the fight to the terrorists across Southern Asia (Afghanistan to Myanmar)and increasing the cost to the Pakistan Military of its Jehad policy. If the supply of defensive equipment to Afghanistan helps strengthen democratic anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, India should proceed with all deliberate speed on the Afghan Government’s request for weapons Aid. Further, as Edward N Luttwak, the military historian and strategist, has convincingly argued (paraphrasing): “On the military front, India’s response should be to decisively inflict damage on Pakistan’s army. The idea is to go for precision strikes at valuable targets that are not of utmost importance (even in a symbolic fashion), but inflict heavy losses on the Pakistan Military for any of its misadventures across the border. India has to acquire capabilities to make such surgical strikes using a relatively small, relatively high-grade commando forces equipped with vehicles to strike selectively and precisely so as to cause maximum damage to targeted installations.”
On the LOC the Indian Army Chief should be empowered to act firmly and proportionately in self-defense (without fuss and public breast beating), to any cross border actions, and without prior permission of the Secretary (Defense)/ Defense Minister, for a defined period(say 1-2 days). One or more MEA officers, familiar with broader diplomatic issues should be seconded to the Army to provide inputs directly to the Army Chief and/or the commander dealing with the LOC.
This should not be construed to mean that we should not talk about or seek a cease fire on the LOC. A genuine cease fire on the LOC is in the mutual interests of the people of India and Pakistan (not the Pak Army) and should remain one of the aims of India-Pakistan relations.
Indian Diplomacy should also document to Shia governments and intellectuals across the World of the ethnic-religious cleansing going on in Pakistan with the connivance, if not active participation (e.g. Baluchistan) of the Pakistan Military and government in it. We should also not do anything that harms the people of Pakistan, particularly those that are genuinely open to good relations with India, while being crystal clear that we have every right to undermine those who support terrorism against India. In fact we should try and find innovative ways of helping groups and sub-groups in Pakistan who are positively inclined towards India, without making it easier for the Pakistan Government to provide funds to organizations like the Jamaat U Dawa (JUD) through its budget.

Business Relations
The most significant area of potential mutual gain for the people of India and Pakistan (positive sum) is the restoration of India-Pakistan-Afghanistan-Central Asia/Iran connectivity (road, rail, air transport), transit, trade and investment relations to a level that prevailed historically. In fact with the resource rich economies of Central Asia booming and China seeking outlets through them and markets in South Asia there is a potential for a quantum leap in economic interactions and mutual benefits. This should be the focus of any formal official interaction between India and Pakistan.

Strategy: Two Prongs
Keeping this background in mind what should be the Indian Governments strategy to deal with Pakistan. As has been clear for some time it is in India’s interest to have a two pronged approach towards Pakistan:
(1) Identify, discuss and implement economic, cultural and other policies that are good for the people of both India and Pakistan. For instance, theory and empirical evidence points to the fact that normal trade, transit, investment backed by good trans-border and trans-Asian (from C. Asia/Iran to Myanmar) infrastructure would be in the interests of both countries and their people. Similarly, genuinely open and symmetric social and cultural policies would be mutually beneficial and can and should be pursued without interruption. What is completely unclear at this point is the case for India to make any asymmetric economic concessions and gestures that are only economically beneficial for Pakistan and financially costly for us. These require a much higher standard of trust in the Pakistan government and in its ability to overcome domestic objections to normalization.
(2) Increase the costs to the Pakistan Military of its anti-India Jihad and thus affect its benefit-cost calculus. This has three elements: (a) The Military as an institution (flow of financial aid and sophisticated equipment & technology), Forceful response to cease fire violations. Targeted attack on valuable (but not iconic/symbolic) assets by a small super-specialized commando force, in response to cross-border terrorist incidents. (b) The Anti-India Jihadi organizations (Take the fight to them all over S. Asia by developing covert assets). (c) The personal interests of serving & retired Army/ISI officers: Identifying & blacklisting (UN, US, west) all those connected with terrorism.

In my view there is likely to be little or no substantive change in Pakistan’s policy towards cross border Jihad, though it may be better nuanced and supported by a more credible civilian government narrative, which will again perhaps befuddle some analysts in the West. The attempted bombing of India’s Consulate in Jalalabad (August 3, 2013) and the joint Pakistan army-Jihadist attack across the LOC(August 6, 2013), confirm this analysis. Any piecemeal deal that helps Pakistan Military’s (Pak Mil) objectives (e.g. Siachin) should be off the table. The first priority for India must be to strengthen anti-terrorist operations not only in India, but across the whole of Southern Asia. The second priority should remain a genuine and lasting cease fire on the LOC.
The new Pakistan government has the business support base and democratic mandate to take significant steps towards normalization of economic relations with India. Whether its fundamentalist support base and the Army veto will allow it do so, is an open question. India should be prepared to meet Pakistan half way to wherever (and however quickly) the Nawaz government is able to move on the economic arena.However, if the Military veto and Jehadi directed (JUD, LeT, HM, JeM)influenced public opinion is so strong that the Pakistan PM cannot act even on minor matters like MFN, it is doubtful whether he can bring about any path breaking changes in Business, Trade and Investment relations between the two countries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>