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l November 03' l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 3, No 7 l

L A S T  W O R D

Indo-Pak: Another Swing of the Pendulum  

Ajai Sahni


India's policy on Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), on terrorism, and on the principal sponsor of terrorism in South Asia - Pakistan - has often been criticized for its inconsistencies. Over the past years, however, an increasing consistency has been evident - though perhaps not in any particularly constructive sense: the consistency of a pendulum, swinging with insistent regularity from one extreme to the other.

This fruitless cycle has been repeated in an endless succession of 'peace initiatives' at the highest level - regularly interrupted by escalating violence, military mobilization, coercive diplomacy and belligerent political rhetoric - certainly since the Prime Minister's 'Ramadan Ceasefire' (cessation of offensive operations against terrorists) in November 2000, and indeed, at different stages before.

The current set of initiatives is one more directionless link in a chain that is steadily losing credibility, even among those who watch these processes from a great distance. Thus, the US Congressional Research Service has already dismissed the current process as 'moribund', though a delusional Indian media and a gaggle of 'experts' committed to what has been called, in another context, the 'political realism of appeasement', continue to wax eloquent on the 'confidence building measures' announced.

The current 'peace process', like its predecessors, is doomed to inevitable failure, in the first instance, because, it does not reflect the realities of the ground, or any radical shift in the fundamental positions, either of India or Pakistan. Thus, any negotiations, within this context, would seek only to advance the tactical objectives of the engaging parties. The possibilities of a fundamental and strategic shift in the Pakistani perspective, and tactical agenda are remote.

Pakistan - and the elites that control power, not just the present regime, in that country - remains entirely committed to its founding ideology of Islamism and religious exclusion, and consequently, to undermining the integrity of the secular, democratic Indian nation state (characteristics that India would be entirely unwilling to compromise or dilute).

Evidence of Pakistan's unwavering strategic perspectives - despite broad tactical variations - can be discovered in relation to recent events and policies in another theatre: Afghanistan. In the wake of the 9/11 incidents and US pressure on Pakistan to join the 'global coalition against terror', Pakistan was widely seen to have performed a U-turn on its Afghan policy, and to have 'abandoned' its long standing quest for 'strategic depth' through interference in the internal affairs of that country.

Proof of the Pakistani 'U-turn' has been vociferously asserted through a steady dribble of Al Qaeda cadres handed over to US Forces, though it is far from clear how much of this trickle is voluntary or coerced. Nevertheless, as the American attention wavers, there is mounting evidence that Pakistan is reviving its earlier policies on Afghanistan, using various proxies to put the Hamid Karzai regime under pressure, and offering its 'services' to America to help mobilize forces - including the remnants of its surrogate, the Taliban, incredibly being repackaged as a 'moderate Taliban' - that could 'help fill' the existing power vacuum in the uncontrolled areas beyond Kabul's sway.

Clearly, while Pakistan has executed dramatic policy shifts to cope with the exigencies and imperatives arising out of the post-9/11 scenario, its fundamental strategic perspectives remain tied to the pre-9/11 world, and to the original ideological impulses of its creation. This fact underpins its responses in J&K, and with regard to its wider support to terrorism in various theatres in India as well.

The most probable assumption, consequently, is that the current 'peace process' will simply be used by Pakistan as an instrumentality to focus attention on what it calls the 'core issue' of Kashmir. As a result, an extended process of 'negotiations' may be entered into, but would remain no more than a charade (the obvious mischievousness of some of Pakistan's 'counter-proposals', indeed, the rather shrill rhetoric on both sides, seems to suggest that the shared intent is more theatrical than substantive).

Terrorist activities on Indian soil would, consequently, be sustained; would be calibrated to the exigencies of both bilateral and international developments; and would tend to be held at maximal levels at which 'credible minimal deniability' can be maintained. Over the coming weeks, state support by Pakistan to terrorist organizations, and their visible presence and activities on Pakistani soil, may temporarily be driven deeper underground; as the 'peace initiative' is seen to progress, some symbolic - but necessarily ineffectual - action may again be taken against some of the groups to demonstrate Pakistan's 'seriousness' in 'tackling terrorism'; but terrorist activities in J&K and other parts of India would be retained at the maximum possible within the limits of international tolerance.

Increasingly, moreover, assertive elements in the Army and the Inter Services Intelligence, as well as fundamentalist political and extremist groupings in Pakistan, would tend to promote and consolidate independent capacities to promote the jehadi agenda; past experience, however, has demonstrated that Musharraf would, nevertheless, retain control, since most of the jehadi groups are, in fact, held firmly 'by the scruff of their necks' by the Army.

Such groups will also continue to cement alliances with various other Islamist extremist entities, such as the al Qaeda and the Taliban, active or present in Pakistan, as well as with the organized criminal underground. At the stage where Pakistan finds itself losing out in the propaganda war over the 'peace process', these entities can be expected to immediately escalate violence to engineer major terrorist strikes in India at a stage where the blame for a 'breakdown' can passed on to alleged Indian intransigence.

The space for covert sponsorship of terrorism in South Asia - by both state and non-state entities - is seen to have substantially expanded after a temporary post-9/11 contraction, particularly since the beginning of the US campaign in Iraq, and increasingly since the apparently mismanaged 'peace' there. The future of terrorism in South Asia is integrally linked to the stabilization of both Afghanistan and Iraq, and perceptions of US vulnerabilities in these theatres will encourage traditional sponsors of terrorism in South Asia to escalate terrorist campaigns, not only against rivals within the region, but increasingly against US and Western interests as well.

The continuous succession of strikes against US Forces in Iraq; the growing disorders in Afghanistan; the rising and manifest consternation in the US regarding the increasing toll in American lives; and the growing significance of events in Iraq in US domestic politics and President Bush's re-election prospects next year, are all creating complex incentives for an escalation in terror across the world.

The ideologues and campaign managers of Islamist extremism are becoming convinced that the world's sole superpower - though it cannot be confronted directly in conventional conflict - is nevertheless vulnerable to the 'war of the flea'. The destruction of the capacities and infrastructure of terrorism, consequently, now becomes the most urgent imperative of the global war against terrorism.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence of significant diminution in these, despite the steady stream of 'victories' chalked up through the arrest or neutralization of individual terrorists.

Author is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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