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Friday, September 23, 2016

India-Pakistan: In a dialogue of sorts

The Uri attack is being taken as one in a series of Pakistani outrages over the recent past in J&K. The tally from the Pathankot airfield attack could have been equally grave, with even aviation assets figuring in the toll. Likewise, had the terrorists taken the other gate nearby, they might well have ended up in married accommodation in police lines in the Gurdaspur attack.  This time round the terrorists got luckier, with fire doing most of the killing. Consequently, the calls for getting tough on Pakistan appear unexceptionable.
However, what if the Uri attack is seen as part of a sequence of attacks on each other that India and Pakistan are engaged in over the past few years? This requires stretching the imagination a bit in light of the persistent factoid that India clipped its offensive and covert operations capability when IK Gujral was prime minister. The constant refrain in the strategic discourse is that India is forever on the receiving end, needs to upgrade its capabilities and shift gears into an offensive mode.
Against such conditioning, to imply that India has been giving-as-good-as-it-gets would require asking Indians to suspend disbelief for a moment. Whereas Pakistan’s resort to terrorism is more in-your-face, India’s using Afghanistan as spring-board is much less so, making it difficult to comprehend. This involves giving some credence to Pakistani allegations, and Pakistan is not exactly believable. Nevertheless, it would be na├»ve to in face of the pattern of terrorism in Pakistan that we have nothing to do with it.
Subject to the terrorism inflicted on India, it would be delusive to believe that we have only fought back with war rhetoric and diplomacy. India has not used its military despite the military’s well-practiced ‘quick off the blocks’ routine of ‘Cold Start’. It has also not activated the military along the Line of Control. Superficially, it would appear that India is only relying on diplomacy and information war strategies. It is trite to repeat that for effect, diplomacy and rhetoric need to be backed by muscle. It begs credulity that India under the strongmen – Messrs. Modi and Doval – is merely relying on the ‘rope-a-dope’ trick, taking the punches and riding out the swings. Since it is not economic or military muscle India is displaying, surely, such muscle must likely be through some other instrument of national power. Clearly, there is more to India’s response lately than meets the eye. So let’s get real.
Our very own intelligence operatives - with Mr. Doval in the lead - are not second best, even if ISI has greater notoriety. Our boys have much experience behind them, even if they have not seen off a superpower and are about to see off another like the ISI. We have Bangladesh to our credit. We created Frankenstein Prabhakaran. We had a finger in the Sindhi and Mohajir pies. Kulbhushan Yadav, supposedly caught red-handed at intelligence work, is Indian. Besides, if Indian liberals and radicals are even half-right, we have at least some expertise in false-flag operations. And, finally, we own the copyright  to Chanakyan thought. 
Taking off our blinkers would help with a realistic perspective. Doing so will enabe seeing the Uri attack as one of a series of attacks indulged in by both intelligence establishments. Pakistan’s persistence with terrorism implies that its intelligence agencies are in a dialogue using terrorism with their Indian counterparts. Through this dialogic violence the two national security establishments are communicating with each other. The dialogue seeks out each other’s limits. While India is trying to flush Pakistan down the failed state route through proxy war using what Pakistan considers ‘bad terrorists’, Pakistan for its part is out to sensitise India that the more successful India gets at this, the more Pakistan would ensure that it drags India down with it too. This is diplomacy by dirtier means. The tone of the two states in the recent UN General Assembly session is played out more directly, through a bloodier and meaner instrument. 
The Kashmir issue and the current turmoil in Kashmir merely provide a setting. At one level, Pakistan would like to keep the problem in and of Kashmir alive; particularly, in light of India’s spin on the interpretation of the dispute to being retrieval of PoK and other areas from Pakistan. This explains Pakistan’s dressing up its terror attacks as attacks on legitimate military targets, plausibly attempting to lower their ‘terror’ quotient. Pushed on the back-foot by unrest in Kashmir, India is attempting to divert attention with references to Balochistan, even though doing so lets the cat out of the bag.
The Kashmir issue itself is resolvable, with governments on both sides including the more nationalist ones – NDA I and Musharraf respectively – coming close to agreeing on putting it on a back burner. That none has succeeded owes to the issue being a symptom. At yet another – higher - level, the game is much bigger than Kashmir.
For India it is to transcend Pakistan. For sane strategists doing so will help India break out of the regional box that consigns it at best as a regional power. But to closet Hindutvavadi strategists it is to transcend a history perceived in the Hindu nationalist narrative as one of subjugation. Those at the political helm and with hands on the reins of the national security establishment believe that India has had 1200 years of foreign domination that its seventy years of independence era have not exorcised. Pakistan is the ‘thorn’ that India needs to rid itself off for reconciling with itself, a necessary first step to regaining its millennia-old, millennia-long, pre-Muslim-advent, glory.
This is music to Pakistani ears. For Pakistan – or through the eyes of its military – this implies ensuring Pakistan does not go under, into an Indian (read Hindu) cultural embrace. Kashmir helps keep the military atop the Pakistani power structure. The military – aloft - keeps Pakistan from losing its Islamic moorings. This reading of Pakistan’s vulnerability to Indian colonization is shared by Islamists and terror minders in Pakistan. Whereas the Pakistani military has to be mindful of not killing the goose that lays the golden egg – Pakistan - the Islamists have no such obligation; instead, they might like to profit from India and Pakistan coming to blows. This makes the Pakistani military’s position difficult; not only must it take on India so as to keep the jihadists from running away with the agenda, but also to ensure that jihadists in their enthusiasm don’t burn the house down.
This better explains the protracted stand-off between the two, described by one long-time South Asia observer as a hundred-year war. Kashmir is not the ‘root cause’. It cannot be solved since it is symptom of a deeper – prior - ‘root cause’: religious extremism. Whereas in Pakistan it is through the army – that de facto runs the country - and Islamists being on the same page, in India religious nationalists are now in control of the government itself. Whereas in Pakistan Islamism has only subverted the state, in India religious nationalism now has – worse - captured it. Whereas in Pakistan the extremist-terror link is rather visible, in India it is much less so. This does not make India’s subscription to mirroring forces any less significant. That Pakistan needs a reset is widely acknowledged; but that India also needs a like prescription needs first acknowledging.

Thus far the Pakistani establishment used terror for its ends. Hereon, India shall mirror it. The dialogue though will likely continue, never mind that just as one between its diplomats, it is the dialogue of the deaf. The upshot will be a mirroring in India of what is already apparent in Pakistan. This, until some terror group gets remarkably lucky, and when it does so get, lift the dialogue to a crescendo: through nuclear blows. To paraphrase a wit’s view of the 1965 War as a ‘communal riot with tanks’, the next is one with nukes. Finally, India would have exorcised its Muslim demon and Pakistan its Hindu specter; notwithstanding, ‘husha, busha, we all fall down’.  

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