Originally Published 2016-01-04 10:30:27 Published on Jan 04, 2016
Pathankot terror-strikes, a test for Pakistan

Independent of the valuable human losses suffered, the week-end ‘Pathankot terror-strikes’ at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base is a test for Pakistan’s seriousness in improving bilateral relations. It’s as much an opportunity for Pakistan to prove the global credibility test in tackling ‘anti-India terrorism’, as it is a challenge on the ground, to eradicate anti-Pakistan terrorism along the Afghanistan border and elsewhere, too.

Prima facie, no one expects Pakistan to neutralise terrorism, including of the anti-India variety, overnight. But everyone, both in India and elsewhere, expects Pakistan to include anti-India terror in its own anti-terror agenda and military manifests for tackling from inside. The exclusion of the former to the increasing inclusion of the latter is what hurts India -- and India, the most.

Though not earlier, Pakistan started targeting Al Qaeda terrorists first and ‘Pak Taliban’ groups later, at least since 9/11. It was also when the ISI was believed to have shifted some of their ‘terror-assets’ from the Afghan border to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), to keep them occupied and India engaged. India has paid a heavy price, and so has the bilateral relations. The latter, in turn, is also the fulcrum for better South Asian and non-South Asian regional cooperation.

Today, there are layers and layers of anti-Pakistan terrorists in Pakistan, none of them amenable to ISI’s diktats or Pakistani might, without the real flexing of military muscle. Terror-strikes inside the country, including Islamabad’s ‘Lal Masjid’ episode (2007) earlier and the ‘Peshawar Army school attack’ (2014), provided enough justification for Pakistani army turning on them with greater force.

In a way, the anti-terror operations along Afghan border targeted those holed up inside Pakistan territory and Afghan and US military assets and personnel inside that country. There was/is enough anti-Afghan sentiments inside the Pakistani Establishment, and anti-American sentiments, otherwise, too. Hence, for anyone in the Pakistani Establishment to cite any anti-India sentiments as the sole cause for the continued encouragement – and non-discouragement – for anti-India terror groups operating from within the territory of Pakistan and/or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is both perverse and a travesty of truth.

Pudding & eating

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it would be enough if Pakistan demonstrates its will and willingness to tackle anti-India terrorists on the ground. Success and failure could be measured in realistic terms later on, correctives applied accordingly. Needless to point out that India and the rest of the world have their ears to Pakistani ground, and are also equipped to measure Pakistani sincerity and credibility in real terms, and in real time.

There is no denying the continuing Pakistani apprehensions on possible Indian air-strikes on terror bases, particularly in PoK.  It will be for intelligence and security analysts to decipher the choice of Pathankot for the first terror-strike, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘surprise’ Lahore visit to greet counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. The fact of Indian Republic Day celebrations weeks later on 26 January cannot be over-looked, either.

Over the past years, Pakistan is known to have undertaken targeted air-strikes at terror-bases inside its territory. Its army has also been known to have fought pitched battles against terror groups along the Afghan border and elsewhere, too. They have broken terror-modules in the interior, as well.

There had also been on-again-off-again removal of officers sympathetic to ‘terror’ and other ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘radical’ causes from the ISI and the army hierarchy. No tremors had been felt on those occasions. Thus, there is no reason to apprehend tremors if anti-India terror-sympathisers are removed, or anti-India terrorists, militarily-targeted.

On the reverse, any failure on the part of the Sharif Establishment to prove its courage in targeting anti-India terrorists from within the Establishment and outside but within Pakistan, could flag questions, both within the country and outside. It would stir up hard-liners in India, to question the wisdom of PM Modi to visit Lahore and greet Sharif. The argument could also go that but for the visit, the Pathankot strikes might not have happened – or, not just now.

Modi’s huge risk

Going by his political track-record nearer home, PM Modi is a huge risk-taker, but taking an all-round, all-out risk without possible gains or fall-back options is not his cup of tea. Putting the concept on its head, for Modi to retrieve his credibility nearer home, too ahead of Assembly elections in some of the important States through the New Year, could force his hands on the hard-liner side.

Modi is also yet to complete the second of his five-year first term in office. The way the Opposition, particularly the Congress rival is de-moralised still, and so is the anti-Modi camp, if any inside his BJP-RSS ‘Sangh parivar’ bandwagon too is confused, there is nothing to suggest that he would not stake a second term.

The nation’s economy too is not as rosy as is being painted to be. All of it may pull him in different directions in terms of tackling anti-India terror from Pakistan, as his ‘tough man’ image might demand.  His ‘surprise’ Lahore stop-over might not have achieved political dividends on a platter – not that anything of the kind was expected, either.

If anything, after the Lahore stop-over, the world cannot – and will not – blame Modi and India if he lives up to his masculine image within sections of his domestic constituency. Whether diplomatic or otherwise, it could only escalate tensions within and between the two nations. It would also tensions for neighbours and friends of the two nations, nearer and elsewhere across the world.

State-less people, faceless leaders

What is thus needed now is greater and tangible intelligence and security cooperation between India and Pakistan. There are third nations, nearer to South Asia and elsewhere, who have enough inputs to share with them both, which they may now be doing selectively, not collectively. Terrorism now is just not a global phenomenon, but also a globalised phenomenon – as much in ways to tackle it as in ways they too are building up and spreading their wings.

Outside of anti-Pakistan terrorism from within and anti-India terrorism from Pakistan and PoK, both nations are also vulnerable to the ISIS brand of ‘global terrorism’. Nations, including Pakistan, have forms and structures, and their security agencies recruit their men for a cause from within their nations. IS has no form, and it does not have a great leadership structure.

Like Al Qaeda, or worse, the ISIS, or IS, for short, is craving for and carving out territories with Stateless people and faceless leadership(s). It does not want to take up the traditional ‘responsibilities’ of nation-States. There is no ‘accountability’, and naturally so.

The only ‘responsibility’ for which the IS could hold itself ‘accountable’, if at all, is the responsibility of fighting somebody’s or nobody’s war(s) against anybody and everybody. Given the post-Cold War global ‘clash of civilisations’, if it could be dubbed so, the IS also ‘recruits’ anybody and everybody to fight nobody’s war against somebody.

The present-day Pakistan is a more plausible candidate for the IS, now or later. Even if the IS were to be exterminated, either through joint or separate global action(s), as is the case now in Syria, its remnants could seek hidden refuge more possibly in Pakistan than in Iraq or Afghanistan (after US withdrawal) – two other candidates already in the list.

Re-look at ‘List of 21’?

India, already a victim of ‘IS recruitment’, cannot escape the fallout. To the extent, India cannot also ‘provoke’ a situation, where an IS recruitment and/or ‘occupation’ of Pakistan is rendered possible and easier. Instead, India needs to capitalise on what is seen as an increasing realisation within Pakistan on the urgent need to normalise relations between the two countries, and with that greater security cooperation, not conflict between the two.

In this context, India may have to take a re-look at its current position on the ‘List of 21’ terrorists, with the name of Dawood Ibrahim at the top. The list is decades old. It could also go slow on its demands in relation to 26/11 ‘Mumbai terror-brains’, now happily going around inside Pakistan, in the garb of political and/or religious leaders. The case is close to a decade-old.

India could put them on the hold for now. Instead, it could begin with Pathankot backwards, for Pakistan to prove its sincerity and seriousness, not necessarily the success-rate just now. But then, Pakistan has to do its bit, and also be seen by India in particular as doing its best. The rest of it can wait.

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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