Many Pakistans, but same old India

Last Updated: Mon, Oct 28, 2013 22:34 hrs
Indo-Pak cricket: Emotions high, passions rising

Since the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike in 2008, India's security czars have summed up New Delhi's Pakistan policy as follows: there are many Pakistans; we will deal with each appropriately. 

In other words, the government in Islamabad does not speak for all of Pakistan. The Pakistan Army follows its own path. So does the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which - despite being an integral part of the military - is divided between the notorious "S" Wing, which handles jihadi allies like the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba; and the "C" Wing, whose counter-terrorism centre battles other jihadis.

Then there are a plethora of political parties, ranging from the jihad-happy Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf , which organises rallies with the Lashkar-e-Taiba's Hafiz Saeed, to more India-friendly parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party. There are jihadi groups of many stripes, some reserving their venom for India, others focusing keenly on America and Afghanistan, but most of them co-ordinating operationally.

There is the business community, mainly Punjabi, which sees profit in freer commerce with India. A wafer-thin layer of liberal secularists unapologetically, and bravely, advocates friendship with India. Finally, there is the broad Pakistani public that, despite being indoctrinated with doses of religious conservatism and anti-Indianism, realises that they are expendable pawns in a cynical and deadly game.

Some of these bits and pieces are predisposed to peace with India. Many will never be, for obvious structural reasons. But only someone who is visiting earth after a longish absence would argue that Pakistan is monolithic in its hatred of India, or cohesive in dealing with fundamental questions of its identity. 

It is, therefore, mystifying why - even while acknowledging the fragmentation within Pakistan - New Delhi responds to Pakistan as if it were a cohesive entity, controlled by Nawaz Sharif. Why else would Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tell journalists on his flight from Moscow to Beijing last week that he did not understand why Nawaz Sharif could not enforce the ceasefire with India?

Perhaps the prime minister really believes that Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is waiting for orders from Mr Sharif about calibrating the temperature on the border. Dr Singh might well assess that his counterpart is only feigning helplessness. After all, in relations between states, it is established strategy (read Thomas Schelling, for example) for one side to suggest that something is beyond its control.

But most people would agree that Mr Sharif does not have much say on border policy. That is formulated in the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. New Delhi is scolding the little guy with spectacles for what the bully has done.

Does New Delhi have effective communication with GHQ? The two directors general of military operations talk each week over a telephonic hotline. But they only clear functional issues, such as ceasefire violations, since India's bureaucrats and politicians do not want soldiers discussing substantive matters. Besides, New Delhi does not want our "B" Team talking with Pakistan's "A" Team. 

Nor does New Delhi communicate with the ISI, with Pakistani political parties or with business associations. We have no contacts with Pakistan-based militant groups since our external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, has had no covert capabilities since the late 1990s. Nor do we address the Pakistani public, giving them visas to India to expose the propaganda they are fed about this country. Getting a visa to India is almost as difficult for a Pakistani as obtaining a United States visa. So much for the many Pakistans that India addresses.

Contrast New Delhi's isolation in Pakistan with how the US addresses multiple constituencies there. It matters little to America that it is the single most hated country in Pakistan (even more so than India). Washington addresses the government, and the spectrum of opposition parties, academia and civil society. It maintains contact with the Pakistani military and the ISI, even knowing that they have masterminded the deaths of thousands of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

US intelligence agencies talk non-stop to jihadi groups, even as they listen non-stop to their radio and digital conversations. The American people and the US Congress are no more enamoured of Pakistan than is India. But Washington knows that anger must be cloaked in engagement, since estrangement takes away the power to influence.

US engagement provides the leverage that allows the Pentagon to dismiss Pakistani objections to drone strikes. A clear decision that drone operations would be needed over Pakistan after 2014 compels John Kerry to conclude a strategic partnership agreement with the often impossible Afghan President Hamid Karzai. And the need to engage with post-2014 power groups compels the Central Intelligence Agency to talk to the Taliban even while US soldiers are being killed by Taliban bombs. 

In an India that has chosen to be irrelevant in Pakistan except as a hate figure, it is popular to lament Washington's gullibility. "America is just so credulous when it comes to Pakistan," you will hear again and again in New Delhi. This is natural in a country where Pakistan has been dealt with mainly through scoring debating points and periodically walking away from the dialogue table, only to shuffle back later on the condition that the table is renamed.

India's diplomats, who also dominate the making of strategy, have been bred in this tradition, arguing for decades in international fora that Pakistan's national strategy involves the sponsorship of terrorism. Global events since 9/11 have brought much of the world around to this viewpoint. But this success has bred stagnation. Generating real influence - through a broad menu of diplomatic engagement, economic incentives and coercive force, leveraged by intelligence operations - is apparently too much for our word-loving diplomats. New Delhi's phrase, "addressing multiple Pakistans", remains little more than a nice thought.

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