If the warmth of the Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif handshake on May 26 were to be an indication of India Pakistan relations, peace was about to break out.
It was astute diplomacy, which even some Pakistani commentators admitted as brilliant, that led to this meeting. However, the current and future reality of our bilateral relations remains bleak.
This reality was reflected in a recent interview to Headlines Today in New Delhi by the visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif shake hands prior to a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Tuesday. Pic/PTI
He asserted that according to Western intelligence sources, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists had attacked the Indian Consulate in Herat. This kind of interventionist role that Pakistan has been adopting for decades against both its neighbours, is now well documented and accepted.
In the Eighties, as the Pakistani Army engaged itself, aided by the US and Saudi Arabia, in the Afghanistan jihad, it simultaneously fomented Sikh terrorists in India to divert the Indian Security Forces. It supported the Taliban in the Nineties even with its regulars and it similarly used Pakistani terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir not only as a military diversion but also hoped to achieve control in the Indian state.
The first decade of the 21st century was a period of readjustment for the Pakistani Army and its proxies as enemies were redefined and it was the Pakistan Army that was seen by Islamists supporting the US against Islam and its soldiers like the Al-Qaeda. The policy of giving duplicitous support to the US, while keeping other groups like the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura intact, was beginning to prove difficult to sustain.
The blow back against support to the US had begun. The remaining years of this decade will see a repeat of previous Pakistani military strategy as it engages in Afghanistan after the departure of US and other western forces, in another attempt at attaining strategic depth using its wide array of surrogates, including Pakistan’s favourite, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.
As before, it will simultaneously engage India through renewed terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. It is possible that this time around there will be Azhar Mahmood’s Jaish-e-Mohammed or some new organisation as the vanguard of the jihadis in Jammu and Kashmir.
Given the likely situation post-2014, it would be in India’s interests to significantly strengthen Afghan economic, infrastructure and military capabilities in dealing with this looming threat. It is not just the ANSF that has to be adequately equipped and trained but Afghanistan needs to have a rapidly deployable counter-insurgency force.
Pakistan’s political masters have been progressively weakened by repeated sleight of hand military interventions or straightforward coups. In the current stand-off, the army has transformed the original military-media confrontation into a military-plus-mullah versus the civilian government tussle.
Clearly an attempt is being made to weaken Nawaz’s government and re-assert the army’s primacy which appeared to have slipped away post May 2011 after the killing of Osama bin Laden and an upsurge in terrorist activity in Pakistan.
As Bruce Riedel pointed out, “The generals, who run the Pakistani army and the ISI, are the one constant in the two eras. Their Deep State uses the Afghan Taliban, including Mullah Omar, and the Haqqani network today just like their predecessors used the Mujahideen in the 1980s.” A serving Pakistani general recently declared that if asked to choose, the Army chief would select the institution over the constitution.
While hoping for normal relations with Pakistan that would eventually lead to peace and tranquility, it is important to accept that the peace and liberal lobby in Pakistan is steadily losing ground. Religious differences are increasingly settled through coercion and the gun. The Pakistan military, along with Islamists, continues to control the levers in the name of national unity and religious purity.
The jury is still out as to how the Deep State will view Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India considering that he did not meet leaders of the Hurriyat nor did he mention Kashmir in his press statement. Early signs of criticism in Pakistan are already discernible. It would be desirable that India avoids any triumphalism at Nawaz's public silence about Pakistan’s ‘core issue’.
Thus, while it may be necessary to keep channels to Pakistan open, so long as the Pakistan military remains the arbiter of Pakistan’s destiny, relies on the religious right for domestic support and jihadis as a force equaliser, it may be prudent to keep in mind what may be in store for both India and Afghanistan.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)