Bruce Riedel, who had worked in the National Security Council of the White House and had attended the Bill Clinton-Nawaz Sharif meeting in 1999 during the Kargil war, has said that the Pathankot attack was designed to prevent any detente between India and Pakistan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's surprise stopover in Lahore. He claimed that the outrage and the attack on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan were the handiwork of the Pakistani terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) which the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had created 15 years ago. The villain, judge and the jury are known to each other.
It might be banal to recall how within three months of the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to Lahore, the Kargil war broke out in the summer of 1999. But it bears recall that the Kargil misadventure was followed by the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814, scheduled to fly from Kathmandu to Delhi, on 24 December 1999. J.N. Dixit in his book, India-Pakistan in War and Peace chronicled how during the Kargil conflict, the Pakistani authorities had not only pushed 1,500 to 2,000 well-equipped terrorist mercenaries into Jammu and Kashmir, but had also despatched subversive elements to other parts of India through Nepal, Bangladesh and some of the South-east Asian countries. Kathmandu, Dhaka and Bangkok had become operational bases of the ISI to generate subversive activities against India, particularly in its north-eastern states, "where links between the Pakistani agency and violent secessionist movements are affecting the security environment".
Dixit's account of Masood Azhar after his release confirmed the extent to which Pakistan had supported the hijack as well as Azhar's political and terrorist agenda. Azhar was welcomed "with great fanfare" in the presence of Pakistani authorities. He addressed a series of public meetings for six weeks after his arrival in Bahawalpur, justifying the hijacking as an act of jihad (holy war). He admitted that his organisation's basic political objective was to capture Jammu and Kashmir by force. His 'vision' to recruit an armed cadre of half a million people to continue the jihad against India was the gist of his statements in Northern Sindh and parts of Pakistani Punjab. Audio-cassettes of his speeches were circulated not only all over Pakistan, but in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and north-western Rajasthan as well. There is evidence of an ISI network in different parts of India; post-Pathankot it is fair to question if all of them have been neutralised.
Therefore, the recent flip-flop over the "arrest" of JeM chief Masood Azhar once again proved to be a dampener. Some commentators suggest that the army continues to distinguish between 'good' terrorists like JeM and LeT and 'bad' terrorists like the Pakistani Taliban, to whom any diminution in tensions with India might risk the army's stranglehold on Pakistan's national security policy. Pakistan is ruled by four interest groups or their coalition Rs: military, bureaucracy, feudal lords and industrial barons.
It is a pity that India could not take advantage of the defeat it had inflicted on Pakistan in December 1971. The Simla agreement is rightly perceived as India's colossal political failure because of its inability to obtain a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The agreement was a weak expression of the Nehruvian foreign policy establishment in that it let Zulfikar Ali Bhutto off the hook in the peace settlement that followed the 1971 war. Bhutto informally agreed to the LoC after the war, but stopped short of formalising it before consolidating his position at home. Years later, when Musharraf proposed a peace formula, New Delhi lost the opportunity to have the LoC recognised as an international border. The rest is history.
Even if a civilian government led by Nawaz Sharif wants peace with India, Delhi will have to engage with several centres of power in Pakistan. It was during the time of Sharif that the Pakistan army launched a full-scale war against India in Kargil apparently keeping the country's Prime Minister in the dark. This proved that the army and the ISI could act fairly independently of the political establishment, even if it involved fatal military adventurism. Islamabad persisted in feigning innocence about the presence of the world's most wanted man close to Pakistan's military academy.
How can India deal simultaneously with a pro-Western and pro-jihad Pakistan when the neighbour is veering towards anti-Americanism and protection for Islamic terrorists? Or worse, how can Pakistan save itself from imploding under the weight of its own contradictions?
If Pakistan could get away by inflicting a 26/11 on us or mounting an attack on Parliament, we have thus far remained content with a few drummed-up and symbolic hangings and nothing really very substantial. Earlier too amid more brazen instances of Pakistan violating the LoC, powerful vested interests had scuttled the "peace" process. It appears that India's security and defence measures in relation to its neighbours have often been meekly 'accommodative' and 'defensive' and at best, 'reactively adversarial'. While India seems to be in awe of a fiercely militaristic and nationalist China, even the three wars between India and Pakistan did not result in shifting the power asymmetry decisively in our favour. According to the Subrahmanyam Committee that examined the Kargil debacle, since 1991 the Indian intelligence agencies had pointed out the implications of Pakistan's growing nuclearisation for managing the situation in Kashmir. Somehow, in India this failed to become part of the nuclear debate.
The Indo-China war in 1962 crushed Nehru's reputation as well as that of India and its army. It revealed how a country with huge ambitions was not able to protect its own borders. Earlier in the years of American hostility towards India, the US arms-supply relationship with Pakistan and later, the Indo-China war had taught India the crucial importance of maintaining a balance between goals and capabilities.
The cycle of India-Pakistan relations has a certain banal predictability. But without change of perceptions on either side, without the readiness to make adjustments and shed dogmas particularly regarding Kashmir, all talks are bound to fizzle out. While India must learn to secure its borders against a potential Sino-Pak axis, she must also try to become a hardliner state through a combination of diplomacy and militarism.
Prasenjit Chowdhury is a teacher and social commentator