Another Swing of the Pendulum
policy on Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), on terrorism, and on
the principal sponsor of terrorism in South Asia - Pakistan - has
often been criticized for its inconsistencies. Over the past years,
however, an increasing consistency has been evident - though perhaps
not in any particularly constructive sense: the consistency of a
pendulum, swinging with insistent regularity from one extreme to the
This fruitless cycle has been repeated in an endless succession of
'peace initiatives' at the highest level - regularly interrupted by
escalating violence, military mobilization, coercive diplomacy and
belligerent political rhetoric - certainly since the Prime
Minister's 'Ramadan Ceasefire' (cessation of offensive operations
against terrorists) in November 2000, and indeed, at different
The current set of
initiatives is one more directionless link in a chain that is
steadily losing credibility, even among those who watch these
processes from a great distance. Thus, the US Congressional Research
Service has already dismissed the current process as 'moribund',
though a delusional Indian media and a gaggle of 'experts' committed
to what has been called, in another context, the 'political realism
of appeasement', continue to wax eloquent on the 'confidence
building measures' announced.
The current 'peace process', like its predecessors, is doomed to
inevitable failure, in the first instance, because, it does not
reflect the realities of the ground, or any radical shift in the
fundamental positions, either of India or Pakistan. Thus, any
negotiations, within this context, would seek only to advance the
tactical objectives of the engaging parties. The possibilities of a
fundamental and strategic shift in the Pakistani perspective, and
tactical agenda are remote.
Pakistan - and the
elites that control power, not just the present regime, in that
country - remains entirely committed to its founding ideology of
Islamism and religious exclusion, and consequently, to undermining
the integrity of the secular, democratic Indian nation state
(characteristics that India would be entirely unwilling to
compromise or dilute).
Pakistan's unwavering strategic perspectives - despite broad
tactical variations - can be discovered in relation to recent events
and policies in another theatre: Afghanistan. In the wake of the
9/11 incidents and US pressure on Pakistan to join the 'global
coalition against terror', Pakistan was widely seen to have
performed a U-turn on its Afghan policy, and to have 'abandoned' its
long standing quest for 'strategic depth' through interference in
the internal affairs of that country.
Proof of the
Pakistani 'U-turn' has been vociferously asserted through a steady
dribble of Al Qaeda cadres handed over to US Forces, though it is
far from clear how much of this trickle is voluntary or coerced.
Nevertheless, as the American attention wavers, there is mounting
evidence that Pakistan is reviving its earlier policies on
Afghanistan, using various proxies to put the Hamid Karzai regime
under pressure, and offering its 'services' to America to help
mobilize forces - including the remnants of its surrogate, the
Taliban, incredibly being repackaged as a 'moderate Taliban' - that
could 'help fill' the existing power vacuum in the uncontrolled
areas beyond Kabul's sway.
Pakistan has executed dramatic policy shifts to cope with the
exigencies and imperatives arising out of the post-9/11 scenario,
its fundamental strategic perspectives remain tied to the pre-9/11
world, and to the original ideological impulses of its creation.
This fact underpins its responses in J&K, and with regard to its
wider support to terrorism in various theatres in India as well.
The most probable
assumption, consequently, is that the current 'peace process' will
simply be used by Pakistan as an instrumentality to focus attention
on what it calls the 'core issue' of Kashmir. As a result, an
extended process of 'negotiations' may be entered into, but would
remain no more than a charade (the obvious mischievousness of some
of Pakistan's 'counter-proposals', indeed, the rather shrill
rhetoric on both sides, seems to suggest that the shared intent is
more theatrical than substantive).
activities on Indian soil would, consequently, be sustained; would
be calibrated to the exigencies of both bilateral and international
developments; and would tend to be held at maximal levels at which
'credible minimal deniability' can be maintained. Over the coming
weeks, state support by Pakistan to terrorist organizations, and
their visible presence and activities on Pakistani soil, may
temporarily be driven deeper underground; as the 'peace initiative'
is seen to progress, some symbolic - but necessarily ineffectual -
action may again be taken against some of the groups to demonstrate
Pakistan's 'seriousness' in 'tackling terrorism'; but terrorist
activities in J&K and other parts of India would be retained at
the maximum possible within the limits of international tolerance.
moreover, assertive elements in the Army and the Inter Services
Intelligence, as well as fundamentalist political and extremist
groupings in Pakistan, would tend to promote and consolidate
independent capacities to promote the jehadi agenda; past
experience, however, has demonstrated that Musharraf would,
nevertheless, retain control, since most of the jehadi groups are,
in fact, held firmly 'by the scruff of their necks' by the Army.
Such groups will
also continue to cement alliances with various other Islamist
extremist entities, such as the al Qaeda and the Taliban, active or
present in Pakistan, as well as with the organized criminal
underground. At the stage where Pakistan finds itself losing out in
the propaganda war over the 'peace process', these entities can be
expected to immediately escalate violence to engineer major
terrorist strikes in India at a stage where the blame for a
'breakdown' can passed on to alleged Indian intransigence.
The space for covert sponsorship of terrorism in South Asia - by
both state and non-state entities - is seen to have substantially
expanded after a temporary post-9/11 contraction, particularly since
the beginning of the US campaign in Iraq, and increasingly since the
apparently mismanaged 'peace' there. The future of terrorism in
South Asia is integrally linked to the stabilization of both
Afghanistan and Iraq, and perceptions of US vulnerabilities in these
theatres will encourage traditional sponsors of terrorism in South
Asia to escalate terrorist campaigns, not only against rivals within
the region, but increasingly against US and Western interests as
succession of strikes against US Forces in Iraq; the growing
disorders in Afghanistan; the rising and manifest consternation in
the US regarding the increasing toll in American lives; and the
growing significance of events in Iraq in US domestic politics and
President Bush's re-election prospects next year, are all creating
complex incentives for an escalation in terror across the world.
The ideologues and
campaign managers of Islamist extremism are becoming convinced that
the world's sole superpower - though it cannot be confronted
directly in conventional conflict - is nevertheless vulnerable to
the 'war of the flea'. The destruction of the capacities and
infrastructure of terrorism, consequently, now becomes the most
urgent imperative of the global war against terrorism.
there is little evidence of significant diminution in these, despite
the steady stream of 'victories' chalked up through the arrest or
neutralization of individual terrorists.
is Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict
Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal