In the backdrop of Pakistan’s escalating proxy war on India, a cross-section here is rooting for India to open direct talks with the Pakistani military. Pakistan's reasons for upping their dirty tricks are pretty obvious; the ISI are euphoric with presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK), notwithstanding they have bartered the country's sovereignty, but more important is the need to divert attention from the ongoing genocide in Balochistan, the Gilgit-Baltistan region and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
The turmoil in Gilgit-Baltistan region has taken a new turn with the recently rigged elections in PoK where the military forced a win for Nawaz Sharif and the latter, gushing with gratitude, has dropped his fake mask of goodwill towards India, not that anyone believed this bogus peacenik was unaware of the Kargil intrusions in his previous tenure as the prime minister of that country. Though Pakistan's "kill and dump" policy in Balochistan has been in news for the past few years, genocide of Balochis has taken a systemised dastardly turn. News reporters in Balochistan have been killed regularly but on 8 August, some 60 senior Balochi lawyers were killed in a well-planned suicide bomb blast in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. Both the Pakistan Taliban and Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blast that killed 70 and injured more than a hundred. As per reports, there are very few lawyers left in Balochistan and it will take years for the legal community to recover from this tragedy.
The section of Indian media who are rooting for direct talks with the Pakistan military are grossly unaware of the ground realities. Isn’t it a shame, in that case, that a cross-section of our media channels are hell-bent on reporting that inflames more violence in the Kashmir Valley? As John Swinton, former chief of New York Times told the New York press club, “We are the tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."
Sure this doesn’t apply across the board in India, but none of them ever undertook an audit of ISI funds flowing in to mould opinions. So you have Hafiz Saeed publicly showering appreciation on the chosen few. Not surprising then that we have the editorial of a prominent daily recommending that India must talk to the Pakistani army and the ISI because: they determine the policies in Pakistan; the Americans and Chinese regularly talk to them, and; since the Pakistani army and ISI fears India intends to harm Pakistan and uses asymmetric means for doing so, we should calm their fears.
Such recommendations reflect the ‘frog in the well’ syndrome, if not wilfully motivated. Sure, the Pakistani military and the ISI (which are one and the same) determine the policy in Pakistan — particularly foreign and defence — but just look around and see how proffered olive branches by India and Afghanistan have been repeatedly rebuffed by Pakistan — Vajpayee’s Lahore bus journey, Modi’s surprise visit to Nawaz Sharif’s Lahore abode being just two examples.
Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in his 13-years of presidency made 19 trips to Pakistan with extended hand of friendship but failed. As a youngster, Karzai had stayed in Pakistan and fought against the Soviets with the Mujahideen. Pakistan was the first country President Ashraf Ghani visited, where he broke protocol and drove to the office of the Pakistani army chief’s office in Islamabad to meet him. But today, Ashraf Ghani is as disillusioned with Pakistan as Hamid Karzai.
The Americans and Chinese have sure been talking to the Pakistani military. America has been doing so since the SEATO-CENTO, later GWOT days and beyond. The US somehow can’t get over their gratitude to Pakistan for brokering US-China thaw during the Nixon-Kissinger era. China, of course, is indebted to Pakistan for: gifting them the Shaksgam Valley in PoK during 1963; consenting to become a nuclear talon of the Chinese dragon; brokering Chinese contacts with Taliban even before the US invasion of Afghanistan; help keep Uighurs in Xinjiang under check; despite being a champion of Islamic jihad, keeping a lid on the Chinese atrocities and curbs on Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang; keep China’s commercial interests in Afghanistan safe through Pakistani proxies; help keep India in check as part of the China-Pakistan construct; granting development of Gwadar as a Chinese SSBN base to a Chinese company; development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to permit strategic outreach through land to the Indian Ocean; and permitting stationing of PLA troops in PoK-Pakistan, including establishment of a strategic pivot in Gilgit-Baltistan for operations in any direction.
As to Pakistan’s fear that India means to harm her, not many would know that the US had in the past recommended to Pakistan to go for a ‘no war pact’ with India, which Pakistan rejected. Pakistan also knows that the only asymmetric means India employs against her is diplomacy since intelligence gathering by countries is a common feature globally and doesn’t strictly come under asymmetric.
In fact, it is this lack of employment of asymmetric means by India to establish effective deterrence to Pakistan’s proxy war that stimulates Pakistan to raise this bogey, akin to her cries of being victim of terrorism but following institutionalised state policy of promoting terrorism. The Pakistani military-ISI are the focal point of some 13 plus international and regional terrorist organisation, having underhand links with the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and even the control of both Taliban through the Haqqani network and the Islamic State in Afghanistan. When Pakistani national Asim Umar, currently AQIS chief, gave the call to target police and executive officials in India, it was at the behest of the Pakistani military.
While demitting office of the President, Hamid Karzai had said that no peace can come to Afghanistan until US and Pakistan want it. America’s intransigence to Pakistani terror continues albeit Mark Toner, US State Department Deputy Spokesman recently asked Pakistan to act against terror groups targeting its neighbours and not just the ones that pose a threat to it, alleging Pakistan was going after terror groups ‘selectively’; take it as mild admonishment or sweet nothing. But the third most important player in the region is China who forms the sub-conventional construct against India in conjunction with Pakistan. Not only did China recommend to Pakistan in mid 1960’s to raise a militia to fight behind enemy (Indian) lines but referring to India and clenching his fist Zhou Enlai told a Pakistani delegation, "This is capable of delivering a forceful blow, but if you cut off one finger, the fist loses its power, not by one-fifth, but by fifty percent. If you wipe out a couple of hundred thousand of the enemy spread over a long front, its impact is not as great as wiping out an entire battalion or a brigade – the enemy’s morale is dealt a devastating blow. We know this from practical experience."
Talks are always good but, in a way, we are already talking to the Pakistani military. The current NSA of Pakistan Naseer Khan Janjua is a lieutenant general of the Pakistani army and personal appointee of the army chief. Hot lines between the DGMOs exist. There is every reason to believe that the Pakistani army would be represented incognito in every bilateral-level discussion. The ruling elite of the Pakistani military are the descendents of Musharraf who refused to shake hands with Vajpayee in Lahore and who had no compunction in stating, “Even if the Kashmir issue is resolved, jihad against India will continue”. The bottom-line is, indirect or direct rule over Pakistan gives her military unlimited power and money, for which conflict with India and Afghanistan is necessary. That is why Hafiz Saeed has become a foreign policy spokesperson of Pakistan and that is why Afghanistan has officially told Pakistan recently that Hafiz Saeed is directing Islamic State attacks in Afghanistan.
This ground reality must be understood least next some recommend direct talks with the likes of Hafiz Saeed. We should continue engaging the elected Pakistani government on terror and go earnest in countering Pakistan's proxy war optimising all means of asymmetric warfare.
The author is retired veteran Lieutenant General of the Indian Army