Big stick: What India must learn from US tag on Haqqani group

There's a supreme irony about the fact that an official Indian delegation headed by External Affairs Minister SM Krishna is currently in Pakistan, and is about to sign a visa liberalisation agreement, at about the same time that the US administration has designated the Haqqani Network in Pakistan as a terrorist organisation.

The Haqqani Network is the same breakaway Taliban organisation  and "strategic arm" of the ISI that in July 2008 attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul and killed an Indian IFS officer, a defence attache and other military personnel, evidently to terrorise India into not expanding its footprint in Afghanistan. That was barely months before the Lashkar-e-Taiba, with active support from the ISI, sent its jihadi foot-soldiers to wreak havoc in Mumbai.

The blood has barely dried from these attacks, and yet, here we are talking peace - such as it is - with Pakistan, and being lectured to by its Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar about the wisdom of not responding "emotionally" to the 2008 attacks - but to view them "realistically".

Pakistan's 'peach talk' isn't matched by its actions. PTI

The US, acting out of its own self-interest, of course, has on the other hand declared the Haqqani Network a terrorist organisation, even at the risk of accentuating the strains in its relationship with Pakistan.  As an exercise in "coercive diplomacy", it is in contrast to India's ineffectual response to Pakistan's sponsorship of terror, which is to send reams of dossier, which the Pakistani officials airily dismiss as "literature".

To add insult to injury, in media interactions with visiting Indian journalists, Khar continues to reiterate the same old "false equivalences" to whitewash Pakistan's unwillingness to rein in terrorist leaders and groups that, to this day, are plotting to attack India.

Ask her about Pakistan's failure to bring the masterminds of the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai to justice, and Khar launches into her own spiel about India's "failure" to act against the perpetrators of the Samjhauta Express blast. "If you tell us that it has been far too long (to bring the masterminds of 26/11 to trial), we can tell you back... 'what about the Samjhauta Express, it has been even longer,' okay?" If India has issues with Pakistan that cause "pain" to the Indian public, there are many other issues about India that cause pain to the Pakistani public, she told NDTV.

Asked why Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the jihadi mastermind behind the 26/11 attack, was not being brought to trial and was being allowed to make venomous anti-India speeches, Khar trots out another bizarre false equivalence.

"We operate in a... democratic polity, and yours is a much more mature one than ours. So we have to understand that anyone can say. Now, there are many people in the Indian Parliament or outside of the Indian Parliament who would give statements about Pakistan, which are not particularly those, which are moving towards a peaceful track."

In other words, in Khar's estimation, Hafeez Saeed's open call to wage jihad against India, his call to make Kashmir the gateway to capture India, and his poisoning jihadi minds in Pakistan with delusional plans to occupy Muslim-populated regions in India, are only as bad as Indian protestations of Pakistani complicity in terror targeted at India.

Khar's "voice of moderation" and her claim that Pakistan has moved away from the "mantra" of terrorism (what a confession!) hides a deeper Pakistani agenda: to lull Indian officialdom into making concessions on Siachen and Kashmir. In fact, she suggested that India and Pakistan had made progress on Siachen- which is contrary to the Indian officials' publicly stated stand on the issue.

As for Kashmir, it is downright hypocritical for Pakistan to harp on the United Nations Security Council resolution when, over the decades, Pakistan's resort to war and jihadi violence to wrest Kashmir by force has effectively buried the Security Council resolution.

India's willingness to accept Pakistani officials' claims to having abandoned their support for terror, when in fact they continue to stonewall any action sought against jihadists who operate freely beggars belief. A Pakistan that has been cornered even further by the US branding of the Haqqani Network may feel a realpolitik compulsion to appear to be making peace with India, but there is no sincerity of intent behind it.

In Khar, Pakistan is effectively deploying a "weapon of mass distraction" that masks the behind-the-scenes plotting by the ISI and the Pakistani military;  it would be folly for India officialdom to take her at her words, when the situation on the ground is unchanging.

In diplomacy, it's wise to speak softly, but carry a big stick. India today lacks a "big stick" - an instrument of coercive diplomacy in the way that the US has wielded with the Haqqani Network - to influence behavioral change in Pakistan. In such a situation, there is greate danger in being swayed by Pakistan's own "speak softly" approach as epitomised by Khar's 'charm offensive'  and lowering our guard on both Siachen and Kashmir, which is the real prize that Pakistan covets.