A free Lakhvi will help Pak self-destruct: Our strategy should be 'talk, plot, wait'

The release of 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is not something we should keep wringing our hands in despair about. Pakistan is never going to bring him to justice for the simple reason that he is a creation of the core Pakistani state – which is not civil society, but the army and the ISI.

The right response from India should be composed and collected, and run something like this: “While we are saddened by the release of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the man responsible for the killings of around 170 people in Mumbai in 2008, we acknowledge that the task of making him to pay for his crimes is currently that of Pakistan, in whose territory the 26/11 terrorist plot was hatched and master-minded. The evidence for his conviction for the crime of terrorism lies both in Pakistan and in India. If Pakistan wants to convict Lakhvi, it can find the evidence at home since the LeT, of which Lakhvi is commander, is based there. Preventive detention of Lakhvi without looking for and providing local evidence will always be subject to court scrutiny. We are thus not surprised that a court has set him free. India, for its part, will focus on bringing him to justice in India, whenever possible, as we have the evidence to nail him. India is always willing to provide the evidence to Pakistan, as we have done in the past. We will continue to talk to the government of Pakistan consistently and continuously to get justice done.”

 A free Lakhvi will help Pak self-destruct: Our strategy should be talk, plot, wait

PTI image

India should accept that no court in Pakistan can keep a man in jail forever purely on the basis of preventive detention laws. And Lakhvi has spent nearly six or seven years in jail - with special privileges, including conjugal rights. This has been done largely for global optics, to show its US patron that it is hard on terror, when the reality is that Pakistan is mollycoddling the anti-India group of terrorists. Keeping Lakhvi in jail through political pressure is pointless. Ask yourself: if Lakhvi is a creation of the Pakistani state, why would the mere fact of his being in jail limit his ability to plot terror? Lakhvi can direct his next terrorist operation against India from prison, and he will even have plausible deniability on it. His alibi will be that he could not have plotted any terror since he was already in custody!

In fact, we should forget about getting the Pakistanis to nail him and instead find a way to nab him and bring him to justice in India - even if it takes five years to launch a covert operation for this. If nothing else, we should quietly leak stories suggesting that India has sent two assassination squads led by disaffected Baloch and Sindhi rebels to capture or kill him on our behalf. Let Lakhvi spend his remaining years worrying about his life instead of living it up in a fake prison.

The one thing we should not do is keep bringing up Lakhvi's bail with Pakistan - which unfortunately we have done in a kind of Pavlovian response to his release yesterday (10 April). Nothing pleases the Pakistanis more than India displaying its impotence about 26/11's chief perpetrator.

The kneejerk political reaction to the Pakistani recalcitrance would be to suspend talks - but we should never do that. We should instead give Pakistan that privilege by persisting with talks all the time and frustrating them by yielding nothing substantive in these sessions. The sole purpose of talk is optics and more talk - to show the world we are reasonable people. Consider how long China has prolonged border talks without allowing any forward movement. Sometimes talk may yield results – in the form of easier visas, or more trade, but reciprocity should be the name of the game. Talking does not mean conceding more to Pakistan than what they are willing to concede to us. Talks will succeed only when the will of the Pakistani state to support terrorism against India is sapped or defeated. But there is no sign of that at all.

So, talk we must, even if we achieve nothing. In fact, we should use the Lakhvi release to launch the next round of talks where we can focus on terrorism and present our evidence again – but with the full knowledge that nothing will come of it.

Remember Salman Bashir, former Pakistani ambassador to India? When he was foreign secretary, he had contemptuously dismissed the dossiers we presented on 26/11 as mere “literature.” Nothing thrills a Pakistani more than putting us down. So we should not give them further pleasure on this score.

The problem is we have allowed the Pakistanis to play the game their way – which is to keep lying and pretending they want a good relationship with us, and all that stands in the way is the Kashmir issue. We start believing that “this time it is different”, and we end up signing worthless agreements in Shimla, Lahore and Agra, which finally end in the dustbin. Pakistan talks only if it is in a difficult situation (9/11, 26/11), and once the immediate peril has passed, it reverts to its old jihadi strategy.

To be sure, India is not the only one making the same mistakes repeatedly. The US too has been led up the garden path by Pakistan, but the difference is we are next-door. America does not usually have to pay too high a price for its mistakes. We do. The idea that Pakistan is somehow an ally in the war on terror, and also a victim, has been repeatedly bought by foolish bureaucrats in the US state department – as evidenced in the recent decision to offer nearly $1 billion in military aid to buy attack helicopters and missiles. Are missiles going to be used against the Taliban or India?

The truth is Pakistan will not end its antagonism of India even if we offer them a deal on Kashmir. As C Christine Fair, author of a book on Pakistan’s army, said in an interview to The Times of India last year, "Pakistan is an ideological state. The Kashmir issue is not causal, it's symptomatic. If there were to be any kind of negotiation on Kashmir that gives up any inch of territory, it is not going to fix the situation."

In a more recent post, Fair notes that the Pakistanis have managed to paint themselves as victims of terror and suckered the US government to pour even more money into that terror headquarters. She notes that in return for nearly $31 billion in aid and transfers to Pakistan since the early 2000s, all the US got in return was the deaths of thousands of American, allied and Afghan soldiers and civilians due to covert Pakistani support for violent Islamic jihadis and the Taliban.

Terrorism is official state policy in Pakistan. She writes in a recent blog: “This sort of behaviour has become Pakistan’s standard operating procedure. Since 1947, Pakistan has used Islamist militants in an effort to wrest Kashmir from India. It has used Islamist militants in Afghanistan since 1974, if not earlier. Since 1990, Pakistan has introduced extremely lethal groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT, now operating under the name of its above-ground wing Jamaat-ud-Dawa, JuD) and Jaish-e-Mohammad into the Kashmir theatre and elsewhere in India. Since 2002, according to the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, these two groups have killed more than 1,132 persons and injured more than 2,423 in about 162 attacks.”

Fair, in fact, points out that Pakistan has developed tactical nuclear weapons not to defend itself, but to deter India from any kind of short-term reprisals when the next major terror attack is unleashed by the likes of Lakhvi and Masood Azhar. Put another way, it means Pakistan’s nuclear strategy is to enable terrorism, not defend the country.

It is time we woke up to this reality. Our simple Pakistan policy should be four-fold: talk, plot, defend, wait. We should talk endlessly and use soft words to describe the possibility of solving all our mutual issues, including poverty, terrorism, etc. We should plot more covert operations and gather intelligence in Pakistan, and especially against the likes of LeT and Lakhvi. We should defend ourselves as best we can against terrorism - but it will never be foolproof. And we should wait. Give Pakistan 15-20 years and its blind hatred of India can only lead to some form of self-destruction.

As counter-terrorism expert Ajai Sahni wrote in Firstpost last month: “From a geo-strategic perspective, as far as India is concerned, Kashmir is a holding operation, even in the absence of an effective competitive strategy. If India holds on to Kashmir for another 15 or 20 years, Pakistan will destroy itself, even without India doing anything substantial to secure this end.”

We should wait for Pakistan to self-destruct – unless, through an unexpected miracle, it corrects itself and truly wishes peace. But when 9/11 did not change Pakistani attitudes, I would not bet even one paisa on this possibility.

Let’s be clear. We have no stake in keeping Pakistan united when the Lakhvis, the LeTs, the Jaishes and the Taliban are busy rending it apart. A Lakhvi outside jail won’t be able to plot any more anti-India terror than what he could have done anyway from jail.

We will serve our own interests better if we let Pakistan implode under the weight of its own contradictions. Lakhvi will get it there faster.

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Updated Date: Apr 11, 2015 20:54:51 IST