Opinion Op Ed 18 Jan 2016 PM’s walk in t ...

PM’s walk in the woods with Pak

COLUMNIST | ANAND K. SAHAY
Published Jan 18, 2016, 2:55 am IST
Updated Jan 18, 2016, 2:55 am IST
Friendship with Pakistan is a laudable project.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi watching a presentation on counter-terrorist and combing operation by the Defence Forces, at Pathankot Airbase. (Photo: PTI)
 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi watching a presentation on counter-terrorist and combing operation by the Defence Forces, at Pathankot Airbase. (Photo: PTI)

Since the Pakistani state is military-dominated and military-controlled, it needs an adversarial cause for its existential justification, and this is easily found in democratic India which also happens to be a “Hindu state” as far as the military’s perception goes, since Pakistan’s military regards itself as a keeper of the flame, an embodiment of the notion of the “ghazi” confronting unbelievers. There is enough scholarly writing which underlines this.

After Pathankot, which is now so clear the government severely mismanaged, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be staying the course on a diplomatic opening with Pakistan, fervently hoping that a modicum of success will help eclipse the memory of the attack and the mismanagement, and neutralise domestic criticism.

 

But the persistence with so-called diplomacy is in return for nothing. It seems more a personal prestige thing since the Prime Minister himself had led the opening hand — personalised diplomacy at its very worst, in keeping with Mr Modi’s reputation for “event management”.

Our armed forces are not amused with the handling of the Pathankot affair, which seems to have needlessly put the National Security Guard at odds with the Army, thanks to some boy scout imaginings in the office of the national security adviser, who directly reports to the Prime Minister.

 

Friendship with Pakistan is a laudable project. In general, diplomacy with a perceived adversary is perhaps even more necessary than with a friend, at least to ensure that neither side flies off-course and creates a regrettable situation. But Mr Modi has too few cards in his hands at the moment, whatever his reasons for taking two steps forward in dealing with Pakistan.

But there are few signs of Pakistani reasonableness on view, other than the optics. Which means India is being taken for a ride, not just its Prime Minister, who champions personalised diplomacy. With the Lahore “stopover” it’s birthday diplomacy these days, earlier there was “sari diplomacy” (with our Prime Minister sending saris for Mrs Sharif as a token of sincerity), and in between “diplomacy on the swings” (with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad even as his country’s troops forced their way into the Indian side of the perceived boundary). While Mr Modi presses ahead looking for a viable diplomatic opening, Islamabad has made it plain that the mobile phone numbers dialled by the terrorists from Pathankot — which India confidently forwarded to the Pakistani authorities as “evidence” — are not even registered in Pakistan. Simply put, Islamabad is saying the patrons of the attack are not from Pakistan.

 

If that’s the case, there’s not much left to say. Let’s just recall that when India had similarly presented phone numbers and call intercepts as “evidence” after the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistan foreign secretary visiting New Delhi for talks derisively described the material submitted by India as “literature”, not evidence. When Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asked Pakistan to handover Dawood Ibrahim, Islamabad switched off its earplugs. All Mr Vajpayee got in return was the attack on the Indian Parliament. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked for the guilty in the Mumbai attacks to be tried with sincerity in Pakistan, and asked for the voice samples of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the operations chief for the 26/11 attacks, he met with a cold rebuff, although Pakistan kept urging him to visit it as a mark of goodwill.

 

Now it is Prime Minister Modi’s turn to be beguiled. Thus, there is the mystery of the arrest of Maulana Masood Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Inter-Services Intelligence-nurtured specifically anti-India terrorist outfit that had mounted the Parliament attack and seems to be behind Pathankot. But this is being officially interpreted in India as the Pakistan government being reasonable; worse, that it is bowing to Indian pressure, if some of the purple prose in Indian news reporting at the behest of unnamed official sources is to be believed.

 

So much is being made in India of Azhar’s “preventive detention” or “arrest” that we completely forget that the same man had been arrested for a whole year after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. But he was never charged and was let off on court orders.  In any case, the Jaish is technically a proscribed organisation.

Propaganda overkill can rebound when the truth comes out, as Mr Modi will learn. The American public had been led to believe — thanks to a pliable media — that the US was winning the war in Vietnam. When 50,000 body bags came home and defeat could no longer be hidden, public psychology in the US turned numb and was utterly disoriented.

 

Mr Modi seems to have learnt little from the Parliament attack, Kargil, the Mumbai attacks, or for that matter Pathankot, which happened on his watch. He might as well come out and say that from the Indian side terrorism is no more going to be a component of the composite or comprehensive dialogue process with Pakistan. That is the direction in which he appears to be moving.

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