November 26, 2018 would be the 10th anniversary of the terror attack in Mumbai that left over 166 people dead and 293 injured. The sheer perversity of the attack that targeted multiple locations, including the railway station, five star hotels, a trendy café and a Jewish synagogue, was simply staggering. What still is not clear is the intent of the Pakistani deep state the ISI-military combine in orchestrating and executing that outrage despite their repeated denials.
The reason why I say this is because if there were ever a stable five years in the India-Pakistan relationship it was from November 26, 2003 when the ceasefire between the two countries came into effect. This period ended on November 26, 2008 with the Mumbai attack.
The November 2003 ceasefire set the stage for former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad in 2004. After Vajpayee lost power his successor Manmohan Singh picked up the threads of the engagement. He instituted a series of confidence-building measures, including putting in place a back channel with the Pakistani leadership that yielded the Manmohan-Musharraf formula that essentially was predicated upon making borders irrelevant in Kashmir. It is another matter that the formula never came to fruition because President Pervez Musharraf lost legitimacy because of the lawyers strike by January 2007. Is it a coincidence that the Mumbai attack took place within three months of Gen. Musharraf quitting office and three days after he left for exile in London on November 23, 2008? Of course by the time Mr Musharraf left Pakistan for the UK the 10 terrorists were well on their way to India by sea.
The 26/11 attacks are seared into the collective psyche of an entire generation of Indians. It has altered the dynamics of India-Pakistan relationship forever. In Track One and a Half and Track Two dialogues Pakistani’s are unable to countenance why can’t India move on? They argue that there have been other terror attacks in India in the past that have been equally horrendous that India blames on Pakistan — and according to me very rightly so. The Pakistani’s point to the Mumbai train bombings of 2006 in which 209 people died and 714 odd were injured to belabour the point as to what makes 26/11 so different for the Indians.
What makes it different is the fact that for three full days and nights 900 million people in India — that is the reach of cable and satellite television and millions of others around the world — saw the horror play itself out as 10 Satans went about their macabre dance of death killing people in a cool, clinical, deliberate and detached manner till they were neutralised one by one. That is what distinguishes 26/11 from all the previous depredations.
The current foreign minister of Pakistan was then too foreign minister of Pakistan and he was visiting India. It was obvious that there are a lot of things that the civilian dispensation in Pakistan is unaware of otherwise he would have been daft to show up when this most pernicious outrage was playing itself out. However, he too remains etched in the collective Indian psyche as the face of this perfidy.
The tragedy is that successive governments in Pakistan have been in complete denial about 26/11. Rather than moving on the trial of the handlers of 26/11 the Pakistani establishment has given them a free run of the country. Ten years later it perhaps remains the single biggest impediment in any improvement in India’s relationship with its western neighbour.
That brings me to the second question why is the deep state in Pakistan unwilling to give up on its terror proxies despite the fact that influential Pakistani diplomats, politicians and even retired military officers would tell you privately that terrorism and radicalisation has wrecked their country. The latest manifestation of that is the renewed support to Khalistani separatists both in India and abroad. The grenade attack in Amritsar on a Nirankari congregation is but the latest manifestation of this reactivation of the Khalistan brief by the ISI. Earlier the renewed international activity around the Sikh Referendum 2020 also had more than the tacit backing of Pakistani deep state.
The reasons are complex, layered and convoluted. First and foremost, whatever the Pakistani Army may say and do they still have not got over with the humiliation of Bangladesh. Second, there is a deeply held belief within large sections of the Pakistani establishment that they must persevere with the strategy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts. Third, they believe that given the growing gap economically between the two countries and India’s desire to stretch its wings in the quest of a larger role beyond just South Asia, this low cost option can hold India down. Fifth, there may be a growing congruence between Pakistan and some other regional powers to confine India to South Asia.
However, therein lies the rub. Pakistan cannot grow till it gets over its obsession for India. Perhaps that is why Vajpayee sought to allay those apprehensions when he went to the Minar-e-Pakistan way back in 1998 — two decades ago — to symbolically send a message that India recognises the existence of Pakistan. However, the message still has not sunk in. The Pakistani paranoia has got only worse rather than getting better.
It is an exercise in futility to give unsolicited and unwarranted advise but the new government in Pakistan led by Prime Minister Imran Khan would perhaps be better off if they forget about India and their Kashmir obsession for a bit and focus upon putting their own house in order.
It is not only India that now flags the role of Pakistan in fermenting terror in South Asia. It is also Afghanistan and most crucially it is none other than President of the United States Donald Trump. Pakistan has swung like a pendulum between the United States and China. If they were just to rest their oars of terror life would become much better for them....