Bilateral India US relations remain on an upswing and the recent visit by Defence Secretary Carter anointing India as a Major Defence Partner testifies to this. Let us not get carried away by this and think of Russia too. 12 years ago, Pakistan was designated a Major Non-Nato Ally by George Bush. What really concerns US policy makers and thinkers is not the disputes between India and Pakistan, nor the terrorists that are India-specific. The main objective is that the two nations do not escalate their tensions to the nuclear level. Pak-sponsored terrorism under a nuclear umbrella remains acceptable by implication in Washington DC so long as no American lives are at stake. US reaction to the Pakistan-based and sponsored terror attack in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 was a very clear message to most Indians who wanted to take it. Despite the injunction of the UNSC Security Council Resolution 1373 of 2001, US and China found ways to protect Pakistan from any punishment. This was a repeat of the China-US duo in 1971 to protect Pakistan. The pity is that this time even this did not ensure Pakistani loyalty or even reluctant adherence to US interests in the region and Pakistan all along remained duplicitous in its dealings with America.
China can be expected to continue to protect Pakistan at the UN or any other multilateral forum. At the same time, the US by being selective in its war on terror has won few friends in India’s strategic circles. This only means that the US policy of hyphenation between India and Pakistan will continue and will win no long-term friends in either the US or India. All interactions will essentially remain transactional despite loud claims in both countries to strategic consonance.
Barely four months after Osama bin Laden was taken out by US Special Forces acting on their own without the knowledge, much less approval, of their stalwart ally, George Perkovich wrote an essay on how to Stop Enabling Pakistan’s Dangerous Dysfunction (Carnegie September 6, 2011). The paper discussed that in the times ahead US would be less dependent on Pakistan’s supply lines to Afghanistan which gave the US an opportunity to reconsider and ‘dramatically revise’ policies in this ‘strategically important country of almost 200 million’. US interests in Pakistan mentioned were: securing Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal; preventing war between Pakistan and India; counter terrorism, including Pakistan’s cooperation in stabilizing Afghanistan; and fostering development and democratization in what will soon be the world’s most populous Muslim majority country. These interests boiled down to the security of Pakistanis to be attained through just governance, more education, higher employment, leading to an ability to define and pursue a constructive national identity and interest that will expunge terrorists. This is the dream. What has happened is the reverse— continuation of a nightmare. Pakistan’s India-specific nuclear arsenal and its delivery mechanism has continued to grow. War has been prevented because of the Indian restraint despite repeated provocations in the last few months. Pakistan has provided no assistance in curbing terrorism in Afghanistan leading President Ashraf Ghani to assert at the recently concluded Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar that if Pakistan were to stop assisting terrorists Afghanistan would be able to control terror inside their country in a month.
Perkovich is right when he says that US pursuit of its global security interests with Pakistan’s assistance has led to the empowerment of a grossly oversized and hyperactive military and intelligence service at the expense of genuine socio-economic development of the country. Pakistan has been a single enemy country with a mindset that seeks destruction and annihilation of ‘Hindu India’ and has opted to use the jihadi option under a nuclear umbrella—something that was the byproduct of the Afghan jihad in the 1980s.The US had indulged Pakistan while it ensured defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It suited Pakistan to play along with American ambitions and goals while its own goals were different. One has only to recall what Carter’s NSA Brzezinski said about assisting the Afghan Islamists—What is more important to the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet Empire? Some stirred up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of Cold War? Apart from the political liberation of Central Europe, nothing else has changed for the better but only for the worse. The Taliban now control many parts of Afghanistan, the Russian state under Putin is resurging, the stirred up Muslims are from Pakistan to the Maghreb and the Cold War continues with the Russians under sanctions.
One of the recommendations that Perkovich made in his essay was that India should not be over-indulged while Pakistan’s needs were taken care of. Barbara Tuchman’s remark, ‘In a dependent relationship, the protégé can always control the protector by threatening to collapse,’ in her book, The March of Folly, also describes the nature of US-Pakistan relations. The US is perfectly entitled to have a relationship with Pakistan. It may want to repay some debt to Pakistan despite the perfidy, but surely this cannot be at the cost of allowing bloody jihad that kills Indians in their thousands. The argument is that the US is unable to force Pakistan to take a certain course of action like going after the Haqqanis. After spending $ 33 billion in all these years, the armament supplied and other aid, the US is still unable to wield any influence beyond a low level. One is left wondering, if Iran can be placed under sanctions for aiding terrorism, why not Pakistan? If Russia can be under sanctions, despite possessing nuclear weapons, why not Pakistan?
The other aspect is that while we may expect the US to do more, we ourselves have never even declared Pakistan a country sponsoring terrorism. It is only now that we have begun to assert that talks and terrorism cannot go together. A few years ago, we were quite happy to sympathize with Pakistan as another victim of terror like we were. It is only now that there has been some declared action across LOC by our forces. Other countries will take notice of our security interests only if we defend our interests forcefully.
Perkovich and Dalton had written a joint paper ‘Modi’s Choice: How to Respond to Terrorism from Pakistan’ (Washington Quarterly Spring 2015). The concerns expressed by the authors became very real when India responded to the Uri attack on September 28, 2016. The arguments in this paper are the genesis for their book Not War, Not Peace: Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism. They describe the various problems of a pure military response to a major terror attack, the parlous state of India’s defence acquisitions and preparedness, the futility and impracticable nature of a Cold Start doctrine, the perils of an air power response, the limitations of a covert option, leading up to nuclear escalation. Perkovich and Dalton argue that there are no good response options for India including various aspects of nonviolent compellance. This means economic sanctions, specific counter terrorism sanctions, political isolation, nonviolent campaigns and even a naval blockade. Genteel compellance will not do; Pakistan can withstand that. Genuine change will come through a realization that there is an unaffordable price for being an outlaw. Undoubtedly, the book deserves to be read seriously as it is a clear enunciation of Indian limitations as well as being a window into the continuing strand of thinking in some sections of American thinking.
It is questionable if the US will join in this campaign to end terror emanating from Pakistan—which is the crux of the problem. Nearly 70 years of a close US association with Pakistan has led to a Stockholm Syndrome in the DC Beltway while the Pakistanis match it with their Munchausen’s Syndrome—a situation where the affected person exaggerates or creates symptoms of illnesses to gain attention, sympathy and treatment. Pakistan’s Deep State works on this principle to get the US to provide succour, which is then misused against India. It is true this mindset will not change easily but it certainly will not through increased largesse. Christine Fair is right when she says, ‘The United States will not likely be able to undertake any coercive policy if it continues to believe that its resources and those of its allies and multiple organisations are staving off an otherwise likely collapse of the state’ (C. Christine Fair, ‘Getting South Asia on Track: Ideas for the Next President: War on the Rocks, December 2, 2016).
There are limits up to which India will be a ‘sponge’ that inadvertently protects the West. India’s proximity to Pakistan made it the first and convenient target terrorism aimed for Israel, the US and the West while India emerged as a soft state that felt satisfied at being described as a responsible state. Pakistan may keep talking of the Kashmir issue but it would be ‘a gross error to treat terrorism facing India as simply a problem for New Delhi’ (Ashley Tellis, The Menace That Is Lashkar e Taiba, Carnegie 2012). The book tends to treat this problem of terrorism as an India Pakistan problem but does not take into account how Pakistan got here through the Afghan jihad and the terror unleashed against India since the 1990s when unfortunately it was India that was pilloried for human rights violations and not Pakistan for terrorism.
Obviously, a selective war on terror has given Pakistan the excuse to continue its India-specific jihad while pretending to help the US in Afghanistan. If the US has been unsuccessful in Afghanistan after a 15-year presence, Pakistan has had a strong role in that. It was during this time that the US leverage with Pakistan eroded considerably. A superpower unable to seek retribution maybe an unfortunate commentary on the limitations of power but does not solve India’s problem.
When in the 1990s Pakistan, fresh from its jihadi excursions into Afghanistan had unleashed its jihad in India, the West, led by the US and Saudi Arabia, launched a campaign alleging human rights violations by Indian armed forces in Kashmir. For decades, we have been fighting a war started by Pakistan with more than 6200 security personnel and 15000 civilians killed since 1988 and we are still asked to exercise restraint. There is no one who will coerce Pakistan to wind down terrorism and show evidence. The authors say the US cannot change the mind-set of the Pakistanis. Pakistan has not been subjected to the kind pursued against Cuba, Iran or Russia.
The logic that any military response by India to a terrorist attack from Pakistan or territories under its control must be restrained as otherwise this could escalate to a nuclear confrontation, is unacceptable. There is not even a mild reprimand to Pakistan for provoking a situation and inviting a response. The expectation in India is, and it is not an unfair one, that the next time there is an attack on India, those who champion democracy and oppose terror would rush to Pakistan to reprimand and to ensure that Pakistan does not respond to a justified Indian reprisal to their provocation. Perpetual restraint as a response to unending provocation is a policy based on unreal hopes. Restraint has not worked; concessions will do even less. If the world expects India to continue its policy of restraint, then the world must escalate its responses. It cannot be that India must exercise permanent restraint without any benefits for its security. So, instead of plying the culprit with money and weapons maybe deprivation of this and an ability to call his bluff would succeed.
Advisories from distant lands tend to sidestep local realities and history. What India has been facing is a 70-year war by other means. This must end before the policy of endless restraint ends.
Vikram Sood is former Director, Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and Vice-President, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.