India’s Policy Options Vis-a-Vis Post OBL Pakistan – By Dost Mittar

What if the US decides to further shift its so-called War on Terror from Afghanistan to Pakistan and seeks India’s help in this endeavor?
 It would be an understatement to say that Pakistan is passing through a critical period. The discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden has caused the political equivalent of an earthquake in the country. The anguish felt by the Pakistani civil society was succinctly summarized by a Pakistani journalist, Cyril Almeida: “Did [the Pakistani army] know he was here? Surely they knew he was here,” Almeida wrote. “If we didn’t know, we are a failed state; if we did know, we are a rogue state.” The killing of OBL by a CIA team, followed by an attack on the Naval base in Karachi, and the brutal kidnapping, torture and killing of a prominent Pakistani investigative journalist, widely believed to be engineered by Pakistan’s own military agency, the ISI, has added a tsunami to the “earthquake”.

India could not remain impervious to what has been happening in Pakistan. Pakistan is in its current state because of the India-obsession of Pakistani state in general and its army in particular, and the consequent policy of promoting jihadi groups in Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan to counter the superiority of Indians in conventional arms and weapons. It is a well-known fact, half-heartedly denied by Pakistan, that Pakistan harbours criminals and terrorists sought by India. The immediate jingoist reaction in India in the aftermath of the CIA operation, therefore, was that India should undertake a similar mission to capture or kill these men wanted by India. This was a foolish demand and was dismissed by not only the government but most responsible political commentators with the contempt that it deserved. Such action would have most likely failed because India is not the US and Pakistan is much better prepared for any attack by India than it is by the US; more importantly, such an adventure ran the risk of provoking a full-fledged war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

A more attractive option would be to use this opportunity to strengthen the democratic forces in Pakistan against the army. There is no doubt that the Pakistani army, including its intelligence wing, the ISI, is facing unprecedented criticism in Pakistan, even from those sections which are generally considered to be favourably disposed towards the army. The Leader of the Opposition, Nawaz Sharif, himself a creation of the army, has openly called for the army to be under the civilian government. At a moment like this, India’s public support for Pakistani civilian government would, the thinking goes, strengthen its hands. There are two problems in this line of thinking: One, the current civilian rulers of Pakistan have repeatedly shown that they are unwilling to take on the men in Khaki uniform; soon after Yusuf Gilani became Prime Minister, he ordered that the ISI will come under the Ministry of Interior, however, the order was withdrawn a few hours later when the army objected to it; when the terrorists struck Mumbai on Novermber 26, 2008, the then Foreign Minister, Mehmood Qureshi, happened to be in New Delhi and announced that he would ask Shuja Pasha, the DG of ISI, to come to India to assist in the investigation into the attack; however, he had to withdraw that offer as soon as he reached Islamabad while the attack was still on in Mumbai; when the Obama administration added a Kerry-Lugar clause to the aid package to Pakistan that the aid was subject to the military not taking control of the civilian government, the civilian government, under pressure of the army, joined the chorus against the Kerry-Lugar clause as an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty, even though the clause was an attempt by the Obama administration to bolster democratic forces in Pakistan. Outsiders – whether India, China or the US – cannot help the civilian rulers if they are not themselves willing to challenge the overbearing army. A second and more important factor against this option is that any support by India or Indians would be like the Judas Kiss for the civilians; the army would take Indian criticism as a badge of honour and use it to close any window of opportunity available to the civilians to reassert themselves against the army.

A third option for India would be to use this opportunity to take forward the process of reconciliation started by Atal Behari Vajpayee and carried forward by Manmohan Singh’s government. To their credit, India’s leaders have acted with great restraint under various provocations from Pakistan and have earned the respect of the international community for their restraint. While this action seems attractive, it would require concessions by both sides to make any progress on contentious issues and the Pakistani government is too weak to make any concessions at this time.

The fourth and, in my opinion, the best option for India is to adopt a policy of watchful non-interference. It should simply let the Pakistani universe unfold as it would. At the same time, it should prepare contingency policies and plans for potential future scenarios, such as: What would India’s options be if Obama carries out its announced plan for speeder withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan before that country attains a measure of stable governance? What if Pakistan agrees to assist in handing over the wanted Al Qaida leaders hiding in Pakistan and cooperate in the peace process in Afghanistan on the condition that Pakistan is the sole broker of the peace process and it be allowed to continue its clandestine support to LeT and other Jihadi organizations against India? What if Afghanistan plunges into a civil war after the US withdrawal, with Pakistan backing Taleban with weapons and fighters as it did twenty years ago? What if the US decides to further shift its so-called War on Terror from Afghanistan to Pakistan and seeks India’s help in this endeavor? What if a Colonels’ rebellion takes place in Pakistan indulging the country into a civil war and creating a humanitarian crisis at India’s doorsteps? India should be preparing itself for all such options, taking into consideration the probability of each of these and other similar options. Uncertain times are ahead and India needs to be prepared for all eventualities.

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