Sunday, November 30, 2008

where now for India-Pakistan?

Watched the latest episode of NDTV's 'We the People'. Some of the militaristic bullshit that the audience is spouting is seriously disturbing. Leading the pack is the fabulously deranged Simi Garewal, who thinks that the fact that the US has not experienced a major terrorist attack since 9/11 suggests that we should follow its example and 'carpet bomb' those areas of Pakistan in which terrorist camps are located. She also suggests that a camera crew be taken to the Four Seasons hotel: look down at the slums below, she says, and tell me what flag they are flying. They are not flying the flag of the Congress, they are not flying the flag of the Shiv Sena or the BJP. They are flying the flag of Pakistan. This was the moment at which the programme descended into chaos as one member of the audience wisely (if somewhat shrilly, but who can blame him?) pointed out that people like Simi were the problem. Fortunately, Simi Garewal is not widely regarded as an expert in foreign policy. Nonetheless, what was disturbing was the applause that her remarks generated. One can hardly blame politicians for sounding hawkish when there seems to be a bottom-up demand for such posturing.

Explaining why this is wrong requires a brief history lesson. For most of its post-independence existence, as a relatively weak state in a rough geopolitical neighbourhood, Pakistan has relied on proxies to do its dirty work: the mujahideen in Afghanistan to put in place a government of its choosing that would (i) stop irritating Pakistan by fomenting Pashtun nationalism; (ii) provide 'strategic depth' west of the Indus, giving the Pakistani army space in which to regroup in the event of an invasion by India. The other set of proxies that it relied on were a host of jihadi groups in Kashmir, who could engage the Indian state in a grinding, low-intensity war that would have a better chance of wearing it down than a short, sharp inter-state conflict that Pakistan would inevitably lose.

With 9/11, key elements of the Pakistani establishment (read: Musharraf and the technocrats) re-evaluated these long-standing policies. The increasing Talibanisation of politics in Pakistan's northwest frontier and sectarian warfare in the cities were ample evidence that the chickens of Cold War policy were coming home to roost. US pressure on Pakistan to cooperate in the 'war on terror' constituted a final and decisive push to reverse the old policies.

The problem is that states do not speak with one voice, and weak states even less so. The fragility of Pakistan's ruling elite (Musharraf and even more, Zardari) means that these reversals of policy cannot be stamped decisively on the apparatus of state as a whole. The very uncertainty of their hold on power makes it difficult for them to root out renegade elements and rotten veins in the army and the ISI. This in turn exacerbates India's lingering mistrust, despite frequent protestations of cooperation and clean hands by those in Pakistan who claim that they are in charge.

A belligerent Indian response to this situation would make it even more difficult for moderate Pakistani elites to crack down on jihadi elements within the Pakistani state and society. The Pakistani state has rendered itself deeply unpopular in the eyes of its own people whenever it has appeared to be engaged in counterinsurgency/counterterrorism operations at the behest of an external actor such as the US. This will hold even truer if the demand comes from India. A belligerent India, pointing an accusing finger at the entirety of the Pakistani state and threatening to bomb the shit out of it might satisfy rightwing hotheads in India. But rather than strengthening the moderates in Pakistan, it will compel them to shift rightwards and make common cause with extremists against the 'Indian threat', thereby losing the goodwill of even the most cooperative elements of the Pakistani state.

Should India feel the need to engage in coercive diplomacy (surrender the people we want for questioning, or else...) it needs to do this very discreetly. Its public diplomacy should be all about making common cause with Pakistan. This shouldn't be difficult to do. The facts speak for themselves. If news reports are to be believed, RDX caches in some of the Taj rooms suggest a plot to blow up the hotel in what would appear to be an imitation of the spectacularly successful attack on the Marriott at Islamabad. Islamabad and Mumbai are twins in tragedy. We feel your pain, we should be saying. Whether we can move beyond the rhetoric to begin sharing intelligence and cooperating in more meaningful ways in counterterrorism operations will depend on whether the deep and long-running mistrust between our intelligence agencies can be overcome.

In the meanwhile, here's a concrete policy proposal: tell Simi to shut up.

I don't even know how to react to the insane bullshit that crazy twat unleashed. What the FUCK?

I am worried for India - it's just been getting crazier by the day. I have been seemingly shrieking myself hoarse aginst ridiculous and very scary statements like "we should bomb Pakistan", "All Pakistanis ar terrorists", "We should attack and take over POK - it'll solve the Kashmir problem once and for all". I don't understand - is everyone going mad?

And in an environment like this - what government action will be satisfactory?

We feel your pain, we should be saying. I completely agree with you. I just don't think it will go down very well in India.
I'm Indian. On a first reading, I agree with the points you make. Including telling Simi G to shut up. If you have a line on that, could you please include Barkha Dutt as well?

By the way, how about extraditing Dawood while you're at it? Oh damn, our Indian government plumb forhot to make that demand in 16 years!

Someone had to make a 'Ban SIMI' joke.
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