ASSESS GROUND SITUATION IN PAK WELL BEFORE WE RESPOND
By Seema Mustafa
“Non state actors are operating from a particular country. What we are most respectfully submitting, suggesting to the government of Pakistan: please act. Mere expression of intention is not adequate,” said minister of external affairs Pranab Mukherjee in Parliament. The Zardari government, faced with an ultimatum of sorts from Washington, has cracked down on the Lashkar e Tayaba and its parent organization at Muridke at Lahore.
But this is just the tip of the problem. The sophisticated terrorist attack in Mumbai where ten ‘commandos’ traveled 600 nautical miles by sea escaping Indian intelligence and patrolling, to launch a three day long ‘operation’ does not have the LeT stamp. The recruits might have been LeT, of for that matter Hizb, or al Qaeda, or what have you operatives but the training was of a far superior caliber than what had been visible here in the past. It must be pointed out that the Lashkar was used largely by the Pakistan army and ISI in Jammu and Kashmir, and for a while now has been straining at the leash within Pakistan, to move towards the Afghan border. But pressure from both the Pakistan government and the US has prevented these chaps from indulging in anti-US and anti-NATO warfare in Afghanistan, with even senior LeT leaders arrested a while ago to prevent them from shifting their area of operations.
These ten men were very different from the LeT chaps, with better training, far more sophisticated weaponry, and a certain ruthlessness and determination that had our NSG commandos giving them “full marks” for holding out for three full days. These were also an indicator in the shift that has taken place within Pakistan or its sanctuaries, where the war against the US and its allies is going to be waged in countries like India where the security network is porous and penetrated with comparative ease. It is also clear that the Pakistan government had little knowledge of the operation, although it cannot be said with any certainty that sections of the army and the ISI were equally ignorant. What has not been determined as yet, and might never be, is whether the top echelons of the Pakistan military were involved in the training and deployment of the terrorists?
One is saying this, as the disaffection within the Pakistan army is well known. Retired generals and ISI chiefs like Hamid Gul told this correspondent earlier this year that the army was resentful and angry about being involved in the operations against its own people in the villages neighbouring Afghanistan, and that there had been large scale desertions of both soldiers and officers. They said that the Pakistan army could have managed an odd operation or two against its own people, but this sustained warfare had taken a major toll. More so, as the Pakistan army looked upon the Pathans and others in the border areas as its own, and had trained these people earlier to fight the Russians when the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. “They do not look at all this as terrorism, they are now fighting the US,” is how the retired army generals in Islamabad put it, pointing out that military action was placing the army and “its own people” in direct conflict.
The Pakistan army, under US and international pressure to do more and more, has been finding the going very difficult and it would, thus, not be surprising if sections within decided to conduct a parallel war of the kind that the world witnessed in Mumbai. After all, the battle insofar as the Pakistan army is concerned, is for survival and for Afghanistan that it has always looked upon as its own territory and is particularly upset at having been reduced to a virtual cipher therein. This is one of the main reasons why former President Pervez Musharraf was struggling earlier to convince the Americans of using the army’s expertise to differentiate between the good and the bad Taliban, and reach some kind of a solution through negotiations with the former.
Pakistanis have always been very worried, and this applies also to the man on the street, of the vulnerability of its mainland to an Indian attack. They have always looked to Afghanistan for strategic depth, and are now particularly worried about having lost this in the global war against terror. It is a well known fact that when the US invaded Afghanistan, Islamabad pleaded with it not to bring in the Northern Alliance into the government. This was largely because of the close links between India and the Northern Alliance, and Pakistan fought till the very end to try and keep New Delhi out of Afghanistan. Instead, India opened more consulates and has become very active in the construction of strategic roads in Afghanistan, linking it to Iran and other countries.
The Pakistan army has been facing the brunt of the war on terror, and there is a certain disconnect between it and the Zardari government. The army is not particularly fond of the new President, and does not have very good links with the political parties in power at the moment. It is working as a virtually independent institution, clear from the fact that when India summoned the ISI chief to Delhi, the first response of the civilian government was a “yes.” It was only after the army put its foot down that the ISI general was not sent to India, and Zardari also toughened his responses to be more in tune with the army line. Interestingly civil society in Pakistan is closer to the army’s denial of involvement, with even progressive Pakistanis in a state of denial insofar as the involvement of the LeT and other groups in the Mumbai attack is concerned. This is particularly interesting, as for the last few years, many in Pakistan’s civil society were vociferous in their opposition to home grown terrorism. And the media was also particularly forthcoming in carrying detailed investigation of the terror camps, with critical editorials carried by several newspapers from time to time.
India will have to fine tune its response according to the reality on the ground, and not confine its responses to the LeT that is not the problem. Perhaps not even a symptom any longer. There is a deep churning going on within the Pakistan military and that has to be understood and factored in by our policy makers. Is it the beginning of the end of the army as an institution? Are we looking at a situation where the Pakistan army will become a renegade force out of the control of not just the Americans but its own political masters? If so, how will this impact on India? Remember, in a situation where the command and control of nuclear weapons in Pakistan is not absolutely clear to the outside world, who will be in charge of that briefcase with the little button that can spell disaster for not just this region, but the entire world?