The gyre of internal debates within Pakistan regarding the terrorist strike on the Karachi naval base last Saturday is narrowing. That is somewhat surprising because we South Asians are so garrulous and we are capable of wild flights of fancy and it is not yet a week since the terrorists struck and until today no one knows what really happened although we kept spinning yarns.
Conspiracy theories that the Indians staged the terrorist attack in Karachi have no takers and, curiously ,that is not because we in India cried hoarse insisting on our innocence, but thoughtful Pakistanis themselves feel they are self-serving nonsense. India’s silence has turned out to be ‘golden’.
The point is, there is an unprecedented mood of introspection going on within Pakistan today about where the country is heading. I have not seen anything like this since 1977 when I first began with the Pakistan Division in South Block. It seems to me that the probability is exceptionally high that the soul-searching will deepen and Pakistanis may succeed in purging itself of impurities as days pass if only they are allowed to handle their sorrows on their own terms.
Quite conceivably, this could all lead to an end of the road for Pakistan to pursue terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Who knows? Stranger things have happened in history. Some leading Pakistani pundits visualise that even the Pakistani military cannot easily postpone introspection for long as to why there has been such a display of hatred toward the GHQ at Rawalpindi by the terrorists who struck at Mehran as to cripple almost half of the country’s maritime surveillance capabilities. The blowback from the terror machine, a product of Immaculate Conception by the Pakistani state for bleeding India, is at once obvious.
However, some of the burden for ferrying Pakistan to a level of sanity and calm also lies with us. Our restraint is an absolutely basic imperative of the situation. But I have another point to make. We should guard against becoming a cats-paw of the United States in the highly complicated geo-strategic game that is going on. When you think of the trial of Tahawwur Rana and David Headley, do not also forget to ask some right questions. Our media is not yet doing that. Maybe, all in good time. For a start, I’d like to know how much the US administration knew all this stuff that is being downloaded in the Chicago court, beforehand in real time. Hasn’t this explosive ‘glasnost’ come a little too late in the day for those 160 lives lost in Mumbai? No kidding that Headley was indeed a double agent and going by the culture of intelligence agencies, the Americans certainly let Headley carry on with the pursuit of his covert work on those particular tracks that he did, knowing fully well that such dangerous enterprises are bound to inflict collateral damages.
Someone of the highest caliber in the media on the terrorism front like Praveen Swamy himself should sit down and meticulously examine this aspect as well, lest all his good work finally turns out to be sheer indulgences in voyeurism. There is no point in going hammer and tong at the daily dose of sensational ‘revelations’ out of the Chicago court. Much of it we already know anyway. The matter is far too serious for us to skip the kernel and settle for the chaff. Actually,unless we are willing and are capable of asking the right questions, Americans might think we are a bunch of incurable romantics habituated to mouth fairy tales, who don’t know what hard terrorism is all about, and that can be a silly thing to happen at this crucial juncture in the regional security landscape.
This also brings me to another aspect. How much is it in our interests to identify with the US pressure tactic toward Pakistan? Clearly, it suits the Americans that maximum pressure is brought to bear on Pakistan at this juncture against the backdrop of the Afghan endgame. The unscheduled visit of Hillary Clinton to Pakistan on Friday, accompanied by Mike Mullen, so soon after John Kerry’s visit a fortnight ago shows that Barack Obama is turning on the charm offensive full throttle. Indeed, the Americans are playing a double game with the Pakistani elites. Meanwhile, Der Spiegel reports that after the Abbottabad operations, German intelligence even ferried Mullah Omar’s right hand man to Europe so that the CIA could have a meeting with him German soil. There are wheels within wheels, obviously. [http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,764323,00.html]. The recent ‘disappearance’ of Omar now assumes a new dimension altogether.
So, at the end of the day, do we really want US Assistant Secretary Robert Blake’s ringing endorsement of the list of 50 wanted terrorists — minus 2 or 3 — that we have given to Pakistan, as if it is a joint venture with shared equity? I think we should tell him to concentrate on Clinton’s mission to Pakistan to pull the American chestnuts out of the fire. Clinton is probably embarking on the toughest diplomatic mission of her career.
Second, America’s reputation in Pakistan is irredeemably damaged for at least one generation. Whereas, people-to-people good will and understanding has to be the bedrock of an enduring India-Pakistan normalisation. India has everything to lose — and with hindsight one may even say there can be nothing worthwhile to gain at this stage — by being seen by the Pakistani public as America’s toady. Without doubt, we need to be extremely careful not get identified with the American project in Pakistan. What if Obama decides tomorrow to resort to a fresh bout of unilateralism in Pakistan? Why should we allow ourselves to be perceived as part of that? What if Obama decides tomorrow to wind up the trial in Chicago? Worse still, what if tomorrow Mullah Omar’s man, thanks to Pakistani good offices (and German efficiency), brings about proximity between Sirajuddin Haqqani and the CIA operatives somewhere in a forest cottage in deep Bavaria as the dusk falls? These are tricky questions? Yes, they are. And there are no easy answers, either.
But then, as I said earlier, the conspiracy theories that US and India stage-managed the Karachi terrorist strike are just about dying down. Let the Blakes of the world not get away with ensuring the pot is kept simmering. As a fine diplomat, he should know he always had the option to pick up the phone and compliment the charming Indian ambassador in Washington as to what a fine job our highly professional MHA did in meticulously putting together such an irrefutable list of the ‘most wanted’ terrorists in our region. But, instead, this savvy diplomat chose to go to the media.
Uncertain times lie ahead. The US-Pakistan relationship may crumble further as the trial in Chicago advances and the demonisation of Pakistan touches new heights. (Or, it may blossom as a fresh romance altogether.) At any rate, we should learn something valuable from a visitor who came to Delhi recently — Islam Karimov, Uzbek president. So brilliantly he has succeeded in sequestering his little parish from trouble through the past 2 decades since the advent of the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan! That is to say, an al-Qaeda or Pakistani Taliban attack on India at this time is simply not imaginable. Indian restraint will not only help Pakistan at the present juncture but in the process we will also be helping ourselves to minimise the lethal dangers of collateral damage from the inferno that the US created in our region when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001.