Is there any point in talking to Pakistan? Can Pakistan change its policy of using terror as an instrument of coercion? Will Pakistani generals allow the civilian government to take any strategic foreign policy decision regarding India? Can India ever exercise counter-coercion options, options that hurt the Pakistani state structure?
At a lively discussion Tuesday afternoon between a former policy formulator, a retired general and a strategic analyst at the India International Centre on "Lahore to Pathankot: Turbulent Trajectory", organised by the Society for Policy Studies (SPS) that saw a large gathering of diplomats and members of the strategic community, there was large consensus that segregating terror from the primary dialogue will not serve any purpose and there were “grave reservations” whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi&’s hopes of “turning the course of history” in ties with Pakistan by ending terror would have any chance of success.
Asserting that “Pakistani generals called the shots” as far as strategic foreign and security issues were concerned, Vivek Katju, former pointperson (joint secretary) in the Indian foreign ministry in charge of policy formulation towards the Af-Pak region and a former ambassador to Afghanistan, said the Pakistani Army had no real interest in cooperation with India and wondered if the “generals were on board” on the parlays between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Modi when the latter decided to make the surprise stopover at Lahore on his way back to New Delhi from Kabul on Christmas Day.
He said use of “calibrated terror" would continue to be part of Pakistan&’s security doctrine that was in the hands of its army and said little purpose would be served by segregating the terror talks, which were to be conducted by the two national security advisers, from the now renamed Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue that is to be conducted between the two foreign secretaries.
Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain (retd), former GOC of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and a visiting fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, said: "Pathankot (type attack) will happen again – and very shortly” if India refused to learn proper lessons from it in radically altering and improving its civilian-military interface. He said the “Pakistani deep state (military) had no desire to pull back its assets (radical elements)”, adding the problem this time was “no one was sure who was controlling the operations”.
He said India had no tradition of contingency planning, various units continued to work in silos and the “response mechanism needs to get its act together” if Pathankot or even Mumbai-style attacks are not to be repeated.
Gen. Hasnain warned that if India did not have a proper command and control structure and did not operationalise its existing mechanisms when such events happened, “hell will break out” if Pakistan, which was currently too preoccupied with its own internal security management, were to put Kashmir as a strategic priority once again.
Zorawer Daulet Singh, an analyst with the King&’s India Institute, an affiliate London’s King&’s College, said India should “stop try and change Pakistan” or try and “change patterns of the past” but concentrate on using “means to serve our ends”, including use of “counter-proxies” and “counter-coercion instruments” to pay back Pakistan in the same coin and hurting them where it matters.
He said, despite changes in government, India was still sticking to idealistic Nehruvian approaches to foreign policy, hoping the other side will change its behavior when it should be internalizing the political dynamics of Pakistan and create pressure points that will compel Pakistan to relook its ways.
Katju also agreed with Singh that old approaches will not work and “any amount of lighting peace candles at Wagah” will not change an iota in thinking of those elements in Pakistan who control the whiphands of the terror groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed or the Lashker-e-Taiba, whose trained cadres have repeatedly attacked Indian.
Katju said Pakistan was perhaps the only nuclear state that had turned nuclear restraint into license by using the nuclear threat to launch attacks “on the mainland” through its terror instruments while India restrained itself for fear that retaliation might lead an all-out nuclear war with catastrophic consequences.
Commodore C Uday Bhaskar, Director, SPS, who chaired the session, noted that the Modi government needs to invest in acquiring tangible national security capacity so as to compel Pakistan to desist from supporting terror. He also cautioned that the Islamic religious fervor which has taken firm roots in Pakistan’s civil society is now spreading in the military and this supra-national ideology which is similar to that of the al-Qaeda and the Islamic State bodes ill for regional stability.
All the speakers agreed that India should not be too constrained by international opinion, particularly the West, and fashion its policy from its own security perspective as the West “would never abandon Pakistan” as it served its own security interests in the volatile Af-Pak region.