The Pakistan deep state has never responded well to peace gestures. When Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the friendship bus to Lahore in 1999, he got the Kargil war, the IC-814 hijack and Indian Parliament attack in retaliation.
His successor Manmohan Singh sought durable peace with Pervez Musharraf, assuming that this would have Pakistani military consent. But all he got was a bunch of terror strikes by the Pakistan-created Indian Mujahideen (IM) and the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack.
What’s often forgotten is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had no different an experience. He made a surprise stopover at Lahore on his way back from Kabul in December 2015 to wish his then-counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his daughter’s wedding.
A week later, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) attacked the Pathankot airbase in Punjab. Fortunately, Indian forces managed to thwart what was intended to be a high-impact attack involving destruction of Indian Air Force (IAF) fighters and other assets.
So how would the same deep state respond now when India is on the offensive? The annual ritual at the United Nations yielded little for Pakistan, despite Islamabad’s massive diplomatic effort to conjure up support against New Delhi’s recent measures in Jammu & Kashmir.
The Taliban peace deal, in which Pakistan was playing an important role, has suffered a setback for now. US President Donald Trump is cross, and to make matters worse, uncertainty looms large over what happens next at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meet in Paris later this month.
Pakistan desperately wants the global spotlight to fall on Kashmir. But having met with little success at the UN, both in Geneva and New York, Islamabad is clearly running out of options.
That’s why chances of the Pakistan deep state stepping in to do something spectacular cannot be ruled out. Yet, for India, it wouldn’t be any different, because that’s exactly how the deep state has responded even to peace initiatives in the past.
K-Word to N-Word
The larger worry for India is the future of an unstable Pakistan. An inability to deliver on the Kashmir front will only make matters more uncertain in Islamabad.
This will inevitably impact India. Pakistan PM Imran Khan has callously raised the spectre of a nuclear conflict, which, by itself, may not mean much except raising serious doubts over continued safety of this capability in the hands of the Pakistani army.
In other words, what the last couple of months have shown once again is that it’s Pakistan that is at the heart of the problem, harbouring and sponsoring terror outfits that don’t allow any positive initiative to take off. And that’s because the economy of terrorism is rooted firmly within the Pakistani deep state.
These are not unknown facts about Pakistan. Yet, each time there’s serious pressure on Islamabad, it has managed to perform the rescue act largely by exploiting its geopolitical advantage. If it was the US in the 1970s-80s, it has been China since the 1990s. Both these powers have, at different times, seen strategic utility in Pakistan of the kind that has persuaded them to look the other way as terrorist outfits mushroomed by the day.
Can India not let that happen this time? Modi will be playing host to Chinese President Xi Jinping in a couple of weeks at Mamallapuram. An open conversation on Pakistan must be had to ensure that the two most populous countries in the world can, at least, agree on terrorism.
The challenge for Indian diplomacy is that many countries will be tempted to view this as a leverage on India, or something of a bargaining chip. In fact, this was a serious issue for India in the 1990s. The conscious decision at that point was to gradually de-hyphenate India from Pakistan. Economic reforms helped widen the gap between the countries, giving India a new profile and more clout. Now, of course, this clout has translated into greater political power.
India is now not just economically stronger, but it’s also politically more stable. That would mean a desire to forge an understanding among the powerful to control, if not discipline, Pakistan. Having taken some bold steps internally on Jammu & Kashmir, New Delhi will have to bring to bear its political and economic clout to put the spotlight firmly on Pakistan, the global threat it poses, and its future.
How Red is My Valley
For some inexplicable reason, it’s India that has always been forced to do the explaining on Kashmir, as though Pakistan had nothing to do with the situation there. The truth is that any meaningful domestic conversation on Kashmir within India’s democratic frame has been subverted by Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the Valley.
India will have to address this question head-on if it needs to counter the Pakistan deep state, which is certainly going to get busier in the months ahead.
After all, Pakistan-based terror infrastructure poses a threat not just to India and South Asia, but also to the US, its allies and, quite possibly, even China in the future. This reality is far bigger than any strategic utility Pakistan might offer to these countries in the short run.