Sunday, December 28, 2008

Round One to Pakistan

Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times
December 27, 2008

Are you as surprised as I am by the war hysteria that suddenly seems to have become the defining feature of India-Pakistan ties? In the aftermath of 26/11, many of us took pride in the maturity of the Indian reaction. Even though we knew quite quickly that the attacks were the work of terrorists based in Pakistan, Indians refused to give in to the knee-jerk response to retaliate.

We had telephone intercepts that demonstrated that the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyeba was behind the attacks. Phones recovered from the dead terrorists offered proof of regular calls to Pakistan. And Ajmal Kasab, the one terrorist to be captured alive, soon confessed to his Pakistani origins.

There were two ways we could have responded to this mountain of evidence. The first was to say that this proved that Pakistan was involved and to then launch surgical strikes on terrorist training camps in Pakistan. The second was to buy Asif Zardari’s claim that while the terrorists may have had Pakistani origins, they had no state sponsorship. In fact, said Zardari, the same terrorists were the ones who had killed his wife and launched attacks within Pakistan.

I reckoned we had been reasonable in choosing the second path. We rejected the war option and, somewhat surprisingly, Indian public opinion did not demand a retaliatory strike.

Instead, most of us trusted Zardari, or at least gave him the benefit of doubt, believing that he was sincere when he talked about wanting peace with India and appreciating his offer not to launch a first nuclear strike made at the HT Summit.

Plus, we had faith in America. Many foreign policy experts told us that America was on our side; that Pakistan was so indebted to America that it could not afford to offend Washington; and that diplomatic pressure from the likes of Condoleezza Rice would ensure that Pakistan cracked down on the groups that had organised the Bombay attacks.

One month after those terrible incidents, two things have happened. The first is that Pakistan has gone back on its early willingness to help India get the perpetrators of the terror strikes. An offer to send the ISI chief to India was hurriedly withdrawn and the current position of the Zardari government appears to be that there is no evidence at all of any Pakistan involvement in the attacks. Even Ajmal Kasab, whose Pakistani origins have been unearthed by Pakistan’s own media is sought to be denied his rights as a Pakistani citizen. We do not know who he is, says Islamabad, and we don’t believe that he is a Pakistani.

The second development is that while we have congratulated ourselves on our restraint, Pakistan has built up the war hysteria on its own anyhow. Each day the Pakistani people are told how an Indian attack will be repulsed. More troops have been moved to the border with India. Pakistan Air Force aircraft fly sorties over major Pakistani cities. And Pakistani ministers accuse India of needlessly targeting Pakistan.

In effect, therefore, we have the worst of all worlds. We avoided threatening war in the hope that the Pakistani government would cooperate in the investigation. But all offers of cooperation have been withdrawn and far from helping us, Islamabad is dedicating its energies towards claiming that India is lying about Pakistani involvement.

Further, the very war hysteria we hoped to avoid by counting on Zardari has been created anyway — not by us, but by Pakistan.

In effect, we’ve been forced into a situation where we can expect no cooperation from the Pakistan government while simultaneously defending ourselves against charges of seeking to invade Pakistan and force war on the region.

How could things have gone so wrong?

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Source: Round One to Pakistan - Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times December 27, 2008

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