The Machiavellian Trap: Don’t March To Their Beat

3 Dec 2008, 0004 hrs IST, K SUBRAHMANYAM

The Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wing are attempting to provoke India into military aggression hoping to justify Islamabad’s case to the US that it is unable to act against al-Qaeda and Taliban because of the threat from India. The terrorist attack on Mumbai was a trap to provoke India into a response which would give the Pakistani army the necessary justification to start moving troops from their western to eastern border.

The timing of this move appears to have been dictated by president-elect Barack Obama’s announcement of his national security team. Pakistan presumably wants to influence their thinking well before they assume office. The Pakistani media has already started talking about the Indian threat and the need to move troops to the eastern border.

The Pakistani political leadership is insisting that Pakistan had nothing to do with the Mumbai terror attacks. They may well be speaking the truth. Ever since a democratic government assumed office after the election, the Pakistani army has not fully been under its control. Both Indian and US intelligence agencies on the basis of telephone intercepts independently concluded that the ISI was involved in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in July. Did the Pakistani leaders know about it or approve it? Probably not. Therefore India has to proceed on the basis that this terrorist outrage was perhaps authorised by the Pakistani army and ISI but the government had nothing to do with it.

The confessions of one of the terrorists involved in the Mumbai terror attacks and the personal artefacts, arms and ammunition, credit cards and cellphones recovered are available. It is very likely that the US National Security Agency and the communication intelligence agencies have recorded the satellite telephone conversations between the terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan, as has been done by India.

Even if that link is established the Pakistanis are likely to argue that the Mumbai terror was carried out by organisations independent of the Pakistani army and ISI. But the equipment and the skills of the terrorists should leave little doubt that these are not the routine suicide bombers sent by various Islamic terrorist organisations but extremely well-trained people. The chances of such heavily armed terrorists travelling by sea from Karachi to Mumbai without the knowledge of Pakistani intelligence are pretty slim.

This attack on Mumbai is bound to strain Indo-Pak relations which were on the mend. The only beneficiaries of this is the Pakistani army which is reluctant to intensify its operations against al-Qaeda, Taliban and the tribal militias as demanded by Washington. For the last few months a campaign has been launched both in the US and the Pakistani media on how a solution to Kashmir issue is vital to give the Pakistani army a sense of security in the east so that it can concentrate on the western border.

Some American analysts were inclined to buy this thesis and there were expectations that this would find a place in General David Petraeus’s surge plan for Afghanistan. But India had pointed out that the peace process was making good progress and the people of Kashmir were about to vote in yet another free election. Obama had said that there was no threat from India to Pakistan and the threat was from domestic extremism and Taliban.

In these circumstances it became necessary for the Pakistani army to create tensions. It made overtures to jihadi organisations within Pakistan and signalled to the al-Qaeda, Taliban and other jihadi groups that in spite of the new government in Pakistan, the Pakistani army and ISI were still friendly to them. Heightened tension with India will lead to the Pakistani army exercising greater influence on the civilian government. It would also prevent the PPP leaders from pursuing India-friendly policies, which they have publicly said that they intend to do.

Any escalation of tension on the Indo-Pakistan border will result in international attention on the subcontinent and the Kashmir issue. What this terrorist act proves is that the Pakistani army, armed with nuclear weapons, and the ISI pose terrorist threats to India, Pakistani democracy and the international community. Now for the first time the Pakistani army has a former ISI chief as its head. In April 1988, faced with an imminent American audit of weapons and ammunition supplied for the Afghanistan campaign intended for the mujahideen but appropriated by Pakistani army, the ISI blew up the entire ammunition dump of Ojhri resulting in thousands of deaths. Such terror acts were perpetrated by the army against their own people.

Therefore any action against Pakistan should not play into the hands of the Pakistani army. Given the nature of the terrorist act, retaliatory action should be preferably international rather than national. Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits. The nature of punishment to the planners and perpetrators of this heinous act should take into account these factors and be so designed as to encourage the democratic government and civil society in Pakistan to join the international community in bringing the Pakistani army and ISI under effective civilian control.

If India does not walk into the trap, the US and NATO will in any case have to tackle the Pakistani army in their own national interests. India just needs to be patient.

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