Understanding Quetta Police cadet camp attack

Whenever blood gets spilled in the subcontinent we find that even more ink gets spilled. Most of it is stale propaganda for one vested interest or the other. Rarely is truth spoken with courage.

The love affair of Pakistani state with religious fanatics who are either directly involved in terror or merely one fake facade or two away from the “boys with guns” has not ended and is not going to end soon.

In this context let us try and understand the most recent attack in Quetta that killed 69 including the three “terrorists”.

  1. Numerous fake claims pop up after such attack to take “credit”. But most government reports seem to blame a faction of the Lashkar-e-Janghvi group.
  2. This LeJ is considered an off-shoot of yet another Sunni terror group known as “Sipah-e-Sahaba”. Terror groups in Pakistan float subsidiaries and associates and joint ventures with speed that will put any Hong Kong business tycoon to shame. The state too facilitates such cosmetic makeovers since it allows them to “prove” to the Americans that they have acted against a group, milking more dollars to use to create more such groups. After a while the drama repeats.
  3. Now this SSP itself has again renamed itself to “Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat” or ASWJ (don’t confuse with Asian Wall St Journal!)
  4. These groups have been banned, un-banned and re-banned as often as they grouped, re-grouped, renamed themselves.  Usually it follows a major terror attack, PM/Army chief visit to US or a visit by US Secretary of State etc so that more dollars can be milked. Once dust settles they carry on, often with state aid.
  5. Their involvement in various terror acts, going by their own admissions, is beyond doubt.
  6. Just two days prior to the Quetta attack, Pakistan’s interior minister met with the boss of ASWJ – Maulana Ludhianvi. Remember, this is a banned terror organisation even by Pakistan’s loose standards of what constitutes terror. Bit like Carter or Kerry having dinner with the ISIS Caliph.
  7. To add some “masala” to the mix, various other terrorists were also in the meeting with the minister.
  8. It is exactly this group or its off-shoot which carried out the Quetta attack. Remember, such off-shoots are created for providing plausible deniability, a trick Pakistan has mastered over the years.
  9. It is also well known that state funds are provided to the Madrasas run by extremist groups that were part of the meeting. If you wonder why Pakistan funds terrorists that kill Pakistanis, look closely again at the ethnicity, religion or sect of the victims. Most are Ahmedis, Shias, Christians, Hindus, Baloch or Pashtun, rarely the Punjabi elite. The Peshawar school attack that targeted senior officials’ kids was a rare exception.
  10. Pakistani state benefits from such attacks since they can be used to play the victim card and gather more sympathy and dollars to go after the real enemies – Afghanistan and India.
  11. So it can be safely concluded that the Quetta terror attack is basically staged by “friends” of the regime. Or some boys who absorbed their training too well and didn’t care to listen to their tutors once they graduated.
  12. The most interesting aspect of this whole affair is that these groups are not even anti-India or Afghanistan, a traditional excuse offered by Pakistani deep state to justify support. These groups have almost exclusively operated within Pakistan.
  13. Far from “not allowing terror groups to operate”, Pakistani ruling party and its Army allows such groups to openly meet, greet, discuss, get state funds and hold massive rallies.
  14. If this is the sort of ambivalence shown by the state against groups that kill within Pakistan, one can only imagine the situation re groups like LeT that only kill kuffar Hindus in India.
  15. The left liberal cabal in India controlled by hardcore Marxists deliberately ignores, obfuscates, buries such facts to suit its own narrative that stays close to Beijing’s strategic objectives.

PM Modi address to nation on Pathankot

Narendra Modi, PM
PM Narendra Modi

This is the draft outline of a speech which, in our opinion, PM Narendra Modi should give to the nation regarding the Pathankot attack. Of course, he should wait for the mopping up operation to conclude. He should also get some preliminary conclusions from the NSA team.

 

The speech has to be brief, to the point, poignant and without any politics or partisanship involved. It should come straight from the heart. Perhaps Modi is the only leader in this country capable of doing this.

The speech (draft)

Dear citizens

You are aware of the recent terror strike in Pathankot. Let me offer my sincere condolences to the families of brave Indians who laid down their lives to protect the nation and its assets. I join you in saluting their bravery. We lost x of our brave sons who died so that you, your children and our future are more secure.

As a nation, will should always remember their sacrifice. But as a great nation, we should always look forward too. In this connection, two vital questions have arisen that needs serious thought.

One is what should be our policy regarding talks with Pakistan.

We fully understand the anguish and frustration of many Indians who feel there is no point talking to Pakistan, which is a state sponsor of terror. Even we have made such demands in the past. My recent efforts in the direction of peace, including the Lahore visit, were with the hope that Pakistan has turned a corner, especially after facing several jihadi terrorist attacks in its own cities. You remember the Peshawar school attack that killed many children among others. We felt there is serious rethink underway in Pakistan, at least in some sections of its ruling establishment, that its terror policies are not only failing, they are becoming counterproductive. We also strongly believe that jihadi terrorism is our enemy, not the state of Pakistan or its citizens. Peace with Pakistan is our ultimate goal, continued hostility not in our interest.

Of course, while we look to the future with hope, we also take into account actual events and feedback from our intelligence. After the Pathankot attack, we are not going to call off talks with Pakistan. Instead we are going to bring this up in the next round of discussions with the civilian government of Pakistan as the first and only major topic, and see what their reaction is.

If we see some hope that they are with us in this battle, as they claim to be, that is good for all of us. We can work together to combat this evil, even as we discuss over problems and issues and find mutually acceptable solutions.

But if we find they simply use talks as a facade, they do not seek peace but share the jihadist goal of dominance over India, we will call off the talks and wait for better times. You have my assurance.

Second important question is, is there anything we could have done better? Are there lessons to be learnt?

There have been lots of criticism in the media and from our friends in the opposition over so-called intelligence failure, operational mismanagement, delay in concluding the operation etc. I am convinced our jawans as well as civilian and military leadership did their very best. They knew about this attack through our intelligence network and they deliberately decided to let the terrorists come to the airbase instead of chasing them all over the civilian areas of Pathankot. This would have been even worse.

This does not mean that everything is perfect or that things cannot be done better. We have to continuously improve our defenses and offensive capabilities to deal with jihadi terror. Better training, better coordination among various state and central agencies, clearer communication to media as well as the public are some of the things that come to my mind right now. But we have to let experts look at this issue in a proper way.

We are thankful to those who offer us meaningful criticism and suggestions, whatever be their political background or motive.

Towards this end, we have to be ready to accept criticism and seek the truth. NSA Doval has been tasked with identifying specific weaknesses and areas of improvements on an urgent basis. I will share with you his findings as soon as possible and also tell you about some of the steps we are taking to improve in future.

 

Jai Hind!

 

Peace after Pathankot

It had to happen. It was a question of when and never if. The biggest question, of course, is, “What next?”.  Let’s us look at that question

What next?

The options are quite simple to list out even if they are quite complicated to choose from. After all, logically there can be only these

  1. Carry on with talks as if nothing happened
  2. Carry on with talks but restrict topic to incident and terror in general.
  3. Call off talks

Did I miss any? Of course, any of the above options can be pursued with or without mounting a retaliatory strike, either covertly or overtly or both. That is an entirely different matter altogether.

Good Pakistan’s response is the key

What is the underlying logic behind the resumption of talks in the first place? It goes along following lines: “Not all Pakis are terrorists, there is a strong constituency for peace and coexistence, if not brotherhood, that should be engaged“. Then there are more altruistic drivers such as “the civilian regime has to be strengthened to weaken military’s hold on the country” etc.

The hope here is that over time, the peace lobby will gain strength, the anti-peace ones (aka mullah/military cabal) weaken and we all happily live ever after.

If this indeed was the logic it makes absolutely no sense to call off talks after one incident, however, major.

But the key would be the response of the “good Pakistan” to this incident. If the good boys pretend as if it is not their problem or present a long list of demands to even consider some action on the terror front, then calling off talks would be logical.

That looks like Option (2) doesn’t it? Yes. Initially at least, talks have to be around the incident itself in order to gauge good Pakistan’s response. If some sort of assistance is offered, and followed through, it makes eminent sense to upgrade talks to Option (1). Such assistance or reassurance could range from covert action against some of the JeM players (overt may be too damaging to Pakistan’s own internal stability even if accepted), to even oral assurances from military to rein them in, if this has not been offered as yet.

If the response is that “look, we are not in control of these loonies, what can we do?“, India has to present a list of things they CAN do, to offset. For example, handing over Dawood could be one. Transit concessions, MFN etc., could be others. They can even be asked to warn us in advance and share intelligence, instead of simply opening a pack of popcorn to watch the show.

In other words, there has to be some quid pro quo. It cannot be that Pakistan insists on the entire Kashmir issue (and all else) to be solved to its satisfaction, simply to move an inch on any other front.  We cannot be taken for a two year fool’s ride, like Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani, bending over backwards and yet getting nothing in return.

Covert or overt retaliation

No government can take this option off the table. Question is what will be the trigger level of provocation for each set of response. It also is a question on capabilities. Do we have the means to inflict damage to “bad Pakistan” without hitting the good boys? As Mohammed Taqi points out in his interesting column, (The Wire) Pakistani generals have chosen a calibrated provocation. It requires a nuanced response.

Regardless of what we do or don’t do, silly macho comments by responsible members of government and the ruling party should cease. That serves no purpose and in fact ends up increasing pressure on PM Modi. There are no ‘training camps’ to raid. The entire country is one.

Here the best option appears to be to work with alone as well as with Afghan, Iranian and other intelligence in the short term to inflict some sort of pain. In the medium term, capacity building for stronger action should be pursued.  This has been seriously damaged by IK Gujral and the UPA regimes.

Given the deep distrust of the whiskey sipping Generals and the Pakistani establishment among the purer green cadre, it should be easy to find factions or groups more than happy to take a kufr’s aid to bring more purity to Pakistan, the land of pure. Balochi groups may be even more happy to help out, given their desperation for outside help in fighting an asymmetric war with the brutal Pakistani state.

But any such action has to be proportionate and carefully targeted to avoid needless escalation. The sole objective should be to send a message.

Prognosis

Chances are, India’s experience will be no different from Afghanistan’s. In other words, even as we keep talking, Pakistan would continue to mount covert attacks and pretend that they don’t control the show as much as they are thought to.

That’s when a serious call will have to be made on the entire matter. Unpalatable options may have to be given fresh look.

But until then, talks should go on. At least we can turn around to the international community and say, “look, we tried”.

 

 

What’s Modi up to in Pakistan?

The 90 minute visit to Pakistan by PM Narendra Modi has “stunned” most observers. None were expecting it. Ironically most leaders, including well protected NATO VIPs, visit Afghanistan unannounced, fearing terror attacks, Modi did so with enough prior notice in media and visited Pakistan stealthily!

Naturally speculation is rife in the media as to the events that preceded the visit and the visit itself of which very little is known other than cleansed disinfected stale media statements and tweets.

Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities. Most of these have been offered as logical explanations by some media pundit, political commentator or the other, so there is nothing new. Of course, Congress tied itself up in knots, offering several of these, often contradicting each other! Let us also assume that wasn’t the entire objective of the exercise 😉

Modi is just frivolous, he likes doing such drama, nothing comes out of it.

Naturally many that do not like Modi have advanced this theory. Modi is of course, not bothered by Congress and AAP making noise. They are never going to get the votes of the hardcore anti-Pakistan lobby. They’ll only end up looking like clowns, perhaps even lose some of their own Wagah candle kisser voters. But he sure bothers about his own core constituency that is conservative, supposedly against any interaction with Pakistan other than sending the army or air force. Why should he make things difficult for himself doing this, that too after the recent Bihar debacle that has weakened him somewhat?

This silly ‘explanation’ has to be dismissed without further consideration.

Modi is doing this to please the international community. So he can say, “look, I tried, it didn’t work”

This is of course, plausible. After all, there may have been some gentle prodding by Obama to ‘go talk to them’ or at least make an effort.  As US is keen on washing its hands off the Afghan mess so it can re-focus on the long term China threat, India Pakistan detente can make a bad mess look prettier.

But this also assumes that Modi is simply uninterested in any sort of peace with Pakistan. He is simply trying to shut a few mouths by making a token attempt and wait for the right moment to deal with Pakistan ‘problem’ militarily.

This argument can be resolved only when he remits office, not until then. We can also look for evidence to the contrary – that he wants to leave a distinct stamp on history. He can either do this by obliterating Pakistan so it ceases to be a problem for the next 100 years, or by doing a landmark deal that brings benefits without the costs of war.  Chances are, he is sensible and prefers the latter option.

He probably knows he is the only one who can do it for the foreseeable future. A 15 party coalition headed by Nitish Kumar or Rahul in 2019, even if they manage to defeat BJP/NDA, is unlikely to enjoy a free hand. That is because even if defeated badly, BJP is likely to secure 150+ seats in the LS, enough to make things difficult for any ruling coalition.

There is no plan, it is just theatrics

This is yet another Congress theory.  Simultaneously, its spokies have also floated the other theory (see below) that it is well planned and Parliament has been ‘bypassed’ and opposition deliberately kept in the dark. Pro Congress media divas have been pushing the Jindal angle – a story of prior coordination and choreography brokered by a businessman, effectively rubbishing their own “unplanned, unscripted theatrics” allegations.

Again, it is possible that Modi simply had a brain-wave sitting in Kabul sipping tea, talking to Nawaz Sharif over phone. But while it is possible (and likely) the trip itself may have been unplanned, the state of mind and the game plan that led to it can’t be dismissed casually. Particularly because it has been preceded by other moves such as Bangkok talks, Paris meet, FM Sushma Swaraj attending the Afghan summit in Islamabad etc. In other words, the no plan theory falls flat when circumstantial evidence is considered.

This is well planned, part of an overall master plan

While we may have two (or more) opinions on the potential success or failure, or its appropriateness or otherwise, we can surely say there is SOME plan.

Obviously we (and for that matter most media ‘experts’) don’t know what this plan is and we can, like a bunch of blind men looking an elephant over, can try to make some sense of it by observing evidence that is publicly available.

But we can suggest the contours of what this plan should be, from our own perspective and make some educated guesses on the likely roadmap as well as outcomes.

Enough of triumphalism

It is worthwhile here to diverge a bit and take a look at the triumphalist noise in some sections of our media and analyst community. It goes like this: Pakistan is all powerful now, everyone is queuing up at its door because it has so much influence on Afghanistan and Taliban in addition to its ‘strategic’ location. Modi was a fool all this while and is now waking up to the reality. Hence he is willing to surrender some of his earlier bombastic attitude and join the queue to talk.

If one can consider the fact that bombs are not going off every other day in Pakistani cities and TTP is yet to takeover a district or two, and Balochistan remains part of Pakistan as a major triumph, there can be some merit to this argument. But by any decent standard, Pakistan is a long way from being a normal state that domestic (let alone foreign) businessmen dare to invest in. The oil bonanza is gone, likely forever, seriously undermining its key source of free cash from Saudis and UAE. The Arabs are in fact worried their own dollars are digging the graves of their regimes by feeding the Islamist monster they no longer control. Pakistan’s other benefactor, China, is facing enough economic problems at home, slower growth and need to cut excess capacity created by over investment. All the big talk of $46 billion ‘belt and road’ remains just that – big talk and may remain that way even ignoring security problems. And the costs – India getting annoyed and playing its own games with USA, are mounting by the day making it a worthless game in the long run. The very fact that Uncle Sam is washing hands off Afghan mess also means he is no longer going to write big cheques to the Pakistan army for logistics support, worthless as it was. Even President Ghani is getting fed up, because Pakistani generals don’t seem to have the means to bring Taliban to the table.

Pakistan (and its friends among the left wing in India) should be living in a fools paradise if they can assume that simply because it shares a border with troubled Afghanistan, it has a massive geo strategic advantage it can milk for eternity to bleed India while keeping its own home safe and secure. Far from it.

What’s the way forward?

  1. It should be clear to everyone things are at a stalemate. China is unable to ‘use’ Pakistan to stop India or restrict its options. Pakistan is unable to change India’s behavior by using terror proxies. It is not able to get Taliban to rule Kabul. Nor is Kabul able to defeat them, with or without US help. India is not able to ‘fix’ Pakistan once for all militarily. And then there is ISIS that doesn’t dance to anyone’s tunes but only obeys the Quran.
  2. This stalemate can go on for years, as it has been going on for years anyway. But in case you missed the point earlier, there is ISIS, that doesn’t dance to anyone’s tunes but only obeys the Quran. This wildcard entry has changed the game for all players, big or small. The only difference is the extent to which each player worries about it. Clearly Pakistan has to worry the most because it has ploughed and fertilised the field, sown the seeds and grown the crop of Islamist fanaticism and jihadi mindset only to see the “crop” ready to be harvested by the purer green ISIS. And the rest have to worry because Pakistan has enough nukes.
  3. China’s top priority is to fix its domestic economic mess that has serious implications for the future of its communist regime itself. It just doesn’t have the bandwidth for adventurism that too against a rising India that is steadily jacking up the price for China’s game plan.  Modi has shown India can deliver a big market and huge gains on the positive side, should China be ready to play ball.
  4. Uncle Sam has lost all interest in Middle East and its oil. It’s economy has moved on. All he wants from the region is for Islamist terrorism to remain bottled there and not bother mainland USA or Europe. He can, in order not to lose face, keep, at relatively cheap cost, sufficient forces in the Af-Pak arena for decade or more to ensure Taliban can never overrun Kabul even if it can’t be defeated.
  5. Pakistan simply can’t continue its self poisoning strategy for that long hoping to gain mysterious strategic depth and leverage against India when Uncle finally leaves. Along the way it can stage a Mumbai or two and slow India down by 1-2% but nothing more can be gained.
  6. It is in this context we have to see Modi’s recent moves. India too has to get its economy moving if it has to challenge China’s rising clout in the region and more importantly to win elections.
  7. Given all this regional context, the contours of an eventual settlement and the road map can go like this:
    1. Put a lid on the Kashmir issue by agreeing to current borders either immediately or after a cooling off period
    2. Turn the Afghan problem into an opportunity by getting Pakistan Army to give up its paranoia over India’s investment there.
    3. Obviate the need for terror proxies so Pakistan can begin a genuine cleanup of its system instead of the farcical changes to extract dole from USA. This strengthens its democratic institutions too.
    4. Strengthen regional connectivity and economic integration including transit rights across Pakistan and pipelines going the other way for everyone to gain.
    5. Ensure the discord and conflict between India and Pakistan doesn’t become valuable playing cards for this or that super power.
    6. Bring China into the game by promising huge market that can absorb most of its excess capacity. In addition, China gets reassured India will not get close to USA/Japan beyond a certain point
    7. All of this eventually leads to a situation where Asia manages its own affairs, limiting Uncle’s role with India and China playing their rightful role as regional-cum-global powers

Obviously there is a lot of big ifs in a process this complicated and for results to be so spectacular. It may take years. But some items in the check list such as (1) and (2) above are definitely possible. Particularly the Kashmir one, though intractable by assumption, has seen several near deals along similar lines. It just takes political will.

Item (3) may be beyond control of even Pakistan army depending on how the Middle East / ISIS situation evolves but the best India can do is to have Pakistan army at least stay neutral and not actively cultivating such groups. To have the Pakistani generals actively pursuing and bumping off anti-India jihadis would take years of peace and non-conflict.

Item (4) depends on (1) and (2) and can be realised fairly quickly. (5) would take a lot of trust and time. (6) is a bonus although as someone (Mulayam?) predicted India China conflict/rivalry/competition would last decades longer than India-Pakistan one and hence needs altogether different strategy.

Lastly (7) would probably remain a utopia at least for our lifetime!

 

NSA Talks: No point talking

Instead of running around in circles, raising expectations all around and wasting precious time, Modi sarkar should stick to the latest decision on Pakistan – no talks as long as terror is there.

Few facts are indisputable

  1. Pakistan has no interest in helping India deal with terror from its soil, even if you suspend credulity and believe that it is purely caused by non-state actors without any official patronage. The recent denial of Gurdaspur terrorist’s citizenship is clear proof, if any is needed.
  2. Pakistan has been fooling, lying to and killing Americans in Afghanistan even after taking $20-$30 billions of American money, despite overwhelming military superiority of Uncle. There is no way it is going to do anything different with India, a much weaker power threatened by its stolen nukes.
  3. Although it has been taking action against some terror groups, these have ALL been groups threatening the regime directly. Or threatening the west without any collateral benefits to the Pakistani military. It has done zilch against Afghan facing terrorists, and will do absolutely nothing against India specific terror groups. No amount of talks or surrender is going to change that. Pro Pakistan commentators in India making big noise over ‘change of heart’ should start reading the news.

So what should India do?

We are obviously not suggesting war. We dont have sufficient information to do so. What we do suggest is

  1. Just stop talking about talks. No point wasting time with six monthly gestures that lead to nothing.
  2. Beef up internal security. This will blunt effect of any terror attack, minimise casualties and reduce frequency of attacks. More than money, clever strategy and execution is the key. Crowd sourcing some of the steps can work wonders.
  3. Work on Pakistan’s friends and benefactors. Keep pointing out to them increasing cost of their rearing snakes.
  4. Focus on economy.
  5. Focus on covert options – Exploit internal fault lines of Pakistan in Balochistan and elsewhere.
  6. Don’t let media circus distract from above goals.
  7. Slowly build capacity in every respect.
  8. War proof economy as far as practicable, build civil defence capabilities.

If all this is done, India can pick and choose when to take the battle to Pakistan’s heartland. It will have to be done one day.

 

 

 

Taliban leadership change – victory for Pakistan?

As reported, Taliban as well as Afghan Govt announced the death of Mullah Omar and the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mansour as his successor. There have also been reports of dissents, walkouts by rival groups in the meeting to (s)elect him. As if all this is not confusing enough, we also hear Haqqani Sr, leader of the so-called Haqqani network has also died.

The timing and location of the deaths of these two leaders have been disputed. But it seems to be widely acknowledged that announcements were made or initiated by Pakistan. In addition to controversy and confusion, these two events have also resulted in delay to the Afghan-Pak (Taliban) talks monitored by China and US.

What’s going on?! Why would Pakistan release this news at this point in time?

Let us assume for the moment that Pakistan has finally given up on using its terror proxies in Afghanistan and is now pushing peace aggressively. This could be because they found that strategy harming them more, or due to pressure from USA and China or whatever. This also doesn’t mean that strategy has been given up vis-a-vis India where the pressure from USA is rather mild and that from China or Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s other main sponsors, is non existent. It is also entirely possible the ‘strategic depth’ policy has been merely mothballed for better days in the future.

The question now is, why would Pakistan release (or plant) this news now, knowing it will throw monkey wrench into their ‘peace’ plans, at least temporarily? That too barely days after planting another fake statement from Mullah Omar blessing these talks?

Pakistan had no choice

We can only conclude that Pakistan did not have much choice. The charade has been going on for too long, too many people knew or were getting to know the truth. And ISIS had already openly challenged Taliban cadre to prove Mullah Omar’s existence or join their group. “Caliph” Baghdadi even attacked Omar as demented, “ignorant prince of war” (1) His boast that ISIS achieved in two years what Taliban couldn’t in 10 has lot of truth, whether we like the results or not.

Indeed, Mohd. Taqi, writing for Huffington Post seems to think Pakistan’s hand was forced by Afghanistan to either deliver him or his support for the talks. (3)

Ideally, Pakistan would have preferred to keep the news in cold storage for a few more months, until talks produce some desirable results, get “Omar” to bless the package and then conveniently die. This also tells us, the talks are going nowhere. Or highly unlikely to produce the results Taliban and/or Pakistan wants in the near term.  Despite advances in the battle field, Afghan army is not looking at closing shop and surrendering anytime soon and Uncle Sam is waiting in the wings, ready to restore balance with drone or air strikes, should that scenario become more likely.

Just as it did with Karzai, Pakistan may have misread President Ashraf Ghani. While he may seek peace with Pakistan and see it as the main facilitator, he has and is also strengthening direct links with Pakistan’s handlers in China and USA. His strategy to rope in US and China is more likely part of plan to keep Pakistan’s ambitions in check. This gives the generals a little bit less room to play their games. Again, here Pakistan’s ideal scenario would be a weakened Afghanistan, militarily staring at defeat or retreat, led by a regime disliked by Americans and Chinese, loved only by India, crawling on all fours to Rawalpindi. Clearly President Ghani is not going to get there anytime soon though Karzai ticked many of those boxes.

Where do we go from here?

Clearly, the recent admission of Mullah Omar’s demise would stun the cadre even though they may have suspected it or even known it. It only reinforces Pakistan’s “reputation” for double speak and treachery among the battle hardened foot soldiers many of whom have no love lost for their main backer. After all, a steady stream of fake press releases from ISI HQ purportedly by Omar kept them fooled all this while.

While several analysts in the West and in India see this as yet another triumph for Pakistan, the fact is Taliban don’t trust them any more than the average Afghan does. They’ll have one less reason to do so with this news. Furthermore, the pull of ISIS, seen as more pure green, and more successful, will be irresistible to some. To the few that get tired of all this and want to go back to peaceful life, Afghan government, funded by the West will be a more attractive proposition.  Pakistan will still be in their memory as an exploiter not to be trusted. Even Mullah Omar was quoted as having said its better to go to USA than trust Pakistan! (2)

All this means Pakistan is less likely to be in a  position to achieve its strategic goals after years of poisoning itself trying to control Afghanistan, and using that, control events in Kashmir and seek leverage against India.

Whichever way events turn out, Pakistan is likely to find itself at loser’s end. A strong Taliban would give it headache in the west, make it global pariah and drag it to 8th century Arabia, a weak, faction ridden Taliban running in all directions will rob it of the sole value it can provide to Afghanistan and the West. If you are not running the show, why talk to you?! A Taliban defeated or incapacitated will not be good news for Pakistan either. In that scenario, Afghanistan can go ahead with internal reconstruction leaving Pakistan to deal with the toxic side effects of its 40 year old great game.

As we mentioned earlier in another article, India has to merely get a large bowl of popcorn and watch the show, not fret about being unable to do much about the unfolding game. They’re doing quite fine without our muddling anyway!

 

1. http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/isis-leader-al-baghdadi-describes-taliban-leader-demented-ignorant-prince-war/

2. http://www.newsweek.com/mullah-omar-dead-taliban-afghanistan-pakistan-358247

3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mohammad-taqi/mullah-omar-death-break-taliban_b_7912678.html?ir=India&adsSiteOverride=in

 

The Afghan mess

The flurry of recent high level visits in the region and the impending US pullout no doubt has put Afghanistan on the front burner at least from a regional perspective. There is apprehension that India’s role in Afghanistan would diminish and India would be asked to ‘take a hike’ now that big boys are coming together to play a game that is in a different league.

Is India’s Afghan policy doomed?

Commentaries of this nature have appeared in local media. C. Raja Mohan writing for Indian Express doesn’t sound too optimistic. Of course, commentators like M K Bhadrakumar play up this doomsday scenario, primarily to scare Indian Government into ‘accommodating’ Pakistan’s demands. Bhadrakumar for one, has been prophesying about the grand and imminent victory for Pakistan’s Afghan strategy for a few years now. The victory has always been around the corner and is likely to remain so.

Much of the hand wringing and breast beating (we seem to be experts in this) over India’s ‘diminished role’ or even a strategic nightmare unfolding in the coming months may be unwarranted.

The mistrust

Afghan Pakistan mistrust is a result of years of Pakistani double dealing and it would be insulting Afghan intelligence to attribute it entirely to some deep Indian conspiracy. Even the Taliban fighters have been quoted bad mouthing Pakistan and its Army. Ahmed Rashid’s recent BBC article is but one example.  They probably alternate between being used and using the ISI to further their own agenda. Their reluctance, even while in power, to accept the Durand line as the official Afghan Pakistan border has often been cited as an example of this mistrust and independent agenda. What is also surprising is the level of hostility towards Pakistan amongst ordinary Afghans be they villagers or educated elite. What this means is that even if Ashraf Ghani has entirely signed up for the Pakistani plan, given his own fractured verdict and shaky hold on power in a country full of ethnic and other fault lines, he is not going to wave a magic wand and transform Pakistan’s image problem in Afghanistan.

His rival Abdullah, who is “CEO” under the power sharing system worked out after last elections is much more friendlier towards India.

Ghani’s gambit

That brings us to the new President, Ashraf Ghani. Ghani obviously will have Afghan interests as his bottom line. He may be convinced, rightly or wrongly that being friendly to Pakistan will further that interest. He has certainly kept India at a safe distance, avoiding a visit. He even cancelled long pending arms request which India was reluctant to provide anyway. Sooner or later he may have to change tunes. This is because Pakistan will continue to play games and expect a one sided relationship where its own demands take precedence and offer nothing in return. Pakistan’s generals are in cocky mood, congratulating themselves for hoodwinking the Americans for decades. They were successful in bilking billions of dollars even as they actively sabotage American interests and lives in the region. It is likely they continue to believe this can be done for many more years profitably. If the mighty Americans can be fooled for so long, it would be even easier to do so with the Afghans who can’t even hit back.

However, not having any results to show after several months of bending over backwards to Pakistan’s demands would destroy whatever little credibility Ashraf Ghani enjoys now.

The Taliban

But if one were to assume that the Pakistani Army has turned a corner and is now a truly anti-jihad (which incidentally is their official motif) that makes things even more interesting and complicated. Ahmed Rashid, a well known Pakistani author and commentator is sceptical about Pakistan Army’s clout over the Taliban. They may have been stooges or useful idiots in the past, but have their own plans. They are not going to accompany Gen. Sharif to the slaughterhouse like a lamb. With support from sections of the radicalised Pakistani public, elements in the army itself and sectarian terror gangs like TTP and Al Qaeda/ISIL they may even become openly hostile to Pakistan. If anything, effort by Pakistan to bulldoze Taliban into some ‘settlement’ not entirely to their liking will only confirm Taliban’s suspicion. Getting the Taliban to agree to a compromise that also satisfies Tajik and other Afghan tribal interests would not be easy particularly for a bunch of generals trusted by no one.

Any strong arm tactic to please the Americans or soften up the Talibs for talks would probably end up making matters worse. Yet this may become the unintended collateral consequence of the airstrikes and bombings as well as hangings that have followed the Peshawar school massacre.

Although Obama administration has recently started calling the Taliban ‘armed insurgents’ and not terrorists, they are not another Indian or African National Congress simply fighting for their country’s independence. Their goals and agenda go much further. In fact pressure from even greener Islamist groups like IS would force them to adopt increasingly tough line, simply to keep their flock from defecting. Any defeat at the negotiating table, when they feel they have pretty much driven away the Americans and “won” in the battlefield, is not only unlikely but unrealistic to expect. On the contrary a victory for Taliban would not only be unacceptable to large sections of Afghan public including Pashtuns, it will have long term consequences for Pakistan’s own western provinces as well as its core interests. Islamist forces would see that as a template worthy of implementing in Pakistan itself.

America’s endless generosity?

America’s vital interests in the region have been overestimated. Unlike dictatorships like China, frequent regime changes in America makes it easy for any President to disown and walk away from the mess his predecessor has created and trumpet that as an achievement in of itself. That is exactly what Obama has been promising to voters and doing as well. Unlike George Bush, President Obama has very little ‘face’ to lose because it was simply not his war. A new President even if from the same Democratic party, assuming power after elections next year would be even more distant from the mess and would not want to invest a dollar more.

Frankly, America is least bothered as its oil dependence has dropped considerably. It’s reliance on Middle East oil is insignificant and declining by the year. It’s strategic priorities lie much further to the East and West. In other words, the Pakistani generals and their fan club members like Bhadrakumar that are expecting huge dowries and ransom in exchange for facilitating some sort of grand bargain, are simply day dreaming.

American eagerness to drop this can of worms on China’s lap is seen by some as a great victory for China and a ‘proof’ of its rise, but it is more like American companies getting rid of some dirty or dangerous assembly business to the Chinese because it makes sense.

The China hand

That brings us to China! It should be obvious that China lacks the money to spend the tens of billions of dollars Americans could spend in the Af-Pak theatre each year. It wants to make money, not throw it in a bottomless pit. It’s interests are entirely commercial and self centered. It has two main concerns – the Xinjiang issue and long term economic interests. China has never given big bucks even to its most trusted slave Pakistan, mostly confining itself to flowery words and empty promises. Commercial deals, if any, have been on terms massively in its favor.

China has been enjoying Pakistan’s ‘services’ pretty much free of charge with Uncle Sam footing the bill. It may not have any interest in funding the Afghan economy or much worse, its Army. The trillions of dollars of mineral wealth supposedly waiting to be tapped are worth a lot less for its economy given the price crash of most commodities and the global glut. It may announce a few grandiose projects, more flowery words and poetry and fund some of these projects to some extent and rapidly cut losses and get out if the going gets tough as it did in Africa. For example, its much hyped copper mining project in Aynak have not seen any investments and is simply announcement-ware.

Net Net

All said, Pakistan army is nowhere close to getting what it wants and the only ‘victory’ it scores are in the political arena when it plays games with its own elected civilian leaders. In fact more than India, it is Pakistan that faces the risk of ‘heads you win, tails I lose’ scenario unfolding in Afghanistan.

As far as India is concerned, its legitimate interests merely lie in ensuring Afghanistan does not become a backyard for anti-Indian terrorists or a ‘strategic depth’ for Pakistan. This is achievable in all but the most pessimistic of scenarios, even if Taliban were to share power.

In fact, it may make a lot of sense to just lie low, open a large bag of pop corns and watch the fun from a distance as Pakistan slowly finds its goose cooked to perfection in a mess of its own making.