The Pathankot paradigm
The first ever visit of a Pakistani joint investigation team (JIT) to the site of a terror attack in India, to investigate the assault on the Pathankot airbase, is indicative of a new-found rhythm in the India-Pakistan relationship.
The domestic spaces of both countries have been restive: while India is reeling under a belligerent nationalistic onslaught, Pakistan hasn’t yet recovered from last week’s terror attack in Lahore and the siege of Islamabad by the supporters of a convicted, and hanged, terrorist.
Establishment of ground rules
- Discreet conversations between the two National Security Advisers established the ground rules for the engagement
- The two sides have skilfully managed to navigate the relationship out of the Pathankot mess.
Anti terror proposal between India and Pakistan in the past
New Delhi would always lay the blame at Pakistan’s door by charging the latter of either sponsoring the attack or not having done anything to stop it.
- In September 2006, Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh decided to set up an “India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism to identify and implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations.”
- In March 2007 they held the first meeting in Islamabad and “discussed the parameters of the Anti-Terrorism Mechanism and agreed that specific information will be exchanged through the Mechanism for
(i) Helping investigations on either side related to terrorist acts and
(ii) Prevention of violence and terrorist acts in the two countries.”
They also agreed to meet “on a quarterly basis, any information which is required to be conveyed on priority basis would be immediately conveyed through the respective Heads of the Mechanism.”
How Indian strategy in changing
- What is emerging today is a strategy of minimum engagement and entente cordiale, with focus on practical aspects, and a mutual de-emphasis of politically sensitive issues such as Kashmir.
- Personally invested in the rapprochement, though the two Prime Ministers would walk the extra mile to ensure that a certain amount of sanity prevails between the two countries
- Having been in government since mid-2014 and dealing with Pakistan ever since, the Bharatiya Janata Party has been forced to abandon its traditional insistence that “terror and talks can’t go together”. The Modi government seems to have realised that talk and terror do, and indeed should, go together: The more the terror, the more should be our engagement with Pakistan.
- By keeping multiple lines of communication with Pakistan open, and inviting the JIT to Pathankot, the Modi government has just translated this newly, and correctly, learned lesson of pragmatic statecraft into practice.
Why include Pakistan
- This new strategy to deal with Pakistan-based terror, state sponsored or not, will lead to demonstrable change in Pakistan towards Indian concerns and charges.
- Pakistan provided intelligence warning about a possible terror strike in Gujarat by Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) cadres in early March
- In February, Pakistan lodged an FIR against unknown persons in the Pathankot terror attack case; and JeM chief Masood Azhar was placed under custody after the airbase attack.
- The only post-26/11 attempt at intelligence cooperation was Pakistan considering the possibility of sending the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief to India to jointly investigate the Mumbai terror attack, never happened
What did JIT achieved
- By sending its JIT to Pathankot, Islamabad has not only admitted that the perpetrators are Pakistani nationals (as opposed to completely denying it) who should be investigated,
- Pakistan showed willingness to engage in a terror investigation at India’s demand without linking it with the resolution of the larger political issues such as Kashmir (as has been the practice earlier).
- No Indian government can draw a sharp line separating foreign policy and domestic politics when it comes to dealing with Pakistan so to deal with Pakistan one has to be intelligent and pragmatic which can help achieve more rather than wasting time in unending debates
- The government would find it difficult to pursue dialogue with Pakistan while riding high on hyper-nationalism domestically: the pursuit of hyper-nationalism at home and peace-building with Pakistan won’t go together.
- Another domestic complicating factor for Mr. Modi’s Pakistan policy is the complete lack of political support at home.
- Moreover, in contrast to Pakistan, there is no national consensus in India on building peace with Pakistan.
- What the BJP-led government in New Delhi seems to have realised is that using compellence or looking for quick solutions in dealing with Pakistan, and terrorism emanating from there, are both costly and self-defeating.
- Dealing patiently and incrementally with Pakistan, then, is clearly the optimal strategy.