Politics

Psy-Ops, Staged Incidents and Other Tales from the Indo-Pak Crypt

If Pakistan is simply going through the motions of an investigation and has no intention of acting against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack, this will mar the prospects of the resumption of the foreign secretary-level dialogue with India.

Pathankot: Pakistani Joint Investigation Team. Credit: PTI

Pathankot: Pakistani Joint Investigation Team. Credit: PTI

A dodgy Pakistani newspaper has published a report claiming that the Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that recently visited Pathankot had come away with the conclusion that India had staged the attack “as a tool to expand its ‘vicious propaganda’ against Pakistan without any solid evidence to back its claim.”

The report then sought to link the death of Tanzil Ahmed, a National Investigation Agency officer, with what an unnamed Pakistani JIT official claimed was an attempt to cover up the Pathankot investigation. According to the report, Indian authorities failed to establish that the attackers entered from Pakistan, and that “ within hours of the assault, all the attackers were shot dead by the Indian security forces…But the Indian authorities made it a three-day drama to get maximum attention from the world community in order to malign Pakistan.”

ISI’s psy-op games

When it comes to India and Indian Muslims, Pakistani fantasies can reach the sky. When, Eastern Army Commander Lt General Jameel Mahmood and his wife died in a helicopter crash in Bhutan in 1993, some Pakistani commentary claimed that the he was deliberately killed because he would have become the next chief of the army staff. It is true that General Mahmood had a good chance of becoming chief, but to give a sinister twist to what was clearly a tragic accident was vintage Pakistan.

At one level, the outcome of the Pakistani JIT visit is not unexpected. Given the Indian narrative that the attack was carried out by ISI-supported elements of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), it was a folly on the part of the Narendra Modi government to have invited an investigation team, with a member from the ISI, to investigate the matter.

At another, this is an elaborate ISI psy-op game, which has multiple targets — the domestic audience in Pakistan who would like to believe that the perfidious Indians are up to their old games; the Nawaz Sharif government, which is trying to normalise ties with India, and Indian hawks who can be expected to get annoyed over yet another instance of Pakistani perfidy. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who could be behind this charade.

Applying the test of high evidence in terrorism cases has always been a problem. It is for this reason that various countries have had to pass special legislation to deal with terrorism cases. Even then, they have found it difficult to obtain clear-cut convictions. After all it is not easy to sit in on a terrorist conspiracy and gather evidence in the usual manner. In the case of Pakistan, the problem is even more complicated because the ISI has used terrorists from outfits like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and the JeM for state purposes, to prosecute a covert war against India.

An illogical claim

The idea that the Indian side staged the entire event is simply preposterous. It is not that we are virtuous, and our intelligence and police have never staged events. On April 5, 47 police personnel were convicted for the staged encounter that was, in fact, a massacre of 10 Sikh pilgrims. There have been other encounters in the past that are questionable enough to have raised charges against police and intelligence personnel, the most notable being that of the killing of Ishrat Jahan and her associates. There were questions raised, too, about the 2002 killing of two terrorists in Ansal Plaza in New Delhi. In 2006 there was another dodgy attack — this time on the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, where three alleged LeT men were shot dead. This list of staged attacks and railroaded innocents is endless.

The difference between these attacks and the Pathankot one is that no security personnel were killed in those incidents; all those killed were alleged terrorists. Some were clearly not Indian, and we do not have a clear idea of their nationality or identity, but others like Ishrat and her companions were clearly identified as Indian nationals, and there remains serious doubt about their complicity in any terrorist activity.

In Pathankot, however, as many as eight persons were killed by the terrorists, of whom one was a civilian and seven were security personnel — five Defence Security Corps personnel, one Indian Air Force commando and one National Security Guard officer. There is absolutely no way that Indian intelligence officials would stage an “event” that would lead to the deaths of government personnel. Intelligence officers have displayed little compunction in allowing suspect civilians to be killed or railroaded in false cases, but something as sinister as the murder of a government official would be tantamount to treason and punishable by death. Out intelligence agencies and security forces do function in a fairly lax atmosphere of legal compliance. But even they would hesitate to deliberately stage an event leading to the deaths of so many security personnel.

Awaiting Pakistan’s official response

As of now, all we have on Pakistan’s alleged response to the Pathankot case is an item in a newspaper. The Nawaz Sharif government has not yet communicated with us, and as we know the “authorities” in Pakistan — the army and the civilian government are deeply divided. This news item could well be a deliberate provocation aimed at pre-empting the Sharif government’s considered response.

For this reason, the government of India is playing it cool and rightly so. Such irritants are a dime a dozen when it comes to Pakistan. They will wait for the official processes following the Pakistani JIT’s investigations. It is at this point that we will officially know the conclusions of the Pakistani investigation. No doubt, there will be information provided through the national security advisor-level channel that has opened up between Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart, Naseer Ahmed Janjua, but that is likely to remain confidential.

There are bigger issues involved here. If India feels that Pakistan is simply going through the motions of an investigation and has no intention of acting against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack, it will definitely mar the prospects of the resumption of a foreign secretary-level dialogue.