We are upset that China and Russia did not support us on our specific complaint against Pakistan during the Goa BRICS summit. We are also unhappy that the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson had said on October 17 (in answer to a specific question) that both India and Pakistan “are victims of terrorism”.
Did our politicians and diplomats really think that one country’s formulation, even as the host, would be adopted by a multilateral forum that does not usually discuss bilateral disputes? Also, our own statistics would prove that Pakistan had suffered more through terrorism than India, although one could dispute the Chinese spokesperson’s mention about “enormous efforts and sacrifices made by Pakistan in fighting terrorism”. As one who has been studying terrorism for the past 34 years, I can say that Pakistan’s losses are more because of their own encouragement of terrorism as a foreign policy tool – which they had openly admitted to us through the secret Hamid Gul-A.K. Verma dialogue in the late 1980s, which is an open secret now.
Our private South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), which is more credible than government statistics, says that during the 2003-2016 period, India lost 26,882 lives against Pakistan’s loss of 61,148. The break up is 9,640 civilians, 4,249 security forces and 12,993 terrorists in India against 21,389 civilians, 6,564 security personnel and 33,195 terrorists in Pakistan. It is this point which Pakistan keeps repeating which finds resonance everywhere. To make Washington DC more guilty, they remind them how much they had suffered while carrying the main burden of the US-sponsored 1979-1989 Afghan Mujahideen wars, by allowing ingress to more than 25,000 foreign Islamic jihadis and seven million Afghan refugees, which spawned untold misery for future generations.
However, a peep into the history of US-Pakistan relations would reveal that Pakistan had willingly decided to be subservient to the US to score a point over India during the Cold War. The story begins in September 1953, when General Ayub Khan made a visit to Washington DC ahead of Governor General Ghulam Mohammed’s November trip. He famously declared: “Our army can be your army if you want us”. The New York Times had then said that Ayub had given premature publicity to this strategic alliance. Unfortunately, this close tie-up with the US led to the total weakening of democratic institutions in Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s closest ally, Mubashir Hasan, had said in his book The Mirage of Power that US advisers controlled everything including promotions of police officials for over a decade! In 1968 there were six American public security advisers in the country.
Dennis Kux, an American diplomat who has published two well-researched books on the US’s relations with India and Pakistan since 1947, says that the US’s suspension of aid to Pakistan on April 6, 1979 was not for Bhutto’s hanging on April 4 by Zia but because of Islamabad’s clandestine nuclear programme. The US was too tolerant even when the American embassy in Islamabad was burnt down by an angry mob on November 21, 1979 – on a rumour that the US-Israel alliance was behind the Mecca Grand Mosque attack the previous day. Steve Coll, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his Ghost Wars, says that it was a preplanned attack. The local police took four hours to send rescue teams when they were just 30 minutes away. Coll hints that Zia took full advantage of this incident a month later to wrest immense concessions from the US when they decided to unleash the Mujahideen against the Soviets who had invaded Afghanistan on December 27, 1979. Since then, US-Pakistan relations have been alternating between bluster, blackmail, submission and concessions. This continues even now.
Our “strategists”, who had made the present leadership believe that they would be successful in declaring Pakistan as a terrorist-sponsor nation, are poor students of history. They may be good at event management by organising the prime minister’s diaspora meetings, but they don’t seem to know how Washington works. The closest India came to designating Pakistan as “terrorist nation” was in April 1993, when Narasimha Rao was prime minister. At that time, the Indian embassy and intelligence had jointly made nearly successful efforts to convince the US government of Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism against India and also in conniving with the drug mafia. Personal lobbying by ambassadors Abid Hussain and Siddharth Shankar Ray had almost convinced the US State Department to take a stand.
Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister of Pakistan at the time. Buffeted by the then president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Sharif sent his confidante, Nisar Ali Khan, to Washington DC to plead his case for “retention”. Khan met then secretary of state Warren Christopher on April 7, 1993. According to the Federal Register, he presented a 5’X 7’ silk rug as a gift to the secretary valued at $500. Although Khan described the talks as “useful”, the state department delivered an unprecedented snub that very evening, warning Pakistan that it would be designated as a “terrorist sponsoring” nation if there was no improvement. Sharif was dismissed by Ghulam Ishaq Khan in July 1993. He moved the Supreme Court General Abdul Waheed Kakar, who was army chief, intervened and made both of them resign.
My personal enquiries at that time with the state department had revealed that it was Benazir Bhutto, on a private visit to Washington DC at the time, who had personally pleaded with the Clinton administration at different levels not to put Pakistan in the company of Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Cuba. Benazir had met even assistant secretary level officers in the state department, setting aside protocol as a former prime minister.
The US 9/11 National Commission has reported another move in 1998 by the state department’s counter-terrorism coordinator to designate Pakistan as a terrorist sponsor due to the ISI’s “activities in support of international terrorism” by supporting attacks “on civilian targets in Kashmir”. This was overruled by then secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who said that “putting the Pakistanis on the terrorist list would eliminate any influence the United States had over them”. Deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott had also felt that “additional sanctions would have bankrupted the Pakistanis, a dangerous move that could have brought ‘total chaos’ to a nuclear-armed country with a significant number of Islamic radicals”. This is the US’s stand even now. They need Pakistan to control Afghanistan. That India can substitute Pakistan in Afghanistan is a pipe dream.
The power of “patriotic” storm troopers
It is true that the present NDA government has avoided the mistakes of NDA-1 after the December 13, 2001 parliament attack. At that time, the government imposed visa restrictions, banned flights, thinned down its diplomatic staff and massed troops on the Pakistan border. It had even denied visas to friendly individuals like Asma Jahangir in January 2003. This time, home minister Rajnath Singh exhibited statesmanship on October 14, 2016 when he said in Bengaluru that India was “not against the people of Pakistan but against terrorists and terrorism in Pakistan”. On the same day, his ministry also confirmed that there was no move to revoke the visas of Pakistani artists and actors.
What was not done officially by the government has been executed by unofficial “patriotic” storm troopers like the Mumbai-based Cinema Owners Association of India or the organisers of the Mumbai film festival, who excluded the Pakistani classic Jago Hua Savera. Film directors are being trolled by “patriotic” Pakistan bashers. All of them forget that the power brokers in Pakistan like the army, intelligence and bureaucracy do not stand to gain by peace. If anything, they might be marginalised. It is the majority middle class, intelligentsia, artists, sportsmen, businessmen and divided families who suffer the most by strained relations. They have no say in the governance. We are targeting them now.
War is an entertainment to be watched on TV or smart phones for our “virtual community patriots” and “debaters” on some rambunctious TV channels. It does not matter to them that the daily lives of thousands of border villagers are disturbed by the war drums sounded from both sides of the Line of Control. It also matters little to them if Indian soldiers die due to cross border firing and that their poor family members have to knock at the doors of heartless central or state officials to give them promised land or petrol pumps, as happened to the Kargil war widows. Such “patriots” should read the heart-wrenching account of our war widows by Pratibha Singh in the Centre for Land Warfare Studies journal.
Finally, was it necessary for our defence minister to connect our secular army’s recent “surgical strike” with the so called “RSS teachings”? Was this the reason for the failure of “Operation Parakram” (2001-2003) under NDA-1, when a non-RSS defence minister (George Fernandes) was in charge, when India suffered severe casualties, according to published reports? Or was it because of the “lack of clarity within the Union cabinet” as alleged by General S. Padmanabhan, then chief of army staff, when the then prime minister was a former RSS pracharak? Do we have to connect even national security to partisan electoral politics?
Vappala Balachandran is a former special secretary, cabinet secretariat and author of National Security and Intelligence Management – A New Paradigm