Ahead of the inauguration of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in April by Chinese President Xi Jinping, when Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif first pointed finger at “foreign intelligence agencies” who were destabilizing the country – an allusion to Indian intelligence organization RAW – everyone thought he had fired a shot in the dark, since no concrete evidence was provided.
Weeks later, the allegations were followed up by a more categorical statement by the corps commanders, who accused RAW of “whipping up terrorism” in Pakistan – this time ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China. Even though no proof accompanied the more direct allegation either, it was endorsed by the political leadership and publicly embraced as a fact to the extent that any unfortunate incident happening in the country, be it Safoora carnage or the Mastung killings, was immediately blamed on the Indian intelligence agency, without waiting for a probe.
The notion of Pakistan facing a secret war unleashed by its longtime adversary India may not be completely untrue. The story of India’s subversive role in Pakistan is probably as old as the country’s history. One cannot expect a hostile foreign intelligence agency, especially given the kind of hostility between the two South Asian arch rivals, to be wishing well for a country it sees as its enemy. But, still the people deserved to know about RAW’s designs.
“There will not be a return to the composite dialogue anytime soon”
While the Pakistani leadership has shown little keenness to back up their allegations, Indian leaders look more eager to prove them true.
First among them was Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who said: “We have to neutralize terrorists through terrorists only. Why can’t we do it? We should do it. Why does my soldier have to do it?” His comment amounted to Indian government’s tacit admission that it was using terrorism as an instrument of state policy – an allegation that was hitherto leveled against Pakistan.
And then there was the disclosure by the Indian External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj that Indian Prime Minister Modi, during his China trip, forcefully told his hosts that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was “unacceptable”.
Not to forget Ajit Doval, who before becoming India’s National Security Adviser, had floated his ‘defensive-offense’ strategy, which aimed at exploiting the vulnerabilities of Pakistan including the Taliban militancy and insurgency in Balochistan.
The offensive, hostile, and undiplomatic statements coming from Delhi speak for Modi government’s Pakistan policy.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shared his understanding of the situation during his visit to Quetta for a meeting on law and order. “Pakistan’s enemies are not happy with the country’s progress and development and want to weaken it through such incidents,” he said, referring to the Mastung killings. Earlier, during a visit to the ISI headquarters over the last weekend, Mr Sharif had expressed concern “over actions of foreign intelligence agencies in destabilizing the country”.
Posturing by the military leadership, as many see it, may have been designed to generate public support for a toughened stance against Delhi that had shunned peace gestures from Islamabad. But, the curt statements coming from India would have a far reaching impact on the public opinion in Pakistan with regards to normalization of ties.
But it looks Modi government hardly bothers about it. To quote Minister Swaraj: “There will not be a return to the composite dialogue anytime soon, clearly.”
Why did Pakistan, which had all along been supporting resumption of peace process with India, opt for this course? The easy answer and the one suggested by Indian statements is the Indian opposition to the Economic Corridor, which is being seen as the country’s best chance in decades for economic recovery. But, there is multitude of other reasons as well.
India had been cold shouldering all overtures from Islamabad for finding a way out of the impasse in ties since January 2013. Prime Minister Sharif took the first initiative by accepting the invitation for Mr Modi’s inauguration in May last year. A meeting of the foreign secretaries was agreed for charting the way forward, but Delhi pulled out at the last moment. Some of the worst ceasefire violations were witnessed along the Line of Control and Working Boundary last year. Even Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar’s trip to Islamabad as part of Delhi’s regional outreach failed to melt the ice ostensibly due to Delhi’s hard-line stance on resuming suspended dialogue.
Pakistani diplomats have been counting Mr Modi’s first year in office as another lost year for bilateral relationship. They insist that it takes two to tango.
Indian journalist Rezaul Hasan Laskar sees this happening due to hardening of positions in both the capitals.
The other factor behind Islamabad’s new tough line towards Delhi is the relentless criticism it had been facing over the past years for its alleged inaction against the India-focused terror network based in Pakistan. The strategists here say that Pakistan too had silently suffered at the hands of terrorists, with whom India had been maintaining links. They believe it was the time to go public with their grievances about India to counter its anti-Pakistan narrative.
India made a huge issue out of the release of alleged Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi on a bail granted by court and moved the UNSC Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee on the matter.
Pakistan is now believed to be reciprocating.
There are still others who think that the changing situation in Afghanistan, where both Pakistan and India are vying to protect their interests, is behind the growing noise about the shadow wars.
Ambassador (retd) Munawar Bhatti believes that India like other big states is suffering from insecurity syndrome.
The hysteria over RAW’s hand behind terrorism and instability in Pakistan risks missing the real and the bigger issue – the unsatisfactory progress in the fight against extremism and terrorism.
Government’s own assessment of the National Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism initiated last year after Army Public School incident reveals the disturbing fact that not much had achieved with respect to some of its key elements including action against proscribed organizations, hate speech, and terror funding etc.
If the RAW allegations cause distraction in the counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies, it could prove costlier. The country can no more afford taking eye off the real enemy within.
There is also the lingering stalemate in the ties that has to be addressed. Such an approach would only complicate the things instead of helping in its resolution.
Actions by Delhi and Islamabad are just opposite of what Director General Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad Ambassador Masood Khan suggests for improving bilateral ties – “build on convergences and reduce divergences”.
The comical news about a Pakistani pigeon flying over the border into India, where it was detained as a ‘suspected spy’ and subjected to some stringent search including an X-ray provided something to smile about. Otherwise the news about Pakistan and India relations are these days dominated by spies and clandestine operations.
I wonder if the Indian security sleuths would be so naïve to think that Pakistan’s ISI would be using pigeons for espionage in this hi-tech age.
The writer is a free-lance journalist based in Islamabad