Indian security guards stand in position during a memorial ceremony of Indian Embassy employees which were killed in a suicide attack last week in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday July 13, 2008. India's embassy in Afghanistan began issuing visas again Sunday, nearly a week after a massive bombing at its front gate killed 58 people, the ambassador said. (AP Photo)
Mistrust of India is Pakistan’s predicament. It has not yet looked at Afghanistan beyond its strategic depth. Kabul has always resented it and has alleged that the Taliban are the instrument that Islamabad uses to push its policy. The ISI comes into the picture because this is the machinery Pakistan uses to put together the action part.
APPARENTLY, Islamabad did not know how angry New Delhi was over the suicide bomb attack on its embassy in Kabul that killed 54 people, including two senior Indian officials. Pakistan’s hand was seen straightaway. Still New Delhi did not react officially till Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai himself confirmed that it was the doing of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). He has now said so in public.
It took India one week to firm up its response. National Security Adviser M..K. Narayanan told TV channels that "we not only suspect but we have a fair amount of intelligence" on the involvement of Pakistan. He named the ISI.
Whenever India put the responsibility of bomb blasts and incidents of sabotage on Pakistan in the past, it did not threaten retaliation as Narayanan did. Atal Behari Vajpayee, then the Prime Minister, moved troops to the border after the attack on the Parliament House but withdrew them after a year.
Spelling out retaliation, the National Security Adviser has mentioned two things: one, India will not let the attack go unpunished, and two, "the ISI needs to be destroyed. We have made this point whenever we have had a chance through interlocutors across the world." Significant are the words: "There might have been some tactical restraint for some time; obviously that restraint is no longer present."
Even though the Manmohan Singh government was engaged in the battle for its survival, it found time to tick off Pakistan. The cancellation of CBI director Vijay Shankar’s visit to Islamabad, along with a delegation of officials from the Ministries of Home and External Affairs, appears to be India’s first step. The meeting was to discuss anti-terrorism.
What the cancellation of trip seeks to convey is that New Delhi has no faith in the joint tackling of terrorism. I wish the delegation had gone to Islamabad and confronted it with "a fair amount of intelligence" to put it on the mat. Even a walkout from the meeting in protest would have been appropriate.
Probably, New Delhi had the pressure of public opinion in mind. The general perception is that the ISI is involved in bomb blasts or acts of sabotage within the country. The reaction in Pakistan, whatever I have gathered through TV channel interactions and telephone calls, is quite the opposite. The general comment is that India is unnecessarily dragging the ISI when Pakistan itself was a victim of terrorist attacks. Their belief is that the RAW is behind the acts of violence in their country. My impression is that the intelligence agencies of both the countries have been active in supporting dissidents and insurgent elements in each other’s territory.
One way to silence the critics in Pakistan would have been to make "a fair amount of intelligence" public. Narayanan said last year that they had "concrete evidence" of ISI’s involvement in the bomb blasts at the Samjohta Express. Despite Islamabad’s repeated requests, "the concrete evidence" was not made available to it, or to the public in both the countries.
However exasperating the establishment at Islamabad, there is no alternative to talking. War is no option between the two countries, particularly when both have the nuclear device. The real annoyance of Islamabad is over India’s increasing influence in Afghanistan. But it can be interpreted differently. By building roads, schools or health centres—the current allocation is $100 million—India is trying to divert people’s attention from extremism to education. This ultimately helps Islamabad because it dents into the hold of terrorists who thrive in an atmosphere where no basic amenities like road or health centre are available.
Mistrust of India is Pakistan’s predicament. It has not yet looked at Afghanistan beyond its strategic depth. Kabul has always resented it and has alleged that the Taliban are the instrument that Islamabad uses to push its policy. The ISI comes into the picture because this is the machinery Pakistan uses to put together the action part. Suspicious as the agency is of New Delhi, it does not like even an iota of India’s popularity which may flow from the latter’s development activities in Afghanistan.
An Indian newspaper asked Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistan authoritative voice on the Taliban, whether the ISI was involved in the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul. His reply was: "Pakistan’s problem, for certain, had never been Afghanistan as long as the Taliban were in power. The thing that worries the military establishment here (in Pakistan) is its presumed enemy on the east—India. The Pakistani intelligence can never allow a hostile and India-friendly country neighbouring its West."
In his latest book, Descent into Chaos, Rashid has minced no words in exposing the role of Pakistan and that of the ISI in Afghanistan. He is open about ISI’s support to the cross border terrorist attacks being launched from territory under Pakistan’s control. In its bid to limit and eliminate what it regarded as India’s growing influence in its backyard, Rashid says, the ISI systematically helped the Taliban by letting it establish itself on the Pakistan side of the border, especially in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
True, Islamabad has a problem: the Taliban domination in the FATA, Pakistan’s territory. But even during the British period, this area was never administered closely. The Jirgas, the groups owing allegiance to different kabilas (tribal families), were left to sort out among themselves the problems so long as they stayed under the overall tutelage of the British. America was the first to vitiate the area against the then Soviet Union to bleed it to death. The US won the cold war but made the entire place, including Afghanistan, practically fundamentalist. Today, we are paying for Washington’s sins.
Now that American has threatened to deal with FATA directly, it may have wide repercussions. The first violation would be Pakistan’s sovereignty. Asif Ali Zardari, speaking for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, has rightly said that his government should be allowed to settle the matters in its own way. Since America has gone ahead in the past to bombard the area, there is no reason to believe that Zardari’s plea would be heard. But the nub of the problem is whether Islamabad would stop helping the Taliban from making inroads into Afghanistan.
All this re-underlines the same point: India and Pakistan must normalise their relations. I thought that both Nawaz Sharif and Zardari would attend to it immediately. But for some compulsions they have not done so. Both countries or, for that matter, all the countries in South Asia should realise that they can go up through amity and cooperation. But if they do not get this point—the mindset bureaucrats are there to sabotage every conciliatory effort—they may go down to live in poverty and extremism perpetually. They cannot be that dumb.