Wednesday, January 13, 2016

India's National Interest in the Aftermath of Pathankot

The year 2016 started with an attack on one of our vital assets at Pathankot. The attackers were fully armed terrorists who owe their allegiance to JeM based in Pakistan, as per all available evidence to date. The government of Pakistan has acceded that the Pathankot attack was planned on Pakistani soil. Based on the actionable intelligence dossiers handed over by India, Pakistan has, for the first time, made a few arrests and has also sealed a few offices of the JeM today. This is the direct result of the goodwill generated between the two PMs. How did this come about?
The Beating Retreat ceremony at the Indo-Pak, Wagah border post, close to Amritsar.

PM Modi had taken the initiative of inviting all the SAARC leaders, including Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif to his swearing in ceremony in May 2014. After a round of consultations, the Pakistani PM had made it to the swearing in ceremony in Delhi. These actions by the two PMs indicated that they were willing to risk their personal reputations to the cause of furthering the process of engagement between the two nations. Subsequently, in the later part of 2015, meetings took place between the PMs/ Representatives at Ufa, Paris, Bangkok, Islamabad, and finally the informal 'drop in for lunch' meeting in Lahore.
This informal Lahore meeting had no strategic significance in the purely strategic sense, but has been responsible for demonstrating the strong desire of the two PMs to go beyond what is considered 'appropriate' for heads of government. Going beyond, and bringing about a desired change is a leadership function. In that sense, these two leaders have taken the lead in making a paradigm shift in the thinking processes of people on both sides of the border. This small gesture of doing things spontaneously by the two leaders has opened new possibilities in the minds of most people, barring a few skeptics of course. It is said that every action is preceded by a thought, and a fresh thought has been sown.
Pakistan's change of heart may also have been the result of various factors that include: persistent international pressure; a precarious financial situation; a very unfortunate terrorism & law and order situation (although Pakistan is solely responsible for its own present state) in most parts of Pakistan; and of course many other such factors. The fact is that Pakistan has finally accepted and has given an assurance that it will act, and this is important. Pakistan's acceptance and appropriate action in this regard would provide the two nations with an opportunity to continue with their engagement and work towards bringing about peace in their troubled relationship. Peace is in our national interest, as it is in Pakistan's too.
Our national interest dictates that we focus on development and growth, so that we make a dent on poverty, and its associated problems. The problem of poverty happens to be our biggest enemy - what with a large part of our population not getting potable water, food, basic healthcare, employment, etc. The 2012 World bank report had brought out that "India accounted for the largest number of poor people in any country in 2012". Pulling these people out of poverty is only possible if we have peace within, and around our country. A stable and democratic Pakistan is thus in our national interest. The other scenario is not the desired one, specially if we keep in view our national interest.
Our thinking has to be to create a situation where we can help achieve a stable and democratic Pakistan. This can only come about by pushing/ coaxing/ cajoling/ encouraging/ driving Pakistan diplomatically at this juncture, and somehow making Pakistan realize, and accept, that the elimination of terrorism is in Pakistan's own interest. Majority of the people, and the democratically elected government of Pakistan have already come to this realisation. However, the government of Pakistan is under tremendous pressure from it's military, and the various terrorist organisations that have been nurtured over the past decades. These organisations stand to lose their clout if the relations move towards normalisation.  
It will be a difficult task for the government in Pakistan to put a stop to everything that it has willingly encouraged in the past. This should be none of our concern, as Pakistan has to reap what it had sown in the past, but that would not lead us any closer to the fulfillment of our national interest options. It is thus prudent that we must exercise patience and should not push so hard that it derails this desire of the democratic government of Pakistan. We have to create an atmosphere of Win - Win, so that our objective of defeating Pak sponsored terrorism are achieved without affecting our primary mission of growth, development and poverty alleviation. Public opinion on both sides will have to be managed so that the engagement process can move forward, despite 'spoilers' coming in the way. It must be acknowledged that 'spoilers' will be a part of the process, and the process is also not going to be easy.
To safeguard our own interests, we have to be certain that no state actors are actively supporting the engagement derailment process. In case state actors are involved then the process of engagement has to be stopped and immediate action has to be initiated to safeguard our interests through all means, including use of military.
In case these are non state actors acting on their own, we need to ensure that we plug the gap in our borders to prevent easy ingress to these elements; strengthen internal & external intelligence gathering network; strengthen our ability to make sense of our intelligence inputs received, through better systems; take legal action against the fifth columnists within us; and strengthen security around our strategic assets.
Watching the news channels gives one an idea that our electronic media is bent on making it a win - lose situation. I do hope that our public response does not get overly influenced by this media hype.
My interest in Pakistan only stems from the fact that our two nations are geographically and historically linked. Anything that happens in Pakistan will have an impact on India. I firmly believe that it is in India's interest to have a stable and democratic Pakistan and I also believe that it is upto the people of Pakistan to create, support and nurture systems and institutions that will help Pakistan move in that direction. The signs at present are very disturbing.
India needs to facilitate stability in Pakistan and also needs to learn valuable lessons on the role of strong and stable state institutions in governance and also the need of keeping religion definitely out of governance issues, and out of politics too. Religion practiced by individuals in their personal life can uplift the individual, and thus the society, and nation, but used in the affairs of a diverse, modern nation-state can have disastrous consequences. We are witness to the events unfolding in our close neighbourhoods. 

Watching the South Asian region one feels that India is the only island of stability in this volatile neighbourhood. Our founding fathers and our politicians must have surely done something right. What is it that we did right? and what is it that we need to safeguard with our lives, if required, to continue to develop and progress as a modern nation state while at the same time maintaining our biggest strength - our diversity?