After Trump’s U-Turn on Pak, India Should Trust Its Own Capacities
Following Trump’s U-turn on US’ Pakistan policy, India should rely more on its own capacities and capabilities.
In an uncertain world, it is the weak who’re often affected by conspiracy theories. With the sheer incoherence that characterises India’s security strategies, it is unsurprising that cycles of anxiety unsettle the public and media discourse after each marginal development, often inventing terrors where none exist, while chronically failing to deal with the reality of immediate and real threats.
Radical Reversal in the Stand of United States
And so, a number of incidents and statements have now raised the bogey of a radical reversal of the steadily worsening relationship between Washington and Islamabad – or perhaps, more accurately, Rawalpindi.
These include, principally, the ‘joint operation’ by the US intelligence and Pakistan Army to rescue the American-Canadian hostages Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle and their three children from the custody of the Haqqani Network on 11 October.
What most alarmed Indian Pundits were statements by US President Donald Trump describing the hostage rescue incident as “a sign that it (Pakistan) is honouring America’s wishes”, and his subsequent tweet, “Starting to develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders.”
Covert Wink-And-Nod From Washington
And then, on 14 October, came news of the ‘acquittal’ or ‘charges dropped’ against Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba – Jamaat-ud-Dawa (LeT-JuD) terror complex (Saeed was under preventive detention, and no charges were ever framed, and no prosecution that could have resulted in ‘acquittal’).
This was believed to confirm the emergence of a ‘new relationship’, and fuelled speculation that Islamabad had been emboldened by a covert wink-and-nod from Washington.
India had prematurely celebrated victory over Pakistani ‘evildoers’ after the announcement of Trump’s new ‘Afghanistan and South Asia Policy’ in August 2017, which excoriated Pakistan for giving “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror”, and declared that “criminal and terrorist networks that sow violence and chaos” will “have nowhere to hide… Retribution will be fast and powerful.”
Did Trump just do a U-turn on his Pakistan policy?
Instances of Coerced Cooperation
First, the Coleman-Boyle rescue demonstrates no significant change in Pakistan’s strategic support to terrorist proxies, including the Haqqani network. The incident was led by specific and live US intelligence, and Rawalpindi could not have refused cooperation without admitting to explicit support for the Haqqani network.
There have been past incidents of such enforced ‘cooperation’, most prominently including the ‘joint operation’ by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Inter Services Intelligence to capture Al-Qaeda ‘mastermind’ Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in Rawalpindi in March 2003, and his immediate transfer to the US. In that case as well, the intelligence was specific, and Rawalpindi was given no options.
There was, however, no impact of this and other incidents of coerced cooperation on the broad trajectory of Pakistan’s support to terrorist formations operating in Afghanistan, India and internationally.
There is no reason, at this juncture, to believe that the Coleman-Boyle incident represents a radical break with the past.
Playing it Safe on Hafiz Saeed
Further, developments in the Hafiz Saeed case have little to do with any preceding and supposed improvements in Islamabad’s rapport with Washington, or with any changes impelled by the happy outcome in the Coleman-Boyle case. The Saeed case was led by a schedule set by the Lahore High Court, and has been dragging on since his preventive detention, periodically renewed, under the country’s anti-terrorism, since 30 January, 2017.
On 14 October, the Government informed a Federal Judicial Review Board that ‘no terrorism charges are pending’ against Saeed.
It is useful to recall that Saeed was ‘detained’ within ten days of Trump’s swearing in, in a measure intended more to protect him against any possible American adventurism, than to limit his activities.
The LeT-JuD combine continued to act without any visible constraints, guided by its ‘detained’ leaders including Saeed, and, indeed, held a massive rally at Lahore in March 2017, to launch another anti-India terrorist front, the Tehrik-e-Azadi Jammu Kashmir (TeAJK).
Charade to Appease the International Community
This is an old ploy. Under tremendous US pressure in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, in which six Americans were among the 166 killed, Saeed had been detained on 11 December 2008, under the Maintenance of Public Order Act, after the United Nations declared JuD a front of the internationally proscribed LeT.
A habeas corpus case was allowed to meander along for a few months, with no material evidence presented against Saeed by the prosecution, till the Lahore High Court ordered his release on 2 June 2009.
A charade had been enacted for international audiences, demonstrating the ‘political will’ to act against terrorists, followed by another, demonstrating the autonomy and integrity of the country’s judicial process.
The purported terrorists were set free due to the absence of evidence, which was further proof of the ‘global campaign of calumny’ that accused Pakistanis of acts of terrorism.
This variety of farce had long sufficed to deceive an eagerly and intentionally gullible international community – prominently including Washington. There has been tremendous reluctance to call Islamabad’s bluff, because of irrational fears of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities and the purported risk of weapons of mass destruction passing into the hands of Islamist terrorists.
India Should Focus on Long-Term Strategies
Despite the niceties Trump has articulated with regard to Pakistan’s leaders, it must be abundantly clear that this is no longer working. Within his transactional world view, Trump would not hesitate to say a few nice things after an incident – the Coleman-Boyle rescue – that made him look good.
But Trump is the archetypical opportunist, patently unpredictable, and is led overwhelmingly by his own imaginings of what he thinks is good for America. His views on Pakistan may be modified by a total dismantling of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and Pakistani proxies targeting Afghanistan (J&K is unlikely to hold his interest), but anything less will bring him back to the reality of Pakistan sheltering “the same organisations that try every single day to kill our people.” The Americans have long been fools to trust the Pakistanis; but the Pakistanis would be infinitely more foolish to trust Donald Trump.
Where does this leave New Delhi? Frankly, on its own, as usual. For too long, India has been trying to get others to fight its battles, relying on occasional diplomatic flashes to embarrass Islamabad, or to rally other powers to its own point of view on Pakistan-backed terrorism against India. The world couldn’t care less. Decades of Western duplicity on J&K should have provided sufficient evidence of this reality. If the language of the West – and the US – is changing now, it is only because of a growing fear of the international linkages of terrorism.
The Indo-Pak conundrum, however, will remain principally a bilateral problem, and the proxy war in J&K will have to be fought and won by India overwhelmingly on its own capacities and capabilities. This will require long-term strategies which have been conspicuous by their absence over the very long term, and are still nowhere in evidence.
(The writer is Founding Member & Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management. He can be reached @SATPICM . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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