Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Diplomatic Game and Its Implications

What was interesting about yesterday's news headline about India seeking a ban on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa is what was not mentioned. China which is reported elsewhere to have blocked three past attempts to proscribe the organization.

The media is already going gaga over the steps Pakistan is said to have taken - ban the organization, seal their offices and detain their leaders. All of these steps were also done in 2002 when the Lashkar-e-Taiba was officially banned. Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed have been detained in the past just as now only to be quietly released several months later. They are similarly under house arrest now, a punishment usually reserved for high ranking officials and senior political leaders, not terrorist kingpins. Their assets are also said to have been frozen. How true that is will be known in the days to come.

But it is an understatement to say that I am skeptical. For one thing, Geo TV reports that the detention of Saeed is for three months. If that is supposed to be the end of the matter for a man responsible for thousands of lives, that is quite a joke. Of course, we do not know what the deal is with Lakhvi and Zarar Shah. It is highly doubtful that international resolutions and sanctions including that of the UN Security Council are of much value in containing these elements. Saeed has already been on a US terror list since May but it does not appear to have had much effect on his activities. All the Jamaat institutions including its schools and hospitals are said to have been closed now but it is doubtful that the Pakistani government would have done that at one go if it believed that this would be anything more than a temporary thing (humanitarian efforts which have garnered the organization a considerable degree of popular support will be hit considerably which means one can expect a backlash).

Most importantly the Pakistani government has rejected India's extradition request and India has apparently not responded to that country's latest suggestion for a joint investigation (previously the same suggestion has been rejected - with good reason says B.Raman). That implies a deadlock which, unless resolved, is only a matter of time before these detainees will be released and it is back to business as usual. We will have to wait and watch what happens on this score in the days to come.

Today's statement by Pranab Mukherjee all but ruling out war gave India's game away completely. Not that there was ever much of a chance of military action but prematurely declaring that India will only plead with Pakistan but do nothing more suggests that the Indian government has put all its eggs in the diplomatic basket. The strategy, as CNN-IBN Live points out, is to drive a wedge between the civilian and military establishments in Pakistan through this effort. By ruling out war and respectfully requesting (Mukherjee said 'please') the Pakistani government to shut down the terrorist infrastructure, it can strengthen the hands of the civilian government and isolate the military-ISI hardliners. To the contrary, a military response, it is argued, would have strengthened the hands of the Pakistani military and weakened the civilians. The big assumption here is that the civilian government can effectively deliver. There is no guarantee that that is indeed going to be the case. On the contrary, definitively ruling out a military response can equally well strengthen the hardliners who can sabotage any crackdown knowing fully well that the price to be paid is small if any.

It must also be borne in mind clearly that the success of the diplomatic strategy hinges entirely on the US. None of Pakistan's moves are being made to please us. Nor is the successful effort at the UN Security Council which materialized owing to strong American backing. The silver lining for India's strategy is that the killing of Americans and Israelis has given this incident unprecedented international coverage and there is a much better recognition now of the danger of LeT in the US than there was before. Whether that will lead to sustained pressure on Pakistan from the US remains however to be seen. There is good reason to be skeptical on this score particularly as later outrages on the Afghan front can deflect attention in the days to come.

There is no question that this incident has caused acute embarassment to the Pakistani military and the ISI. They are certainly anxious to find a way out of this with the least amount of damage. But American efforts to reorient the Pakistani military into an anti-terrorist outfit whose focus is to combat domestic terrorists rather than India has so far not come to fruition. Gen.Kayani has reportedly rejected an offer purportedly made by the US to retrain combat units to that end. That suggests that the organization continues to place considerable importance on its traditional anti-India orientation. There is also considerable American suspicion that the Pakistani army is selectively fighting only those Taliban who pose a threat to their country while letting the Afghan Taliban run their show freely. There is good reason to suspect that such a strategy has indeed been put into effect by the Pakistani military which again goes to suggest that the idea of using jihadis continues to be central to their strategy to extend their influence in Afghanistan. That being the case, the obvious goal of their military now in light of this controversy will be to take some cosmetic measures now, ask their cadres to lie low for a while and then perhaps reorient them once more to an India-centric agenda restricted to killing Indians rather than going after the 'Americans, Jews and Crusaders', the larger goal of the Al-Qaeda sponsored jihad. After all, when only Indians were dying the world did not care much and was happy to look away. If the LeT can be put on such a tight leash once more, it would not only head off a confrontation with their cadres in the Punjab but also serve their long term strategic interest against India by keeping the jihad going without much fuss from the Americans - in other words, business as usual. That, I suspect, is the most natural goal of the Pakistani military and being the eight hundred pound guerrilla in that country, may well succeed.


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B Shantanu said...

Very good post Pilid...

The sad part is that the government's hopes that "by ruling out war and respectfully requesting (Mukherjee said 'please') the Pakistani government to shut down the terrorist infrastructure, it can strengthen the hands of the civilian government and isolate the military-ISI hardliners" may be completely mis-placed.

Pilid said...

Thanks Shantanu. As the above post on what Hafiz Saeed's arrest entails shows, there is good reason to doubt the efficacy of this strategy notwithstanding all the international pressure on Pakistan.

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