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Who massacred Pakistan's interests at Nanga Parbat?


By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulae, July 05, 2013


“We will absorb what you have done to us, but you will not be able to absorb what we might do to you.” These words that Vivek Katju, the chief Indian negotiator for the release of the hostages told me outside the Kandahar airport terminal on December 31st 1999, flashed through my mind when I heard the shocking news of the tragedy at Nanga Parbat. Can a medievally-fashioned, obscurantist terrorism outfit construe an act of such far-reaching consequences? 

Katju’s words clearly implied that Pakistani agencies were behind the aircraft hijacking and that time had come to teach Pakistan lesson. The preceding months had been tumultuous too; ex-premier Atal Behari Vajpayee had visited the Minar-e-Pakistan (Feb 1999) as a great gesture of recognition of the Pakistani state. Three months later, the Kargil invasion and occupation of peaks by Pakistani Northern Light shocked India and the rest of the world. As if this were not enough, Kashmir-focused militants staged the dramatic hijacking of Air India flight 814 from Nepal on Dec 24th that year before landing it in Kandahar on 26th Dec. Katju negotiated the release and was eventually served as India’s ambassador at Kabul following the fall of the Taliban regime. 

Clearly, both events provided the foundation that the US and India had desperately needed to launch their strategic dialogue on terrorism. The obvious focus was the Pakistan-based “terror infrastructure.” 

It took the Indian leadership about four years to recover from the insults at Kargil and Kandahar hijacking. Again it was premier Vajpayee who came to Islamabad and went back with the January 6th, 2004 Islamabad Declaration, in which Pakistan committed not to allow its soil for anti-India terror activities. But the successor to LeT, Jamaatud Dawa, continued to thrive and survive, only to deliver the thunderbolt: the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which piled agony and anguish on India. If Kargil had injected a new wave of nationalism across India, the Mumbai attacks united them in their condemnation of Pakistan because of the ‘ISI links’ with the attackers. This also sits at the heart of the current, stalemated Indo-Pakistan relations, with neither the Indian political parties nor the establishment willing to provide any breather to Pakistan for what it believes the latter has been doing to it in Kashmir. 

Now let us see how Kargil and Kandahar hijacking shaped the Indian opinion. Katju went on to lead the Indian diplomatic offensive as his country’s ambassador to Afghanistan and actively reported on Pakistan as the chief diplomat, a narrative that drew heavily on what the emerging Afghan establishment was feeding to all foreigners.

Interestingly, some aides of Baitullah Mehsud (the TTP founder killed in an August 5, 2008 drone strike), themselves spoke about the ‘possible Indian involvement with the TTP’ when about thirty-odd journalists travelled to South Waziristan in May 2008 for a meeting with Mehsud. “The Ameer (Baitullah) told us he declined an offer of support from India when his talks for a peace deal in South Waziristan with the Pakistan authorities hit snags,” one of the journalists, requesting anonymity, quoted a masked Mehsud fighter as saying. The offer, said the militant, came in March, when his leaders were in talks for the release of Tariq Azizuddin, the Pakistani ambassador to Kabul. “Baitullah mentioned this to the captive ambassador as well,” the TTP fighter told the journalist.

This may sound “conspiracy theory” to most outsiders, but the majority of Pakistani civilians and military alike believe that, in a tit-for-tat response to the Pakistani support to the Kashmiri militants, the LeT and the Jaish-e-Muhammad, India, through its diplomats and agencies, has helped instigate violence in FATA, KPK and Balochistan through outfits such as TTP.

It makes perfect sense; if Pakistan stoked trouble in India, aiding Sikh and Kashmiri militants in the 1980s, why shouldn’t the Indian establishment respond when it could. For most of the Indians, Pakistan Army and the ISI remain the chief villains.

Remember the words of Katju and look at the following instructive Plan of Action that a panel of about a dozen retired Indian military, intelligence and civilian official stalwarts proposed during discussion organized by the weekly India Today’ (January 19, 2009) on how to deal with Pakistan.

“There are lessons that India should learn from the 1971 conflict that was a result of careful strategy and planning. What the current situation calls for is a similar massive effort with a clear end goal in sight. If the 1971 objective was to dismember Pakistan, then the 2009 game plan should be to neutralise Pakistan so that it can no longer pose a threat to India,” wrote the paper.

“We must exploit the divisions within Pakistan and expose its weaknesses in Balochistan, the FATA and POK; drive a wedge between the army and the Jihadis; also win over the moderate democratic forces.

“We need to build covert capabilities in Pakistan and mount a psychological war. We should not shy away from political destabilisation and inflicting economic damage to Pakistan. The time has come for us to say that Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan is disputed.”

Following the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, most Indian leaders had begun talking of “a right to pre-emptive strikes” if “acts of militant violence in this country are traced to, or even suspected to originate in, Pakistan and its intelligence agencies”. (External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, April 6/7, 2003 - PTI).

“…. the role of the army in Pakistan is a role that we have watched over a period of five decades, as long as the Pakistan Army continues to play that role, it will be very difficult for any dispensation in Pakistan to come to an understanding with India and to that extent it is difficult for India to reach an understanding with Pakistan,” Sinha told ITV’s `Court Martial’ programme.

Then followed George Fernandez, the Defence minister, supported by Richard Boucher, the former US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, who suggested the ISI be disbanded and Pakistan Army be subjected to surgical reforms (both made these statements in March and September 2007).

It is indeed a long litany of mutual accusations, suspicions, and intelligence turf wars, rooted in the Indian conviction (that echoes out of Washington as well) that the Pakistani military establishment is rogue, supports non-state actors such as LeT and other Taliban, and thus responsible for violence in India as well as Afghanistan. The Indian leadership spares no opportunity in reiterating these views, while pretending absolute ignorance about what their intelligence outfits might be doing to teach Pakistan a lesson (Keep in mind Katju and the India Today panel of experts). The only way out of these reprisals is for establishments in Islamabad, Kabul and New Delhi to sort it out in a civilized way - addressing each other's concerns. And the best course for Islamabad is to talk all issues out with New Delhi, divorce cold-war era mindset and focus on how to link up with India and other neighbours through economic cooperation. This is the message that resonates out of Beijing as well.

This brings us to some conclusions; both security establishments are busy in mutual turf wars through proxies. While Pakistan’s proxies are known, those of India are not. One can only make a calculated guess about them because the brutal violence that the TTP and others have inflicted on Pakistan's soft belly – killing and maiming women and children besides attacking security forces from the north to the south to the southwest – clearly is not something for Islamic Sharia. It is certainly a concerted campaign to damage Pakistan wherever and whatever way possible.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk