While Narendra Modi forges ever closer links with countries in India’s immediate and extended neighbourhood, G Parthasarathy looks at how relations with its western neighbour and old rival have begun to deteriorate, despite recent signs of thaw.
Nearing the conclusion of his second year in office, Prime Minster Narendra Modi has adopted an activist and hands-on approach to relations with countries across India’s extended neighbourhood, ranging from Japan and the Philippines to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Particular emphasis has been placed on strengthening maritime security across the sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean. In the meantime, India’s ‘Look East’ policy has gained new momentum, with the strengthening of ties with ASEAN countries and a new impetus to an otherwise dormant India-Japanese relationship. India is also expanding defence and investment ties in its relations with Australia.
Within days of assuming office, Mr Modi hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in a visit marred by the intrusion of Chinese troops into Ladakh. Active diplomacy has led to the establishment of mechanisms to avoid and deal with any tensions along the Sino-Indian border. Cooperation between border forces to deal with natural disasters is now envisaged. At the same time, Chinese attempts to undermine Indian influence in its neighbourhood are being countered, not only in South Asia but across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. But the greatest focus of attention has been on India’s immediate neighbours in South Asia, where efforts are underway to promote connectivity and communications, particularly across eastern borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Differences over demonstrations along the India-Nepal border have been sorted out and the relationship is back on an even keel.
In the midst of these developments, relations with Pakistan have unfortunately taken a turn for the worse, despite Mr Modi greeting and meeting Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif on four occasions, with the first meeting taking place on the day Modi was sworn in to office. Interestingly, tensions on the borders escalated within days of the first meeting between the two prime ministers. While infiltration across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir increased, what really escalated tensions were attacks across the International Border by Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, designated internationally as terrorist organisations. The second attack, mounted in January, targeted a military airfield in the border cantonment town of Pathankot. What was shocking was that this attack came very soon after Mr Modi had paid a goodwill visit to Lahore to participate in the wedding celebrations of Mr Sharif’s grand-daughter. Even more shockingly, the incident took place just as sensitive negotiations were underway to resume a sustained dialogue to promote cooperation and address differences.
India provided Pakistan with all available information, including GPS data on the route taken by the terrorists, arms and ammunition carried and phone records of calls made to Bahawalpur, the Pakistan headquarters of the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist outfit. However, it soon became clear that, as in the past, Pakistan intended to stall and take no action against the group, particularly its leader Maulana Masood Azhar. This reflected a very familiar pattern of Pakistan responses to major terrorist attacks in India. Four out of these five strikes were executed by two terrorists groups: Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, in which 250 innocent people were killed, were organised by the then ISI chief, a fundamentalist from the Sunni Islamic Tablighi Jamaat movement, Lieutenant General Javed Nasir. Following the Kargil conflict, Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked the historic Red Fort in Delhi in January 2000, with its leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed proclaiming that he had unfurled the ‘Green Flag of Islam’ in India’s capital. On December 13 2001, Jaish-e-Mohammed, led by Maulana Masood Azhar, mounted a brazen attack on India’s Parliament building. It was only in 2004 that Pakistan admitted the Parliament attack had been carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammed.
In the mood of complacency that followed a lull in terrorist attacks between 2004-2007, when General Musharraf had calculated that using Pakistani groups inside India for terrorism was not a good idea, India lowered its guard. Shortly after General Kayani took over from Musharraf, terrorists from Pakistan attacked the Indian Embassy in Kabul. What followed shortly thereafter was the deadly 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai.
General Kayani’s successor, General Raheel Sharif, has made no secret of his aversion to India. He has made the Kashmir issue the almost exclusive focus of Pakistan’s relationship with India. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Pathankot attack took place during his tenure. General Sharif retires later this year and would evidently like to be remembered as having been no less successful than his predecessors in promoting terrorist strikes in India.
Dawood Ibrahim, perpetrator of the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, lives in Karachi. He is wanted by both the FBI and the US Drug Enforcement Agency. Britain’s MI6 recently disclosed the addresses of four residences where Dawood has lived in Clifton, Bristol. Yet successive Pakistan governments have claimed that he is not in Pakistan. There is an American reward of $10 million for action leading to the arrest of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, yet he remains freely travelling across Pakistan, raving and ranting against India. Former ISI chief Lieutenant General Javed Ashraf Qazi acknowledged that Jaish-e-Mohammed was responsible for the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament; but the group’s leader Maulana Masood Azhar enjoys security protection in Bahawalpur.
It seems clear that Pakistan will make no serious attempt to bring the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack to justice. It has got away with taking no action against the perpetrators of past terrorist strikes in Mumbai, Delhi and Pathankot. The recent deposition of American national Daood Syed Gilani, aka David Coleman Headley, provided a first-hand account of the involvement of the ISI and Hafiz Saeed in the 26/11 Mumbai carnage. Yet Pakistan has stood firm in refusing to act against its terrorist outfits and their mentors.
While the Obama Administration has periodically shared intelligence with India on terrorist activities emanating from Pakistani soil, there is a reluctance on the part of the US and its allies to act firmly and raise the political, diplomatic and economic costs to Pakistan for its support for the Taliban in Afghanistan by providing help to the Haqqani Network, which the US has labelled as a terrorist outfit. The Pakistan military establishment appears to have calculated that, given the current joint efforts by the US and China to broker a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, with Pakistani ‘facilitation’, the US has neither the will nor inclination to bring terrorist outfits to justice for facilitating terrorism against India and Afghanistan.
In a larger perspective, New Delhi is moving to the conclusion that the elected government in Pakistan led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has virtually abdicated its authority to the army led by General Raheel Sharif. It is the army that is totally in charge of maintaining law and order in Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, bordering Afghanistan, and in Karachi. Army courts are busy handing out death sentences to civilians for alleged acts of ‘terrorism’. More importantly, Pakistan’s relations with the US, China, Afghanistan, India and even Saudi Arabia and Iran, are largely managed by the army. Pakistan has become what one Pakistani author described as a ‘garrison state’. Quite obviously, New Delhi has no interest in escalating tensions. But new and innovative thinking is required to meet the challenges it now confronts along its western frontiers.