ISI CHIEF Shuja Pasha’s warning to India against any attempt to launch a copycat attack on “high-value individual targets” — the current euphemism for state-sanctioned murder in another country — is by far the most explicit that Pakistan has ever given. The fact that this was delivered at a joint session of the two Houses of the Pakistan Parliament makes it all the more chilling. Needless to say, it has triggered a spate of speculation about Pakistan’s motives in policy circles in India. B Raman, the Chennai-based ace analyst formerly with R&AW, has warned that the Pakistan Army, whose credibility among the people has touched an all-time low, might be able to persuade Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s government, which is feeling besieged on all fronts, that a small, “containable”, war with India could be a good way to restore the army’s popularity at home.
Raman’s warning is timely, but its underlying premise that Pakistan might be contemplating, or at least looking for an excuse to launch, a pro-active action against India, is questionable. Once one stops looking at Pasha’s declaration through the prism of our encrusted paranoia, a different and far more credible interpretation emerges. Pasha’s warning is in all probability a response to the fear that has been aroused in the Pakistani public by the war-drum beating that foreign policy ‘experts’ have been indulging in on TRP-hungry television channels after the US raid in Abbottabad. These have been amplified by statements from two army chiefs to the media that India is capable of mounting a similar attack.
Add to this the fact that India seems to have chosen this, of all moments, to send Pakistan a list of not 10, and not even 20, but 50 most wanted persons whom it is sheltering on Pakistani soil — and it becomes very difficult to see how Pakistan could have avoided making some belligerent response to the noises coming out of New Delhi.
What is significant is that the formal warning has not been given by Gilani or President Asif Ali Zardari; it has not even been given by army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani, but by the head of the ISI. The choice of Pasha could be intended to send not one but two messages: apart from the obvious one for India, it could be a message to Washington that the army will not make Pasha the fall guy to assuage US outrage at the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. If this interpretation is correct then it is also a tacit refutation of the thesis some US policymakers have been propagating in Washington that Osama was not being protected by the army or the ISI as a whole but by some rogue elements in the latter. Since Osama had been in Abbottabad for five years, it follows that the decision to hide him was taken by none other than then President Gen Pervez Musharraf.
In sum, the Pakistan Army seems to be sending the message that it has had enough of subterfuge and is willing to admit that its actions have throughout been dictated by its national interest, which ceased to coincide with that of the US after the latter lost its sense of direction and purpose in Afghanistan and allowed the war to go on forever.
Finally, the choice of Pasha could be a warning that the US can no longer compel Pakistan to toe its line on policy towards al Qaeda and Afghanistan by threatening to withdraw military and economic aid. This is because Islamabad has found a more reliable backer in China. This is the true significance of Gilani’s four-day trip to Beijing.
From Pakistan’s viewpoint, this is a win-win change because it has exchanged an unreliable patron whose policies are subject to change every four years, and which has let it down time and again in the past citing domestic compulsions and a desire not to antagonise India, for another that is noted for its strategic thinking and the consequent stability of its policies, which does not have to worry about domestic constituencies, and feels no qualms about offending India.
Therefore, India is going to be the ultimate loser from Osama’s death. Because, this victory will hasten the US’departure from Afghanistan. Pakistan will then try to use its protection of Osama, its assistance to the Afghan-Taliban, and its consistent support of jihad in Kashmir to broker peace with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in the tribal agencies, and to deflect the jihadi detritus towards Kashmir.
It is doubtful whether New Delhi could have done anything to stop this drift, but what is inexcusable is that it did not try.