India & Pakistan have hurt each other incessantly through the past several decades and vested interests have formed, inevitably. A new beginning is needed. Modi should not allow himself to be taken in by the seductive cloak-and-dagger tales of the great game in the Hindu Kush, lest it became an entrapment of the mind and precluded new thinking. The AfPak buck stops at Modi’s desk, finally.
The Af-Pak buck stops at Modi’s desk:
By M K Bhadrakumar
Strange reports are filtering in from Kabul to the effect that the Afghan spy agency National Directorate of Security [NDS] and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] have signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly fight terrorism. Some reports even suggested that the agreement envisaged that the ISI would train the NDS personnel equip them as well. (TOLO)
The reports as such have not been denied so far by Kabul or Islamabad, although the bit news about ISI training the Afghan spooks may be premature. At any rate, this becomes a momentous development in the politics of the region and in the tumultuous fraternal relationship between the two countries.
Looking back, the visit by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier this month to Kabul, accompanied by army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, has been a turning point in regional security. While in Kabul, Sharif had condemned in no uncertain terms, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani standing by and listening in, the Taliban’s spring offensive, calling it in plain terms as terrorism, which was unprecedented.
Pakistan seldom, if ever, criticizes the Afghan Taliban publicly and Sharif did it in full view of the Afghan bazaar. For Ghani, any decision to engage the ISI directly would be a very pragmatic decision. He’d see three main advantages in doing so.
One, he will be conclusively addressing Pakistan’s number one concern, namely, the demand to shut down the Afghan-Indian intelligence tie-up. There is also a regional dimension to it, since Kabul is institutionalizing the cooperation with the the ISI at a time when Pakistan’s heightened sensitivities are bordering on paranoia lately.
Two, Ghani will be making Pakistan a “stakeholder” in Afghanistan’s counterterrorist capability. Cynics might say this is something like having the fox guarding the chicken coop, but then, the NDS also gets an opportunity to make the ISI accountable.
Three, in political terms, Ghani will be putting a ring of goodwill around Pakistan that the latter will be hard-pressed not to reciprocate — a benign version (in reverse) of Dritarashtra’s deadly embrace in the Indian epic of Mahabharata.
But what highlights the “upgrade” of the Afghan-Pakistan security cooperation is that it also happens to coincide with the first-ever visit by the Afghan Minister of Interior Noorulhaq Olomi to Beijing. Olomi disclosed in Beijing on Sunday that his visit related to the signing of an agreement between the Afghan and Chinese intelligence to expand their cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
Indeed, these developments in rapid succession within the space of a few weeks follow Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan last month. Xi had announced $46 billion worth Chinese investment to build an Economic Corridor across the Karakoram connecting Xinjiang with the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan understands that China has thrown in its direction a vital lifeline, which it must clasp gratefully with both hands. Pakistan is getting the opportunity of a lifetime to become a thriving economy and to emerge as the economic hub of the region, which would enhance its status manifold as a major regional power in South, West and Central Asia.
But then, China has added the caveat that Pakistan needs to get its act together first and cleanse the region of the terrorist groups so that the Silk Road projects involving the deployment of hundreds (or thousands) of Chinese personnel can get implemented. Sharif’s visit to Kabul must be seen in this context.
And the Pakistani army chief accompanying Sharif was intended to underline that the civilian and military leaderships in Islamabad are jointly committed to dispersing the strategic distrust that blocked any genuine security cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Having said that, China also knows that Pakistan cannot handle this cleanup alone and it will have to be a coordinated Afghan-Pakistani effort. Of course, China has some self-interest here too insofar as it also hopes to be a direct beneficiary of the decimation of the terrorist groups based in the Af-Pak region. To be sure, China would have encouraged Olomi to strengthen the cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence.
It i s also useful to recall that China participated in the recent Track II in Qatar where the representatives of the Kabul government and the Taliban held discussions. There is reason to believe that China is acting as a moderating influence on Pakistan and nudging it to get the Taliban to the peace talks. (See a Xinhua commentary here.)
The fact that Olomi was received by none other than Meng Jianzhu, member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party and the head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC Central Committee underscores that Beijing attaches the highest importance to the security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is of course linked to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. (Meng is China’s intelligence czar, successor to Zhou Yongkang and a rising star in Chinese politics.)
It doesn’t need much ingenuity to figure out that a tripartite entente is appearing on the strategic landscape to India’s north, involving China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the sphere of regional security and stability. It stems from a remarkable congruence of interests on the part of the three protagonists.
Russia and Iran would only encourage such a regional process aimed at stabilizing the Afghan situation. (By the way, Moscow announced on Monday the closure of the NATO’s transport corridor through Russian territory for delivering supplies to Afghanistan.)
Of course, all this comes as a severe blow to the Indian foreign and security policy establishment. The Indian intelligence had enjoyed until recently very close ties with the Afghan intelligence, which in turn provided much “strategic depth” to us vis-à-vis Pakistan.
But India has been summarily left in the lurch and Kabul is gearing up to do business with the newfound Pakistani (and Chinese) partners. Without doubt, Pakistan’s bottom line for cooperation with the Kabul government regarding peace talks with the Taliban has been the latter’s willingness to guarantee that the Indian intelligence presence is eliminated from Afghan soil.
The NDS-ISI tie-up rankles, as it is happening within a month of Ghani’s visit to Delhi. No doubt, there has been a colossal breakdown of India’s Af-Pak policies. There is no other way to put across the bitter truth.
Hopefully, Prime Minister Narendra Modi who reportedly places emphasis on making the bureaucracy accountable, will want to know why such a policy failure could have taken place right under his nose, relating to a core area of India’s regional policies.
How does India propose to dig its way out of this fox hole? Whispering to China not to trust Pakistan is not going to take us very far. Nor is our hubris that India can afford to “ignore” Pakistan helping matters.
Truly, the intellectual bankruptcy on the foreign policy front is surging to the surface. India should see the writing on the wall – Sino-Pak relationship has transformed and is no longer “India-centric”; Pakistan’s approach to terrorist groups has changed.
Our rejectionist stance vis-à-vis China’s Belt and Road Initiatives becomes increasingly untenable and will only prove counterproductive in the long run. There are things that are beyond India’s capabilities. Zero sum mindset is doomed to fail in a globalized world.
The root problem is that India doesn’t have a “big picture” as regards the regional politics. A good beginning will be to decide on a Pakistan policy without further delay — a policy that is viable, forward-looking and sustainable. The right-wing pundits are whistling in the dark when they claim that India should “ignore” Pakistan. The recent developments in regional politics amply testify that Pakistan is far too important a regional power to be “ignored”.
Secondly, more importantly, the time has come to ask some fundamental questions regarding the wisdom of remaining fixated on Dawood Ibrahim or Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. The history of India-Pakistan rivalry didn’t begin with these two personalities.
The two countries have hurt each other incessantly through the past several decades and vested interests have formed, inevitably. A new beginning is needed. Modi should not allow himself to be taken in by the seductive cloak-and-dagger tales of the great game in the Hindu Kush, lest it became an entrapment of the mind and precluded new thinking. The AfPak buck stops at Modi’s desk, finally.