The death of peace

10 Oct 2006


Prem Shankar JhaThe revelations made on September 30 by the Mumbai police chief, A N Roy, of the way in which the July 11 bombing of the suburban railway trains in Mumbai was planned and executed have reinforced the hawks in the Indian armed forces and intelligence establishment who have been arguing that it would be rank folly to trust Musharraf's declarations on Kashmir or his desire or peace with India.

Their scepticism has been strengthened by Roy's bald assertion that not only the Lashkar-e-Toiba, but also Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence was directly involved. According to him the Lashkar could not have dispatched as many as ten operatives from Pakistan to work with Indian counterparts to place the bombs without at least a nod from the ISI.

The fact that the Lashkar's operatives seem to have entered India through Nepal and Bangladesh, where the ISI is well entrenched, has strengthened their belief.

This assumption needs to be treated with caution. The conception of Pakistan on which it is based, as a monolithic state in which all organs of government and civil society work in perfect harmony, is a fanciful to say the least. Pakistan is in fact a somewhat chaotic half-formed state in which the authority of the rulers is being constantly contested.

The most that the Lashkar's involvement with the Mumbai blasts and the possible involvement of the ISI with the Lashkar reveals is that the disarray in the Pakistani state is far greater than the most pessimistic assessments made so far would suggest.

The alternative explanation, that Musharraf is backing attempts to trigger a communal holocaust and bring about the disintegration of the Indian State, while lulling it into a false sense of security, remains far-fetched because it requires a level of brinkmanship that is not far from suicide.

Musharraf already faces a serious threat of insurgency in the North Waziristan and Baluchistan. These have forced him to deploy more than a quarter of the entire Pakistani army in these areas, dangerously thinning Pakistan's defences on the Indian border. Since his military commitments in Waziristan and Baluchistan are open-ended, he needs to keep the Indian border quiet at any cost. Inciting and assisting the Lashkar to bomb Diwali shoppers in Delhi, worshippers in Varanasi, an RSS training camp in Nagpur, or Hindu tourists in Kashmir, is hardly the best way to do so.

On the contrary, commonsense would expect a head of state in his predicament to minimise the number of fronts on which he has to fight in order to concentrate on the ones that are most important to him. By this yardstick, maintaining peace in Waziristan and bringing the rebellion in Baluchistan under control are infinitely more important than poking away at India in the hope that it will blow up, for India poses no immediate threat to Pakistan's existence.

Viewed from this perspective, all of Musharraf's overtures to India in the past two years, from his retreat from the demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir before the SAARC summit at Islamabad in 2004, to his carefully unveiled plan for limited autonomy to a federal Kashmir in October 2004, to his visit to Delhi in April 2005, make perfect sense.

Even India's 'postponement' of the composite dialogue after the Mumbai blasts, did not end his overtures. In the interview to AG Noorani's Mainstream, he mooted the need for the two countries to control the activities of their intelligence agencies, a tacit admission that he did not have the measure of control over its activities as he would like, but also an indirect rebuke to India for allowing R&AW to meddle in Baluchistan.

He also took advantage of the exposure of the London bomb controversy to put the head of the Lashkar, Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, in jail and has kept him there ever since. Thus if the Lashkar continues to operate with immunity or, worse, with the help of elements within the Pakistani State, then it is because Musharraf is unable to fully control one or both of them.

In recent weeks the pressure exerted on Musharraf by developments in Pakistan to broker a peace with India has, if anything, become greater. Not only has his attempt to invoke (not for the first time) the help of the Sardars of Waziristan to control the Taliban run in to a storm of criticism from a beleaguered USA and NATO, but the flare-up in Baluchistan after the killing of Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti has brought him face to face with the possibility of a major insurrection that he may not be able to control.

These developments paved the way for the resumption of the dialogue with Dr. Manmohan Singh in Havana and / or the decision to create a joint mechanism for intelligence sharing between the two countries.

But if the Pakistani state is in disarray it is policy making that is in utter disarray in India. Nothing underlines this more sharply than the way in which Police Commissioner Roy's Mumbai press conference has all-but-destroyed the Havana initiative.

The arrest and interrogation of 12 out of the 15 Indians who were allegedly involved in the bombing, had created a golden opportunity for the Indian government to test Pakistan's sincerity for they had revealed the names and whereabouts of several of the Pakistani participants in the plot as well as the undeniable involvement of the Lashkar as a whole.

Had these names and the supporting proof been given quietly to Pakistan, its agencies would have had an opportunity to cooperate with India, shielded from the public gaze. We would soon have found out how much control Musharraf genuinely had upon them and how sincere he was in Havana. But that opportunity was destroyed by Roy's public accusation of the ISI.

Not only did it leave the Pakistani foreign office with no option but to make a blanket denial, but it also forced the spokesperson, Tasneem Aslam, to make it clear in advance of any investigation that the question of deporting anyone to India did not arise.

For those in the ISI who looked at the Havana initiative with as much horror as their counterparts in the IB and RAW, Roy's press conference must have been pure music.

Had Roy done it on his own, he could have been accused of jumping the gun in order to capture kudos for the Maharashtra police. But as he himself made clear, he was given the green light to hold the press conference by the central government.

One is therefore forced to ask 'who in the central government? Was it the home ministry or the prime minister's office? Did it have the clearance of the prime minister and, if so, did Dr Manmohan Singh not realise that it would make a mockery of his initiative in Havana? If the prime minister was not consulted then who went out of his or her way to sabotage the Havana initiative and hold up the prime minister to ridicule?

These questions have not only to be asked but answered. Because the accusation that Roy jumped the gun is not being made by the 'doves' and 'peaceniks' alone. It has also been echoed by some in the intelligence services who have complained that they were not given enough time to tie-up the loose ends of the investigation.

It is therefore difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that while the September 30 press conference may have been designed to reassure the Mumbai public, its timing was designed to torpedo Dr. Manmohan Singh's initiative at Havana.

Close watchers of the political scene in Delhi have remarked more and more frequently during the past year, that the government is virtually paralysed by its own internal dissensions. Many have jumped to the conclusion ha this is because of the 'dyarchy' within the Congress that has resulted from power being shared by Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the prime minister.

But the sorry tale of the peace-that-may-now-never-be, shows that the dissension exists within D. Manmohan Singh's government and exists because he allows it to do so. Over two years it has grown to the point where it is no longer a battle to give advice to the government. Today the struggle is over control of the government's agenda.

* The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Financial Express, and a former information adviser to the prime minister of India. He is the author of several books including, The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China, and Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a regular columnist with several leading publications.

(The author's articles can be read at

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