Days before prime minister Narendra Modi’s arrival in Washington last week, the US announced its decision to give 160 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAPs) vehicles worth $198 million to Pakistan. According to a statement, the sale “will contribute to the foreign policy” of the US. The decision is part of a larger US plan to hand over military hardware from Afghanistan to Pakistan army. It also reveals the deceptive American argument that selling F-16s and other war-fighting weapons to Pakistan is meant to fight militants. Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador and an astute thought leader of South Asia, has described this American thinking as delusional.
India should call this bluff for the following reason: the US foreign policy hampers India’s interests and its efforts to shape South Asia. Diplomacy is relevant when and where it matters the most. The move to sell the MRAPs is timed with Modi’s Washington visit. India must openly debate the US relationship with Pakistan. Also, the Indian media needs to sharpen its focus on how the US’s Pakistan policy undermines India in its neighbourhood. The US counterterror policy on Afghanistan has been flawed throughout by overlooking the Pakistani role, except for when George W Bush ordered the CIA to stop sharing intelligence with Islamabad in 2008 and develop a parallel network of human intelligence in the Pakistani tribal region.
Bush’s move followed the realisation that the Pakistani military’s ISI was protecting jihadists in Waziristan despite actionable intelligence. Soon after its creation in 1947, Pakistan began a policy of using jihadists from the Pashtun-dominated north-west region to advance its external policies. The north-west region had been a hotbed of jihadists from the colonial times. In 1947-48, the newly created Pakistan used jihadists to invade Jammu & Kashmir and Balochistan. The use of jihadists continued through all wars against India and in peace time, as well as against its own people in Bangladesh. Its use of jihadists in the Kargil war was comprehensive.
In Pakistan, the final arbiter of its foreign policy, especially with regards to Afghanistan, the US and India, is the ISI, which views itself as the ideological guardian of the Islamic state. In theory, the ISI chief reports to the civilian government, but in practice he answers only to the army chief. The ISI is known for birthing, nurturing and shepherding jihadist groups to advance Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives. Ideologically, the only difference between the ISI and al-Qaeda is this: both stand for the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate, while the ISI nurtures the objective that Pakistan, being the first state created singularly for Islam, will be the leader of that caliphate.
In military strategy, generals do not write an exit plan before war; at least they don’t announce to the enemy when they intend to wrap up the war. However, president Barack Obama’s advance announcement to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014-end activated the ISI strategists to think beyond 2014. As the US exit from Afghanistan approaches, the ISI’s policy of using jihadist outfits after 2014 is beginning to emerge. There are also clear evidences that al-Qaeda is indeed a branch of the Pakistani military.
Consider three points: one, advancing essentially the ISI’s post-2014 strategy, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has announced the establishment of “Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent”—a terror unit that is succeeding in recruiting Indian Muslims; two, Asmatullah Muawiya, the chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab, recently announced that he would abandon fighting, but contrary to the media’s interpretations his decision means that he will fight in Afghanistan and against Indian interests while ceasing attacks “within” Pakistan; three, reports indicate that the Punjabi Taliban will now assist the Haqqani Network, the ISI’s long arm destabilising Afghanistan.
Perhaps rooted in Ashoka’s renunciation of violence, Indian intellectual thought refrains from taking positions on global issues. In 2011, India abstained from a vote on a UN resolution that permitted a no-fly zone over Libya. In July, to gain equivalence on the multilateral track, India voted against Israel—in favour of a UN resolution that avoided mentioning the jihadist group, Hamas. India doesn’t have courage to train some Iraqi policemen, if not to send troops for the fear that Indian expatriate workers could be affected, as advised by Indian diplomats influenced by Damascus. Indian diplomacy is cultivated to be intellectually timid, to hide behind non-alignment and lacks a conception of India’s place in the world.
In the 4th Century BC, Kautilya offered, reminds Henry Kissinger in his new book World Order, “a vision of how to establish and guard a state while neutralising, subverting, and (when opportune conditions have been established) conquering its neighbours”. Now, military generals who mock some of the Indian state’s Kautilyan practices become ministers. It is also doubtful if India would have intervened in East Pakistan but—as Kissinger notes—for “the protection of a freshly signed Soviet defense treaty”. A few years ago, strategists in Delhi called for Nonalignment 2.0, which anchors Indian thought in the Soviet era. In 2012, writing about Nonalignment 2.0, then air vice marshal Arjun Subramaniam happened to observe: being “restrained is a demonstration of the ‘idea of India’”. India’s restraint is a diplomatic mental block.
On September 21, The Washington Post warned that Pakistan “is advancing toward a sea-based missile capability and expanding its interest in tactical nuclear warheads”. A nation that cannot make train engines produces cruise missiles and nuclear bombs. It is time the US is told: Pakistani’s jihadist military is bankrolled by American money. The Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan was orchestrated to have the blocked US funds cleared to Pakistan army. The sale of MRAPs appears small but it reveals the US diplomatic mindset that consistently undermines India, a point Indian diplomats are yet to comprehend. If the US expects India to be a natural ally, New Delhi must realise that blunt-talking and brinkmanship are established tenets of international diplomacy. In any India-US dialogue, America’s Pakistan policy must be on the agenda.
Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research
Institute, Washington DC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org