The attack on the Pathankot Air Force Station was expected. I am sure the Indian Government and its security agencies must have anticipated it. It had to happen as it had always happened after every initiative for talks between India and Pakistan. One wonders whether the perpetrators of these are really so dumb as to believe that their nefarious designs would not be anticipated despite the historical background. It is, of course, sad that five well-trained young men from the Pakistani terror stable and seven young Indian soldiers lost their lives just for the reason of one-upmanship of the Pakistani Army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Life is cheap across the border as there is an assembly line that produces fidayeens (suicide bombers) and the military establishment makes use of them whenever the occasion demands. They are the cannon fodder that they raise with the objective of inflicting Late Pakistani President’s “1000 cuts” on India. The cream of their youth is being sacrificed for achievement of an objective that is, at best, delusional. Curiously, however, the ISI, which patronises the anti-India terrorist groups, used this time Jaish-e-Mohammed of Maulana Masood Azhar instead of its favourite Hafiz Sayeed-led Lashkar e Taiba. Perhaps the idea was to put the cognoscenti in India off the scent.
It seems the Pakistan military establishment felt that the country’s prime minister was getting to be too big for his boots and that he needed to be cut down to size. How could he agree to a visit by an Indian Prime Minister without their clearance? Regardless of the admiration that Modi’s diplomatic masterstroke evoked across the world, the Pakistan Army had to show to the world, if at all it had to do so, that in so far as relations with India were concerned it was they who took the initiatives and not the democratically elected civil government or the prime minister. Helming the India-Pakistan proceedings for long – in fact since the birth of the country – it could not let go of the authority it had acquired and had been wielding just because an upstart prime minister of the sworn enemy suddenly decides to descend at Lahore. Greeting Nawaz Sharif on his birthday is one thing, parachuting down to Lahore hogging publicity and disturbing the status quo quite another.
That there are two power centres in Pakistan and that the one that is housed in the General Headquarters (Pakistan Army) in Rawalpindi generally gets better of its civilian counterpart in many respects, especially in respect of relations with neighbouring India, is known the world over. This was pointedly brought out in a delightful autobiographical narrative by the ex-RAW (Research & Analysis Wing) chief AS Dulat in his book “Kashmir – the Vajpayee years”. He was probably one top sleuth who talked and talked to all the Kashmiri militants. He recounted how one of them told him that nothing in Kashmir could happen unless it was cleared by the ISI. He was categorically told that in Kashmiri militancy it was the ISI that called the shots. But, it is well known that 26/11 Mumbai attack, far away from Jammu & Kashmir, was also planned and executed by none other than the ISI. The Pathankot operations next to its border with India, too, could not also have taken place without precision planning of the spy organization. Hence, attacks on India are planned, organized and executed by the ISI with the help of the proxies from the terrorist organizations to which it outsources the operations
Quite clearly, the Pakistani security establishments will never allow peace initiatives with India to fructify. India is their enemy and they seem to be totally against peaceful relations with it. This, as a Pakistani journalist Mehmal Sarfaraz said, is their “world view”. They upstaged the peace initiatives in late 1990s by capturing the Kargil heights and then planned and executed 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008 to undo whatever had been achieved towards only commencement of talks. And, now that Modi muscled in and established a personal rapport with the Pakistani Prime Minister the latter’s Army would have none of it. Within 8 days of Modi’s Lahore visit they broke into the Pathankot Air force Station. Although planning for such an attack would take months but, most probably, the script was ready and they thought this was the opportune moment to put it into operation.
Pakistan has condemned the attack as if some other country had carried it out. So soon after a huge bear-hug with Modi, Nawaz Sharif, perhaps, had to say something. But the pity is he did not assure of preventing a repeat attack. He could not have, in any case, as he has no control over his rogue army. It is a very rare kind of situation where the civil authority talks peace and its army wages war. This has happened not once, not twice but a number of times. Pakistani democracy is, therefore, a sham with an army that works in the international arena at cross purposes with the civilian authority. It has become so powerful and has developed such enormous vested interests in keeping Indo-Pak tensions high and the civilian government under its boots that no democratic process perhaps could ever shake it away.
No wonder, what the Afghan President Ghani did first thing after landing in Pakistan was to make a beeline for Rawalpindi. Even the US does business with the Pakistan Army as evidenced by the extended visit by its chief to the country. In matters of its concerns the feeling in the US is that it is not the Prime Minister but the Army Chief who can deliver. The latter has, therefore, eclipsed the Prime Minister. Besides, the current Army Chief has quickly acquired a “cult hero” status by battling terrorism and bringing in relative peace in the generally violent city of Karachi. Self-confessedly, the Army Chief plays a wider “soldier-statesman” role given the inability of the democratically elected government to govern effectively. He has opened a front against the jihadists operating in the West but opening a front against those operating in the East against India is another matter. These jihadists are his assets for inflicting those “1000 cuts”.
The pity, however, is that this attack has come so soon after the “détente” arrived at official talks held between the National Security Advisers and the foreign secretaries of the two countries at Bangkok early in December 2015. The first of the several take-aways from these talks was engagement with each other after years of harsh language and diplomatic sulk. Another take-away was the agreement reached to hold talks on Kashmir and terrorism. The disengagement happened at Pathankot even before the ink used for the agreement could dry up. If a country could renege so quickly after arriving at an agreement at such a high level, perhaps, there would be no point in having anything to do with it.
Having invested so much in his ‘peace-mongering’ with Pakistan the attack on Pathankot should be a serious setback to Modi. The Opposition Congress is likely to tear him to pieces though its efforts over the last few decades did not yield anything much. The alternatives for Modi would seem to be only two - to go ahead with his peace initiatives either with the civil authority or with the Pak Army Chief or to take an about-turn and severe all relations (to the extent possible) with Pakistan. Already shrill voices are pitching for the latter course of action. It perhaps would be unwise but seems right at least in the immediate aftermath of Pathankot. The only consolation is that this time there are noises emanating from Pakistan of action against the perpetrators of the attack on the basis of material furnished by India about their involvement.