India Must Open Channels of Communication With Pakistan Military Leadership

Like all expert views, the 53-page report co-sponsored by the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Aspen Institute India (AII) offers enough ‘well-meaning’ talking points. How far its advocacy is attainable is a different matter.

The report is authored by key US and Indian scholars and former officials such as Dennis C. Blair (former director of the US national intelligence), Richard Haas (CFR president and former director of policy planning at the State Department), Robert Blackwill (former US Ambassador to India), Brajesh Mishra (India’s former national security adviser), and Naresh Chandra (former Indian Ambassador to the US).

Broadly, the report makes three points. One, India must open channels of communication with the Pakistan military leadership. Two, United States should not permit Pakistan to have a de facto veto over India’s relationship with Afghanistan. Three, the United States should do everything possible to assist Pakistan in protecting its nuclear arsenal.

Given the lows the US-Pak relations have reached these past few months with every single day flashing a fresh American allegation against Pakistan, the CFR-AII makes out a strong case for India and the US working together to plan for the ‘worst case Pakistan scenarios’. This is understandable because India as the immediate neighbour and the US as the key strategic player in the region stand to lose in the event of a collapse of the Pakistan State and the Pakistani military losing control of its nuclear arsenal.

There is no trust deficit between Delhi and Washington. Both sides appreciate each other’s concerns. Yet, India is weighed down by a sense of frustration when it comes to action. It is because there is a reluctance on the part of the United States to go along with India vis-a-vis Pakistan.

Past experience shows, and the story of US-Pak relations post-Abbottabad reinforces the view, that the State Department and Pentagon are confident of arm-twisting Rawalpindi’s GHQ to fall in-line when the chips are down. Towards this end official America makes use of the ‘independent’ American media every time it perceives an urgency to make Pakistan bend, if not crawl.

The song and drama Washington had staged till its sleuth Raymond Davis was released from a Lahore jail and transported to safe haven back home is a case in point. Pakistan army goes through its own motions of acting haughtily and obdurately to the glee of popularity rating hungry TV channels at home before doing the American bidding on the dotted line. The operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden also falls in the same category, notwithstanding the denials from Islamabad and certificates of ignorance awarded by Washington to Islamabad.

L’affaire drones is another example of Pakistan’s readiness to kowtow American line while fretting and fuming before the home audience over the violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by the ‘Satan’. More such examples abound in the WikiLeaks expose of American diplomats’ cables.

There is no gain in saying that Pakistan faces a systemic decline and that makes it very hard for either the United States or India to have an effective policy. Also undisputed reality is the close nexus between the army and the militant groups. To claim that some middle level officers or lowly paid soldiers are only attracted towards Islamic fundamentalism is no more than a self-deception for no worthwhile purpose.

The security forces personnel in Pakistan are drawn from the civil society which has seen gradual Talibanisation with the state patronizing religious extremism as a matter of policy, first at the behest of America targeting Kabul under Soviet Union’s occupation and later to make India bleed.

A few moderate voices used to survive in the Pakistani milieu. Not any longer as the assassination of Salman Taseer, the businessman-media magnet-politician, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian, who went on to become the Federal Minister of Minorities, shows.

Needless to say, the course of events in the Af-Pak region depends very much on the willingness, nay readiness of the United States to acknowledge the crude reality in Pakistan today. What steps the US is prepared to take to counter the dangers emanating from Pakistan also will be no less important.

“We developed … possible contingencies regarding developments in Pakistan,” the group’s co-chair, Ambassador Blackwill is quoted as telling the Foreign Policy magazine. “The report says the US strategy (of) using military and civilian assistance to try to persuade the Pakistan military to cease its support for terrorist groups that kill Indians and kill Americans in Afghanistan has failed.”

So the study’s prescription is that the United States “heavily condition, from now forward, military aid to Pakistan on the basis of Pakistan moving against these terrorist groups that target Americans and Indians.”

Ambassador Blackwill etches a scenario which doesn’t look like a near impossibility. “If the society at large becomes more chaotic, more violent, if Islamic extremists have more influence inside the country, then one has to worry whether at some point in which the Pakistan nuclear complex has been penetrated by terrorists or Islamic extremists of other persuasion,” according to him. He doesn’t mention the 22 May attack on Pakistan Navy’s Mehran air station but it has to be factored in.

PNS Mehran is located inside the Faisal Base of the Pakistan Air Force (about 10 kilometres from the Karachi international airport) which is used by the PAF and the air arms of the Pakistan army and navy as well as by the VVIP squadron. All air surveillance movements over the sea – whether by the PAF or by the army or by the PN – are controlled from this base.

Like the raid on the army headquarters in 2009, the assault on PNS Mehran is an embarrassment to the Pakistan military establishment. The attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda, on Mission Revenge. This naturally raised doubts about Pakistan military’s ability to protect its bases especially with Shahzad Shaikh, Deputy to the Official Spokesman of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Pakistan, grandly declaring that such attacks would ‘persist as long as American are allowed to roam inside the Army’s General Head Quarters (GHQ) and other sensitive military installations in the name of co-operation in the War on Terror’.

A statement posted on HuT web site told the sincere officers of the Pakistan armed forces that the ‘Ummah is looking actively towards you to come forward, uproot these treacherous rulers and provide Nussrah to Hizb ut-Tahrir to establish the Khilafah” (

Reports in a section of Pakistani media say that the militants have singled out the Navy for the simple reason that it has played a key role in helping NATO transport its hardware through Karachi port to Afghanistan. Another reason, as pointed out by Asia Times online, was the ‘massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy, particularly inside several navy bases in Karachi’. That this view is not wide off the mark is clear from the arrest of a former navy commando Kamran Ahmed (he joined in 1993 and was sacked in 2003), and Commodore Raja Tahir, who was relieved of the command of PNS Mehran two days after the attack. These arrests exposed the hollowness of the claim routinely trotted out that Talibanisation of Pakistan military is a ‘lower cadre’ phenomenon.

Viewed against this scenario, the CFR-AII study report has some good food for thought. It argues that the United States and India should be “talking in a contingency way about what one country or the other might try to do and “what the two of them could try to do to prevent that (penetration of the Pakistan nuclear complex by terrorists or Islamic extremists of other persuasion) from happening.”

On Afghanistan, its recommendation is no less profound. “The United States and India should discuss whether large-scale Indian training of Afghan security forces, whether in Afghanistan or in India, would be beneficial.”

It is no secret that the Obama administration wants Delhi to take a leading role in creating a ‘Shining Afghanistan’. It expects Delhi to make its way into the Afghan hinterland by tapping the enormous goodwill it enjoys amongst the people firstly as a Good Samaritan and secondly as a check against the in-roads being made by China and Iran. All this is not to the liking of Pakistan. For the state sponsored and popped up militant outfits, the unarmed Indian workers, engineers and doctors have, therefore, become a soft target practice. Recent months have seen the United States allowing a defacto veto by Pakistan over India’s relationship with Afghanistan.

So much so, it sounds jarring to hear Robert Blackwill to say ‘We (the US) shouldn’t excite the Pakistani concerns unnecessarily, but we shouldn’t allow those concerns to veto Indian involvement in Afghanistan.”

CFR-AII study advises both the US and India to “assess very carefully” Pakistan’s possible reaction to India’s involvement in training Afghan security forces but it should not be ruled out prima facie simply because Pakistan wouldn’t like it. It would have been fair and proper for the authors of the study to resist the temptation to editorialize and confine their homily to the party that badly deserved it.

The same could be said of another homily this time directed at India. The report suggests that “India’s leadership should develop channels, including military-to-military, to talk with the Pakistan military”.

India cannot change its neighbours. It must do what it can to improve the bilateral ‘climate’. For this it must enter into a dialogue with whoever is in power in Pakistan. It should be up to the ‘visible’ centre of power to take on board the ‘real’ power centre as a matter of political expediency. Expecting a neighbour to do the home work is neither here nor there. More so, when history bears witness to the fact that Pakistan army and its religious institutions have made anti-Indianism their leitmotif.

(This comment first appeared on Poreg website ( with which the author is associated)