The attack on the strategic Pathankot airbase, located barely 56 km from the international border with Pakistan, was yet another transgression of India’s sovereignty by an ISI-supported terrorist group. In the days following the attack on our Parliament in December 2001, the Musharraf dispensation denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, the attack. Yet, in March 2004, Lt- Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former ISI chief and minister in the Musharraf government, acknowledged in Pakistan’s parliament: “We must admit that the Jaish-e-Mohammed has been involved in the killings of thousands of innocent Kashmiris, the attack on the Indian Parliament, the murder of (Wall Street Journal journalist) Daniel Pearl and an attempt to assassinate General Musharraf.”
When the Lashkar-e-taiba attacked Mumbai in November 2008, killing over 160 people, there were denials of any Pakistani involvement by the ISI, till the media traced the home of captured terrorist Ajmal Kasab in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
India has only itself to blame for the rise of the Jaish-e-Mohammed by releasing its leader, Masood Azhar, when IC-814 flying from Kathmandu, Nepal, to New Delhi, was hijacked and forced to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Interestingly, another terrorist, Omar Saeed Sheikh, whom India released at the time, was associated with the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington also.
Even though a faction of the Jaish-e-Mohammed led by Masood Azhar is now back in favour with the ISI, the Jaish itself was in the ISI doghouse for years because of its association with the Pakistani Taliban (Tehriq-e-Taliban). The relations of the ISI with the Tehriq-e-Taliban started to sour after Pakistani special forces laid siege to and attacked the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, which was then run by Deobandi clerics affiliated to the Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The Jaish claims an ideological and sectarian affinity with the Afghan Taliban, who also label themselves as Deobandi. But in the recent past, the ISI and the Jaish-e-Mohammed appear to have struck a deal to support each other in backing the Afghan Taliban and cooperate in attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India.
The link between the Jaish and the ISI helps drive a wedge between the Pashtun-dominated Afghan Taliban and their Pashtun Pakistani counterparts (TTP), now being targeted by the Pakistan army. The involvement of the Jaish in the attack on the Pathankot air base has to be seen in this context. Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban is reinforced ideologically by the Deobandi-oriented Jaish. The Jaish also provides additional muscle to the ISI-sponsored ‘jihad’ against India.
Masood Azhar has repeatedly vowed jihad against India. While Pakistan may take some symbolic steps against the Jaish-e-Mohammed, it is unlikely to end support for the involvement of the Jaish jihad against India, by acting seriously against its leaders. The fact that the investigation into the attack has been entrusted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his toothless Intelligence Bureau, given to kowtowing to the army establishment, indicates that no serious action will be taken against the masterminds of the Pathankot attack.
While the Obama administration has called on Pakistan to act expeditiously against the perpetrators of the attack, one has to realise that Washington is presently depending heavily on the Pakistan military to promote ‘reconciliation’ between the Afghan government and the Taliban. There is, however, little reason to believe that despite its pious professions, the ISI will do anything to prevent a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
In these circumstances, India will have to actively utilise the bipartisan support it enjoys in the US Congress to see that the Obama administration acts more decisively, by curtailing its military aid programme to Pakistan and asking its western allies and Japan to do likewise with their economic assistance. There cannot be business as usual unless Pakistan acts against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack.
New Delhi will have to take some hard decisions on how to proceed with the conduct of relations with Pakistan. Alluding to the meeting that Nawaz Sharif had with Gen Raheel Sharif and others, the Pakistan government said on January 8: “The meeting discussed the Pathankot attack, expressed condemnation of this incident, and reiterated the country’s commitment to cooperate with India to completely eradicate the menace of terrorism afflicting our region.” Pakistan is thus implicitly suggesting that it, too, has concerns on terrorism, allegedly sponsored by India.
By all accounts, the National Security Advisers (reinforced by Foreign Secretaries) had a useful meeting in Bangkok. Several such meetings, preferably behind the scenes and devoid of publicity, are required if we are to reach agreement on how to deal with concerns on terrorism. Similar meetings between the heads of intelligence agencies (ISI and RAW) should reinforce these meetings.
Working out the framework for a new ‘comprehensive dialogue’ as proposed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj can be discussed in due course. Moreover, it is important that a mechanism for regular meetings between the DGMOs be firmly in place before the winter snows melt and infiltration picks up in the Kashmir Valley. It is also time to activate measures to raise the costs for the Pakistan army internally for its support to crossborder terrorism.
The Pakistan army is today engaged in suppressing its own people in three of its four provinces — Sind, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan. These military operations should be made infinitely more costly for the Pakistan army in terms of men, material and finances. Dialogue has to be accompanied by the full spectrum use of ‘non-conventional capabilities’ by India, as long as the ISI continues its policies aimed to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”.
The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan