India’s unravelling Pakistan policy — Neena Gopal

The bomb that went off late on Thursday evening in Jalalabad, Afghanistan outside the Indian consulate is being seen in Delhi as a warning that with the upcoming change of guard in Pakistan relations between the South Asian rivals could be set to change.

It’s not the first but the third blast in the past two months, each one involving an explosive device thrown at the outer perimeter security ring around the Jalalabad consulate by masked men driving by.

Security for the consulate is tasked to the local Afghans in a city that has enduring links with the neo-Taliban and Al Qaida that draws its strength from the ethnic Pashtun – who have made the lawless areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border their own.

That ground realities are rapidly changing and that its repercussions will be felt as much in their staging ground as in far away Delhi has always been a fear.

But when it comes in a document prepared by Pakistan’s National Crisis Management Cell, it reinforces the rising threat perception that India could face as destabilising forces turn their ire eastward.

Huge price

The document points to one inescapable fact – that India is going to pay a huge price for its inability to close the deal with Pakistan when it could have, that it has let slip that rare opportunity when it was doing business with a Pakistani leader who had the unchallenged authority to take decisions, however unpopular they may be with a domestic audience, particularly when it concurrently had a seemingly friendly government in Kabul for the first time in over 30 years.

The NCMC document says the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and its five missions in Afghanistan together with the US missions, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and, ironically, Ejaz ul Haq, former religious affairs minister and son of the father of Pakistan’s jihadisation President General Zia ul Haq, are all targets of militants based in the restive northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan that now includes the scenic Swat valley and the North West Frontier Province.

While a revealing article in a leading Pakistan daily predicted the assassination attempt – the plot to bump off the president was unearthed days ago – the NCMC too predicts much the same.

The common thread that ties them all – barring Ejaz ul Haq – is that they are all seen as extensions of Washington, the one town that has an almost bilious effect on the jihadist frontier.

If India’s Pakistan policy is unravelling, it only has itself to blame. A Pakistan under pressure from George W. Bush’s Washington to do the right thing by India is unlikely to come around again in the immediate future.

In Srinagar, the separatists can clearly sense that the wind is changing. Yasin Malek, the brooding maverick is on a hunger strike against human rights violations, insisting the army must leave the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The chairman of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, built up by Musharraf as his political voice in the valley, has gathered up the courage – sans security – to lead a procession on the streets of the state capital. Others, unnamed in smaller towns, are raising the killing of civilians by the security forces as a pretext to step up the decibel levels.

No coincidence that the tactic to whip up public sentiment against the Indian army takes place at the same time that Pakistan’s seminal moment is here.

Everything that Delhi has tentatively worked for – or not – could be turned on its head if elections held as planned in Pakistan on January 8 brings a popular government to power and the army tasked with turning back the Taliban tide convinces the pliant civilian in the hot seat that resurrecting the Kashmir militancy is the only sop that can be offered to the jihadis to stop them from preying on Pakistan’s body politic.

Analysts say the independent jihadi and those who were nurtured and then cut loose by the military have been urging the separatist elements in Kashmir not to lose the momentum and that as both India, Pakistan and the United States turn inward, consumed by their own internal politics of survival, they must step up violence.

India’s foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, who wears his Pakistan spurs openly, is in Tehran today, and not a moment too soon; an indicator the Indian government is finally attempting to break out of the straitjacket that the Indo-US nuclear deal has cast over Delhi’s ties with Iran.

India’s energy needs are a primary motivating factor. Manmohan Singh’s government predicated its successful economic policy on it but the troubles in Balochistan notwithstanding and with the nuke deal in such cold water he has held off on the crucial Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline long enough.

Menon would do well to make a detour to Islamabad, not so much physical as mental.

India’s internal and external threats can only be secured if it does not wait for events to change in Pakistan but acts now so that the military while returning to the barracks under a new chief works actively against destabilising its neighbour. (Gulf News)