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Why We Need To Hold The Praise For Pakistan's 'Arrest' Of Masood Azhar

19/01/2016 8:39 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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INDRANIL MUKHERJEE via Getty Images
Indian activists carry placards of the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Maulana Masood Azhar during a protest against the attack on the air force base in Pathankot, in Mumbai on January 4, 2016. Indian troops backed by helicopters searched an air force base January 4, after a weekend of fierce fighting with suspected Islamic insurgents in which seven soldiers and at least four attackers were killed. AFP PHOTO/ Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP / INDRANIL MUKHERJEE (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

There are some warm feelings for Pakistan in India these days, following our neighbour's arrest of Maulana Masood Azhar and 12 other suspects. in the Pathankot terror attack. Everyone in India seems to be taking the development as an expression of Pakistan's genuineness in its commitment towards the fight against terror, and as proof of its honest intention to initiate the peace dialogue with India.

However, I would like to argue that it's too premature to be so jubilant. Here I will posit that there's a very high possibility of this action turning into a routine formality or political eyewash. Further, I argue that this must be the last chance for Pakistan to prove its credibility and, if it fails, then there must be an alternate strategy to deal with it.

Masood Azhar has officially been put under "protective custody" which in legal terms means to take someone in custody to protect his life. He is not yet officially arrested.

The clouds of suspicion on Pakistan's real intent loom large for a plethora of reasons. Firstly, Masood Azhar has officially been put under "protective custody" which in legal terms means to take someone in custody to protect his life. He is not yet officially arrested. Further, Afghan police have confirmed that Pak army officers were involved in the attack on Indian consulate at Mazaar-e-Sharif.

It is quite possible that Pakistan has taken action under heavy American pressure, which is evident in the fact that Obama described it as a safe haven for terrorists in his last presidential address, and the senate annulled the F-16 deal with Pakistan. Besides, there is also a possibility of cuts in the US development aid to Pakistan, in the event of the nation not taking any action.

Further, Modi's informal visit to Lahore happened after a long hiatus, under the strong pressure of global powers that feared the escalation of conflict between the two nuclear-armed nations, in the absence of dialogue. The Pathankot attack immediately followed the visit. Indian Intelligence agencies have gathered strong evidence, which involves GPS coordinates and Pakistani telephone numbers, tracing the roots of the attack to Pakistan. Now, at this stage, if Pakistan does not act, it sends a clear message that they are not sincere in their fight against terrorism. This would clearly give India diplomatic leverage.

When it comes to Pakistan, the question is, who wants to stop whom? Is it the ISI/military combine that is going to suppress these non-state terrorist outfits? Of course, they can, because they created them. But would they want to? Why? What are the incentives? Does the Pakistani army really want peace with India?

Considering the past record of the army, it is almost impossible to trust their intentions.

Considering the past record of the army, it is almost impossible to trust their intentions. First of all, well-planned attacks such as Mumbai, Gurdaspur and Pathankot can't happen without state support. These attacks displayed extraordinarily brilliant planning, execution and timing. The Gurdaspur attack happened after India's hot pursuit of militants in Myanmar, possibly a warning to India to refrain from such covert operations in Pakistan. In the Pathankot attack, it is alleged that the terrorists were trained in Chaklala and Lyallpur air bases as they knew the basic structure of an air base, and how to damage the aircraft. Without the active involvement of ISI, the terrorists couldn't have been trained at airbases.

Bruce Reidel, a former CIA officer who was present at the Clinton-Nawaz meeting during the Kargil War, has written in the Daily Beast that the attack was designed by ISI to prevent any détente between India and Pakistan. He further speculates that the Pak army was angered by the warm welcome given by Nawaz Sharif to Modi. The Pak army would never want any peace with India as, "Any diminution in tensions with India might risk the army's lock on its control of Pakistan's national security policy." He notes, "The ISI is under the generals' command and is composed of army officers, so the spies are controlled by the Pakistani army, which justifies its large budget and nuclear weapons program by citing the Indian menace." According to Reidel, JeM was created by ISI 15 years ago, and despite its official proclamations to the contrary, the Pak army continues to differentiate between "good terrorists" like JeM, Afghan Taliban and LeT (which it uses against India and Afghanistan), and bad terrorists like Pak Taliban.

These are well-calibrated attacks to test the "red-lines" of India.

Christine Fair, an Indo-Pak expert from Georgetown University further informs that ISI has assigned a Major-rank officer for each terrorist outfit. She believes that they can execute a terrorist attack in Kashmir on their own but whenever they need to go a step further (say a Mumbai or a Pathankot), they need direct permission from the army chief as the strategic implications are higher and there are chances of huge international pressure, escalation of the conflict and blockage of the American aid.

What are the policy options left?

Christine Fair argues that the Pathankot and Mazaar-e-Sharif attacks are not spontaneous ones in response to Modi's Lahore visit but they are the part of Pakistan's national security policy to impose its revisionist agenda on India.These are well-calibrated attacks to test the "red-lines" of India. This is so because there is a consensus within the Indian security establishment that India can't defeat Pakistan in a short war, which is only likely to happen in the event of India responding to such provocations, because of the nuclear deterrent.

Thus, realistically speaking, India does not have many policy options. India can give one last chance to Pakistan to show its commitment towards peace, and ask them to surrender Dawood, Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi. Any talks must proceed only after the surrender of the aforementioned terrorists and an effective crackdown on the terror camps operating against India from Pakistani soil. If Pakistan responds appropriately, then there are enough reasons to go ahead with the talks. If not then any further talks are a complete waste of time and resources.

India can give one last chance to Pakistan to show its commitment towards peace, and ask them to surrender Dawood, Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi.

In terms of military strategy, India needs to develop offensive superiority, which entails replacing its current military assets -- which are bulky and detectable -- with smaller units that can be rapidly forward-deployed, without being detected easily. Further, India needs to develop "specialist teams" to conduct stealthy hot pursuit missions in Pakistani territory. India also needs to enhance its covert operations capabilities in Baluchistan and KPK, on both fronts i.e. political and military.

Diplomatically, India needs to intensify international pressure on Pakistan, isolate it, and take on an assertive and pro-active stance in the UN by constantly exposing the establishment's support to terrorists. Lastly, India can also plan a counter-offensive strategy in the economic field, which implies drying up Pakistan's financial resources and international aid which it uses to finance non-state actors.

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