David Coleman Headley has sung like a canary before a Mumbai court. His depositions have put Pakistan in the dock over Mumbai 26/11 carnage. He has also demolished the mythical construct of non state actors that the Pakistan has so assiduously built and perpetuated. Not that there were any buyers of the same in India and beyond. But the initiated would know that Pak’s unremitting parroting of ‘out of control non state actors’ had begun to rewrite the terror conversation in a different frame of reference; and by implication embed the security and terror talks between the two countries in a pathological context of utter irrelevance for India.
It is widely believed that Headley’s revelations would not mean much. At best, they would simply put moral gloss on India’s arguments. Their legality would continue to be challenged by Pakistan. And that Pakistan’s perspective on the issue is quite uncomplicated; it sees in all of this two things: America’s gambit of putting Pakistan in her place for becoming China’s lapdog and second, the ever growing US-India strategic relationship. Pakistanis know that if times were different and India was not India of today and the China had not started becoming expansionist riding on its economic might and, thus, altered the security paradigm in the Asia and beyond, India would still be begging for Headly’s deposition.
That Pakistan does not care two hoots about Headley’s revelations is also exemplified by the coverage the issue has got in the Pakistan media. Remarkably, Pakistani media has only covered it in the most indifferent form imaginable; relegating it to the inside pages of the leading dailies. They have also not reported the words tripping off straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, and instead referred or quoted the public prosecutor involved in the case. Does it need any reiterating that given the significance of the issue involved, the attitudinal indifference and the slanted coverage done by the Pak media is on design?
What could possibly be this design? Why such double faced attitude when the political establishments of the two countries have just reaffirmed the need to restart the dialogue? What was behind the haste shown by Pak Premier in convening the meetings of the civil and military institutions and reportedly issuing directions to his agencies to go after the handlers of the recent Pathankot air base attack? Was it just to placate the Indian leadership and get it to commit to a dialogue for domestic consumption? Or was there a genuine need felt to develop peaceful and friendly relations with India? In the wake of insipid reportage of Headly’s case in Pak media and the trail that the Pak law and order agencies had blazed after the air base attack culprits in the aftermath of the Pathankot attack going cold and effectively nowhere, finding answers to these questions represent an intractable foreign policy conundrum for New Delhi.
What is in it for Pakistan that it stays invested in terror or wants to stay invested? Hardliners in Pakistan say India’s duplicity and its big brother attitude would always keep Pakistan suspicious of India. India’s role in Bangla war and surreptitious raid at the icy heights of Siachin are two examples trotted out to reinforce the stereotype of India’s duplicity. That terror chickens have come home to roost has not bothered the Pakistanis as much. Attacks on a university and an Army public School in which children and students were killed are seen as the handiwork of the Indian RAW even as the counter offensive is launched by Pak army against the TTP. Pak columnists and anchors tend to give the impression that all attacks emanating from Afghanistan against Pakistan are masterminded by India. A section of Pakistani intelligentsia has stretched this pervert logic beyond absurd; unabashedly implying that even TTP is working at the behest of India. Can any argument be more preposterous than this? TTP being controlled by India, well, quite frankly, you have to be crazy to believe this line of argument.
But such is the deeprootedness of the terror imbued cultural, religious and social construct in Pakistan that even as jihadi terror consumes them, they look the other way and allow it a free pass left, right and centre and merrily perpetuate the anti India dialogue within the society. This duplicity is inexplicable and even poses an existential threat to Pakistan. But Pakistan’s world view is circumscribed by the imperative of keeping India harmed at all costs. Consequently, it has failed to stand up and look terror in its eyes and course correct.
India’s problem is that it can’t redeem a nation that is not willing to be redeemed. Prime Minister Modi’s outreach effort at the Pak premier Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter wedding was out of ordinary considering the backdrop it happened. The visit raised hope, but it was belied later with an attack on Pathankot air base whose terror trail, by all accounts of evidence, stops at the doors of Pak establishment. Headley’s deposition has made the matters more difficult for India given that he has named a few army officers and the likes of Zaki ur Rehman and Hafiz Sayeed behind Mumbai carnage. India has long wanted the terror duo of sayeed and Rahman to be tried for justice. But Pakistan, true to its form, has flattered to deceive in the past and continues to temporize.
Now that the Headley has named the terror duo in an Indian court, will it persuade the Pakistan to nail them? It appears unlikely. Already, Pakistan has started vacillating on Pathankot air base after initially showing unusual keenness to get hold of the perpetrators. Pakistan’s intentions appear suspect and its will to fight terror in its backyard a sham and time buying tactics. While Pakistan wants India to come to the table, it does not appear that it is likely to deliver on India’s concerns on terror that its agencies have unleashed in India. It is also cleverly trying to get India extricated from all the ongoing international efforts to shape the Afghanistan’s future. It ostensibly wants to follow a nuanced policy on terror control and keep India tied down while at the same time keeping its strategic depth policy in the shape of Afghanistan intact. ‘We are also victim of terror’ is the carefully rehearsed punchline of Pakistanis that appears to be a straight lift from the famous Pak plays currently running on an Indian channel.
In the current scenario, India would need to figure out how to approach the talks if and when they happen. Talks have a new name in comprehensive dialogue but do they have a new context, any change in the stated positions and visible and quantifiable deliverables from the other side as well? It remains to be seen. Pakistan would sit on the table fully knowing that the India centric terror tap is not closed for good. It may be turned off for the time being. India would be scratching its head to secondguess Pakistanis and hoping that Pakistanis are not true to the form atleast this time.
by Vishal Sharma