Tuesday May 21, 2024

Parrikar’s admission

Indian Defence Minister Parrikar’s remarks on an Indian news channel on May 21, that Delhi has a policy of “neutralising terrorists through terrorists” and that “India will take proactive steps to prevent a 26/11 type attack”, is an open admission that India uses terrorism as an instrument of state policy

By Asif Ezdi
June 01, 2015
Indian Defence Minister Parrikar’s remarks on an Indian news channel on May 21, that Delhi has a policy of “neutralising terrorists through terrorists” and that “India will take proactive steps to prevent a 26/11 type attack”, is an open admission that India uses terrorism as an instrument of state policy – something that it constantly accuses Pakistan of.
Parrikar was hardly revealing a state secret. The fact that there is an Indian hand in many of the terrorist acts in Pakistan is known to the major intelligence agencies of the western countries, although their governments choose to remain silent about it for reasons of political expediency. What is new is that for the first time a leading member of the Indian government has publicly and directly admitted its involvement in the sponsorship of terrorist violence in Pakistan.
Parrikar’s remarks have not only been condemned by Pakistan, they have also been criticised, though for very different reasons, by some of the opposition political parties in India including Congress and by sections of the Indian media. While our foreign ministry issued a politely worded statement saying that Parrikar’s comment confirmed Pakistan’s “apprehensions about India’s involvement in terrorism in Pakistan”, the main criticism in India has been that his suggestion of Indian sponsorship of terrorism in Pakistan would weaken Delhi’s demand for action against ‘Pakistan-backed militants’.
In Occupied Kashmir, fears are being expressed that Parrikar’s statement might signal the Modi government’s plans to revive the policy of targeted killing of supporters of azadi through hired locals. Known as the Ikhwanis, they were hired by the Indian army at the height of the Kashmiri armed struggle in the 1990s. Their job was not only to kill the freedom-fighters but also to intimidate the civilian population and keep it from providing support and assistance to them.
These ‘counter-insurgents’ killed, tortured and raped thousands of civilians at the behest of their masters. Some of them including Kuka Parray, their most infamous commander, were eliminated by the Kashmiri freedom-fighters in the 2000s. The others have since been absorbed in the regular Indian forces and the Kashmir police, while some have joined political parties which collaborate with the Indian occupiers.
It is noteworthy that those sections of the Indian media that have taken Parrikar to task for his remarks have done so not to condemn the policy of ‘neutralising terrorists through terrorists’ but for having admitted that this policy exists and over the timing of this admission. An editorial in the Indian Express counselled that ministers and officials should be “circumspect” in their public utterances on security matters but stressed at the same time that the “question of using covert operations as part of the strategic toolkit belongs in a different debate”. The Hindustan Times cautioned that “any suggestion about using terrorism for diplomatic ends undercuts India’s moral authority on the issue and weakens its case in the event of terror attacks in the future”.
Chidambaram, who served as home minister in the Manmohan government, claimed that India did not deploy any terrorists or criminal elements in any part of Pakistan during its 10-year long rule. He said he believed that the Modi government also did not and will not do it and called on Parrikar to withdraw his “terrible” remarks. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also demanded that Modi “should make amends through a public correction of this statement”.
Despite the outrage that Parrikar’s statement triggered in Kashmir, the criticism in the Indian media and the opposition calls for a retraction of his statement, he has stuck to his guns. Clearly, his remarks were not a slip of the tongue but the enunciation of a well-considered policy. In an interview with the Times of India, he said India was going for “targeted kills” of “terrorists” in Kashmir. Five days later he said to PTI, “I will go to any extent. Whatever is required to be done will be done.” India does not keep a 1.3 million strong army to “preach peace”, Parrikar said.
These are fighting words. There is no doubt a generous portion of bluster in them, as there was in his promise last December, also on the same TV news channel on which he spoke of “neutralising terrorists with terrorists”, of a “strong response” short of a full-scale war which he said would “once and for all” reduce militancy in Kashmir. Nevertheless, Pakistan cannot take these threats lightly.
Modi came to power on a promise of getting tough with Pakistan. He has kept that promise but without any of the hoped-for results. Last August, his government abruptly called off the scheduled foreign secretary level talks when the Pakistan high commissioner met Kashmiri leaders. But in February this year, the Modi government climbed down from its position when it sent its foreign secretary to Islamabad in an attempt to restart the bilateral dialogue.
The Modi government’s attempt to put Pakistan under pressure by escalating tensions along the LoC has also misfired. Last October, the then Indian defence minister publicly ‘reminded’ Pakistan of India’s conventional superiority and its ability to inflict “pain” that would be “unaffordable” for Pakistan. But the Indian policy of escalating firing across the LoC and the Working Boundary and responding to small arms fire with mortar shelling not only did not impress the hated enemy, it also generated some discreet pressure by the international community and the UN to end the shooting. Since then, the LoC and the Working Boundary have been relatively quiet.
A fresh worry for which the Modi government can hardly blame Pakistani ‘terrorism’ or ‘infiltration’ is that the Kashmiris have recently taken to waving the Pakistani flag in their protest rallies against Indian occupation, despite warnings of punitive action from the Indian authorities. Last Friday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh repeated those warnings, saying that the Modi government would not tolerate pro-Pakistan slogans and the hoisting of the Pakistani flag on Indian territory and would send such persons to the jail. Despite this angry warning, Pakistani flags appeared later the same day at a rally organised by Shabir Shah in south Kashmir after Friday prayers. He was duly arrested.
There are two other major worries for India. First, terrorist violence in Pakistan has declined considerably after Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched. Second, and even worse, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project is moving from the planning to the implementation stage, a process that will be facilitated by the consensus reached between the political parties and the provinces at the all-party conference last Thursday.
These were no doubt important considerations in the Indian defence minister’s statement on “neutralising terrorism with terrorism”. Action is now expected to follow. In its attempt to sabotage the economic corridor, India is likely to target Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan in particular, at the two ends of the transport highway.
The Pakistan Army and the intelligence agencies will have a central role in defeating these designs. But Pakistan will also need to craft a coherent and robust diplomatic response.
Unfortunately, because of the inability of the prime minister to provide leadership, the different branches of the state have been speaking on the issue with different voices. The Defence Committee of the Senate under its dynamic chairman has passed a resolution of its own on the issue although it is doubtful whether as a subordinate body of the upper house with a mainly advisory role it has the constitutional authority to do so.
The foreign ministry’s reaction so far to Parrikar’s warnings has been feeble. The ministry’s statement as well as the spokesman’s weekly press briefing last Thursday refer to “apprehensions” of India’s involvement in terrorism in Pakistan, rather than to an established fact. If the foreign ministry itself is not yet sure of the Indian hand, it can hardly expect to convince foreign governments.
Also, the reference by the spokesman to a speech by Doval in February 2014 calling for covert action by India in Balochistan could have been omitted. Doval became India’s National Security Adviser three months later but India’s involvement in terrorist acts in Balochistan did not start with him, nor will it end when he is gone.
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.