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Why India is getting Wagah all wrong

Sushant Sareen is Consultant, Pakistan Project, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • November 05, 2014

    The suicide bombing that killed over 60 Pakistanis just outside the Wagah border parade area seems to have affected the usual suspects in India far more than it has the people across. So overcome were they by their emotions that they immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was going to be a game-changer and that the time had come for India and Pakistan to cooperate and collaborate to root out terrorism. Worse, fears were expressed that the terrorism sweeping through Pakistan had now reached the Indian border and was going to soon cross over. Asides of not specifying who India could collaborate with other than the fringe liberal section of Pakistani society that doesn’t call the shots and matters little in the larger scheme of things, the fact that terrorism emanating from Pakistan has already entered, or more accurately been exported, into India decades ago was blithely ignored.

    Clearly, the Wagah incident on November 2 is not going to make the Pakistani society and its ‘deep state’ wake up to the existential threat posed by jihadist terror groups. There is neither going to be any change in Pakistan’s attitude towards using terrorism as an instrument of state policy, nor its inimical attitude towards India. Simply put, Pakistanis have been brain-washed to a point where their hatred for India in general and Hindus in particular far outweighs any fear or horror they may feel over the acts of terrorism by the jihadists. To expect cooperation on terrorism from a country where an internationally designated terrorist organisation like the Jamaatud Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba is considered to be a philanthropic outfit is nothing short of delusional.

    A sample of the mindset that prevails in Pakistan, not just towards India but also terrorism, was on display the day after the bomb blast. Apparently the Pakistan Rangers had requested the BSF to suspend the flag lowering ceremony for three days following the suicide attack. The BSF graciously acquiesced to this request. But the very next day the Pakistanis decided to go ahead with the ceremony. Actually, it is quite normal for military and paramilitary units to get rid of the ghosts of either an accident or an untoward incident by repeating the drill at the very next available opportunity. But what the Pakistanis did was sneaky and dishonourable because they informed the BSF of this at the last minute but by then most of the Indian crowd had been turned back. The Pakistanis, however, stacked the stands with serving and retired services personnel. This then was used by the Lahore Corps Commander, presumably one of the prospective collaborators against terrorism, to raise the morale of his own side. This he did by indulging in some low brow point scoring. He thumped his chest by saying that it seemed as though the Indian audience had “sniffed a snake” while the Pakistanis showed their devil-may-care attitude and their resilience to bounce back after a serious terrorist attack. Such low cunning is an outcome of an institutional, and even national, attitude that breeds pathological hatred towards India. This should shame the apologists for Pakistan in India of their woolly-headed notions about normalising ties.

    What is it about the Wagah blast anyway that makes some Indians think that it will make Pakistan more amenable to anti-terror cooperation with India? It is certainly not the worst terror attack on Pakistani soil. Worse attacks have happened without making an iota of difference to Pakistan’s approach to Jihadism. There was no high profile casualty in the Wagah attack. Most of the people who died were anyways expendable in the larger strategic calculus of the Pakistani ‘deep state’. The way the Pakistani establishment sees it, the cost of terrorism is much below what the Pakistani ‘deep state’ thinks it will have to pay in terms of its irredentist claims, corporate interests and religion based nationalism in order to normalise relations with India.

    The choice of Wagah was only tangentially related to India, in the sense that any incident there would create an instant international splash and give the terrorists the publicity. Even if instead of 60 people only a couple had lost their lives, the incident would have created the same publicity impact.

    By carrying out the attack the terrorists sent a loud message that their network and ability to strike remains very much intact despite the government claims that the military operations in North Waziristan had disrupted their command and control centres. That three different groups claimed responsibility seems odd at first sight but chances are that all might have had a role to play – one would have planned it and supplied funds, explosives and suicide jackets, another would have listed the suicide bomber and the third could have provided the local logistics. The fact that all groups claimed responsibility could be the result of a sort of competition to emerge as the top dog in the terrorist fraternity. There is an open tussle for leadership and going by the stupendous success of the Islamic State, the group that can demonstrate that it is the most effective will get the maximum recruits, funds and even the leadership mantle. For this they must carry out spectacular attacks, which is what Wagah was. To bring India into this dynamic is akin to missing the woods for the trees.

    Cooperation and collaboration between India and Pakistan on terrorism is a fairy tale. First, there is a fundamental difference in the terrorism that affects India and the one which is hitting Pakistan. The former is state-sponsored and state-sanctioned by Pakistan; the latter is a blowback of the decades old policy of the Pakistani state. Second, terrorism is flowing into India through a one way street, i.e., from Pakistan and not the other way round. Therefore, while the Pakistanis can give important information to India about any attack that is being planned on its soil, there isn’t any information or intelligence that India can offer in return. The most India can do is something it has done for over a decade now, which is to not create trouble for Pakistan on its eastern front. Pakistan, however, has continuously disregarded this and has continued to provoke India either by pushing in infiltrators or by violating the ceasefire. This it has done, both to reaffirm its irredentist claims over the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and to keep the pot of terrorism in Kashmir simmering. India’s response is only to Pakistani provocations.

    Third, as long as Pakistan keeps playing with terrorists – striking deals with some in order to hit others, or sponsoring some like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Balochistan as a counter to the Baloch insurgency, or even to protect the ‘good’ Taliban like the Haqqani network for use in Afghanistan – it will continue to see the terror machine grow stronger and stronger. Finally, Pakistan's anti-terror operations like Zarb-e-Azb is not about eradicating terrorism but regaining control over it so that it can be used in pursuit of foreign and security policy objectives.

    All this means that as long as Pakistan doesn’t transform its strategic paradigm of hostility towards India, something that it shows absolutely no sign of doing, the prospect of any anti-terror cooperation between India and Pakistan is practically non-existent.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India