The deposition by David Headley, the Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, has not been earth-shaking in its content. We already knew almost everything he said.
Nonetheless, it was important to hear things from the horse’s mouth.
Having said that, Headley also puts the Narendra Modi government in a serious dilemma.
What do we do now with what Headley has told us? That is the core issue. How exactly are we to follow up on his deposition?
The bureaucratic option is always there—share the contents of Headley’s deposition with the Pakistani authorities through diplomatic channels and seek follow-up action in good faith.
But it will be a cynical thing to do to rest oars thereafter since we can be 100% certain that Pakistan will do nothing in the matter and will continue to parry.
Pakistan cannot and will not cooperate with India. It cannot cooperate with us because its culpability is crystal clear and those responsible for the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai included senior Pakistani military officers.
The Pakistani top brass’s involvement in terrorism implies that any action on the Indian demarche by their government will bring the roof crashing down on the Inter-Services Intelligence, better known as ISI, and irreparably damage the reputation of their army as an institution.
It is too much to expect any Pakistani government—or any country for that matter—to indulge in such brutal soul-searching. Those who advocate atonement by Pakistan are either ignorant of statecraft or are simply dissimulating.
What else can India do? Indeed, a blistering international campaign can be launched with India’s able diplomats firing all six cylinders to expose the grotesque face of Pakistan to the world community.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar promised recently to put Pakistan to “shame”.
Fine. But, where does that take us? For one thing, Pakistan’s reputation is already in the mud but it has been chugging along, nonetheless. Some more mud isn’t going to make any difference.
Besides, it is sheer naivete to believe we can put Pakistan to “shame.” The international community is not willing to join hands with us on such a track.
Second, to every fistful of mud we throw at Pakistan, one can be certain that Islamabad will return with an equal fist. And if past experience is anything to go by, Pakistan has a way of getting the better of us in a slugfest.
The real dilemma lies on two other counts. One, how do we handle the relations with Pakistan in the aftermath of Headley’s disclosures?
True, he didn’t add much to what we already knew. But he did bring the 26/11 attack back into focus.
The memory was getting jaded in our collective consciousness, which is overcrowded since 2008 with scams, beef-eating, air pollution, gang rapes, et al. But the jaded memory got burnished in the past 48 hours. The pain has returned.
For the government, which also happens to be rooted in nationalist sentiments, it becomes difficult to be seen constructively engaging Pakistan when that country’s enemy image is such a widely shared public perception.
Simply put, it is even difficult to defend Modi’s overtures to Pakistan as “statesmanlike.”
Equally, the foreign secretary’s expected trip to Islamabad for talks will not make sense to the Indian public—in a near future, at least. The government might as well roll down the shutter and close shop as if Pakistan never existed. This is one option.
The other option will be to punish Pakistan in the same coin. The present government unabashedly admires Israel. Ask Israel how best we can punish Pakistan.
Political assassination is a favourite weapon in the Israeli armoury. Commando raid is another. Outright invasion is yet another.
Choose the method best suited to our needs and circumstances. And hit Pakistan hard—so hard that they cry for mercy. This is the second option.
Both these options are widely recommended by our pundits as mutually reinforcing ones, too. But then, there is a catch in all this.
Ignoring Pakistan is actually a non-option, if only because we simply cannot choose our neighbours. And in this case, there isn’t any certainty that Pakistan is in any mood to “ignore” us. It will probably keep reminding us every now and then that it does remember us.
Again, even assuming we share the Israeli DNA, Pakistan is not Palestine. While Israel can use Gaza and West Bank as punch bags, if we punch Pakistan, make no mistake, it will punch back.
There is a moral in the story, after all, why Israel ceased to attack Lebanon once it transpired that Hezbollah has a stockpile of 40,000 rockets to retaliate. That is the story of all “asymmetric” wars.
Besides, do we really want to get entangled in a futile war of attrition with Pakistan and make it our way of life?
India has so much going for it by way of manifest destiny as an emerging power if only it could sustain a high momentum of growth—for which, of course, a peaceful immediate external environment is a crucial prerequisite. War and conflicts will be a drain on resources.
All in all, therefore, Headley’s deposition poses a diplomatic embarrassment. He is an American citizen. What he divulged would already have been known to the US authorities.
On the other hand, the US has lately intensified its collaboration with Pakistan by forming an exclusive Quadrilateral Consultative Group to try and negotiate a settlement with the Taliban.
What emerges is that the US has specific interests to pursue in the region, which demands that Pakistan be cultivated as a key non-NATO regional ally.
The Obama administration continues to do business with the Pakistani military and the ISI despite their dalliance with Osama bin Laden who was responsible for the death of 2,996 people in America.
Suffice it to say, the only option open to India too will be to remain engaged with Pakistan, to lower the tensions in the relationship and work toward eliminating the root causes behind this “asymmetric” war.