14 December 2010
MANY documents released by WikiLeaks have yielded disturbing information about India’s security environment. American Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson had conveyed to the US State Department in September 2009 that Islamabad would always support the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The ambassador had specifically said that the Pakistan Army and its ISI were covertly sponsoring four militant groups, including the LeT, the Afghan Taliban and the latter’s allies, the Haqqani and Hekmatyar networks, and would not abandon them for any amount of US money. It was also pointed out that there was no chance of Pakistan considering enhanced financial assistance as sufficient compensation for discontinuing its support to these groups.
A leading think tank based in Delhi, the Observer Research Foundation, has come out with the information that the LeT has a core cadre strength of 50,000 trained and armed men — 5000 in Karachi and the rest across Punjab. The cadre consists of dedicated men, and many of them are former army and ISI commandos. They have access to the latest weapons and funds. The Punjab Government of Pakistan had also reportedly made a grant of nearly $1 million in 2009.
All these factors only underline the need for India to be vigilant against the threat from Pakistan, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. There are further reports that the LeT has opened its units in Nepal and Sri Lanka for running training camps for the infiltration of cadres into India. It is mentioned that from Sri Lanka these terrorists are likely to launch attacks on specific targets in South India. This is the first time that South Indian targets have been mentioned in any of the LeT plans. One wonders whether the LeT cadres are targeting the comparatively peaceful southern part of the country by launching attacks on some of its famous temples at Rameswaram, Madurai, etc. The consequences throughout India of such attacks can be imagined. Possibly, these elements are looking for opportunities to disturb communal peace by planning such attacks.
The WikiLeaks expose has also thrown light on the dangerously unstable situation in Pakistan. President Asif Zardari has been afraid of being overthrown or even assassinated by the Army. Zardari asked for US help for protecting his life as well as ensuring that in the event of his being overthrown, his sister should be made the next President and not his son Bilawal as was thought after Benazir Bhutto’s death. The latest reports state that Zardari has sought asylum for his family and himself from the President of the UAE. Benazir herself had stayed in exile for many years in Dubai before her return to Pakistan and her subsequent assassination.
Gen Ashfaque Kayani, however, has his own idea about President Zardari’s succession. General Kayani mentioned his own choice, A. Wali Khan of the Awami National Party, as a possible replacement. The government led by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani would, however, remain undisturbed so as to pre-empt fresh elections in which case former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif might stage a comeback. General Kayani hates Nawaz Sharif more than anyone else and hence his choice for the Awami National Party chief.
Despite Pakistan’s economy being in serious trouble, American appraisals have it that Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world. This has been mentioned in one of the cables released by WikiLeaks. The assessment was made in 2008. At the same time, the safety of a huge quantity of enriched uranium in one of the nuclear facilities in Pakistan was causing security concerns to the US which seriously thought of lifting the enriched uranium with the consent of the Pakistan Army. Pakistan, however, later backtracked on it.
It may be recalled that after the LeT attack on Indian Parliament in December, 2001, the Indian Army came out with Operation Parakram, resulting in massive forward troop mobilisation along the western front. The exercise was more in the nature of a warning shot to Pakistan since the troops were called back after US intervention.
The diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that in the aftermath of the 26/11 killings by ISI-assisted LeT terrorists, Pakistan expected an attack from India — Operation Cold Start — and Islamabad was prepared to consider the nuclear option if the need arose. India did not go beyond holding discussions with Pakistan at various levels and urging it to prosecute all those involved in the 26/11 attack, an exercise still going on.
What is clear from all these exchanges is that Pakistan is prepared to consider exercising the nuclear option if faced with setbacks in a normal confrontation with India. With Pakistan being in an unstable state and with the dominance of the army over all the aspects of life in Pakistan, India has to be on the alert all the time.
Former Pakistan ruler Gen Parvez Musharraf has gone on record with his assertion that he trained terrorist groups to operate from Pakistan on a regular basis. Now that the former US Ambassador has clearly testified to the fact that whatever be the financial disbursement and the pressure from the US, Pakistan will never give up on Kashmir. The Kashmir problem has never been easy for India to handle all these years. The report of the interlocutors sent to Kashmir to talk to the various sections of people and politicians and come up with their suggestions for a solution has to be awaited. We know well the stakes involved in resolving the Kashmir problem.
The Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister is quoted as having said that a Pakistan military leader told him that the Pakistan Army was no match to the Indian Army — the justification given by Pakistan why it needed nuclear weapons.
The US has reportedly told Pakistan that it needed to have a new security arrangement with India as a pre-condition for a civilian nuclear deal with Washington DC. Senator John Kerry, considered a foreign policy czar in the US, reportedly told this to Zardari in Islamabad in January 2010. Kerry has also reportedly advised Zardari to have a security arrangement with India in the interest of Pakistan’s own stability.
Another bit of interesting information is that General Kayani told a top American diplomat that the Pakistan Army wanted resumption of back channel talks with India but President Zardari was against it. General Kayani reportedly has the backing of General Pasha of the ISI in this regard. This thinking should be encouraged and eventually there may be talks with General Kayani himself since he is the most important man in Pakistan today. General Kayani and General Pasha may be encouraged to talk directly with Indian interlocutors, who may consist of the National Security Adviser and the Army Chief.
Now one can draw the conclusion that Pakistan would never give up supporting the terror groups like the LeT and would use them for creating problems for India, at least in Jammu and Kashmir.
The writer is a former Governor of UP and West Bengal.