Will a direct line between spy-masters help?
I can feel these days a tenuous consensus building among security experts in India and Pakistan for some kind of institutionalised interaction between intelligence agencies of the two countries. It all began with a rare meeting between Pak ISI chief Shuja Pasha and defense advisors in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
The discussions took place in the run-up to Dr Manmohan Singh’s talks with Yousaf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. It appeared from Pasha’s remarks that Rawalpindi— the real center of power in that country— was looking for a direct line with Indian Army and intelligence community.
Arguments supportive of the idea do not apply to India where the Army and intelligence organisations are accountable to the elected political leadership. But from the way power is covertly or overtly shared and exercised in Pakistan, it would be realistic to keep the Army and its intelligence arm, the ISI, in the loop on key Indo-Pak initiatives.
Such an approach will make them accountable for undelivered promises (in fighting terror and bringing perpetrators of Mumbai to book) by reducing scope for them playing spoilsport or putting the blame on elected regimes that have never had a table where the buck stops.
Pak agencies have been a law unto themselves since the days of Zia-ul-Haq. They have unlimited ability to rubbish peace plans or character assassinate peaceniks as anti-Pakistan. A politico or an activist so branded loses relevance or is all the time fighting the myth of being pro-India even if he’s of Benazir Bhutto’s stature of that of Khan Abdul Wali Khan.
These aberrations make New Delhi worry about the standing of the government or the leader with whom it’s engaging, with the Army. Pro-democracy activists claim that such doubts on India’s part weaken Pakistan’s quest for democracy and are an insult to the popular mandate. A case now in point is that of Asif Zardari. Earlier we had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (hanged for being popular) and Benazir and Nawaz Sharif, twice bundled out midway through their terms.
That makes perhaps a case for engagement between army and intelligence establishments. It might be easier said than achieved but even those experts who harbor deep distrust of Pakistan’s armed forces — that waged proxy wars against India to avenge Bangladesh— agree the common threat of terrorism offered the two sides the first real opportunity in 62 years for strategic cooperation.
Arguments against such an approach could be many. But it’s an option worth a try. Or so it seems. If the R&AW and the ISI do open a secret line, they wouldn’t be doing so for the first time. Their officials met in the past under Congress and BJP-led regimes.