Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, April 30, 2010 – Days before the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India were to meet in Thimpu, the beautiful capital ofBhutan, media outlets in India were fed details of an Indian diplomat who had allegedly passed on privileged information to the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau (IB),the civilian counterpart of the ISI. Apparently, this had been going on for years, and one reason why it failed to come to the attention of the Research & Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat (the correct name of what is called “Raw”) may be that few within that organisation had bothered about the IB, concentrating their attention on the ISI. The Pakistan IB was seen as another version of India’s own Intelligence Bureau, whose primary function is to keep tabs on political opponents of the government in power, and to pass on juicy bits of information to them about the (often salacious) private life of those under watch, so as to get information that could checkmate the plans of political rivals. That such a capability is no laughing matter was proved during the just-concluded parliamentary debate on several Cut Motions tabled by the Left parties and the BJP. Had any of them got passed, the Manmohan Singh government would have had to quit. Not surprisingly, the government got the support of those political parties headed by individuals against whom criminal cases are pending and are under investigation by central agencies. Far better to please the government than to annoy it into accelerating the process of accountability.

By allegedly winning over Madhuri Gupta, a 52-year old woman officer of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), the Pakistan IB has scored a coup, embarrasing the clubby IFS. However, it is pointed out that Ms Gupta is not among the “First Caste” of the IFS (those directly recruited after passing a civil services examination that has changed little in form over a century) but comes from the “Second Caste”, those promoted to the IFS from outside that elite group of just six hundred. Ambassador-level postings are relatively much fewer for those in the Second Caste, who never gain access to the top job in sensitive missions such as those in Washington, Beijing or Islamabad. Often, they have to work as aides to their First Caste colleagues, watching as these overtake them in pay and rank, despite being much younger. The fact that career prospects differ for direct recruits to the IFS and for those conferred the IFS has long been a sore point among those doomed to serve out their careers in lower-level posts, because they did not come up through the Civil Service examinations. Madhuri Gupta would certainly have been resentful of her relatively slow promotion trajectory, though this by itself does not explain her apparent going over to the other side. Media reports speak of a gracious 56-year old Pakistan IB officer, Mudassar Rana, who apparently charmed the lady. However, all this is as yet media speculation.

What is certain is that Indian security agencies will no longer neglect the IB in their surveillance of the ISI. Fortunately, a definite maturity seems to have dawned in the media coverage given to the episode. In the past, there would have been hysterical reactions, and wall-to-wall coverage. However, despite the rarity of an IFS officer being accused of spying for a foreign country, the reaction has been muted. It is accepted that such episodes will take place between countries. Indeed, far more effectively than Pakistan, it is the US that has succeeded in wooing several top Indian officials over the years, including in the RAW. The lure of US citizenship and the advantages of life in that country (such as for the education of children) have lured many within even the armed forces into parting with more information than was permitted by their superiors. The security agencies in India are less paranoid about contacts with the US (including the many close friendships that have bloomed between Indians and Americans brought together in the line of duty), because of the fact that the US has in effect become an ally of India. Obviously, as yet Pakistan is in a different category, being bracketed as a potential foe. Hence contacts with those belonging to security agencies in Pakistan are viewed with much more attention than those with the overwhelming majority of countries. Assuming the vivacious Ms Gupta was indeed passing on privileged information to her friend in the Pakistan IB, how much damage could she have caused to core Indian interests? Most likely, much of the useful input would have been on the attitudes and reactions of the IFS fraternity towards relations with Pakistan. Private talk would have been a much better indicator of depth of intent than official statements. The IFS colleagues (including visitors) whom Ms Gupta would have accessed would have been very clued in to the swirling political and policy currents of New Delhi, where different lobbies compete with each other the way they do in the US. Perhaps it is information provided by her that led Prime Minister Gilani to say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not getting the backing of his party in attempting to make peace with Pakistan.

Certainly, Congress bigwigs are wary of the former bureaucrat’s lack of respect for political perceptions. For example, it is known that the PM was in favour of an agreement on Siachen, but was stopped from making such a gesture by others who were wary of the impact on public opinion of such a stance. As is the case on the other side, it is the anti-India lobby in Pakistan that is the best ally of the anti-Pakistan lobby in India. Each hard-line act in Islamabad dries up political support in Delhi for a conciliatory line, forcing Prime Minister Singh to adopt a hard-line position. While public opinion in India broadly welcomes better relations with Pakistan, there is substantial distrust of the intentions of the Pakistan army, which is regarded not only as seeking the secession of Kashmir but the very disintegration of India. Unlike the view in Pakistan, where the 1971 campaign was seen differently, in India, the prevailing view is that by releasing the 93,000 Pakistani POWs without putting any through a War Crimes trial, and by seeking to improve the position of Z A Bhutto (over the military) by making concessions at Shimla in 1972, India showed its good faith with Pakistan.

Because of the absence of any positive result of those concessions, the view has evolved that any concessions to the Pakistan army are a waste of time. It is regarded as a truism that the brass in India’s western neighbour will never cease its operations against India “until one of the two countries breaks up”. Unless there is a long period of stability in India-Pakistan relations, the preconditions for an overall settlement are unlikely to be met, no matter what the exertions of Hillary Clinton. The US Secretary of State is seen as a staunch ally of the Pakistan army, on whose behalf she is presumed to have enthusiastically supported the shedding of his powers by President Zardari. Her man Richard Holbrooke has been quietly seeking an Indian pullback in Afghanistan, but these days, almost nobody in India’s officialdom accepts his opinions, especially given his visceral distaste of India’s ally. President Hamid Karzai, who -like President Zardari – has been a victim of Hillary Clinton’s monochrome view of the region. It is unlikely that Second Secretary Madhuri Gupta would have gained access to any actionable intelligence on India’s policies in Afghanistan, for the reason that these have been firewalled so as to keep them secret even from the US. It has become clear that the Pentagon under Robert Gates is continuing the Buish-Cheney policy of going along with the ISI in Afghanistan, so that it is now a matter of time before the Taliban takes control of at least 40% of that country. In order to limit the militia’s reach, India will once again need to work in close concert with Iran and Russia, and already the preliminary moves towards such cooperation are being made.

Some in policy circles are even hopeful that this time around, China and Saudi Arabia will join hands with India in Afghanistan in backing President Karzai, rather than back elements of the Taliban. As for the US, that country is seen as war-weary and financially strapped, eager to find a face-saving exit policy. Once the US withdrawal takes place,” India needs to ensure that President Karzai does not end up a Najibullah”, a senior official told this columnist. “This time around, the Taliban needs to be contained and finally eliminated with the help of the Pashtuns led by Karzai”. Because of the involvement of the Taliban in acts of terrorism in India, this time around, Delhi will play a direct role in the coming joint battle against that militia, a battle that may pit Moscow, Tehran and Delhi against the Taliban in a post-US Afghanistan. Already, bridges that were in disrepair have been rebuilt with Iran,a country that – together with Turkey and Saudi Arabia – dominates the Middle East. The Pakistan IB deserves congratulations for its success in persuading a senior Indian diplomat to give it access to information. Hopefully, such input will help it come to the realisation that India and Pakistan need to become friends, and that both are reality that the other cannot wish away or avoid dealing with.By fending off advice from hardliners and meeting Prime Minister Gilani in Thimpu, Prime Minister Singh has shown that he believes that in time, not only Iran, Turkey and Sauidi Arabia but Pakistan as well will become an ally of India. Should that happen, the two militaries would jointly share with China the status of being the most effective armed force in Asia.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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