No sailing against the wind

No good deed goes unpunished," journalist and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce once famously declared. In a related context, one could say, "Every whistleblower eventually gets his just desserts." In India we receive ample evidence, on a daily basis, to corroborate this unconventional wisdom, but it seems equally valid even in a notionally open and law-abiding society like the US.

Take the strange case of Richard Barlow, a brilliant CIA analyst and counter-proliferation expert. As Barlow painstakingly pieced together the byzantine contours of Pakistan's covert nuclear weapons programme during the late '80s, he was alarmed enough to energetically seek opportunities to expose them; including at crucial congressional hearings.

Barlow did not realise, till it was too late, that he was being naive and that it was dangerous to sail against the wind in Washington. For acting as whistle-blower about the administration's false assurances to Congress over Pakistan's nuclear programme, he was hounded out of the CIA. After two decades of persecution and harassment, he was finally vindicated; but his marriage was destroyed, and pension denied, Barlow now lives in penury.

At least five successive US presidents, Republican and Democratic, turned a blind eye to reliable intelligence that Pakistan was not only acquiring forbidden nuclear weapon material and technology, but also selling it to the putative "Axis of Evil": Iran, Libya and North Korea. Each president incorrectly certified to Congress that Pakistan did not possess the "bomb", conveniently omitting to mention that it had all the components of a nuclear weapon in place.

Against this backdrop, there is an all-round sense of deja vu about the recent WikiLeaks expose of classified US army war logs. While the American public focus is currently on allegations of brutality, and revelations regarding civilian casualties and collateral damage during Afghan operations, there is much in these leaks for them to learn about their nation's "indispensable" ally, Pakistan.

The reports reconfirm what India has been shouting from the roof-tops, and what the US has studiously ignored for years. That the Pakistan army's duplicitous conduct and the ISI's Machiavellian endeavours to betray American interests have been consistently rewarded by US largesse in arms that are irrelevant to counter-insurgency.

The reports reveal that ISI representatives regularly meet with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organise networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and hatch plots to attack Indian aid personnel and assassinate Afghan leaders. Former ISI chief Hamid Gul has been named as a go-between for the agency and the Taliban, and reported as regularly meeting Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders to order suicide attacks.

Perhaps the Americans are right in ignoring India's advice and warnings. After all, we ourselves have consistently underestimated the Pakistan army's ability to manipulate events and policies; or External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna would not have stumbled into the ambush laid for him by the wily former ISI boss, and current army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.

The general, who promptly rewarded himself with an extension of service, has been instrumental in perpetuating two completely self-serving myths. First, that India has not reconciled to Partition, and continues to pose an "existential threat" to Pakistan. And second, that Afghanistan must remain firmly in Pakistan's sphere of influence because of the mystical "strategic depth" it provides.

Paradoxically it seems that, at one level, the Pakistan military is capable of immense cunning, guile and foresight; the ISI plans as much as 10-15 years ahead, and meticulously hatches plots for subversion, sabotage and economic warfare in the neighbourhood. On a different plane, the Pakistan army's operational planning in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 were lacklustre, and appeared to be guided more by the wishful thinking of its mediocre military leadership, and the "hope-like-hell" factor, than by professional staff-work.

A common refrain that runs right through the history of Indo-Pak conflicts is the Pakistan army's underestimation of India's responses to their blatant transgressions, and overestimation of international sympathy for their own actions. This flawed logic is incomprehensible to Indians who have seen periodic replays of Pakistani aggression with consistently disastrous consequences for that nation.

With India's economy buoyant and military strength growing steadily, one wonders why Pakistan persists in its endeavours to change the status quo in the subcontinent when it clearly has inadequate tools with which to accomplish this daunting task. Many of the fundamentalist outfits created by the ISI during and after the Afghan war have now turned on the Pakistani state itself. Ethnic fissures are showing up, and a bitter internecine conflict could rend Pakistan. Under these circumstances, it is time the Pakistan army stopped using Kashmir as an emotional and military rallying point for Pakistanis, and accepted a subaltern role commensurate with the country's size, population and economic strength. Only then might this troubled subcontinent see some peace and stability.

But first, the US must be persuaded to shed its blinkers.

The writer, a former Chief of the Naval Staff, is currently Chairman of the National Maritime Foundation

express@expressindia.com

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