A bruised history

Print edition : June 23, 2017

Masood Azhar, when he visited Islamabad's Melody Market in January 2000 after he was freed as part of a deal that ended the eight-day-long hijack of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 on December 31, 1999. Photo: REUTERS

Besides being an indictment of Pakistan, the book lays bare the severe setbacks India faced because of the failure of its intelligence agencies.

MYRA MACDONALD'S Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian Game is a rare account focussing primarily on some of the critical events that have shaped the current hostility between India and Pakistan. Using her reporting skills and hands-on experience in covering the region, the author has detailed the events with precision, providing a perspective on why the two bitter neighbours could not reach a point where they could live in peace.

The book is a censure for Pakistan and has a clear line of “sympathy” for India since all the important events that shook India, from the hijack of the Indian Airlines flight from Katmandu to Kandahar in 1999 to the terrorist attacks on Parliament House in 2001 and the Pathankot Air Force base in January 2016, have been executed by “Pakistan proxies” with the tacit support of some of the organs of the establishment in Islamabad.

The book is essentially a work of argumentation that pans out from 1998 to 2015. The intricate details the author has gathered through interviews with various people make it an account that holds the reader’s interest. For example, the author’s interviews with those who survived the hijacking of IC-814 to Kandahar and those who handled the crisis bring out the chinks in policymaking of the Government of India.

The Kandahar crisis was resolved at a “huge cost”, for India was forced to release three top militant leaders, Masood Azhar, Sheikh Omar Ahmed Saeed and Mushtaq Zargar, the head of pro-Pakistan al-Umar Mujahideen. Azhar later founded the Jaish-e-Muhammad, a potent militant group that was involved in the attack on Parliament House. The terrorists swapped for hostages proved to be valuable for those who “channelised” these “assets” in making India uncomfortable.

Among the turning points in the bruised history of the relations between India and Pakistan, the author has discussed the Kargil war of 1999, detailing how General Pervez Musharraf, who was its architect, turned a peacenik laying the framework for the “bonhomie” years of 2003 to 2007, although she intriguingly titles the chapter “Noble Lie”.

A brief chapter on the history of Kashmir adds to the context since it is this that has kept the two countries in war mode. The author strikes a balance in the chapter dealing with the 2001 terror attack and how Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri, was sent to the gallows. The perspectives in Kashmir on the case in terms of the “flaws” in the investigation and the way “justice” was delivered is brought out well.

“His death failed to dispel persistent doubts about irregularities in the case. Gaps in information about exactly what service he was providing to Indian security forces added to the murkiness. The gaps could have been due to the need to maintain security or a desire to cover up for incompetence or negligence, but nonetheless [they] went unexplained,” she writes. The build-up after the attack and how it made the international community restless is dealt with in detail.

Although it is difficult to dispute that the situation in the subcontinent and the relations between New Delhi and Islamabad took a turn for the worse after the mid 1990s, it cannot be denied that the hostility stems from Partition, and the way it has played out since Independence in 1947 has contributed enormously to the current crisis. The non-resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and New Del<FZ,1,1,23>hi’s perceived betrayal coupled with intransigence has played an important role in keeping the festering wound alive, thus keeping the space for non-state actors in tact.

Myra MacDonald explains how the nuclear capability of Pakistan in 1998 brought it on a par with its bigger neighbour. The author underlines the fact that the United States did not act although it was aware that Pakistan, its partner in the global war on terror, was part of the terror machinery against India. At the same time, she shows how extremism turned its face on Pakistan and pushed it into unprecedented crisis, which is yet to show any significant let-up.

The author believes that Pakistan’s ideological blindness and short-sighted strategies led to it “fighting a war it did not itself understand” and helping inflict the current scourge of Islamist terrorism on the wider world and on itself.

The book is a fascinating read although its pro-India slant is obvious.

Myra MacDonald makes it clear by saying: “India had no need to win a war against Pakistan—Pakistan was doing enough damage to itself to lose the competition with its bigger neighbour it had once hoped to win.”

Besides being an indictment of Pakistan, the book also lays bare the severe setbacks India has faced because of the failure of the intelligence agencies, both in the Research and Analysis Wing and in the Intelligence Bureau.

She has cited examples: “When Pakistan tried to trigger a revolt in the [Kashmir] Valley in 1965 by infiltrating its own men, it was unable to drum up enough local support and failed....To assert its authority on its side, India made a succession of deals with Sheikh Abdullah, and later with his son Farooq Abdullah, giving power to their National Conference party in exchange for cooperation with Delhi. Kashmir became ‘a constituent unit of the Union of India’ and the autonomy promised by Article 370 [of the Indian Constitution in 1952] was gradually watered down. The National Conference came to be seen as Delhi’s representative in Kashmir rather than Kashmir’s representative in Delhi. Then when an alliance of secular and Islamist parties banded together in the Muslim United Front (MUF) to challenge the party in 1987 State elections, the polls were widely seen as rigged in favour of the National Conference. After that, rumbling discontent slowly gathered steam until it became a full-blown separatist revolt [by 1989]. With no hope of having their grievances addressed through the democratic process, young men crossed the LoC to seek military training from Pakistan.”

This is a serious indictment of the agencies and New Delhi for the way in which they influenced the democratic exercise. About the nuclear tests, she writes: “In 1983, Pakistan carried out a ‘cold test’—exploding a nuclear-capable weapon without the fissionable core. It followed up with about two dozen cold tests over a number of years. By 1986 or 1987, Pakistan is believed to have weaponised its nuclear programme.”

Myra MacDonald also takes a dig at them vis a vis the Kargil operation, which became a major embarrassment for India. Similarly, she makes an interesting point vis a vis Masood Azhar and the determination of those who wanted to see him free.

The author writes: “After two attempts to free [Masood] Azhar (who was arrested in Kashmir in February 1994)—the kidnapping of Westerners in Delhi and Kashmir (in October 1994 and July 1995 respectively)—failed.... In June 1999, another (third) attempt was made to free him by digging a tunnel into the high-security jail where he was held.” They succeeded in the fourth attempt. In other words, it meant that if that too had failed, they would have made another attempt; the agencies were caught napping.

Banking on her experience as a journalist in South Asia and her determination to further explore the territory, Myra MacDonald has chronicled the important dates in the history of bilateral relations between the two countries in a fascinating manner. Although there are some lapses, which are not unlikely with any such account detailing the most complex relations in the world of diplomacy, the book has placed some critical happenings in perspective.

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