31 August 2009

The NSA on Pakistan, Sharm el-Sheikh and terrorism

On Saturday, I interviewed National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan on a wide range of issues but primarily India's Pakistan policy in the wake of the November 26-29, 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai and the July 16, 2009 Sharm el-Sheikh summit between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan...

31 August 2009
The Hindu
[In the print edition, this story was carried in two parts. The url for Part 2 is here]

Hafiz Saeed not ‘litmus test’ but Pakistan action important: NSA
‘Sharm el-Sheikh was neither a step forward nor backward’

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: In his first substantive comments on relations with Pakistan since the July 16 Sharm el-Sheikh summit, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan said that averting another major Mumbai-like incident was the government’s top priority and that unless Islamabad took “real action” against those involved in terrorism, the progress it had reported so far in the Mumbai case would amount to “a chimera.”

In an interview to The Hindu on Saturday, he painted a picture of official frustration at Pakistan’s unwillingness to act against the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad despite the fact that there was concrete information about these groups re-establishing training camps. “In places like Manshera and Muzzafarbad, enlargement of what I would call training camps is going on… Their capabilities are increasing and we see the threat, and the threat is not to Kashmir but to some of the hinterland areas. That is our concern. That is what [our] agencies are concentrating on.”

As for LeT chief Hafiz Saeed, India had provided information about his involvement in the Mumbai attacks. “I wouldn’t like to use a strong term like ‘litmus test.’ But it’s important … If an incident of this nature has taken place and if [Pakistan] is saying ‘Yes, we are willing to go the extra mile to help you,’ if [they] don’t take action in an instance of this kind, then what can [we] expect?” One of the terrorists, ‘Kasab,’ had provided information about Saeed’s role, Mr. Narayanan said, adding that if Pakistan was now going to say, ‘Give us enough evidence that in a final court of law a thing of this kind can stand,’ then “there is nothing that you can really do in these matters.”

Mr. Narayanan said that establishing the facts about the Mumbai attacks was important in order to tell the world about the kind of threat Pakistan posed, but avoiding another major attack was vital from the domestic point of view. “I think the basic question for us is, will they do something to prevent another incident? The Prime Minister has made it clear that there are enough items in the pipeline that cause concern. Now, they should do something on that. And since there is no [international] pressure exerted on them on that, I don’t know whether they will be [willing]. We have not seen any evidence of that. So we presume nothing is happening.”

Seeking to draw a line under the controversy surrounding last month’s meeting between Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan on Saturday replied in the negative when asked whether the Sharm el-Sheikh summit between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan had been a step forward. “But,” he hastened to add, “it certainly wasn’t a step backward.”

The inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement had made many critics see red but Mr. Narayanan was categorical that it made no difference to India’s position. Asked whether there were any scenarios where he felt India might regret the B-word, the NSA said no. “Frankly, we don’t see the reference to Balochistan as something culpatory, that there is something we are doing.” Mr. Gilani brought up the subject and this was mentioned in the statement. “Now whether we should have put out a complete rebuttal in the joint statement — well, it is a joint statement and it becomes difficult sometimes to put all these things down.”

Asked whether he would rather the reference wasn’t there, the NSA replied: “I don’t think it makes much of a difference. Well, if it was not there, probably somebody could not even mention it ... But they mention it all the time anyway.” Pakistani leaders keep telling all the foreign dignitaries they meet that India is involved in Balochistan, he said. “They’ve made it a point to say our consulates in Afghanistan are involved in Balochistan and Waziristan. So it’s not as if they haven’t been saying these things.” India, he said, is very clear. “We are not involved in Balochistan. Not because of anything else, but because it just doesn’t make sense … to do the kind of thing that the Pakistanis accuse us of — putting a few bombs here, bursting something else. So somebody can always use it, to say, ‘Oh, there is some reference to Balochistan.’ But so what”? Mr. Narayanan added that “most of the western intelligence agencies who have the capabilities know we are not involved there.”

The NSA attributed the progress Pakistan had made so far in investigating the Mumbai case to American pressure. Asked if he’d expected Islamabad to do as much as it had, he said, “We didn’t. But we knew that if the Americans leaned on them, they would. And, therefore, most of our effort at the high level, at least from my side … was primarily to get them to lean on the Pakistanis.” India knew that whatever it said or did, the Pakistanis would do little. “I think the Americans certainly helped a lot… Since their nationals were also killed, [we told them] this was as much an attack on you as it is on us.” Thanks to the FBI and CIA, he said, “the Pakistanis were more forthcoming in accepting some of the basics.” But he said he did not expect them to go any further on the investigative front. “They’ve done just enough to take the heat off them from the West. I think that’s where we are.”

Acknowledging that sections of the Pakistani establishment had begun recognising the threat terrorism posed to Pakistan itself, Mr. Narayanan expressed concern about the fact that only the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its allied groups were being seen as a problem across the border and not the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. “Of course, we don’t what Pakistan to become a fundamentalist state — but what is our primary interest? That we do not want another group to come out of Pakistan and attack us. And that will come from the Lashkar, Jaish and so on. And nothing has happened. We’ve seen no evidence of any of that. And if the information that is coming our way is any index, there’s been little let up on this. Of course, some sections [of the Pakistani establishment] will be concerned about the growth of fundamentalism and extremism, but this is not translating into taking action against what I would call the ‘Punjab group’ which is basically attacking us.”

Pakistan was approaching the threat posed by terrorist groups from a “purely military standpoint,” the NSA said. “And the military takes them item by item. ‘Which is the group that is our main enemy now? The main enemy is the TTP and those groups involved in Swat, Waziristan, FATA etc. This other group is not causing us trouble. There is no evidence of any LeT attack [against us]’. Of course, umbilical connections between all these groups are emerging. In a more orderly society, I think they would say, let’s nip it in the bud before it becomes a problem in the Punjab, which is the real heartland of Pakistan. But we’ve seen no evidence of this. I can’t say whether they are thinking about this. We can only go by actions.”

The NSA was dismissive of Pakistan’s latest request for India to provide information about the terrorist threats the Prime Minister spoke about recently. Laughing, he said, “It’s kind of like telling the robber where the jewels are, literally, I mean, if you tell them how we come by this information, what the source is!”

He said that at this time “it is very difficult to engage in this.” India’s principal aim was “not to assuage Pakistan’s concerns” but to ensure something does not take place on its soil. The joint anti-terror mechanism had been a “leap of faith” on the part of the Prime Minister but it collapsed soon after it was set up. Mr. Narayanan said not all intelligence came from “deep penetration sources.” A lot of information about terror threats came from electronic intercepts by India, the U.S., Britain and others. “Now, to say the Pakistanis alone have never been able to intercept anything of this kind and something has [to be shared], you see, it puts a big question mark on the bona fides to say, please share it with us. Now whatever we have shared in the past, nothing has happened.”

Reminded about the Sharm el-Sheikh statement’s reference to sharing real time, credible information about threats, Mr. Narayanan said India “will provide real time information but it is part of an intent.” If relations improved and India saw Pakistan taking action against the LeT and JeM, it could pass on information. But in any case, the expectation from the joint statement is that each country would inform the other about threats emanating from its territory, the NSA clarified. “If something is happening on their soil, who should be having that information? It’s that country’s intelligence agencies who should be monitoring this and passing on the information to us. And if we have information about something going to take place in Pakistan, we should be sharing it with them. That is what is real time [sharing]. For India to tell Pakistan, ‘We believe someone is going to attack us,’ is really not the intention. They are supposed to pass on to us real time intelligence, that ‘We understand something of this kind is going to happen, please take precautions, please take necessary care’.”

1 comment:

I, Me, Myself ! said...

So basically, we are just playing around with words. NSA laughs off at the suggestion that we need to corroborate our accusations, because then we will be telling them how we got the information. How then would we share "real time intelligence". And when you ask him about this, he goes about on a lecture just playing around with words.

- Sudhir