The bomb blast on the suburban train in Mumbai on March 13, ten years and one day after the 1993 bombings in Mumbai, has again focussed attention on the shadowy war the two countries have been fighting for over two decades.
Pakistan, the initiator of this, feels it is a 'cheap' and no risk option to de-stabilise India, its long term goal since 1947. The war began in the 1980s when Pakistan exploited the short sighted politics of Indira Gandhi and the socio-economic problems in Punjab to launch the Sikh separatist movement. Later, emboldened by the success in Afghanistan, it began to meddle in Kashmir as well. The proxy terror network was then expanded to cover India from Coimbatore to Mumbai and Guwahati to Ahmedabad.
The rulers of Pakistan, more importantly its military rulers, find the clandestine operations an attractive option in the face of the massive Indian superiority in conventional forces. Like every action the reaction to this Pakistani game plan resulted in making Karachi a 'killing field' and heightened the Shia-Sunni cycle of violence.
Pakistan did achieve a degree of success in Kashmir when in sheer terror, 300,000 Hindus were forced to flee the Kashmir valley. But overall, the proxy war failed in its mission. Kashmir is still firmly in Indian control and the Punjab insurgency is dead. One lesson that all ought to have learnt from the Mukti Bahini campaign in erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) or the survival of Najibullah in Afghanistan for years after the Soviets left is that ultimately for a regime change there is no substitute to open intervention by the armed forces. The Americans are learning this lesson in Iraq and are therefore poised to invade and occupy Iraq.
Neither India nor Pakistan are such fragile States that terrorist bombings can effect major changes. The institutions of State and civic support is sufficiently strong to withstand these shocks. All that this continuing war has done is to inflict misery on countless innocent civilians in both countries and a slowdown of economic activity. Even after 23 years of its campaign neither is Pakistan anywhere near the goal of breaking India up nor has India been able to disintegrate Pakistan.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US has brought home another disturbing reality. The Frankenstein's monster of terrorism once created can turn on its creator. Criminal gangs and smugglers are the 'foot soldiers' of this war. Sooner than later they will begin to affect the society of the host State. Anarchy, gun culture and drugs that have come to dominate Pakistan are a direct outcome of its patronage of criminal gangs.
The adventurous course followed by the terror NGOs in attacking the Indian Parliament, Indian army soldiers' families or train passengers in Godhra led to the conflagration in Gujarat. The victims have been innocent Indian Muslims. If Pakistan claims to be the 'homeland' for the subcontinent's Muslims then this course has only heightened the miseries of Muslims.
If there has been no strategic gain, why does Pakistan continue with this option? The answer may well be that this is the only means by which the 'real' rulers of Pakistan, the army oligarchy, can control Pakistani purse strings and heart strings! What is claimed as the 'national interest' is actually the army's interest.
We live in dangerous times. With America fully engaged in Iraq and North Korea, unlike in December 2001, this time around it may not have the inclination or ability to pressure India to desist from a punitive action. In such a situation, even without the nuclear threat, the Pakistani army may well meet its Waterloo on Pakistani soil. A defeated army has very little chance to rule... Unlike Kargil, this time around it may be difficult to hide defeat from an enraged civil population.
Curbing cross border terrorism appears, on this logic, in the interest of the Pakistani army itself. But will a ruler with a 'company commander' mentality that equates tactical victory with a winning policy realise this? The future of peace in the subcontinent thus hinges on one man's understanding or lack of it! Such is the stuff history is made of.