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India, US and Saudi Arabia: The 'new' great game!

June 27, 2012 15:42 IST

Does the deportation of 26/11 prime accused Abu Jundal/Abu Hamza/Zabiuddin Ansari by Saudi Arabia signal a tectonic shift in India's Middle-East policy? Colonel (retd) Anil Athale tries to explain.

Impact on terrorism

The arrest of Abu Jundal/Abu Hamza/Zabiuddin Ansari, a 26/11 participant of Indian origin; from Saudi Arabia on July 21 and arrest of another suspect (Fasih Mohammed) earlier is a major event in war against terrorism in India. The wide publicity this has received will have a salutary impact on would be terrorists in India. Bangladesh had cracked down on terrorists and other Gulf countries were already shut to them. With Saudi Arabia joining in, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (to some extent) remain the only havens for anti-India activities. The problems of Indian intelligence agencies are thus reduced considerably.

But to expect this to have any effect on Pakistan is living in fool's paradise. No amount of evidence given by India is going to force Pakistan to crack down on the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, since it is part and parcel of the Pakistan Army/Inter Services Intelligence combine. Indians are yet to learn that what we face is a 'proxy war' by Pakistan.

Wars are NOT fought on evidence and in court rooms but for national political objectives and Pakistan remains firmly wedded to their aim of breakup of India. There is a Marathi proverb, 'you can wake up a person who is sleeping but not one who is pretending to be asleep'. No amount of evidence is going to convince Pakistan that is in denial mode.

Even at the domestic level the arrest, sadly, will have negligible impact. Already the media has begun the exercise to explain if not justify Ansari turning to terrorism. The perennial 'Gujarat riots' of 2002 is being invoked. Soon busybodies and NGOs flush with funds from Middle-East will begin a campaign to sow doubts about Ansari's identity, the evidence and his confession. But it must be accepted that many more will be reluctant to take up the cause of terrorists now that Saudi Arabia -- the keeper of Mecca and Holy Land for Muslims, has turned against Indian terrorists.

This could have been a golden opportunity to mount an ideological campaign against domestic roots of terrorism, but considerations of 'vote bank' politics make it very unlikely. 'Terrorist mastermind', 'dreaded terrorist' are creations of sensationalising media. Terrorism is a product of twisted ideology, vast pool of unemployed poor and constant motivation by 'secularists' to fan grievances, real or imaginary. The ruling combine needs to keep stoking the fear factor in minorities and then pose as a saviour to reap a harvest of votes at election time (which is most of the time in India).

The principal opposition on the other hand has failed to have an inclusive vision of culture and civilization and has hardly done anything to ally the real or imaginary fears. With this scenario, sadly, India is likely to remain a playground of terrorists for a long time to come.

It is generally expected that intellectuals of the country to play a major role in such conflict to dispassionately diagnose the problem and provide solution. In case of India however, a large swathes of population including the thinkers suffer from a historical 'Stockholm Syndrome'. For the uninitiated, this is a state in which an individual or society begins to have an emotional attraction for its tormentors.

After their release in the infamous IC 814 Kandahar hijacking incident, many captives 'praised' the politeness of the hijackers! In our own morbid way we have turned Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of non-violent agitation against the British into a principal of national policy. We as nation conveniently forget that the non-violence tactic worked against the British -- a civilised and humane nation. The same Gandhi did not oppose use of military force in Kashmir in October 1947. The non-violent methods failed against obdurate Portuguese in Goa and Jawaharlal Nehru (Gandhi's disciple) used military force to liberate it. Six million non-violent Jews were sent to the gas chambers by Adolf Hitler. Non-violence will not work against Hitlers, Chengis Khans and Pakistanis of this world.

Gandhi opposed the Biblical 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth' with a question that will that not turn the whole world toothless and blind. The counter is that if only one is to follow Gandhi while the rest of the world continues to have 'tit for tat' then only the non-violent will be both blind and toothless! In the real world one sided non-violence will always be disastrous not unlike one sided love that results in acid attacks.

Acts of terrorism are planned abroad and supported by enemy country's full resources. We in India want to apply common civil law to these complicated crimes. 'Incredible India' is the only country in the world that has no special law to deal with terrorist violence. We are destined to continue to suffer as citizens, capture of one Zabiuddin is not going to change that reality.

The rationale behind the Saudi change of heart!

In international relations things do not happen accidentally, there is always a larger design and picture behind these events. But even more important than this co-operation in nabbing a terrorist, this event underlines the growing close relations between India and Saudi Arabia. This is a direct result of India toeing the American line on Iran. The Saudis have made no secret of the fact that they see Iran and its nuclearisation as a direct threat. With India cutting down on oil imports from Iran and importing oil from Saudi Arabia, we have signaled our intentions. Handing over Indian terrorists sheltered in Saudi Arabia is their way to say thank you. Obviously this creates complications for Pakistan.

Saudi-Pakistan relations have been extremely close and most analysts accept that Pakistan nukes would be available to Saudi Arabia against Iran. That Saudi Arabia has chosen to annoy its principal hedge against Iran nukes is an event of very significant importance. Why has Saudi Arabia seemingly lost confidence in Pakistani nukes? Have Americans managed to neutralise them? Is this a prelude to de-fanging of Pak nuke teeth? All this is in nature of speculation but of great importance for India and its security planners.

By itself this coming close of India and Saudi Arabia and more importantly Saudi Arabia distancing itself from Pakistan terror project in India is an event of tectonic proportions. More so when seen in the light of some other events taking place in our neighbourhood. Sample this,

President Vladimir Putin is visiting Pakistan on September 26 this year. The first ever such visit by a Russian President. Last year Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited Russia, first such visit in 37 years.

China has moved its frontline Sukhoi aircraft to the Lhasa airfield.

The two events are in a sense linked to India and US getting closer. The moves by Russia, China and Saudi Arabia are a direct consequence of the Indo-US quasi alliance taking shape. It is worth speculating that the contours of this relationship were made explicit when Indian PM Manmohan Singh staked the survival of his government for the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008. The understanding reached then has been further carried forward by the two countries and Russian and Chinese actions are a reaction to this major move by India.

The Indo-US partnership has made Pakistani position of seeking parity with India untenable. But unable to wean itself away from the addiction to American economic and military aid, Pakistan has limited options. One of them is to bring the pot on the boil in Kashmir.

In the coming months we must expect Pakistan-sponsored violence to increase in Kashmir. A major strike against the Amarnath yatra (the Hindu pilgrimage) in which lakhs of people gather presents one such opportunity. A major strike against the pilgrims can have a terrible echo in the rest of the country.

This author had mentioned earlier that in this difficult hour for Pakistan, its 'all weather' friend China will come to its rescue. This may well take the shape of a border skirmish against India. It would also be an appropriate way to remind India, 50 years after the disaster of 1962, that China has the capability of 'teaching a lesson' to India. China can then bank on the peacenik lobby in India to put the blame on Indo-US closeness for this.

All in all, we are in for 'interesting' time as the Chinese say. One only hopes that Indian policy makers are aware of the possible Chinese reaction and Pakistani designs in Kashmir. May be the Americans, aware of this have already strengthened Indian defence capability so that the lesson would be learnt by the Chinese (like they did in case of Vietnam in 1979)!

But it is reasonable to predict that major changes in inter-relationships in Asia are in the offing.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale