Agni-I and an arms race
Pakistan’s deterrence driven security spectrum mandates a minimum tit-for-tat, at least, with regard to India’s arms buildup. This compulsion has led to numerous Agni-Shaheen and Prithvi-Ghauri tests. And it was for this reason that Pakistan chose to be ‘sanctioned to the eyeballs’ instead of ‘exercising restraint’ – as the Clinton Administration put it then – and went ahead with the nuclear tests in ’98. Fine time, therefore, for the Indians to test fire Agni-I; the latest in their nuclear powered intermediate range ballistic missile series, capable of carrying nuclear as well as conventional loads up to 1,000kms.
The Modi government has been unpredictable at best about Pakistan. First it clearly distanced itself from a genuine peace offer from Islamabad. Then it went out of its way, especially in Dhaka, to strain the already delicate relationship. But then, when everybody had written off any meaningful progress in the present cycle, Modi came to Lahore and green-lighted the dialogue once again. Foreign secretary talks, which had finally been put in the cold storage, were also back on the table. And, incredibly, Delhi kept a level head after Pathankot, extracting unprecedented cooperation from Islamabad in the process.
Now, the Agni test can once again put a spanner in the works. As always, given the established security calculus, Pakistan is obligated to respond in kind. And once again time, resources and energy will be directed towards non-constructive avenues. It must be noted that Pakistan’s arms escalation is and has been reactionary in nature. India, on the other hand, has a far more aggressive and expansionist security posture. Given this divergence, it would be helpful if the two countries put fueling their hardware to a later date. It is necessary to reach a modicum of understanding on the way forward before indulging in more senseless arms races. The Indians have helped calm the waters recently. They must not undo their own, and our, efforts.
The task ahead
And what the government needs to do
The military offensive in NWA is about to conclude. Equally challenging will be the task now to rebuild the Agency, rehabilitate the population, compensate those affected and set up an effective civilian administration. The task is going to test the mettle of the civilian government which is required to provide the funds, look after the rebuilding of infrastructure, and create the needed institutions. Failure to perform the arduous task is no option as it would again lead to the resurgence of terrorism thus nullifying the sacrifices rendered by the armed forces and tribesmen.
The TTP and its several affiliates have lost their command and control centre in NWA. While they have suffered a serious setback, they have not been eliminated. Their leadership is now mostly operating from neighbouring Afghanistan. What is more, they still have sleeper cells in the urban areas. While the incidence of high profile terrorist attacks has come down, they continue to take place nevertheless. There is an urgent need for complementary operations on both sides of the Durand Line. Equally important is to intensify the intelligence based operations (IBOs). There are hurdles in the way of the fulfillment of both these tasks.
Flush with victories in Afghanistan the Taliban are reportedly unwilling to listen to Islamabad’s advice to hold talks with Kabul. They are instead pouring back into Afghanistan for a fierce spring offensive. In case Islamabad fails to fulfill the promise made by Sartaj Aziz, it might not get cooperation from Kabul needed to take out the TTP leaders operating from the Afghan soil. Thus sporadic attacks on security personnel and government employees might continue to take place in Mohmand and South Waziristan Agencies. There will also be attempts to destabilise NWA. To make IBOs really effective there is a need for the military and civilian security agencies to act in tandem. The NACTA which is supposed to bring about the coordination is not yet operative. Immersed as it is in day-to-day matters, will the government be able to focus on these crucial matters?