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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why I Applaud Modi’s Decision to Allow a Pakistan Investigating Team on Indian Soil

The Pakistani team with NIA officers at the agency headquarters in Delhi, Monday. (Indian Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Winston Churchill 

The Indian government just allowed a Joint Investigative Team (JIT) from Pakistan “unfettered” access to the Pathankot crime scene, a terrorist attack allegedly orchestrated by rogue elements within the Pakistani government (Source: Indian Express article). On the surface this would seem counter-intuitive or as someone on Twitter put it, “it’s like inviting a murderer to investigate the crime scene.” 

I expect this will be the reaction from the vast majority of the Indian media and public, most believing that Modi has made a mistake. The opposition parties have already painted the Prime Minister as spineless (the BJP would have done the same if the roles were reversed) and Modi’s own base has been eerily silent, which means they too are critical and see it as a sign of weakness.

However, I support Modi’s decision and believe it is not only the right thing to do, but also a brilliant tactical manoeuvre for both India and Pakistan’s civilian government.  I think a brief history of Pakistan-India relations is relevant here.

First, anyone familiar with Pakistani politics knows that the elected civilian government and Prime Minister have little control or decision-making power. The army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) control virtually every aspect of Pakistan’s economy and national defense.

Additionally, it is an open secret that there are elements within the ISI who have long been playing a double game (originally with the blessing and help of the CIA), using terrorist groups to maintain their foothold in Afghanistan and to fight a proxy war with India, over Kashmir.

That there is a powerful group within Pakistan who does not want peace is clear, but there are also vested interests on the Indian side who want to maintain the current status quo, because any peace agreement will require a discussion on the future of Kashmir.

So it is not surprising that peace talks get undermined by conveniently timed ‘unacceptable events’ (like the release of Hafiz Saeed from detention) or an attack on Indian soil. All happen around the time talks are scheduled, giving both sides an easy out. On our side the Prime Minister is painted as weak if he tries to engage in talks without ridiculous pre-conditions that any rational person knows no Pakistani civilian government has the authority to grant or agree to.

So here is why I applaud Modi’s decision to permit a joint investigation, for the first time in our history.

First, if Nawaz Sharif is serious about making headway with peace talks, which means shutting down terror groups that operate with impunity inside Pakistan’s borders, his hands are tied in terms of what he can do. This grand gesture by Modi provides Sharif with the external impetus to apply internal pressure, and pursue a public and high profile investigation that must now have teeth or risk facing international embarrassment. I also believe there are others within the army, ISI and government who share Sharif’s views.

The execution of a bodyguard, who murdered Salmaan Taseer, a secular, liberal governor who campaigned to change Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was the first signal to me of a major turning point (Source: NY Times article). The bodyguard had become something of a celebrity in jihadist circles and even has a mosque dedicated to him. So while they will never admit it publicly, I believe the Pakistani establishment now seems serious about taking on the cancer they created. Perhaps, it is out of necessity; they see people growing wary of government inaction against radical Islamist ideology and bombing after bombing that targets innocent women and children.

Secondly, in doing this, Modi has sent a strong and clear signal to the United States and the United Nations that India is willing to co-operate without pre-conditions in a joint terrorism investigation. The ball now falls squarely in Pakistan’s court to prove that they too are serious about rooting out home grown jihadism and joining the world in this fight. If Pakistan fails to deliver after publicly being handed the terrorist’s DNA, family details and unfettered access to the crime scene, then India still comes out on top. This also strengthens India’s hand for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council by showing that they can act responsibly, putting global security ahead of the government’s own narrow political self-interest.

Finally, I have always believed that to resolve conflict and make real progress, somebody needs to take the higher ground and stop posturing. This usually means one party agreeing to do something in good faith, even before the other party has done anything in return. Of course it is also always difficult for the party seen to acquiesce. It therefore takes courage and means ignoring popularity ratings, sentiments of the electorate and even the advice of your own national security advisors, as I am sure Modi did in this case.

Sure, it is a gamble and nothing might come of it, but for all the reasons I have outlined, it is worth doing in order to break the status quo, and to try to make some meaningful progress. There can be no prosperity without peace on our borders.

The world is a more dangerous place today because most governments talk the talk, but rarely take actions that will make them unpopular with their electorates or make their leadership look ‘weak’ – even if they know it is the right thing to do. For this reason, we should all applaud our Prime Minister’s decision on this matter.


  1. Nikhil, Your comments are always unusually incisive and informative. We read you with great interest.

  2. Wow, sounds like progress...let's hope. Peace to us all!