Managing India’s image in Af-Pak - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 8 March 2010

Managing India’s image in Af-Pak

India's ambassador to Kabul, Jayant Prasad, with Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, after a car bomb attack on the Indian embassy on 8th Oct 09.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th March 2010

The gunning down on 26th February of Indian workers in Kabul, followed by the stoppage of work by Indian doctors at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, is a tragic step towards what this column has long predicted: that, as the Taliban inexorably extends its influence, India will thin out in Afghanistan; and pull-out entirely when a Taliban takeover appears imminent (Planning for doomsday, 15th July 2008; and The Indian ant in the Afghan flood, 6th Oct 2009).

Assessing whether it was already time to scale down was part of the mandate of National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, during his weekend visit to Kabul. Despite Menon’s brave words about not cowing before terror, New Delhi understands that its public has little appetite for receiving body bags from Kabul. Unable to send in troops to protect its aid workers; India’s options are narrowing.

What will remain after India’s inevitable departure from Afghanistan is an enormous fund of goodwill generated by our billion-dollar aid-driven engagement since 2001. Projecting soft power rather than hard has been a wise and far-thinking strategy. Pakistan’s geographical proximity to Afghanistan; its cultural and religious affinity; and its self-destructive wielding of the instruments of radicalisation, all mean that Islamabad can out-kill anyone in Afghanistan. Most Afghans, including the Pashtuns, distrust and resent Pakistan; but the power to kill and to coerce looms larger in the short term than the power to feed, to teach and to enrich.

But from a longer-term perspective, India will retain enormous influence within Afghanistan, a dormant clout that will survive the power fluctuations that characterise that country. When the environment changes, that influence will flower again.

Inexplicably, the Ministry of External Affairs, the creator of India’s far-sighted and pragmatic Afghanistan strategy, sheds this sophistication while dealing with our more immediate problem, Pakistan. The Indian public is entitled to fulminate about Pakistan’s self-destructive support to cross-border militancy and terrorism. But Indian policymakers, while reflecting public anger, must also have a cooler plan. Instead, while correctly visualising Afghanistan as a patchwork of competing constituencies, the MEA addresses Pakistan as a wall-to-wall bad guy. New Delhi talks to Islamabad, but India remains disengaged from the real Pakistan.

So which Pakistani constituency should India address? The United States, with its penchant for immediate fixes, has invariably chosen to talk to the Pakistan Army. But there is a structural reason why India cannot follow this path: the most fundamental institutional interests of “the khakis”, as Pakistan’s liberal fringe calls the army, has traditionally lain in holding up India as an adversary. The India bogey guarantees status, funding, housing and the freedom to run the country.

Today, India is especially vital as the spectre that will extricate the Pakistan Army from messy counter-insurgency operations in its tribal areas. So crucial is the Indian bogeyman that Kashmir is now getting a back-up for keeping the animosity bubbling. India’s perfidy in water sharing is being dragged centre-stage, most recently by Lashkar-e-Toiba chieftain, Hafiz Saeed, that old and trusted servant of the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Without a trace of irony, he calls it “water terrorism”.

If the khakis are ruled out as interlocutors, what about the candle-lighters: Pakistan’s liberal fringe, an ineffectual ménage of rights activists, academics, authors poets and members of the English media. Pleasant individuals for the most part, they have served Pakistan well by masking a deeply regressive society with a patina of western-style modernity. But they have notably failed in bringing change to Pakistan and, because so few are listening to them, are granted their little space in society.

That leaves the Pakistan proletariat, small-town residents and rural peasants, most of who are inimical to India because of the educational, social and political environment that they live in. Their religious environment is even more worrisome, with an increasingly radical clergy preaching the message of global jehad. At first look, this might appear a wasted cause for India; but deeper thought indicates that this is the audience to be addressed.

Admittedly, shaping opinion amongst the Pakistani masses will not yield results in the immediate and directly political way that shaping opinion in India does. In that under-developed democracy, security policy is only weakly linked with public perception. But, just as in Afghanistan, where India has nurtured roots that will survive a brushfire, a carefully targeted perception campaign can temper rural Pakistan’s reflexive anti-Indianism. The most potent weapon in this endeavour is information.

I remember listening, on radio monitoring networks in J&K, to conversations amongst radicalised and indoctrinated jehadis who had just infiltrated across the Line of Control. They had been told in Pakistan that every mosque in J&K had been burnt and that the Indian Army carried off any woman they fancied; all this is uncontested truth in the villages of Pakistani Punjab. It is a reality that India needs to challenge with information.

Such a campaign cannot be mounted by the MEA, which focuses excessively on scoring diplomatic points with Pakistan. Nor can it be an intelligence-led operation, which will quickly lose credibility. What is needed is a multi-disciplinary effort that carefully nuances the message and obtains the means of delivery, perhaps a special organisation under the Ministry of Culture. India needs to think carefully about spreading its message within Pakistan.


  1. Someone in Pakistan has kindly taken the trouble to write a paragraph-by-paragraph rejoinder to this article. It can be viewed at

  2. Dear Ajai - ji.
    Who is this pakistani who's taken the trouble to reply to your article. His post in the forum suggests that he is based in Washington DC.

    Any one we know?

    He comes across as a dimwit, blindly pro-establishment in pakistan.

  3. Interesting line of thought..well worth looking into.

    But I read with great amusement the self-delusional 'rejoinder' to your article.

    Which brings around a primary point about Pakistan - they hate us. The Pakistani national identity is simply 'Not India'.

    I look forward to the day when we can crush the pathetic nation off the face of the world. We would be doing mankind a huge favour.

  4. Why do we even talk to these clowns?

    We are happy with the status quo!

    How many of us can these cowards kill ?

    There is a billion of us.

    I like your articles Mr.Shukla but do we really need a compromise ? Keep the status quo and Pakistan will wither away...

  5. Ajai sir

    who the hell is this chap, and howcome newspaper like Dawn which boast of it neutrality, allow some one to post such derogatory statements.

    I think this can happen only with India. Articles defaming India are posted in newspapers across Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan; what does India do, it neither issues a rebuttle but if any newspaper or TV channel reports something like that, they are issued notices to tone down their articles/materials.

    Its time we go on a offensive drive. what do you say

  6. Dear Jumbo,
    If your child dies tomorrow in a terrorist action, I don't think you will make that statement about how many these cowards can kill.

    Each life is precious but we need to be seen as strong. This does not come out in any interaction India has with anyone...

  7. Soft power and all is fine, but why retreat from Afghanistan? Can Delhi make the Afghan government a nuclear weapons power to keep it safe from Pakistan? About time to start building a nuclear reactor and to train some Afghan scientists in the trade.

  8. Dear Sir,

    Very well thought out - However do you think it will not be easy for the ISI to take control of the situation for good in Afghanistan with the Taliban coming onto the negotiation tables - Further president Obama has shown all the signs in favour of Pakistan and against India.

    The US administration is only looking at India for the huge market in Defense, Civilian Nuclear and Infrastructure.

    Don't you think that we should send a strong message to the United States to mend its line else it risks losing a great deal of money in India over the next 5 years. For starters we can reject their Jets in the MRCA to send a signal to them to get in line with us on the Af-Pak strategy and give India a greater role.

    Similarly can we not cap our imports from them at the same levels as we export to them, as for now they are clearly gaining from the newly forged ties. Can we not get an equation with the United States which holds good for us at least on the Af-Pak strategy as we are one of major stakeholders there (of course US and Britain being the biggest) and given the stead to Pakistan it surely will use it against us.

    Your thoughts on this will be highly appreciated.

    Rest to everyone - I dont think we need to worry about what this "Moron or staggering brain proportions" from Pakistan wrote on Dawn as they will always come out chest thumping even when they have been been put 6 feet under.


  9. I think it needs to be clarified that this is not from Dawn newspaper. The article is from a website, run mainly by US-based Pakistanis, who have dedicated themselves to protecting Pakistan from internal threats like Ayesha Siddiqua and Pervez Hoodbhoy and external threats like Broadsword!

  10. The Pakis view in the Dawn article re-emphasizes and highlights the ever repeating Pakistan's penchant for,mistaking tactical gains as long term one's and strategic oversight and overreach.

    Whatever Pakistan has done in Afghanistan has been on the shoulders of others.Be it the Saudi money , US aid or deep line of credit from the Chinese.

    Pakistan economy is in ruins and its depends on IMF loans to avoid default in payments.

    The only way Pak finances its operations is from outside finance,drug money and stolen money from US aid.

    Pakistan relies on a geo-political position of chaos that it tries to pass of as diplomacy.

    Pakistan scares others,particularly the west,that you better support us with money and arms.
    Since bad as the Pak army or ISI is made out to be , the loony talibany guys taking over will be more crazy and unpredictable that Pakistan ever can be.

    Give us the wherewithal and Pakistan will control Taliban!!!!

    Fat chance,from a country that staggers from along,with army dictators ruling the roost.

    Democracy comes and goes in brief episodes!!

    Pakistan,tends to forget how much its depends on outside powers and circumstances.
    The power and Money of others is seen as Pakistani power!!!
    No wonder this nation is destined only to be a political football.Lurching between masters the USA or China or the saudis or ALL at once too!!!

  11. A very nuanced post Ajai. But I am not sure whether Pakistani civil society (and I use the term loosely) is amenable to viewing India in any other light other than what has been propogated by the establishment there since Gen. Zia's time. It will take an incredible amount of effort to convert into reality, the vision set out in your post . And lets not forget that a large part of the Indian poulace also harbours quite extreme views about Pakistan - which at times merges (unfortunately) into hatred of Islam. Nevertheless, the idea is worth putting into motion.

  12. Attractive stroke of thinking, fine merit looking into. Except I study with vast delight the self-delusional answer to your article.
    Indian Authors

  13. Ajai sir

    Can we do something about this:

    Articles defaming India are posted in newspapers across Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan; what does India do, it neither issues a rebuttle but if any Indian newspaper or TV channel reports something like that, they are issued notices to tone down their articles/materials. case in point(daily 30 min program on aajtak on 'China string of Pearls' stopped suddenly after directive from center)

    Its time we go on a offensive drive. what do you think

    Also you possibly know journalist friends in Pak, cant you prick the Dawn newspaper to stop this kind of malacious websites on a/c of copyright.

  14. What the Pakistanis dont realise is that they are spared of real trouble because the Americans are in Afghanistan.
    None of the neighbouring states like Iran,Tajiks, Russians and India dont want Taliban to come to power. Once the US leaves it will become a free for all in Afghanistan.

    Then let us all see how can a bread basket Pakistan handle Iran,Russia and India's determination to whack it left and right.
    Given that the lose of American lives due to ISI's protegy, the US will turn a blind eye when these nations rip a few to PA.

    As far as the pakistani writer's conclusion about defeat of Indian plans are concerned, the defeat can only happen in a fight.

    Where has the fight started?. It will start once the Americans leave.

  15. There's only one solution to the pakistan problem.

    Waste their time. Keep them on their toes by blowing hot and cold alternatively. Keep offering talks etc etc.

    The reality is that the Pakistani Army is NOT going to let any resolution / detante take place between the people of India and the people of Pakistan. Now they have set up this Zaid Hamid to indoctrinate the next generation of pakistanis against the evil hindoos of India, yahudis of Israel etc. The message from across the border is clear. The pakistani army, fearful that the current generation who faced the shameful 71 defeat passing on, and the new generation who don't have a vitriolic hatered against India coming in, feels threatened, and sees its future as less than secure.

    The message that the Pakistani army DOES NOT want peace with India is again reaffimed each time when the Pakistani Army scuttles moves when some serious negotiations based on ending hostility takes place. The last time that happened was when Zardari made some moves during the initial months in power. He was cut down to size until he toed their line. Nawaz Sharif was going ahead with vajpayee, but musharraf did the Kargil to derail that. I don't think Musharraf's track II with MMS was serious, simply because you can't make a deal with the pakistan army about peace. They stand to lose their very existance with any peace deal with India.

    If there is to be any peace deal with India, it is the civvies in pakistan who will do that. For that to happen, the Pakistan army will have to be weakened so that they remain subservient to the pakistani state and not the other way round.

    Since India is not going to go ahead and weaken the pakistani army, the best solution for the time being is to maintain a status quo and bide the time.

    Oh and apply Newton's third law with due compound interest.


  16. Dear Ajay,
    The link you have provided is not of The Dawn news paper. Here is the proper link of the news paper.

  17. The article appeared in "" was most likely written by Moin Ansari. He is a poisonous snake, only spits poison on India. In all his articles he blames India. He even changed Indus Valley Civilization to Pakistan Civilization. He is another "Hitler" in this modern world; just like Hitler hates Jews, this Moin Ansari hates India and Hindus.

  18. If you look at what has been successful in organising the proletariat, your attention is immediately drawn to the communists. They took states with substantial Muslim minorities and rammed through land reform to disempower the previously feudal power structure. I feel we should cut a deal with China and support a communist movement in Pakistan with the goal of an eventual communist revolution. In the short term (~40 years), the communists can serve as a bridge to a dejihadised Pakistan.

    And lets not forget that a large part of the Indian poulace also harbours quite extreme views about Pakistan - which at times merges (unfortunately) into hatred of Islam.

    Pakistan has set itself up as the epitome of Islam. Therefore it's not surprising that people have trouble separating the two. Perhaps the distinction between Islam as epitomised by Pakistan vs. Indian Islam can be formalised if some theologists want to take a stab at it.

  19. Dear Cane-an,

    While my child and my family is important to me, I will never compromise or ask or request the government to release a terrorist which many men and woman have risked their lives to capture, or any such demands that would put many more at risk.

    The only way we will be seen as strong would be by refusing to negotiate. Look at the trajectory India and Pakistan are heading and we know that they need the talks more than we do. Do we really need the support of USA or international community in the Kashmir issue, the answer is no.

    1. Declare Kashmir to be an integral part of India and that the territorial integrity of the country is not up for debate. (sounds like the Chinese? well it works)

    2. Up on any further attacks, permanently recall the Indian envoy from Pakistan and dismiss the Pakistani mission in India. Stop all sports cultural ties except in nuetral venues.

    3. Stop giving any trade-economic concessions to Pakistan.

    4. Stop bowing to pressure from U.S.A or West with regards to Pakistan. For America business with us is more important.

    5. Strengthen internal security and not care after a certain point about world opinion (look at Israel).

    Well doing this would only make us stronger, may be a bit less fair in the eyes of the world, but countries repsect power more than fairness.

  20. said it is the Dwan news paper and Ajai had clarified that for the record again some 10 posts before you.

    Anyway thanks for the link, for people who missed that statement like you did , this is helpful.

  21. Nice job, Ajai! Perhaps our Bollywood heroes can help explain India to Pakistan.

  22. Mr. Shukla: Your article made some sense and had some rational thought behind it. We rebutted it.

    What did you expect "Yes Massah" to everything?

    Pakistani Muslims are not the compliant Indian Muslims you are used to seeing.

    The comments on this site are "full of sound and fury--signifying nothing".

    Editor The Dawn News

  23. Dear 'Editor' Dawn News,

    What you and your paper made clear to most of us is that diplomacy will not work with Pakistan. And being the bigger power both economically and militarily, India should not be that bothered to take up the dialogue route.

    For once look back and see where our nations are heading at this stage. Most of India is much much safer than Pakistan. In terms of investment and conomic growth you are our laughing stock.

    Had Mr.Jinnah been alive today he would have regretted partition.

    Regards Jumbo Gumbo

  24. @ Gagan

    We do need to continue talking to some civilians in Pakistan in diplomatic manner or we talk to Pak military in military manner.
    What will you choose, its up to you.

    By the way please explain

    'Oh and apply Newton's third law with due compound interest.'

    @ KR

    Jahapana Tussi Great Ho

    'I feel we should cut a deal with China and support a communist movement in Pakistan with the goal of an eventual communist revolution.'

    We cant handle a Communist China and you think we can handle Communist Pakistan with deep-roted hate towards India.

    @ Gaurav

    MMRCA has nothing to do with Indias Af-Pak strategy

  25. @Joydeep

    Sir, just suggesting a way to exert pressure on the United States so that they stop ignoring our role in Afghanistan - specifically to show Mr. Obama that we don't need his nod for everything and also to show them that if they do not walk the line in our interests then we have the ability to make them nod where it is absolutely necessary.


  26. look at the condition.

    The person who wrote the rejoinder was so frustrated, not being able to make a point that he had to comment as a impostor here.

    10 March 2010 02:37
    Anonymous said...

    That too saying the Editor of Dwan.

    As if people don't recognize the Dwan news paper.

    The person seems based in US and learned, what a waste of talent and frustration.

  27. Ajai sir,

    I don't understand why that ridiculous rejoinder even needs mentioning here.

    Why not let it die a silent death?

  28. Peace means being out of job for the martial ethnicities of Pakjab & NWFP. Some make a living and others make a fortune out of fighting with India in that country. So where's the incentive for peace when the wealth distribution model is built around india hatred?

    And these are the very people with whom you have to negotiate with because they hold the power. So where is the scope for peace?

    When people hate you for who you are, then peace is a mirage. Kashmir is an excuse, religion is the reason. If you are willing to convert only so that others stop hating you then you are a walking dead man already.

  29. Your audience will love this

  30. Ajai,

    May I suggest you to please erase the link to the Dawn blog and save us from the misery of reading the riff-raff published there. That blog is maintained by Moin Ansari; a middle aged Paki known for spewing baseless anti-India propoganda. Please do not downgrade your excellent collage of work by asking us to read views of deranged Pakis.

  31. What "reflexive anti-Indianism"? While one cannot disagree with the basic point regarding engagement, we Indians revel in the belief that the vast majority of Pakistanis hate us.

    Having visited Pakistan I have yet to experience this alleged widespread anti-Indianism. Most people seem to want to get on with their lives and the common refrain is that the politicians are dividing us on religion/identity/etc. And I am not talking about candle-kissers. They have strong views on Kashmir, but so do we--does everyone in India hate Pakistan?

    And opinion polls show that while many Pakistanis are wary of India, an equal number are keen on good relations with us. Not bad considering decades of radicalization and propaganda.


    You can read the unabridged English version of this article translated on this url -

  33. The pakistani are nothing like indian muslims. Revenge and honor is part of pakistani culture, irrespective of whether you are rich or poor. In my school there were paks and indians and others. Some of indians had been doing karate for years, yet when they were picked (slapped) on by the paks, they would do nothing. Now ask anyone what happens when you try to slap a paki...even if you beat him he will be back tomorrow and the day after. This explains why pakistan will always block india. Pakistan punches above its weight. Remember the SAS motto, "who dares wins".

    The only way you can win over the paks is to solve the issues between the two nations properly. imagine a scenario where pak is on the side of India. China would not be looking at India with its greedy eyes.

  34. And I thought Zaid Hamid was the only guy who keeps blabbering about how alternate version of current events. Looks like Dawn is going down the same line also. I guess the "intellectuals" and "think tanks" in pakistan need to spend all their energy in saving their own country rather than generating a false sense of security by portraying India as a country in trouble.

  35. Ambassador Bhadrakumar's article which says the following.

    However, the heart of the matter is that the Afghan policy is a microcosm of a larger malaise that the Indian foreign policy and security establishment needs to tackle. There is no evidence that Delhi has the political will to have a course correction in this aspect.

  36. Ajai jee:

    What do you think about the West's alliance with Pakistan, and sales of arms to it.

    In a Sweet-honey deal, the US just "sold" it several frigates for $89 million\03\12\story_12-3-2010_pg7_5

    Has India's foreign policy been a colossal failure--$1 billion wasted?

  37. Brig Javed Hussain(Retd) in an article in the Dawn, a well known newspaper of Pakistan writes: “Kargil provided an opportunity to the Indian High Command to convert a tactical loss into a strategic gain. They could have selected an objective, the capture of which would not only produce tactical effects on their enemy on Kargil heights and Siachen, but strategic effect as well on their enemy’s high command. That objective was Skardu. As it commands lines of communications to Kargil intrusion and Siachen. What might have happened if, instead of attacking the heights at Kargil, they had captured the Skardu airfield in a surprise attack by airborne troops and followed it up by a massive airlift of troops, to rapidly build up the force of the size of an infantry division, closely supported by the IAF? If the Indians had pulled this off, what might have happened to Northern Areas and Kashmir?”

  38. Regarding Afghanistan, soft power is the wisest option. There is indeed no reason to get involved in any other way. Do you see any other of the players in the Afghan Game/morass, viz. US,Pakistan etc coming out trumps finally? The point is that Afghanistan is essentially a region that still lives in medieval times- none of our new-fangled modern strategic ideas are likely to work there. The US and NATO are only looking for an exit route, while Pakistan can create as much mischief as it likes on its doorstep; finally to face the music itself. No AFGHAN has ever been subservient to any body he does not want to be. But an AFGHAN heart is large enough to take in anybody that he knows to be working for him and his kinsmen. Guns are not really part of that equation. Indians only need to collectively clean up their act and become an economic power.


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