India must explain

March 27, 2016

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WHEN foreign spies are caught, a slew of questions inevitably follows. However, this much is already clear: India’s initial response to the Pakistani claims has been unsatisfactory and it does appear that the Indian national apprehended in Balochistan was in Pakistan illegally and for unlawful purposes. For years now, as the Pakistani state has struggled to end the low-level insurgency in Balochistan and contended with other forms of militancy in the province, the government has claimed that the separatists and sundry militants in Balochistan have received external support. The finger of blame pointed at India has been insistent, but the evidence — at least that brought in the public domain — has been lacking. The capture of the alleged Indian spy has changed all of that. It is not only India that needs to answer serious questions here; Iran, which hosted the alleged spy, needs to investigate — and explain — the matter at its end. The national security adviser should be mobilised to make clear Pakistan’s concerns and demand assurances about non-interference.

What is particularly troubling about the capture of the alleged spy is that the Indian national was operating on Pakistani soil just as the state here is working to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism of all stripes. From the relative openness with which the possible involvement of Pakistani nationals in the Pathankot attack has been acknowledged, to the commitment to pursue a probe against those involved in the attack, to the alacrity with which intelligence was shared with India recently to warn of a potential cross-border assault by non-state actors, Pakistan is not just changing international perceptions about the state, but perhaps security policy too. Surely, that is a process in which India should partner Pakistan to achieve the stable and prosperous region that both countries have long desired. But the policy confusion on the part of the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi only appears to be continuing. Mr Modi and his national security and foreign policy teams seem unsure whether they want to engage Pakistan or rebuff it. The doubts about policy cohesion in India look set to continue.

For its part, while Pakistan must vigorously pursue the matter of the Indian spy with the Indian government, the state must remain mindful of two things. First, the matter must be handled professionally, lawfully and soberly — or else there’s a risk of inflaming anti-India sentiment and creating fresh space for extremist elements here. Second, the Pathankot investigation and dialogue with India should be kept on track. An Indian spy captured on Pakistan soil in an area wracked by a long-running insurgency is a very serious problem. Yet, just as India should not make dialogue hostage to a single issue, Pakistan should deal with the matter of the alleged spy in its proper context.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2016