Scapegoating enemies


Scapegoating enemies | Babar Sattar | Jang Newspaper | 24th September 2016

Legal eye

The writer is a lawyer based in

There is a very thin line between patriotism and jingoism frequently trespassed by leaders in weak states. Fighting words, provocation against the ‘other’ and war hysteria can rile up the country, but it doesn’t make deep-rooted problems go away. False bravado doesn’t make states stronger.

But once you bring public anger to a boil and project revenge from the ‘enemy’ as the panacea, thereby pre-empting calls for introspection and self-accountability, public expectation of belligerence assuming control of state policy can be an unintended consequence.

Modi’s India is in that bind right now. Framing Pakistan as the perpetrator within hours of the Uri attack has certainly deflected attention from questions that rational Indians would otherwise ask about the security and intelligence failure that enabled four terrorists – whatever their identity and motivation – to make it into a fortified military compound and claim 18 lives. Notwithstanding whether the attack was planned and executed by India’s non-state actors or ours, one must admit that its timing couldn’t be more propitious for India.

The war of words between India and Pakistan has gained momentum overtime. However the Doval doctrine might have come to be understood in India, in Pakistan it is seen as the decision to provoke, patronise and support separatists across Pakistan and take proxy war between the two states to the next level. Even if we dismiss Kulbhushan Yadav’s arrest in Balochistan as traditional spookery, we have now seen Indian PM use his Independence Day address to speak about the aspirations of people of Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

After a phase during Abdul Maalik Baloch’s term as chief minister and Gen Nasser Janjua’s as corps commander when Balochistan seemed to be settling down, we have seen devastating attacks in Balochistan. We are now told that Brahamdagh Bugti is seeking asylum in India. We have heard Altaf Hussain raise anti-Pakistan slogans and his coterie in London raising ‘azaadi’ slogans. Altaf’s erstwhile colleagues have alleged that MQM militants were being sent to India for training and Altaf was also receiving funds from India.

Since the breakdown of reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban and the drone attack that killed Mullah Mansour in Pakistani territory, the Afghan government, backed by the US and India, has been chastising Pakistan for providing sanctuary to the Taliban and being the main obstacle to peace in Afghanistan. Meanwhile Indian-held Kashmir erupted with the killing of Burhan Wani by Indian forces, and the response of the Indian state was further infliction of violence upon the Kashmiris.

Pakistan began drawing the world’s attention to severe human rights violations in Kashmir. The PM called Wani a martyr, resolved to flag the issue at the UNGA and seek the world’s intervention. In view of loss of civilian lives in Kashmir due to action of Indian security forces, the curfews, the faces of pellet-ridden youth and the massive funerals, the Indian narrative that Kashmir’s freedom struggle was not indigenous but Pakistan’s contrivance was losing appeal. And then, just as UNGA’s 2016 session was about to kick-off, Uri happened.

Whoever planned and executed Uri did Pakistan no favours. There are many theories being pandered by Indian analysts to explain why Uri’s timing suits Pakistan. But they make no logical sense. While throwing support behind the rights and freedoms of Kashmiris at a time when they have stood up for themselves, how would it help Pakistan sponsor a terror attack that would lend credence to India’s counter-narrative that Kashmir’s problem isn’t one of denial of rights to its populace but of Pakistan using terror to foment trouble in India.

Without assuming whether deep-state India orchestrated the attack on itself to mount pressure on Pakistan (as some patriots in Pakistan are suggesting), whether India elected to frame Pakistan without evidence to derive benefit out of a security failure, or whether Pakistan’s ideologically driven non-state actors went ahead and pulled off Uri (like Mumbai or Pathankot) in a misconceived effort to help the Kashmiri uprising, how should we think of the crisis that each such incident creates for Pakistan?

When the ghastly attacks in Quetta swept away a generation of lawyers in the province, our uber-nationalists had also immediately pointed fingers at India. Those who asked for evidence were called traitors. This is a generic problem with management of national security in weak states such as ours. It is more convenient to blame the enemy than introspect. Speaking at UNGA this week, President Obama observed that strongmen are “left with two paths – permanent crackdown that sparks strife at home, or scapegoating enemies abroad, which can lead to war.”

In the context of Kashmir, Modi’s India seems to be taking both these paths simultaneously. What that does for India and its future is for Indians to worry about. How can we protect ourselves against the pernicious effects of being scapegoated? To start with, we mustn’t assume that Indian leadership will always act rationally in face of war hysteria, even if it has drummed up the hysteria itself. We-will-teach-you-a-lesson-should-you-dare-to-attack is not a sane way of thinking about war, especially one that can go nuclear.

We have made some strategic miscalculations in the past. In 1965 we had assumed that India wouldn’t cross the international border in response to Operation Gibraltar. It did. We had thought that the threat of attack through the western border would be enough to guarantee the security of East Pakistan. It wasn’t. And since Mumbai we have argued that fear of possible nuclear war will deter India from considering surgical strikes upon establishments of non-state actors inside Pakistan. We are better off not testing the reliability of this thesis.

A case that is mandatory reading in Tort law classes in law schools is Rylands v Fletcher. In the judgement UK’s Lord Chancellor observed the following: “We think that the true rule of law is that the person who, for his own purposes, brings on his land and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril; and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape…” The principle laid down here is gaining traction around the world in the context of liability for damage inflicted by non-state actors.

From our own bitter experience of losing over 60,000 lives and then deploying the military across the country to fight an unending war against non-state actors, we have learnt that keeping a dangerous beast on one’s territory doesn’t only cause damage to neighbours when it is let loose, it also inflicts damage within its own house and habitat when it is not let loose. Notwithstanding whether non-state actors based in Pakistan are instigating terror in neighbouring countries, we will remain vulnerable to being framed for terror sponsorship so long as they exist.

Non-state actors might have been bred on our territory with the support and encouragement of the ‘civilised’ world. But reminding oneself of partners from a bygone age and calling out their hypocrisy doesn’t help. The world has moved on. The age of non-state actors as extensions of the state is over. On balance, our non-state actors have inflicted more damage on Pakistan than anyone else. It is thus time to drain our swamps, not as a forced decision to appease the West, but in pursuance of a firm strategic and moral decision taken in our self-interest.

And if India has decided to benefit from the grievances of certain ethnic communities in Pakistan, and provoke separatist sentiment amongst them, let’s address the grievances that can be exploited – something India has chosen not to do in relation to Kashmir. Even if we work with the assumption that as an enemy state India will seek to exploit our vulnerabilities, we cannot control India’s thinking, choices and actions. But we can control ours.