Matters of statecraft: Handle with care!

Spearhead Analysis – 13.08.2015

By Abdulla Wasti
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Ghani-Nawaz MeetingLet’s get straight to the point; “there is no room for morality in matters of statecraft.” These are the words of the ex-ISI Director General, Asad Durrani, at the Oxford Union debate that was held earlier this year by Al Jazeera. Responding to a question with regards to why the Pakistani security agencies are still deploying the strategic depth policy and have not learned any lessons from all the blowback they have had to endure, he added, that all the intelligence agencies – be it the CIA, Mossad, or RAW for that matter – are complicit in such activities in order to guard their strategic interests. I am in no way attempting to put up a defense for the necessity of such activities, for that is another debate for another day. So, detaching the moral and humanistic perspective and simply stating the cold hard facts, such activities are commonplace when it comes to these intelligence agencies. However, the point of contention is that the media in certain countries and even government officials continue to raise such sensitive issues in a nonchalant manner on forums that are neither appropriate nor conducive to such debate.

As sensationalist as it may be, the Indian media deserves credit for steering its propaganda right in line with that of the BJP’s nationalist rhetoric. But sadly, that is all it can be given credit for. In last week’s episode of the Newshour Debate with Arnab Goswami, the fiery anchor took up the issue of the Udhampur terror attack where a terrorist with alleged links to the LeT was captured by the Indian security forces. According to reports, the captive claims to be a resident of Faisalabad; a claim that the Pakistani administration has not affirmed as of yet.  There was equal representation on both the sides, as there was a renowned Indian journalist accompanied by two Indian security analysts; joining from Pakistan was a member of the PML-N government along with a barrister and an ex-army personnel. From the very start, those on the Pakistani side of the border faced a barrage of questions such as: Why does Pakistan continue to protect non-state actors? Why has the Pakistani foreign office denied claims of the captive belonging to Pakistan? Why are certain militants under the patronage of the security agencies just because of their anti-India agenda? One of the participants attempted to put forward a sane response by stating that this matter should be properly investigated before any accusations can be made, especially on such a public forum. But soon enough, one side brought up the 26/11 attacks and other came back with the atrocities being committed in Kashmir; the ‘debate’ was dumbed down to a spicy blame game in front of millions of viewers that only added to the already toxic atmosphere. Arnab Goswami, at the start of the show stated, “Let’s get to the bottom of this tonight”; but the fact of the matter is that such sensitive issues cannot be resolved on primetime television.

Another instance of complete disregard for the complexity of an issue would be President Ashraf Ghani’s recent rant on twitter and other forms of media in light of the wave of bombings that claimed the lives of dozens of people in recent days. While one can understand the kind of pressure the Afghan President must be in, taking into account that talks with the Taliban have been postponed and how a ceasefire agreement seems unlikely at the moment, there is still little justification for such bipolar behavior. Was Mr. Ghani unaware of the fact that the Afghan Taliban leadership has been operating from Pakistan while the talks in Murree were going on? Was he unaware of this fact a couple of days back when he spoke with PM Nawaz Sharif with regards to joint cooperation in this war? Clearly not, then why the sudden outburst? Being cognizant of how the relations between two nations have been marred by suspicion in the past, such statements would only further the agenda of those trying to sabotage the peace process. And this very same logic applies to India as well, that is, if there is a genuine yearning to improve relations. Therefore, there is a need to be circumspect before the media or any government official takes up an issue of such nature, because there are other more appropriate forums available where such matters should be discussed. As reports have claimed that Sartaj Aziz and Ajit Doval are set to meet on the 23rd of August, and on the Af-Pak side an Afghani delegation has just arrived in Pakistan; it would be for the best if such matters are left to the experts.