India has so far avoided a terrorist strike by al-Qaeda or even by its alter-ego Taliban, despite claims to the contrary by some elements in Pakistan. So the question is: who is India’s biggest enemy among state and non-state actors? Is it al-Qaeda or the Taliban? Or is it blood-thirsty terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed (the duo have been responsible for dozens of high-profile attacks in India, including an attack on the Indian Parliament)? Or is it instead the Pakistani military and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)?
I was addressing a group of college students recently, when I decided to bounce this question to them. After only tentative answers, the ball came back to my side of the court and I was asked to answer my own question. I answered thus:
In strategic terms, India’s biggest enemy is the Pakistani army and the ISI—they are the primary threat. The India-specific terror outfits they are alleged to have spawned are secondary because they would anyway do what their military masters want them to. The Pakistani military establishment has never forgiven India for Pakistan’s dismemberment and carving out of Bangladesh from East Pakistan in 1971. After three wars, Pakistan’s political and military leadership realized that it could not respond to India by military means. So, it seems to many to have instead embarked on a policy of bleeding India white through a thousand cuts, using proxy wars or cross-border terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have never actually been directly involved in any terror attack on India to date, although terror activities by Tehreek-e-Taliban in Lahore have reached right up to Indian borders. So, I have a suggestion for Indian policymakers. Why not initiate a dialogue with the Taliban? Yes, they treated us very shoddily during their rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001), a prime example being their handling of the Indian Airlines’ plane hijacking on Christmas Eve in 1999. But such a shrewd chess move would rattle the Pakistani military establishment. And from what I understand, elements of the Indian strategic community are already not too averse to this idea.