Behind the Spy Games

Behind the Spy Games
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Islamabad’s unchanging mindset on differences with New Delhi

SPY GAMES ARE normal fare in New Delhi. India’s western neighbour tries to gather as many military secrets as it can. Often, it succeeds. But once in a while, the spooks get caught and thus begins a game of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats between India and Pakistan.

Something of this sort happened last week when a Pakistani official was caught red-handed near the Delhi Zoo. He was asked to leave India. In a retaliatory move, an Indian diplomat was asked to leave Pakistan. This has now snowballed further. The spy, during his brief interrogation by the police, named four others in his embassy who are involved in the ring. By some reports, the number is as high as 16. Meanwhile, in Islamabad, the names of eight Indian diplomats have been ‘outed’. It is only a matter of time before these Indians quit Pakistan.

There are two things to be noted. One, the last time such a severe round of expulsions and counter-expulsions took place was in 2003, a year before an agreement between the two countries for peace on their border. Two, the episode is a reflection of an unchanging mindset in Islamabad when it comes to handling differences with India.

The comparison with 2003 is mistaken. The events of last week bear a far closer resemblance with those of the 1990s when diplomats in the two capitals were aggressively tailed, intimidated and, all too often, sent packing at the slightest provocation. Then, as now, all this happened while guns boomed on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir.

The other thing worth noting is the ‘windows’ mentality exhibited by the Pakistani establishment. The thinking being that it is best to use all means available—diplomatic, military, terrorist—to bring India to the negotiating table before it becomes ‘too strong’ to handle. The trouble is that these ‘windows’ have existed since 1947 and exploiting them has not helped Islamabad one bit. In fact, the world has now come to view these actions as opportunistic and few countries pay heed to them. Until some years ago, the world at large did believe that it was highly dangerous for two-nuclear armed rivals to use military means and settle scores. Now, only China believes that, and for its own opportunistic ends. In the meantime, India is patient and awaits a Pakistani leader worth negotiating with.