The Mumbai terror attacks and their dangerous fallout on India-Pakistan relations underline the growing capacity of non-state terrorist groups to undermine political order and stability inside states as well as threaten inter-state relations.
These radical groups have an ideological agenda that they pursue through violence and intimidation. Most of these groups can be described as anarchists, given that they are good at threatening to destroy the existing political, economic and social order than at offering a coherent and credible alternative.
The Mumbai attacks further highlighted the precarious foundations of the dialogue process between India and Pakistan, which can be disrupted by tough statements issued by either government following a terror attack. India has done this three times since the dialogue process was initiated in 2004, involving Pakistan with every major violent incident without waiting for credible evidence to emerge.
The Mumbai attacks have led many sections in India, especially the political right and hard-line Hindu elements, to argue for military action against Pakistan, further straining relations. This periodic disruption in the dialogue process and jingoist rhetoric raises doubts about Pakistan and India ever being able to establish friendly regular diplomatic relations.
Pakistan has complained about India’s use of its presence in Afghanistan to extend material support to dissident elements in Balochistan, but without upsetting the dialogue process. Similarly, when India reduced the flow of the Chenab waters in October-November 2008, Pakistan took up the matter with India instead of giving in to domestic hard-line elements that demanded a tough policy towards India on the water issue.
Anti-Pakistan rhetoric of the Indian government and talk of military action against radical groups in Pakistan by some non-official Indian circles have strengthened their counterparts in Pakistan — i.e. the political right and the Islamist hard-liners — that preach an anti-India line and sympathise with Islamic militancy.
It is understandable that the Indian government is agitated by the magnitude of the Mumbai attacks, at a time when elections are being held in some states and the general elections are less than a year away. Even if one goes by the Indian charge of a Pakistani group being involved, it is not possible to attribute such a well-planned and coordinated operation to only a dozen people entering Mumbai by boat. How can such a small group of people undertake a massive, highly coordinated attack on several different targets? The average allocation per site comes to less than three people per strike. How could they bring in enough ammunition to fight Indian security forces for over two days? How did they defy the patrolling Indian navy and coast guard?
No external group can undertake such a mission without support from local Indian groups. These could either be radical and militant elements from across the ethnic and religious divide or elements from Mumbai’s underworld. India needs to rethink its simplistic explanation for a small group of Pakistani militants entering Mumbai by sea to hold the city hostage for over two days.
If India needs to adopt a realistic position on the sources of terrorism, the Pakistani government must also make a down to earth evaluation of its policy of tolerating a host of radical Islamist and Islamic sectarian groups that use violence as an instrument for pursuing their narrow partisan agendas. These groups have become a major threat in the domestic Pakistani context and some have developed the potential to force dangerous foreign policy and security scenarios on Pakistan.
If Pakistan is to continue functioning as a coherent and effective state, it cannot allow such groups to function on its territory. It will also have to work towards containing the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas and parts of Balochistan adjacent to Afghanistan. It is perturbing to note that the mainland and tribal groups have developed informal linkages with each other.
India cannot secure itself against terrorism simply by projecting Pakistan as the culprit and threatening military action against Pakistan. Any military adventurism — limited war or surgical airstrikes — in the present India-Pakistan context is a formula for disaster. The major beneficiaries of any military or diplomatic confrontation will be the extremists based in both countries.
An Indian military move will leave no option for Pakistan but to move its troops from the tribal areas to the eastern border, thereby compromising the current Pakistani gains against militants in the tribal areas. Security of the eastern border and the LoC in Kashmir will have the highest priority for Pakistan if India mobilises its troops to wartime positions.
The Pakistani Taliban based in the tribal areas have already offered support and cooperation to Pakistan if India moves its troops to the Pakistan-India border. Militarily this offer may not be significant but its helps the Taliban and other militant groups win public support within Pakistan. This also strengthens the argument of pro-Taliban elements that the real threat to Pakistan comes from India and the American and NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Pakistan and India must therefore adopt a joint strategy to cope with terrorism in the region. As a first step, they need to cooperate in investigating the Mumbai attacks and share information on threats on a regular basis.
Both should monitor and control the militant groups within their territories. Pakistan has to do more in this respect as there is a larger number of violent transnational groups based on its soil.
Pakistan-India cooperation for counter-terrorism cannot be fully successful if they do not resolve their bilateral conflicts. If their efforts for conflict resolution remain stalemated, they are not likely to develop enduring bilateral cooperation. Kashmir requires special attention because it gives a readily available issue to Pakistani Islamic militants for popular mobilisation. It is also contributing to radicalism among Muslim youths in India who are perturbed by violence and human rights violations in Kashmir.
If a terror attack like Mumbai is to be averted in future, the leaders of India and Pakistan must demonstrate statesmanship, a thoughtful approach and a long-term vision for a peaceful and stable South Asia. Other options, especially Indian unilateralism, can complicate the matter and inadvertently help the terrorist groups.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and