The India-Pakistan confrontation following the Mumbai attacks is the fourth such crisis in the last two decades. While India says it has provided enough evidence to Pakistan, Islamabad says what it has been given cannot be taken to a court of law for prosecution. Also, there is still no solid evidence that the Mumbai attacks were planned by a Pakistani group; or that the attackers were all Pakistanis. The audio recording of one of the attackers, available online, includes the use of Hindi words not in the Pakistani lexicon.
There is a strong sense in Pakistan that the Indian government’s allegations are designed to deflect attention away from India’s own security lapses, to safeguard against erosion of electoral support for the ruling party and to utilise the crisis to further de-legitimise the Kashmiri insurgency.
Western support for India’s largely unsubstantiated allegations has encouraged Indian hawks advocating military actions against Pakistan, especially airstrikes against alleged jihadi training camps. They see the continuing US Predator strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan’s Western frontier as the example and precedent. But India is not the US and drone strikes have a more complex configuration.
No Pakistan government can acquiesce in such Indian strikes. As the Pakistan army chief has warned, any Indian attack will invite “a befitting response”. During the previous three crises, Pentagon game planners reportedly reached the conclusion that an India-Pakistan conflict is likely to escalate rapidly, including possibly to the nuclear level. Hopefully, as in 2002, the present Indian government will also reach the same conclusion and not allow the hawks to propel it into creating a South Asian catastrophe.
An Indian military strike, and consequent Indo-Pakistan conflict, would also imply the immediate termination of Pakistan’s cooperation with the US and NATO regarding Afghanistan. The use of the Pakistani airbase at Jacobabad; the NATO supply convoys through Pakistan to Afghanistan; intelligence cooperation on Al Qaeda and Taliban operations; the Pakistani military deployments and operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the western frontier, would all end abruptly.
This is all the more likely because Pakistan’s collaboration with the US-NATO “war in Afghanistan” is highly unpopular in Pakistan and seen as the principal cause of the recent terrorist attacks on security and civilian targets within Pakistan.
Nor can President-elect Obama or New York Times editorials convince the vast majority of Pakistanis that the Taliban, not India, is the real enemy.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars. Indian military intervention dismembered Pakistan in 1971. India continues to brutally suppress the Kashmiri freedom movement and tolerates the systemic discrimination and occasional pogroms against its Muslim minority. It has deployed over 70 percent of its huge armed forces against Pakistan (not China) and seeks to establish its strategic dominance over South Asia and beyond. Indian intelligence agencies are supporting, if not organising, violence and terrorism in Balochistan and perhaps even helping some of the Islamist militants in the Frontier.
It is, therefore, naïve for the West to believe that the Pakistan government will forcibly suppress the militant groups which support Kashmir’s liberation struggle at least until Pakistan’s strategic differences with India, including Kashmir, are resolved.
Nor should there be Western expectations that political pressure and economic incentives would persuade any government in Pakistan to compromise on vital national issues, in particular its nuclear and strategic programmes that provide credible deterrence against Indian and any other foreign aggression.
Western discrimination against Pakistan on strategic issues, epitomised by the Indo-US nuclear deal, and the periodic unrealistic demands for the surrender or elimination of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, reinforce the common Pakistani view that the West is conspiring with India to weaken and destabilise, if not dismember Pakistan.
Also, Western chancelleries should not exaggerate their political and economic influence over Pakistan, even with the present government. Pakistan does not need to rely on US or Western military support. The most advanced Western hardware and technology will not be made available to Pakistan. The rest it can get, more reliably and cheaply, from China.
Economically also, a West preoccupied with saving its own broken financial institutions is in no position to provide Pakistan with the magnitude of financial and development assistance it requires for economic stabilisation and rapid growth. Here again, it is China, which has the financial reserves to come to Pakistan’s rescue.
This is not to argue that terrorism and extremism do not pose a threat to Pakistan, to its socio-economic development and its strategic objectives. However, unlike the threat posed by India, the threat of terrorism and extremism is not existential.
Despite Western media prognostication, there is no possibility of an extremist or jihadi government assuming office in Islamabad. Neither the Pakistani electorate nor the Pakistan Army would accept this. Ending extremism and its terrorist tactics, in Pakistan and the region will require a comprehensive and painstaking process of police and intelligence action and cooperation as well as the elimination of the political and economic grievances which create the justification for terrorism.
In this context it should be noted that all four recent India-Pakistan crises — January 1990, June 1999, January-December 2002 and this one — were linked, directly or indirectly, to the Kashmir dispute. Unless this dispute is resolved, such periodic confrontations will continue to erupt. Such a solution must be one that is acceptable, first and foremost, to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Finally, a comprehensive strategy against terrorism in South Asia must also seek to end state terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism and Islamic as well as Hindu extremist violence, including that perpetrated by Hindu fascist organisations like the RSS, against Muslims in India.
The writer is a former ambassador. The article is based on comments prepared for a discussion on the Mumbai attacks at the Asia Society in New York which could not be delivered because the organisers, at the last minute, excluded Ambassador Akram from the panel. The panel included the author Salman Rushdie and two Indian nationals
Reproduced by permission of DT