Dealing with a common enemy —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

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Terrorism is a common enemy of Pakistan and India and this challenge cannot be addressed adequately if these countries do not abandon the current negativity in their interaction. There is a need to return to positive diplomacy and cooperation to combat terrorism

The Mumbai terrorist attacks were a tragic reminder of the growing threat of terrorism in South Asia, which has extremely negative implications for harmony and stability in the domestic, regional and global contexts. Some extremist groups have acquired the capacity to violently challenge internal order in a state and create extremely problematic situations in inter-state relations. Their actions aim at creating anarchy and undermine the state’s capacity to function as an effective political and administrative entity.

Terrorism and democracy cannot co-exist. These transnational terrorist groups have to be neutralised if democracy and stability are to be secured. This is especially important for countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh that have returned to democracy in the recent past. The Mumbai incident strengthens extremist and hard line political forces in India and marginalises those standing for democracy, peace and good neighbourly relations.

The Indian and Pakistani responses to the Mumbai attack showed that the two states lack a coherent and shared approach to deal with such situations. The home secretaries of India and Pakistan had met in Islamabad on November 25-26, 2008 and reaffirmed their resolve to cooperate with each other for combating the menace of terrorism. Pakistan’s foreign minister was in New Delhi on a peace and goodwill mission when the Mumbai attacks took place. These diplomatic overtures were the first victims of the Mumbai incident.

The response of India and Pakistan to the Mumbai incident could be described as episodic, highly nationalistic and shortsighted. Both wanted to play safe by returning to the traditional India-Pakistan confrontation framework. Their initial responses were shaped mainly by mutual distrust and hostility rather than by a desire to view the Mumbai attacks as a challenge that required cool-headed analysis and cooperation.

The task of the Indian government was made difficult by Indian private sector TV news channels that sensationalised the incident. Some anchorpersons openly engaged in Pakistan bashing; some virtually declared war on Pakistan. Their counterparts in Pakistan went on the defensive, arguing that India had started maligning Pakistan before the identity of the terrorists was established. They further accused India of covert efforts to destabilise Pakistan.

As compared to the Indian response to the attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh avoided some extreme steps like snapping off all communication and trade, recall of ambassadors and reduction of staff of the embassies, and troop mobilisation to the border.

This time, the response was tough but measured to avoid an eyeball-to-eyeball military confrontation on the border that could escalate to an all-out war. The changed strategy reflected a rethink in India on ways to deal with Pakistan in a situation of serious conflict. The 2001-02 Indian troop mobilisation did not extract any concession from Pakistan, which had also moved its troops to the border. India withdrew these troops unilaterally in October to peacetime positions.

In the subsequent period, the Indian strategic community explored other punitive options for dealing with Pakistan keeping in mind the presence of nuclear weapons in South Asia. They suggested surgical airstrikes or swift commando raids on militant training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, limited war rather than a full-fledged war, and Cold Start, which also discarded the notion of total mobilisation of troops to the border with Pakistan.

Therefore, instead of full mobilisation, the Indian government moved some troops from peacetime locations to positions closer to the border, but not on the border. Good sense prevailed with the policy makers who decided not to invoke the newly articulated notions of punitive military action against Pakistan.

Instead, India launched a comprehensive and aggressive diplomatic offensive against Pakistan with the objective of undermining Pakistan’s reputation and isolating it at the international level. India would like the international community, especially the United Nations, to declare Pakistan a terrorist state and impose sanctions. The US and European states sympathise with India and are pressuring Pakistan to control terrorist groups based in Pakistan. However, they do not share the Indian aim of isolating Pakistan or designating it a terrorist state. This has caused some anger in India but has also injected realism in its policy towards Pakistan, although the Indian leadership is continuing with its tough rhetoric to deflect pressure from the political right and hard line Hindu groups.

Pakistan’s initial response to the Mumbai incident was confused and the government went into an unrealistic denial mode, i.e. the arrested terrorist and others were not Pakistanis, although some Pakistani TV news channels had provided enough evidence to show that the surviving terrorist belonged to a village in Pakistani Punjab.

It took prodding by friendly countries and an internal re-assessment after Pakistan received a dossier from India in the first week of January that the Pakistani government decided to closely examine the linkages between the Mumbai terrorists and Pakistan’s militant groups. Pakistan had earlier banned Jama’at-ud Dawa and detained its leaders.

The main victim of the terror incident is the peace process. Though interaction between India and Pakistan, especially trade and travel, has not been broken off, it has slowed down because of unannounced bureaucratic hold-ups. If the present trends continue, these relations may not be sustainable.

This complex and difficult Indo-Pakistan situation led two societal groups, i.e. South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) and the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), to put together a non-official delegation comprising people belonging to civil society groups, political parties and the media that visited New Delhi recently to talk on these issues with their counterparts there.

The visit provided a useful opportunity to civil society groups from both countries to exchange views on terrorism and India-Pakistan relations unhindered by official sensitivities. The people in India expressed strong anger against Pakistan and outlined what could happen if a Pakistan-based terrorist group launched another attack. Such an attack would completely marginalise those who advocate diplomacy and direct interaction for resolution of all problems, including terror related issues.

The Indian response is not monolithic. The opinions expressed included a hard line towards Pakistan; anger, anxiety and concern about terrorism; the desire to work through diplomatic channels; support for Pakistan’s current democratic dispensation; and the need to revive normal interaction.

However, there was near unanimity on the view that Pakistan must provide a credible response to the Indian dossier, showing seriousness in dealing with terrorist groups.

Despite the tough political statements by Indian government officials and aggressive comments by hard line Hindu groups, the prospects of revival of normal interaction between India and Pakistan are discernable in New Delhi. Much depends on how Pakistan deals with the Indian dossier, in terms of credibility of response and the kind of administrative and legal action that will be taken to neutralise terrorist groups. However, there is a lack of understanding in India of how terrorism has become a threat to Pakistan’s internal stability; they are more focused on their own problems.

Terrorism is a common enemy of Pakistan and India and this challenge cannot be addressed adequately if these countries do not abandon the current negativity in their interaction. There is a need to return to positive diplomacy and cooperation to combat terrorism.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Reproduced by permission of DT\02\01\story_1-2-2009_pg3_2

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