Asian Age, February 24, 2007
Death and destruction are an abomination to human conscience. So when terrorist attacks and slayings become increasingly recurrent, catchphrases like “peace process,” “confidence-building measures” and “people-to-people contact” help serve as a salve to a society’s conscience. That in essence is the story of today’s India and its benighted relationship with Pakistan. Unable to contain escalating attacks that have given it the dubious distinction of being the world’s most-battered victim of terrorism, India has sought solace behind such beguiling catchwords. In the process, however, it is unwittingly making itself a prisoner of make-believe.
The past week began in India with the gruesome killing of at least 68 innocent people on board the Samjhauta Express and ended with renewed confidence-building bonhomie with Pakistan. To those steeped in Indian epics, the ending may signify the triumph of good over evil. In reality, however, the events represent just a new page in an unending epic about India’s love for pretence.
To be sure, democratic India is no different than autocratic Pakistan in attaching little value to the lives of ordinary citizens. As long as the governing elites remain ensconced in a security cover, the leadership in New Delhi or Islamabad takes any loss of lives in its stride. The poor, after all, have always counted for little in both countries.
Nor are the two governments different when it comes to play-acting and rhetoric. The Indian public, for instance, has got so accustomed to hearing after each attack the same empty vows to defeat terrorism that deep cynicism has set in. The latest train attack is proof that the two governments have become a mirror image of each other in terms of reaction.
Every right-thinking citizen wants peace so that national energies can be concentrated on rapid economic modernization and the narrowing of disparities in society. But why should New Delhi pretend it is engaged in a “peace process” with Islamabad when in reality the current process is merely aimed at normalizing relations?
In any case, instead of delivering peace, the process continues to deliver more terrorism, not just on India’s doorsteps in Jammu and Kashmir as before, but deep inside the country. In the past year-and-a-half alone, India has suffered major terrorist bombings from the Gangetic plains to the south, even as the Pakistani intelligence has opened new flanks against this country via Bangladesh and Nepal.
If it were just called a normalization process, that would not only be more honest but also help instil greater reality. Pakistan’s continued refusal to have normal trade with India, for instance, is a reminder that bilateral ties are far from full normalization. A mutual stake in a peaceful diplomatic environment can be fashioned only on the building blocks of regional cooperation and integration. Today the vaunted South Asian Free-Trade Area (SAFTA) accord is in danger of being stillborn.
Another official pretence heard in recent days is that the Samjhauta Express attack was an attempt to “derail” the supposed peace process. This suggests the bombers were naïve to believe that their act would disrupt a process that has yet to take bilateral ties to where they were in 1999 before the Kargil war, despite the much-trumpeted opening of new cross-border transportation routes. When the process survived the much deadlier bomb attacks on Mumbai commuter trains last July, how could a strike on the Samjhauta Express wreck the ongoing dialogue?
In any event, the dialogue process has a not-so-invisible third party prodding and guiding from the back — a party that refuses to talk to Iran (on grounds it doesn’t talk to “evil”) but demands India kiss and make up with a military dictatorship that already has a lot of blood on its hands. It is because of this third-party role that, despite the qualitatively escalating and geographically expanding terrorism it confronts, India has huffed and puffed but stayed in the farcical peace process. The terrorists and their patrons not only cherish this factor but also have enough experience to know that as long as they continue to kill ordinary citizens but spare political leaders (who with their commando rings are difficult to target in any case), New Delhi will continue to negotiate with Pakistan.
With the aid of a domestic media that tends to easily go over the top, Indian officials have also suggested that the militants’ detestation of the Samjhauta Express made the train the target. But that begs a question: Could the bombers really have thought that one attack would eliminate from service a train that has run regularly since 1976, except for a two-year hiatus? Also, why was the train attacked in India, not in Pakistan?
India may be loath to face up to reality, but the harsh truth is that there is a clear design behind the increasing frequency of major terror strikes against it. First, by attacking a range of targets, from India’s business capital and Silicon Valley to major pilgrimage centres, the terrorists have driven home the message that they can strike at will anywhere.
Second, by saddling India with the highest incidence of terrorism in the world, the perpetrators and their masterminds help present it internationally as a country riven by internal strife. They cannot slow down India’s GDP growth rate, but they have sought to put the accent on the negative to help undercut its rising profile.
The mounting tide of terrorist attacks exposes India’s internal frailty in roughly the same way that Pakistan’s emergence as a common thread in the investigations of most acts of international terror raises troubling questions about that country’s stability. This gives vicarious comfort to those generals in Islamabad who have always believed that India cannot be allowed to rise without Pakistan’s own ascension, and that a sinking Pakistan should take India down with it.
Three, the generals still value home-grown terrorist militias as useful proxies to bleed India and to press it to make concessions on Kashmir. To suggest that only some elements in the Pakistan military establishment are tied to the terrorists is to say that there are rogue elements in the military and intelligence beyond the control of the government. If that were true, it would be a strange paradox that the writ of a military dictatorship doesn’t extend fully to its own base — the military — as well as a cause for international concern that rogue officers are on the terrorist prowl.
If any motive can logically be deduced for the cowardly attack on the hapless Samjhauta Express passengers, it is a frightful one. It is as if some sinister force, playing with the blood of the innocent, was perhaps seeking to prove, under the nose of the Indian government, that Pakistan is indeed a terror victim.
It took military ruler Pervez Musharraf no time to portray Pakistan as a victim and to claim the attack would “strengthen the resolve” for “peace between the two countries.” His regime was also quick to resurrect its demand from last year for joint anti-terror investigations, but India did well to shoot it down.
Remember the outrage in India when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, like a bolt from the blue, turned Indian policy on its head and declared Pakistan a fellow victim of terror on the fifth anniversary of 9/11? He went on to embrace Pakistan as a partner against terror. The PM’s case was that since India had tried in vain to contain growing terrorism, it could now employ a joint mechanism to persuade the terrorist sponsor to correct its course. Even if the joint mechanism didn’t deliver results, the reasoning went, India will not be a loser. Such was Dr. Singh’s prescience in calling Pakistan a fellow victim of terror that just over five months later a number of Pakistanis fell victim to an act of terror on Indian soil.
Perhaps it is just a coincidence that the train bombing occurred on the eve of the Pakistan foreign minister’s visit and about two weeks before the first meeting of the joint anti-terror mechanism. That this first meeting is to take place nearly six months after the mechanism was announced is a reflection of the haste with which India embraced a half-baked proposal from a third party now promoting peace by zealously selling weapons to both sides. But if Indian investigators do find credible evidence to link the train bombers with one of the terrorist militias fathered by the Pakistani generals, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Muhammed, it will raise the troubling issue if the perpetrators acted at the behest of their military bosses.
Is it inconceivable that a military regime waging a low-intensity conflict against India centred on the export of jihad to murder and maim the innocent would order, in pursuit of dubious political goals, a terrorist strike that kills a number of its own countrymen, mostly Mohajirs and Hindus? And with Pakistani missiles named after invaders like Ghauri, Ghaznavi, Babar and Abdali, was it a mere accident that the train attack occurred in Panipat, the scene of three ignominious defeats in Indian history, the last being at the hands of Abdali in 1761?
(To be continued)
Time for Reality Check
Asian Age, February 25, 2007
Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf maintains not only his two-faced approach on terrorism but also the self-serving myth that his rule helps prevent an Islamist takeover. Even if he were to die suddenly, military rule would continue in Pakistan, with another general succeeding him. In fact, far from being a bulwark against radicals, Musharraf has helped marginalize and splinter mainstream parties and allowed Islamists to gain political space.
With Musharraf benefiting more than any other ruler in the world from the 9/11 events, Pakistan has emerged the third largest recipient of US aid, which includes economic and military assistance and counter-terrorism subsidies. In addition, America has helped Pakistan reschedule repayment of international debt totalling $13.5 billion, and is currently providing $5 billion in credit guarantees for Pakistani purchase of 62 F-16 fighter-jets.
Still, as the US national intelligence director admitted last month, Pakistan is the hub of a global web of Al Qaeda connections and “home for some top terrorist leaders,” with President George W. Bush himself calling Pakistan “wilder than the Wild West.” Musharraf’s regime has yet to realize that before Pakistan’s image can be transformed, it has to cut off its institutional support to terrorism. Indeed, until the military’s vice-like grip on power is broken, Pakistan is likely to remain a problem state, neither at peace with itself nor with its neighbours.
The make-believe on India’s part, however, continues. New Delhi has not only embraced as its partner a regime wedded to terror, but also chosen not to speak about the lack of democracy in Pakistan and about Musharraf’s recently unveiled plan to stay enthroned for five more years beyond 2007. While New Delhi has called Pakistan a “victim” of terrorism, Musharraf’s chief benefactor, Bush, has painted a grim picture of Al Qaeda’s strength inside that country, saying, “Taliban and Al Qaeda figures do hide in remote regions of Pakistan … and recruit and launch attacks.”
India’s latest showpiece is an agreement with the Musharraf regime to purportedly reduce the “risk from accidents relating to nuclear weapons.” India needs to deepen its engagement with Pakistan at all levels. But confidence building cannot rest on the back of a public-relations gimmick like this accord.
How can any kind of risks be reduced when the Pakistani nukes are with the military and the Indian nukes under tight civilian oversight? While the Pakistan military has integrated nuclear weapons with its war-fighting doctrine and strategy, India is committed to a retaliation-only posture. Despite global concerns about terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the current international spotlight on Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran helps obscure the danger that Pakistan — with terrorists and nuclear weapons controlled by Islamist generals — could be just one step away from our worst nightmare.
If the Pakistan military didn’t know about the nuclear black-market ring run by Pakistani scientists and intelligence and army officials for 16 long years, how can it offer to reduce any “risks,” that too from “accidents” (whatever that means)? All that the latest agreement says is that in the event of an “accident,” the concerned state will do what it is supposed to do in any case — “immediately take necessary measures to minimize the radiological consequences” — and, if need be, share “urgent information” with the other side. If any “accident” can be covered up, one can be sure the Pakistan military will do just that.
In the case of the far-reaching proliferation ring, a single individual, A.Q. Khan, was conveniently made the scapegoat in a charade that saw Musharraf pardon and shield him. The world has been made to believe that Khan set up and ran a nuclear Wal-Mart largely on his own. India itself has contributed to the creation of this fable through its references to “the A.Q. Khan ring.”
Of greater consequence for India is the nuclearization of Pakistani terrorism. Musharraf and his fellow generals would continue to export terror as long as they can play nuclear poker. Disabling Pakistan’s potential for nuclear blackmail thus holds the key to forcing it to act against transnational terrorists on its soil. Yet, ever since the scandal over the Pakistani illicit nuclear exports broke, India has chosen not to depict the Pakistan military as a rogue proliferator but rather to give it succour through ostensible nuclear confidence-building talks started by the Vajpayee government.
India is still unduly influenced by the Bush administration’s misbegotten policy on Pakistan. America could be a positive influence on Indo-Pakistan relations but the Bush team’s geopolitical games make it otherwise. Washington uses Pakistan for multiple objectives: as a gateway to military operations in Afghanistan; for reconnaissance and covert action in Iran; and to counterbalance India. Bush’s looming confrontation with Iran has only enhanced Pakistan’s importance as a staging ground for US anti-Iranian operations.
If in the process a dictatorial but pliant regime is strengthened in Islamabad, why would the White House care? Bush certainly has one concern — continued Pakistani assistance to an increasingly resurgent Taliban — yet such is his policy tangle, he doesn’t know how to stop that. But what has New Delhi to gain by deferring to the US on Pakistan?
As if turning the entire region between India and Israel into an arc of volatility is not enough, the Bush team seems itching to militarily take on Iran — an action that would disrupt energy shipments to India through the Strait of Hormuz and potentially have a cascading effect on the Indian economy, which is more dependent on the Gulf for oil and gas imports than any other major economy in the world. Yet, even on Iran, New Delhi chose to defer to the US.
Remember what the prime minister assured Parliament when his government marginalized India’s role on Iran by voting to take the Iranian nuclear issue out of the International Atomic Energy Agency board (of which India is a permanent member) to the UN Security Council (where India has no role to play)? He said India was opposed to punitive sanctions or coercive measures against Iran. Now, India has been in the international vanguard in implementing Security Council Resolution 1737 on new sanctions against Iran.
The Bush administration transfers a range of offensive, India-directed weapon systems to Pakistan and then lobbies feverishly to sell arms to New Delhi while pretending to be a factor for peace in the region. If there is one confidence-building measure crying for adoption, it is a commitment by India and Pakistan to suspend arms imports for a specified number of years — a moratorium that will have little effect on their security but help save tens of billions of dollars for pressing national needs. This is a moratorium, you can be sure, Washington will not encourage.
In fact, until the US stops geopolitically exploiting Pakistan, Pakistanis will not regain their democratic rights. And innocent Indians and Pakistanis will continue to get killed by the Pakistan military’s terrorist proxies.
A military autocracy that is part of the problem cannot become part of the solution. To secure enduring peace on the subcontinent, there has to be a return to civilian rule in Pakistan, with the people there getting the freedoms that Indians enjoy. In the absence of open elections and public accountability, Musharraf’s rule has created a pressure-cooker society, giving rise to greater extremism. What Pakistan needs is a safety valve — true democratic participation that would empower the masses and allow issues to be decided at the ballot box.
For India, the latest terrorist killings should be an occasion for a reality check on its Pakistan policy. No policy that forsakes reality can deliver sustainable dividends.