Mayhem in Mumbai and Pakistan’s responsibility

Mayhem in Mumbai
Friday, November 28, 2008 (The News)

No words can ever be enough to condemn the horror of what has happened and continues to happen in Mumbai. Fear walks down every street in the stricken city and lurks in every building. The costs of what is being termed India’s worst-ever terrorist attack will be many; the burden a fearfully heavy one to bear. A day after young terrorists, who struck almost simultaneously in at least seven places including the city’s top restaurant and its two best-known hotels, wreaked havoc across the city of 15 million, killing at least 101, wounding some 300 others and taking hostage hundreds at top hotels where rescue efforts were continuing at the time of writing, fingers are already being pointed towards Pakistan. The accusations come not only from within India but from international media channels too. They may well be inaccurate, but the suspicion has been raised and Pakistan’s past track record on terrorism mean they may well stick. This is especially true as a previously unknown group, the Deccan Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility, according to a section of the Indian media. This may well be jumping to conclusions as there could be any number of identities of the perpetrators of the atrocity, given the complex make-up of India’s society and politics. But reports from India insinuate the guns and bombs used by the terrorists reached India aboard a ship that set sail from Karachi. Other similar accusations are too coming in only hours after Pakistani and Indian officials agreed in Islamabad that there would be no finger-pointing without evidence. Parallels are being drawn with the bombing at the Marriot Hotel. Indian intelligence, under fire for failing to pick up on the threat, is anxious to lay blame elsewhere. The awful reality of our time is that Pakistan has become the world’s centre of terrorism; attacks staged around the world – whether in the US, or Europe or India – seem to link up with players within the country. Our northern areas have become a favourite refuge for men such as Rashid Rauf, recently killed in a drone strike, and for others who favour violence. From our cities, from our towns, we are accused of exporting terror around the world, acting as a source of weapons, knowhow and moral support.

This reality is a curse for Pakistan. Whereas we may only be a convenient scapegoat, it is not mere accident that has cast us in this damning role. Already, we are a nation regarded as the most dangerous in the world by some assessors. Foreign missions and agencies have deemed Islamabad too unsafe a place to station the spouses and children of staff; businessmen hesitate to come to our shores. Sportsmen now rarely visit. Condemnation from around the world is pouring in for what happened in Mumbai. Our leaders too have added their voice strongly to this – but this cannot disguise the fact that in the aftermath of what has happened Pakistan may be cast as the key culprit. The assault on the unsuspecting city of Mumbai, India’s business centre and of course the focal point of its film industry comes as the peace process between the two sides was warming up. Just days before Pakistan’s president had made a daring set of offers to India. But the terrorist scourge goes beyond this effort at reaching greater accord. It is today the biggest threat to the security and sovereignty of Pakistan itself. While terrorists still lurk in our hills, they will indeed be drone attacks by the US; when it is alleged ships carrying loads of ammunition for militants set sail from our shores there will be attributions of blame. There is no escape from this.

The question is what we, as a nation, can do to alter this situation and save ourselves. Too much time has already been lost. The costs — to reputation, to investment, to the welfare of the country have been immense. Pakistanis struggle to obtain visas; colleges overseas hesitate to admit students for fear that they are terrorists. People who are entirely innocent suffer. So, what is to be done? In the first place Pakistan must remind its western allies that, once upon a time, it played an active part in building the extremist networks that have now established deep roots in our country. Powerful elements inside Pakistan of course assisted them and backed their cause through the decades, for reasons both strategic and ideological. Today, we must find the strength to beat them back. For this we must urge the US and other powers to help us. We must show true zeal, commitment and purpose. There is no alternative. For otherwise, the anger directed against in the aftermath of what happened at Mumbai will grow stronger and assume the form of a ferocious storm we may not be able to withstand.


Terrorism in Mumbai and its fallout (Daily Times)

Even as India was facing the unfolding saga of Hindu terrorism whose tentacles seem to go into its armed forces, the country has been struck by another terrorist attack in Mumbai. The Wednesday mayhem will change the political paradigm in India and therefore also in South Asia. Heavily armed terrorists calling themselves the Deccan Mujahideen, a group unknown thus far, stormed luxury hotels, a popular tourist attraction and a crowded train station in at least seven attacks in India’s financial capital, killing over 100 people by latest count including the Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad chief. Analysts have cautioned against jumping to any conclusion but say the group might have some linkage with Al Qaeda or its ideology — even though until now investigators have not found an Al Qaeda spoor in the many terrorist attacks in India since 2003.

It is significant that the terrorists have targeted British and American visitors too and were holding foreigners hostage, including some European parliamentarians. Reports indicate 9 foreigners are among those killed. The grievance on the basis of which the Indian Muslim terrorists usually own up their acts has thus expanded to include a global agenda. The Deccan Mujahideen — whoever they are — while talking about atrocities in Kashmir have also thrown in references to places other than India where the Muslims are said to be suffering at the hands of America and Britain. The hidden reference is to Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the past, the reference was clearly inferred. Everything went back to the Muslim carnage in Gujarat in 2002 in which 1,100 men, women and children were killed and over 150,000 ousted from homes. At the local level, every time an act of terrorism was committed in India, Pakistan was somehow named. Ongoing investigations into some terrorist attacks that were alternately blamed on Indian Muslims and Pakistan have shown that they were actually carried out by a Hindu terrorist network. But facts aside, this is how the collective psyche of fear works. One credible event is remembered and then myths are attached to it. The same sort of thing happens on the Pakistani side. Taken together, this trend forms the brick-wall against which all efforts at normalising Indo-Pak relations come to a halt.

Luckily, when the Mumbai mayhem occurred, the two countries were engaged in a dialogue at two levels. The foreign ministers were meeting in New Delhi and the interior secretaries were meeting in Islamabad, trying to resolve disputes and raising the level of cooperation against terrorism. Pakistan was among the first countries that sent messages of solidarity to New Delhi after the Mumbai outrage by the Deccan Mujahideen. The message from Islamabad is entirely credible but will it be convincing too? There is no doubt that Pakistan is under attack from the same kind of “mujahideen”. The latest message emanating from South Waziristan is that the Taliban will now be targeting President Zardari “and his political allies”. The reason for this threat is America whose supplies through Pakistan will be disrupted, according to a deputy of Baitullah Mehsud.

The need is to work out cooperative strategies because all states are under threat from the scourge of terrorism. Unfortunately this is made nearly impossible by domestic political oppositions and their desire for point scoring. In India, the Mumbai attacks will give the rightwing parties the stick to beat the government with. The BJP was already getting jittery over investigations that were spreading into the underground labyrinth of the Parivar’s terrorism. It will now get the opportunity to accuse the UPA government of being soft on terrorism (read: Muslims). Somewhere along the line it may also throw in the reference to Pakistan. The speech by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and his assertion that New Delhi will “take up strongly” the use of neighbours’ territory to launch attacks on India could be a reference to Pakistan or Bangladesh or both. At the minimum it seems to be an attempt by Dr Singh to pre-empt criticism from the Hindu rightwing.

At home, reactions are rendering the credibility of the PPP government doubtful. In fact, Prime Minister Gilani is under attack from the opposition in parliament which says that President Zardari has more powers than the prime minister and that the system under the PPP government is an extension of the Musharraf presidential regime. However, what is eschewed are constitutional and conceptual nuances. Pakistan has seen two extremes, all-powerful prime ministers that render presidents useless and all-powerful presidents that make prime ministers look like puppets. The debate should have focused on how to work out the correct balance but, predictably, has been informed by petty politicking rather than any intellectual effort. The animus is fired further by allegations and counter-allegations about promises made and broken.

These internal imbalances are not good for Pakistan and India. Pakistan is in dire economic straits and needs assistance from its friends abroad; Indian markets are already down 56 percent on back of the global downturn. Both countries need to cooperate in the new environment of terrorism; neither is ideally placed to do so.