The Mumbai Attacks: Pakistan-India ties: time to tread carefully; time to jointly confront extremism and terrorism in the region…

Pak-India ties: time to tread carefully

The Mumbai standoff with the terrorists went into its third day on Friday with remnants of the attackers ensconced in the buildings they had occupied along with hostages, including symbolically the Nariman House Jewish centre. The death tally had gone up to 125 with 9 foreigners killed too. India is jolted and commentators are calling it India’s 9/11, the same way Pakistan called the attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad Pakistan’s 9/11. In the middle of this the Indian prime minister, in a nation-wide address, said that “neighbouring nations would have to face a cost if they allowed their territory to be used to launch attacks on India”, a thinly veiled reference to Pakistan. This shows the domestic pressure he has to face, especially from the BJP and other rightwing groups who have already accused his government of being soft on the Muslims. But the statement does threaten to throw a spanner in the works of the normalisation process. For its part Pakistan has already condemned the attacks and warned that “jumping to a conclusion” won’t help either side.

It is clear that Pakistan has not “allowed” its territory to be used by Al Qaeda. In fact, it is under attack from Al Qaeda and its many affiliate groups. The last time Al Qaeda attacked inside Pakistan was when an Arab suicide-bomber blew up the Danish embassy in June this year. In September, another suicide attack destroyed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad amid comment that it could have also targeted the Americans staying there. In Pakistan speculation was widespread about the involvement of “foreign” elements, but finally the case was cracked when on November 22, 2008 an arrested Pakistani confessed in a court that the plan to attack the Marriott had been hatched inside Afghanistan in a province used earlier by Al Qaeda for the Danish embassy blast.

The Indian prime minister’s phrase “allowed their territory to be used” brings India into the category where the US leads by holding Pakistan accountable for its lack of sovereign hold over its own territory. Pakistan’s territory was used for the 9/11 action, and today the main bone of contention are the cross-border raids being carried out from Pakistani territory against the NATO forces in Afghanistan. But India should be careful about joining this club as it would take away the option of “cooperating” with the present government in Islamabad on the rising tide of terror in the two countries.

Very thin evidence linking speed boats — and at least two “captured” Pakistani cargo ships going to Karachi off the coast of Indian Gujarat — to the terrorists positioned in the hotels in Mumbai threatens to produce a new bilateral crisis. Pakistan has issued statements from the president and the prime minister in a tone that clearly indicates sympathy and collaboration. President Zardari who took the risk of crossing the traditional nuclear “red line” by offering not to exercise its “first use” option will be put on the backfoot if hostile rhetoric now rising in India takes over. As Indian commentators speculated about Lashkar-e-Tayba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, Karachi in Pakistan was experiencing a deadly standoff between the police and what is known as Afghani Gang in Sohrab Goth, the latter liberally using hand grenades. There are reports of Talibanisation in Karachi that have divided instead of uniting the political forces there.

Pakistan faces the spread of Taliban and Al Qaeda elements southwards into the settled areas as CIA drones operate in the Tribal Areas. There is insurgency in Balochistan which is steadily killing persons suspected of being against Baloch nationalism. Equally there is the calamity of an earthquake in the province which Pakistan is finding it difficult to tackle. Relations with the US are tense over the drone attacks and Pakistan needs cooperation with its regional neighbours to avoid becoming isolated while its economy needs to be helped out of its current trough of depression. Above all, it needs understanding from India while it stands ready to share intelligence with it on the latest Mumbai bombing.

Recent events have not helped. India has been accusing Pakistan’s intelligence of having attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul with a suicide-bomber while Pakistan has alleged Indian hand in the Balochistan insurgency and even terrorism emanating from the Tribal Areas. This has been a blind continuation of allegations that began in 2001 when the Indian parliament was attacked, triggering Indian troop deployment along the border with Pakistan. This kind of “jurisprudence” is being pulled out again to explain the latest attack. “Analysis” emanating from the West about the Mumbai attack having the signature of Al Qaeda in combination with some Pakistani Islamic group has not helped either.

Pakistan needs to activate friendly diplomacy instead of “replying” to the allegations being made by upset Indians over the media. The past may have been problematic but the present clearly shows both countries afflicted by the same disease. Both need to cooperate and must stop their “proxy” war in Afghanistan. The cue for this must come from the friendly statements made earlier by President Zardari, expressing Pakistan’s willingness to move rapidly on a course of normalisation with India. (Daily Times, 29 Nov 2008)