Unfortunately, whenever a terrorist attack takes place, the Muslim community of India also comes under pressure, despite its unflinching loyalty to the state. There is always a lingering fear that they may once again be subjected to communal violence similar to the Gujarat pogrom
The catastrophic terrorist attacks on multiple targets in Mumbai have elevated the war on terror to alarmingly dangerous proportions, with serious global ramifications, especially for Pakistan.
As an immediate response, India, true to its past, has launched a massive campaign accusing Pakistan of complicity in these ghastly attacks. Despite Islamabad’s full assurance of cooperation, and its reasonable demand that India provide evidence so that Pakistani authorities can proceed against suspects, India continues to make allegations, and has demanded that Pakistan hand over twenty of its most wanted fugitives. Pakistan has responded, as has always been the case, by informing India that it cannot hand over its citizens without hard evidence. This has been perceived in India has an evasive manoeuvre, while Indian pressure has been seen in Pakistan as a convenient diversion from its own intelligence and governance failures.
These developments have highlighted the complete lack of trust between the two, despite the ongoing peace process. If there is hard evidence, then New Delhi should share it with Pakistan so that the latter, who is more than willing to cooperate, can effectively respond. By building pressure on a fragile democratic government in Pakistan, the Indian side is strengthening those forces in the Pakistani establishment that have always opposed rapprochement between the two countries.
This is the first time that the Indian elite have been hit by a terror attack. In the past, most of the victims were the faceless poor, who were soon forgotten. This time, the corporate world has been targeted, and there is a stronger impulse to act. Voices are being raised, asking for Pakistan to be ‘punished’, and chauvinistic elements in the BJP and the media are suggesting strikes on training camps in Kashmir. If tensions continue to escalate, the two armies would soon be eyeball-to-eyeball in a tragic replay of the past. The only beneficiaries would be the radical forces.
With general elections not far away and the government in disarray, there is a greater possibility of the political leadership being guided by emotion and politics than rationality. This would be disastrous for both India and Pakistan.
The Americans, however, would like to restrain the Indians from any such ventures and are closely following events. US self-interest demands that there be no distraction in the war on terror, and no pullout of Pakistani forces from the western border. Moreover, there is always the danger of nuclear conflict if events get out of control.
India also has to realise that the US-Pakistan relationship is very complex, and it is because of this complexity that the CIA is getting away with its drone raids inside Pakistani territory. If India decides to conduct similar precision strikes or a Cold Start manoeuvre in Pakistan-administered Kashmir or elsewhere would invite a strong military response with unpredictable consequences.
Regrettably, there is an unmistakable belief in every segment of Indian society that in investigating terrorism, all roads lead to Pakistan. Officially, the government of India has not blamed our government for involvement, but considers it an accomplice for allowing militant organisations like the Lashkar-e Taiba to operate freely on its soil.
A perception still persists in India that Pakistani intelligence agencies are either themselves the initiators of terrorist plots or are their facilitators. What is most distressing is that Pakistan’s credibility has reached a new low and, despite denials, the international community too tends to incline towards the Indian viewpoint that Pakistan is the problem.
Even if we are able to tide over the current crisis, it is in Pakistan’s vital interest that we take stern action against militant groups, not merely to satisfy India or the international community, but for our own social cohesion, political stability and even survival as a normal country. Pakistan has to restructure its entire national vision and its policies.
There are other serious implications for South Asia. The Mumbai attacks could derail the India-Pakistan peace process, which as it is has been in cold freeze for the last two years.
Unfortunately, whenever a terrorist attack takes place, the Muslim community of India also comes under pressure, despite its unflinching loyalty to the state. Many may be rounded up on false pretexts. There is always a lingering fear that they may once again be subjected to communal violence similar to the Gujarat pogrom, and politics in India may become polarised along religious lines.
Never before has the politician of India come under the kind of severe criticism as it is facing in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks. The Indian home minister and several Maharashtra ministers were forced to resign. People seem thoroughly disgusted with their performance and rate their response as highly unsatisfactory. This could be a dangerous trend for the Indian political system, and may give rise to authoritarian tendencies. Politicians will have to earn credibility by proving that politics is not an impediment to, but is synonymous with good governance, which includes the ability to respond effectively to crises.
Indian intelligence agencies have come under scrutiny as well, and are being blamed for their failure to warn in advance of the terror threat. There is speculation that India may set up a new federal agency to deal primarily with terrorism, much like the US Department of Homeland Security, and tougher laws will be enacted.
Civil society activists are demanding that the whole concept of security be reviewed. The Indian Navy has nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and frigates, but is unable to guard its maritime frontiers, making a mockery of its security concept.
The only way to combat the common scourge of terror in both India and Pakistan is to be totally transparent in conduct and fully predictable in behaviour. That is the only way to restore confidence. Even if there are differences, they should be clear and expressed. Trust cannot be achieved through mere statements. Leaders of both countries have excelled in making pious declarations, but there has been a consistent lack of political will. This is reflected in the lack of progress on substantive issues, and has been demonstrated by the manner in which both sides have handled the current crisis.
The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org