Acting on the Mumbai dossier – By Praful Bidwai

Saturday, January 10, 2009 (The News)
Six weeks after the Mumbai attacks, the Indian government is still groping for a strategy to get Pakistan to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and other extremists. The Pakistani government has finally admitted that Amir Ajmal is a Pakistani national–but only after unfairly sacking National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani for saying just that.

Yet, important sections of Pakistan’s establishment continue to deny that the attacks were masterminded from Pakistan, which must bring their perpetrators to justice. And while the likelihood of a military conflict has receded, it has certainly not disappeared. South Asia still stands close to the precipice.

The irony of India’s strategic confusion is that it’s playing its diplomatic cards badly vis-à-vis Pakistan, just when it has collected high-quality evidence of the LeT’s role in the Mumbai attacks. Its 69-page dossier contains vital details of real-time Nov 26-29 conversations between the assailants and Pakistan-based top-level LeT operators.

Thus, a day after India officially presented the dossier to Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly accused it of using “terrorism as an instrument of state policy.” He treated Pakistan as a homogeneous entity, charged it with “whipping up war hysteria” and blamed its “fragile” government, presumably including the civilian government, for the neighbourhood’s “uncertain security environment”: the “more fragile a government, the more it tends to act in an irresponsible fashion.”

This runs counter to the rationale of the India-Pakistan peace process and the Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism active since March 2007. It also makes nonsense of New Delhi’s considered view, expressed in many briefings, that Pakistan’s civilian government is keen on friendly relations with India and on acting against jihadi terrorists, and needs to be supported.

Singh adduced no evidence to prove the Pakistani government’s active involvement in the Mumbai attacks. His charges were based on a general political assessment, surmise or inference, similar to that drawn by Home Minister P Chidambaram–namely, “in a crime of this size and scale, I will presume that it was state-assisted, until the contrary is proved. I will draw an adverse inference…”

Such inference fits past patterns in which the ISI diabolically instigated terrorist violence in Kashmir and Afghanistan while practising “plausible deniability.” It may well hold true of Mumbai too, although there are persuasive hypotheses that suggest that the ISI’s role may be confined to logistical support. However, the assessment must be specifically established in Mumbai’s case. Singh levelled a serious charge based on a surmise unsupported by solid proof.

This speaks of serious policy incoherence. If India’s objective, as Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon put it, is to get Pakistan to further investigate the LeT’s role in planning and executing the operation, then it’s counterproductive to point fingers at Pakistan in ways which would put up even the civilian government back. If the goal is to discredit Pakistan, then it’s pointless to share the dossier with it.

This incoherence is partly explained by New Delhi’s frustration with Pakistan’s stonewalling tactics and attempt to divert international attention from Mumbai to the dangers of an India-Pakistan war. But this response isn’t mature. The world still remains focused on Mumbai, not least because of the terrorists’ ruthlessness and use of guns in public places.

Again, India has publicly made demands upon Pakistan to surrender between 25 and 42 extremists, including recent fugitives and Khalistani terrorists of the 1980s–without having a legal forum enforce these, for instance through an extradition treaty.

The Mumbai attacks are an ideal case for the International Criminal Court. But India and Pakistan have refused to sign the ICC’s Rome Treaty on narrowly nationalist grounds. India can also evoke the 1987 SAARC Anti-Terrorism Convention, but hasn’t.

Pakistani leaders obtusely deny that the Mumbai attacks were directed from Pakistan and, more broadly, that the country bears responsibility for India’s security. Even a cursory look at the dossier should reveal rich, unimpeachable evidence, including Global Positioning System and satellite-telephone signatures; transcripts of conversations between the attackers and their handlers; arms with Pakistani markings; virtual phone numbers generated over the Internet; and the associated money trails.

This evidence is strong enough to bear legal scrutiny in any civilised country. The whole world knows that it’s the LeT’s self-proclaimed goal to attack civilians in countries like India and undermine their governments. Indeed, that’s the purpose for which it was created.

But how does India convince/pressure Pakistan to act against the LeT and dismantle the jihadi/secret agency infrastructure? Theoretically, there are four ways: armed coercion, mediation through the United States, persuasive bilateral diplomacy, and multilateral intervention through the United Nations Security Council.

The first option must be ruled out altogether: it’s fraught with the danger of a Nuclear Holocaust. India’s conventional superiority over Pakistan isn’t great enough for Islamabad to want to avert war, leave alone yield to India’s demands. Besides, it would play straight into the hands of Al-Qaeda-Taliban, which wants an India-Pakistan conflict so that Pakistani troops can be moved away from the Afghanistan border, relieving pressure on them and allowing them to overrun a region that has become the epicentre of global terrorism.

India is investing heavily, but unwisely, into the second option–virtually outsourcing to the US its own responsibility to engage with Pakistan, in the belief that Washington would somehow persuade/force Islamabad to act against jihadi extremists. This assumes that Washington has such exceptional strategic proximity with India that it’ll turn against or discipline Pakistan.

However, going by experience, Washington can act in ways that breed/promote terrorism, as it did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The US may not even be an honest broker between India and Pakistan. Apart from the imbalance and myopia typical of US policy, there’s a huge risk in greater US involvement in this region. President-elect Barrack Obama plans to intensify the Afghanistan war by doubling the number of US troops. This will increase the United States’ dependence on the Pakistani Army, and downgrade India’s anti-terrorist concerns.

The wisest approach for India is bilateral diplomacy combined with a Security Council-centred multilateral strategy. Post-Mumbai, India and Pakistan have only conducted “megaphone diplomacy.” India should have used Track-II approaches and quietly engaged Pakistani officials, sharing with them, and confronting them with, evidence against the LeT. But the Singh government has behaved as if Track-II can only work in peacetime, not during crises.

Various crises, including the Vietnam War and the US-USSR détente of the 1970s, show that Track-II is useful in emergencies too. Many of our senior officials, including the just-sacked National Security Adviser Durrani, and India’s special envoy on Kashmir, Satinder Lambah, are Track-II veterans, who can still be drafted to produce results.

India should approach the Security Council under a slew of resolutions, from 1373 to 1566, which cast a duty on all states to act against terrorists, refuse to harbour them, and inform one another about their activities. Failure to do so can invite sanctions. If Pakistan fails to act, India can demand “smart sanctions” which don’t hurt the masses, such as suspension of military aid, travel bans on state functionaries, and monitoring of progress of actions against terrorist groups.

Creative diplomacy is the need of the hour. Indian and Pakistani civil-society groups have taken welcome initiatives to show it’s both possible and necessary. The least our governments can do is to follow them.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: