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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 1, December 20, 2008

Dealing with Terrorism: Alternatives for India

Sunday 21 December 2008, by Muchkund Dubey


India has been a victim of terrorism partly organised and mounted from our neighbouring country, Pakistan, and partly engendered and engineered by domestic forces, for longer than any other country in the world. The attack by ten terrorists coming from outside the country by the sea route, on principal landmarks in the city of Mumbai, the commercial hub of India, was unprecedented in its daring and intensity of violence. The people of Mumbai and the country as a whole are still trying to recover from the shock administered by this incident. This organised, ruthless and wanton violence was a attack on India’s pluralism, its democracy, its secularism and the extraordinary dynamism displayed by its economy.

The evidence collected by the Indian security agencies from the information provided by Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only surviving terrorist, and through other sources unmistakably points the finger towards Pakistan. There seems little doubt that all the terrorists were Pakistanis; the entire conspiracy for this assault was hatched in Pakistan; and the terrorists were jehadis, trained, despatched and directed by the Pakistan based terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been banned as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and which is now functioning through its front organistion, Jamaat-ud-Dawa. There is an overwhelming evidence collected by Indian and foreign intelligence agencies and independent experts and scholars, of the close link between the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ISI.

The terrorist attack on Mumbai has given rise to a countrywide wave of consternation, protests and demand for speedy and effective action to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in future. Revulsion has also been expressed against the insensitivity of political leaders and bureau-cracy towards such incidents and against their response in the form of hackneyed platitudes for which there is no taker in the country. Political parties, particularly the BJP, which have made terrorism a principal plank of their electoral platform, are trying to extract maximum political advantage from this incident. Like the general public, they are also putting pressure on the government to take decisive action promptly. It has, therefore, become a political necessity for the government to act.

Responding to these sentiments, the political leaders of the ruling coalition have made strong statements declaring their intention not to spare those responsible for the incident. Addressing the nation on the day of the incident, the Prime Minister stated that the country from whose territory this attack was allowed to be mounted would have to pay a cost for it and that such an attack would no longer be tolerated. The Minister for External Affairs in his initial reaction did not rule out any action. But later he clarified that his statement should not be misinterpreted to include military action. In the debate on this subject in Parliament on December 11, the Minister stated that if Pakistan did not act “ ... it will not be business as usual. There would be a situation that we do not want.”

Some important changes to placate the public have already been made. Both the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra have been replaced. Shivraj Patil, the Union Home Minister, had to resign and he was replaced by P. Chidambaram who is known to be a man of action and for his ability to deal effectively with officials and for eloquent and effective articulation. In the debate in Parliament on December 11, he announced that loopholes in coordination among intelligence and security agencies would be plugged and more stringent laws to control terrorism would be enacted. This will include a legislation to establish a National Investigating Agency. A separate Coastal Command for overall coordination and supervision of maritime and coastal security would also be established.

A major problem facing the government is what to do with Pakistan which is the breeding ground of most of the recent terrorist incidents in India and whose culpability for the Mumbai incidence has been proved beyond doubt during the course of the investigation conducted so far. Taking action against Pakistan has become a political necessity. What are the options in this regard?. Several suggestions have been made in media comments and by strategic and security analysts, experts on Indo-Pakistan relations and other groups. Some of these suggestions have called for military action, like deploying armed forces on a large scale along the Indo-Pakistan border as India did in 2001 following the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament, surgical operations against terrorist establishments in Pakistan working against India, naval blockade of the Karachi port etc. The futility, if not the folly, of large scale deployment of forces along the Indo-Pakistan border became apparent in 2001. It hardly served any purpose despite the huge expenditures involved and prolonged suffering of the soldiers deployed along the border. However, the biggest danger of such a deployment or of attempting surgical strikes within the territory of Pakistan, is their likely transformation into a full-scale war. This will be catastrophic for both the countries, particularly when both of them possess and have deployed against each other, nuclear weapons. Besides, before taking military action we have also to consider that Pakistan has more or less maintained parity with India in all the three branches of the armed forces, that is, the Army, Navy and Air Force. Therefore, in the absence of overwhelming superiority it is not easy for India to take military action without inviting Pakistani retaliation and in the process getting embroiled in impossible situations.

The second category of measures suggested to be taken against Pakistan, is imposing restrictions on various means of communication and movement of people between the two countries. These include snapping the recently opened road and railway links, not allowing India’s airspace to be used by Pakistani aeroplanes and further tightening the already restrictive visa regime for Pakistanis. These actions will be self-defeating and against India’s own preferred approach to deal with Pakistan. In fact, taking measures to facilitate the movement of goods and people between the two countries has been more of an Indian agenda than the agenda of Pakistan, for normalising relations between the two countries. For, an open society like India’s has less to fear and more to gain by way of contributing to bringing about changes in the desired direction in Pakistan, through freer movement of goods and people between the two countries. On the other hand, the authoritarian regimes of Pakistan have always tried to keep these movements to the minimum. Even in relation to the Kashmir issue, our stand, which was more or less accepted by Pakistan during the regime of President Pervez Musharraf, has been to make the border gradually disappear rather than re-draw it. This can be best achieved by fully opening the border between the two countries, including the Line of Control, to freer movement of goods, services and people. Some impressive progress in this direction has been made after years of efforts. It will be unwise to sacrifice these gains in the current mood of resentment against Pakistan.

The third important alternative for which the government is being put under pressure is to suspend the nearly six-year-old comprehensive dialogue between India and Pakistan which, in spite of its limitations, has resulted in some significant strides being made in some areas. It is understandable that it would be politically difficult for the Government of India to adhere to the datelines which are going to come during the next few weeks. However, a conscious decision to fold up the dialogue would be shortsighted and unwise. This is partly because both the countries are likely to benefit from the resolution of any of the issues on the agenda of the dialogue. Take, for example, the Siachin issue. The solution of this problem will bring to an end the expenditure every year of hundreds of crores of rupees and the loss of life of a sizeable number of troops of both the countries. The opening of new road, rail and air links under the comprehensive dialogue has brought the common people of the two countries closer than before, which is an important contribution to achieving the long term objective of peace and stability in the region. The continuation and progress in the comprehensive dialogue is also an important means of frustrating the intentions of those in Pakistan, including the military which perceive a vested interest in maintaining tension, hostility and mistrust between the two countries. Therefore, while appreciating that in the current atmosphere, the Government of India cannot afford to send out the message of business as usual in regard to the comprehensive dialogue, there should be no formal move to suspend the dialogue, which must be resumed in a full-fledged manner once the current public resentment in India against Pakistan subsides.

Another suggestion made is to take the issue of terrorists’ attack on Mumbai to the Security Council under its Resolution 1373 adopted in September 2001, which makes demands on states to act against terrorists by way of the prevention of the commission of such acts, providing early warning through exchange of information, denying safe haven to terrorists, and bringing them to justice. There cannot be anything wrong in principle in raising this issue in the Security Council. But its practical implications must be carefully considered before taking a decision on it. For one thing, it will be extremely difficult to get a consensus in the Security Council on a resolution, generally condemning Pakistan for being responsible for the crime and imposing sanctions against it. Any resolution of the Security Council authorising sanction, in order to be operational has to be under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, in order to make it obligatory for all member-states to implement it. There is unlikely to be a consensus on such a resolution and it is almost certain that, if pressed to vote, China will veto it. Even on a technical matter like the Security Council declaring the Jamaat-ud-Dawa a terrorist group, China thrice blocked moves in this direction. Besides, some of the major Western powers also, because of their vested economic and other interests in Pakistan, may not be in favour of a resolution imposing sanctions. It is also difficult to say what stand Arab and other Islamic and developing countries, which are members of the Security Council, will take.

Another important factor to consider is that if India raises this issue in the Security Council, other bilateral issues, particularly Kashmir, are bound to be raised in the debate in the Council. We have been a witness to it the other day when India raised in the Security Council the more limited issue of banning the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. However, as the success of our move to have the Security Council declare the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its leaders as terrorists linked to the Al-Qaeda and Taliban has demonstrated, pursuing specific and limited objectives like this one in the Security Council can be managed without any significant damage to our other interests. The possibility of damage would be even less if one of the Permanent Members, like the United States, joins in raising such an issue. For example, the success in the case of Jamaat-ud-Dawa was in no small part due to the United States formally joining India in raising this matter in the Security Council.

Thus, the most effective action that India can take against Pakistan to get the terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat-ud-Dawa etc., dismantled is to persuade, at the bilateral level, the major powers which hold leverages against Pakistan, to put pressure on it. The United States is undoubtedly the best bet in this regard. But no effort should be spared to seek the cooperation of countries like Germany, UK, France, Japan, Russia and, in the ultimate analysis, even China. The United States and the major Western economic powers have recently acquired greater leverage over Pakistan because of their role in bailing it out, through a hefty IMF loan, of the current critical reserve position.

AFTER the Mumbai incident India has a better opportunity to succeed in bringing the pressure of these countries to bear on the policies of Pakistan. That terrorism spawned, organised and mounted from Pakistan against India is a part of the global scourge of terrorism was apparent for a long time, but this was brought home dramatically and brutally by the Mumbai incident. For, among the citizens targeted, segregated and killed, were not only Indians but also those of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Israel. The link of this act of terrorism to the Al-Qaeda has already been established through the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s link with the Al-Qaeda. There was also evidence that the directive for the operation in Mumbai also came from the ISI. This establishes a link between the ISI and the Al-Qaeda via Lashkar-e-Taiba. The intelligence agencies of some of the Western major powers would also have come to the conclusion that the targeting of the foreigners would have been inspired by the Al-Qaeda, and not by the ISI which is interested mainly in creating instability and turmoil in India.

The United States has played a very helpful role in pressurising Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist outfits and infrastructure operating in Pakistani territory, directed against India. The US is cooperating fully with India in the process of the investigation. It rushed its investigating agents to India soon after the incident. Moreover, the US Administration despatched two of its highest ranking officials, that is, Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the US Joint Chief of Staff, to the region to pressurise Pakistan to take quick and effective action. In India, she promised to pressurise Pakistan to take “direct and positive action”. Responding to Pakistan President Zardari’s attempt to shirk responsibility by attributing the latest terrorist violence against India to non-state actors, she stated that even if non-state actors were involved, it was the responsibility of the Pakistan Government to take action if the terrorists were based in its territory. She repeated the same proposition during her visit to Pakistan. While in Pakistan, Condoleezza Rice asked the Pakistan Government to act with urgency and “sincerely and quickly” to bring the perpetrators to book and to provide “unequivocal assistance” to India in investigating the incident. Talking to journalists after her discussions with Pakistani leaders, she stated that Pakistan must act “on the information provided by India to help in taking the investigation to its logical conclusion”. When Admiral Mike Mullen asked the Pakistan Government to act decisively and his Pakistani interlocutor said that they were waiting for India to provide proof, the former said: “I have the proof.” Quickly on the heels of these two high-level visits, the United States despatched another very senior officer, John Negroponte, the Deputy Secretary of State, to visit this region. It is presumed that by virtue of his experience as the head of the CIA, he could play a special role in the process of the ongoing investigation. Finally, on December 11, both the Houses of the US Congress passed resolutions condemning the Mumbai attack, expressing solidarity with the Indian people and asking Pakistan to root out all extremist groups operating in the country and to ensure that its territory is not used as a safe haven and training ground for terrorists.

While recognising the importance of US cooperation and the important role being played by it in getting concrete and quick action taken by Pakistan this time, we should not forget that the US has also other very important interests to pursue in the region, and that there are apparent limitations to the leverage that the US has against Pakistan. A very important interest the US has in the region is to prevent armed conflagration between India and Pakistan. This is because as the global superpower, the US regards it as its responsibility to prevent any large scale war and pre-empt the possibility of it escalating into a nuclear war, in any region where its interests and those of its allies are involved. South Asia is certainly one of such regions where the US sees flashpoints in terms of unresolved bilateral issues between India and Pakistan which can trigger an all-out war. Secondly, any large scale diversion of Pakistan’s armed forces from the western front to the Indo-Pakistan border will be a setback to the US effort to combat the Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in Afghanistan and the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan. In the context of the Mumbai incident, it is in the US interest to prevent this from happening by persuading India not to resort to military means for dealing with Pakistan. Looking at it in an objective manner, this is in India’s interest too. This is because such a diversion would suit the interest of the Pakistan Army which is trying to find an excuse to disengage from the western front and restore its sway in Pakistan’s power structure by diverting the nation’s attention to Indo-Pak confrontation and to presumed Indian designs against Pakistan. If the Army succeeds in this endeavour, it would inevitably result in the weakening of the civilian government in Pakistan and pave the way for the possibility, remote though it may be at this point of time, of the Pakistan Army once again taking over the reins of government in Pakistan.

Therefore, during her visits to both India and Pakistan, Condoleezza Rice left her interlocutors in no doubt that the United States would like the present process of normalization between India and Pakistan to continue and in any case, would be strongly averse to any armed conflict. While in India, she advised the Indian leaders to avoid any action which would lead to “unintended consequences”, in Pakistan, she said that both countries must keep their lines of communications open. In order to continue to have Pakistan’s cooperation in its fight against the Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements, Condoleezza Rice was obliged to balance her warning to Pakistan on the Mumbai incident by giving a good certificate to Pakistan on its commitment to fight terrorism. She said: “ I was told and I fully believe that Pakistan is very committed to the war on terror and does not in any way want to be associated with terrorist elements”. The United States’ limitations in exercising its leverages against Pakistan derive partly from the strong anti-US sentiments prevailing in Pakistan and partly from its overwhelming dependence on Pakistan to carry out its operation against the Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces along with the Pak-Afghan border.

India’s plain speaking and stern warning to Pakistan, its efforts to mobilise international opinion, its initiative in the Security Council and the pro-active role played by the United States have together led to some noticeable results in the last few days. Pakistan unilaterally acted against Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its leaders. On December 8, Pakistan’s military announced that it had mounted an intelligence-led operation against the banned militant organisations operating from Pakistan-held Kashmir, and made several arrests. It was reported in Pakistani newspapers that the Centre of Jamaat-ud-Dawa was raided and some nine to 20 of its leaders were arrested. The next day, Pakistan’s Defence Minister claimed that Maulana Masood Azhar, the chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, an organisation actively associated with terrorist incidents in India, had been put under house arrest. It was also claimed that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a Lashkar-e-Taiba commander who is supposed to have masterminded the Mumbai incident, was taken under custody during the course of the crackdown on the group. It was further learnt that Zarrar Shah, also of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and a central character associated with the Mumbai incident, was also taken under custody.

Acting on a demand from India and the United States, the Security Council banned the Jamaat-ud-Dawa as a front organisation of the already banned Lashkar-e-Taiba. It also declared Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leaders Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi, Mohammed Ashraf and M.M.A.Bahaziq as terrorists subjected to the sanctions applicable to persons so declared. Following this, Pakistan also banned the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, sealed the offices of this group in different parts of the country and put Saeed under house arrest. Simultaneously, the State Bank of Pakistan froze the assets of the group and its leaders.

It is very difficult to conclude from these actions that these groups would really be uprooted from Pakistan’s soil and that their infrastructure would be totally dismantled. Pakistan had taken similar action in the year 2001 following the terrorist attack on Indian Parliament, for which India had held Pakistan responsible. But this turned out to be only a token gesture. The leaders put under house arrest continued to propagate their cult through the Pakistani media from their place of residence. After a brief interval they were set free to carry out their propaganda, training programmes and other activities designed to organise and mount terrorism against India. Therefore, India naturally has serious doubts as to whether the current moves represent a serious departure from the Pakistan Government’s complicity with terrorism directed against India. This doubt is reinforced by the fact that Pakistan is still in a denying mood of the involvement of Pakistani groups with the Mumbai incident. Pakistan is also refusing to hand over to India some 40 terrorists included in the latest list made available to Pakistan by the Government of India. In fact, Pakistan has taken the stand that India has not provided any convincing evidence against them and that even if they are found guilty of abetting, assisting and masterminding acts of terrorism in India, they would be tried in Pakistan itself under its laws and not handed over to India. In this context, Pakistan has taken refuge under the very flimsy excuse that it has no extradition treaty with India.

ONE cannot be optimistic about Pakistan government ultimately delivering the goods so far as the demand of India and of several other major countries is concerned. Recent events have shown that Pakistan’s military is still firmly in the commanding position on all issues of strategic importance to Pakistan, including its security, its policy towards India and the war against terrorism in the north-western region of the country and
in Afghanistan. Some of the recent events illustrate this point. The Pakistan Government’s announcement of the transfer of the ISI to the Home Ministry had to be rescinded at the behest of the military. The President of Pakistan had to go back on his offer of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, presumably because of the intervention of the military. Subsequently, a senior Minister announced that the ISI had been deprived of its political wing. But nothing was heard about it later. Lastly, after a positive response by the Prime Minister of Pakistan to the Indian Prime Minister’s request to send the ISI chief to India for assisting in the investigation of the Mumbai incident, the Government of Pakistan went back on it when the military supposedly objected to this offer.

The basic strategy that the Pakistan Army has evolved and follows to deal with India, is to foster and maintain a climate of perpetual hostility against India and do everything possible to destabilise it. This strategy is operationalised by the ISI. This is shared widely in Pakistan, particularly by a large section of strategic analysts, foreign policy experts, bureaucracy and extremist religious forces. Thus, so long as the military retains the power of decision-making with regard to Pakistan’s relations with India, it is very unlikely that there would be any change in the Pakistan Government’s attitude towards terrorist groups operating against India.

The Army itself has no incentive to change its policy towards India because its massive privileges and its very raison d’etre, depend upon the maintenance of hostility towards India. The Army is also unlikely to act against terrorist outfits because of its reliance on extremist religious forces to remain entrenched in a strong political position in the country and because it uses these forces to implement its policy of destablising India.

The popular agitation against Pervez Musharraf which successfully ended in his ouster from the position of power through the process of election, was not directed against the military as such. Musharraf would not have come to this pass if he would not have disturbed by his action of dismissing the judges, the delicate balance that has always existed in Pakistan between the all powerful military and the façade of democracy under civilian rule in government. Once Musharraf was out, this balance seems to be on the way to being restored. The people of Pakistan in general have trust in the military whom they regard as a stabilising factor and a bulwark against external threat, particularly from India. There is, in fact, an instinctive urge to accept the authority of the military. Depriving the military of its political power has not been given priority in the political platform of any of the mainstream political parties, including the PPP.

The reactions in Pakistan to India’s accusation of the ISI’s complicity with the group which masterminded the terrorist attack on Mumbai, demonstrates the validity of the above proposition. Once the military became active in imparting to the Indian warnings to Pakistan following the Mumbai incident, the character of Indo-Pakistan confrontation, the media and political parties readily embraced this point of view, and rallied behind the government and the military. Some sections of the media and public went to the extent of taking the present opportunity to lend their strong support to the ISI which, they thought, was necessary to deal with the threat posed to Pakistan by intelligence agencies like R&AW, Mossad, and even the CIA. After all the talk of a breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan relations and of the rising tide of goodwill in Pakistan towards India, the Pakistani society seems to have retreated to its old self where it refuses to see the other point of view and where the military is regarded as the savior.

It is true that extremist religious forces in Pakistan have shown very limited electoral clout. Part of the reason for this is that they have got internalised in the mainstream political parties, particularly the PML (Nawaz Sharif), and partly because a section among them do not believe in elections as a means of bringing about change of a kind that is in conformity with their cult. This section is closely linked to the Al-Qaeda and Taliban and have recently vastly expanded their reach, influence, organisational and resource base and power in the Pakistani society. Along with the Taliban forces which have grown rapidly in Pakistan and with the help of suicide squads, they are frequently indulging in daring acts of violence against all those in influential position who do not conform to their ideology or who oppose them. As a result, a large section of the ruling class in Pakistan and innocent citizens have become the victims of internal terrorism. In spite of this, one does not discern any determined bid either by the government or by political formations, let alone by the military, to root out these extremist elements. On the contrary, because of the influence of these extremist forces in the military and in some mainstream political parties, and also because of the realisation that confronting them by force may meet a disastrous end, there is some evidence of the readiness of the government and mainstream political parties to negotiate with them, instead of using force, to arrive at a modus vivendi.

There are, therefore, severe limitations to what India can do in bringing about a change in the Pakistan regime’s, particularly the military’s, policy of clandestine support for groups whose vocation is to organise acts of terror directed against India. So, in the ultimate analysis, while continuing to put pressure on Pakistan through all possible sources which can influence its policy, India has to rely on devices and measures of its own to deal with this problem. This will require reforming, reorganising and transforming institutions and systems inside the country. Unfortunately, the systems that exist have either collapsed or are on the verge of collapse. These include the bureaucracy, other law-enforcement authorities, and intelligence and related security agencies. Most of these institutions lack the basic minimum technology, hardware and other resources to carry out their functions. Besides, they have been severely compromised by their frequent use by the political leaders for their corrupt practices mainly to ensure electoral victories, to retain power at any cost and for personal gains. The reality of a nexus between politicians, burea-ucrats and criminals (which includes terrorists) was brought to the attention of the nation more than a decade ago. As of now, it not only remains intact, but has got more deeply entrenched in the society. This casts serious doubts on the possibility of the implementation of some of the measures recently taken or contemplated to prevent the recurrence of incidents like the one that struck Mumbai. In the prevailing political culture, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to bring about and implement genuine and thorough-going systemic improvements in the functioning of the police, the intelligence agencies and in administration in general. In any case, if at all possible, it is going to be a long haul before this can happen. In the meantime, any temptation to indulge in any military misadventure or any other punitive action against Pakistan to divert attention from the fundamental problems confronting us domestically, must be avoided because it is fraught with grave consequences.

The author is a former Foreign Secretary of India.

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