Thursday, January 08, 2009




    It could all have been so different post-Mumbai. Instead of the war of words, the hardening of national positions, the military sabre-rattling accompanied by apocalyptic threats, the recourse to a false and perverse sense of national honour by linking it with protection of murderous jihadists, and the tremendous energies expended on fending off diplomatic offensives, the terror strikes in Mumbai could have easily catapulted relations between India and Pakistan to a completely different level. Everything, of course, hinged on how Pakistan would deal with the elements that plotted and perpetrated the carnage in Mumbai. If Pakistan had fulfilled its solemn bilateral and international commitments to not allow its territory to be used for export of terrorism, and had sincerely and seriously cracked down on those responsible for the Mumbai outrage, it would have transformed the face and future of the subcontinent. Unfortunately, Pakistan's brazen denial and unconscionable defence of the dastards who indulge in mass murder has created a black hole of trust and confidence which will suck the two neighbours into an endless confrontation.

    Quite clearly, Pakistan's condemnation of the Mumbai terror strikes and its solemn assurances that it will cooperate fully to bring to justice anyone and everyone who had a hand in the mass murder committed in Mumbai convinces no one in India. If despite overwhelming evidence, Pakistan has taken six weeks even to accept Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist, as a Pakistani, then one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to calculate the chances of Pakistan ever acknowledging the other nine dead terrorists as its citizens. What is more, if Pakistan is so reluctant to admit the involvement of its citizens in the Mumbai attack, then it naturally raises serious questions about Pakistan's sincerity and seriousness in cracking down on terror groups operating inside Pakistan.

    The massive credibility gap between what Pakistan says and what it does makes it impossible for India to share evidence with it, much less engage in any sort of joint investigation in terrorism cases. There is a genuine fear that any sensitive evidence or information that is given to the Pakistani authorities will be used to cover-up all traces of the crime. This is a standard operating procedure used by intelligence officials in Pakistan. In his book 'Pakistan Between Mosque and Military', the current Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Hussain Haqqani, writes: "The ISI advised civilian officials dealing with official Americans to ask for evidence from the Americans of Pakistani activities supporting terrorism. The answers would give the ISI an idea of the means the United States was using for intelligence gathering in Pakistan and would enable it to restructure its efforts to evade US detection". In other words, any information on the Mumbai attacks that would be given to Pakistan by India would be used by the dirty tricks department of the ISI to destroy evidence in order to protect the perpetrators of the crime.

The disappearance of the family of Ajmal Kasab only confirms that nothing has changed since Haqqani wrote his book. In fact, the experience of Indian officials who participated in the Joint Anti-terror Mechanism has been along similar lines. According to a senior Indian diplomat, on one occasion the Indian side gave the Pakistanis information about an Indian citizen who had murdered the former Home Minister of Gujarat, Haren Pandya, and then escaped to Pakistan. The precise location of this person in Karachi was given to the Pakistanis. A week later the Pakistanis reverted back and told the Indian side that there is no such person at this location. The Indians were not surprised because within hours of sharing information with the Pakistanis, the wanted man was shifted out to a new location. But this time the Indian side did not volunteer the new information since it would compromise their source. So much for intelligence cooperation and joint investigation with Pakistan!

The Janus-faced policy that Pakistan has adopted on the issue of all types of terrorism becomes clear from the constantly shifting and contradictory statements emanating from very senior officials. On one day the ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha briefs top Pakistani journalists and tells them "we have no big issues with the militants in Fata. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud [ the very man that Pakistani authorities have blamed for assassinating Benazir Bhutto and who is spearheading the purported Islamist insurgency in the Pakhtun belt west of the Indus river] and Fazlullah [who has been burning girls schools and who has imposed the most horrific version of Shariah law in Swat valley]. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue." He also threatened to move Pakistani troops deployed against the Taliban to the borders with India. Quite predictably, there was a furore because this statement was seen evidence of the double-game that many people around the world have been suspecting the Pakistan army to be playing. So, a few days later, the ISI chief changes his tone and tenor while giving an interview to a western magazine and said that "we may be crazy in Pakistan, but not completely out of our minds. We know full well that terror is our enemy, not India."

    The low cunning that is being displayed by the Pakistani authorities to stone-wall any investigation also comes out clearly from the statements of very senior serving and retired officials. These people never tire of repeating that it is in Pakistan's interest to eradicate terror groups and that Pakistan will never flinch from acting against these groups or individuals if evidence is made available. But the moment the Pakistani authorities are forced to accept that Kasab is a Pakistani, these very same people come on TV channels and denounce their government. The situation becomes even more ridiculous when the very people who refused to accept that Kasab is a Pakistani, now say that he was kidnapped by Indian intelligence from Nepal where he had gone as part of some delegation!

Obviously, most Pakistanis have developed a psychotic mindset. They first invent an incredulous story. Then they actually start believing this story. And, finally they start the ritual of raving and ranting because no one else in the world is willing to buy their nonsense. This is precisely what is happening as far as the Mumbai terror attack is concerned.

The big question is why the current political dispensation is trying to stone-wall investigations into the Mumbai attacks. Surely, it cannot be because they think that the involvement of Pakistanis will sully Pakistan's image. The truth is that Pakistan's image is already mud. By extending cooperation in the investigations Pakistan's image would have only improved. But by trying to mount a clumsy cover-up operation and by slipping into a denial mode, the Pakistani authorities have strengthened the conviction in rest of the world that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism and a country that is fast heading towards state failure.

More serious is the implication that by protecting the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani government is trying to hide the role that Pakistani state agencies played in this outrage. After all, if it was only non-state actors that were responsible, who may or may not have functioned as auxiliaries of the Pakistani state agencies in the past, then this was an excellent opportunity to signal a break from the past. But by not doing so, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Pakistan continues to sponsor these groups as part of state policy.


    <1250 Words>                        8th January, 2009



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