Sunday, November 22, 2009




    If the intention behind the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai was to kill the peace process between India and Pakistan, then the terrorists who planned and perpetrated the outrage have achieved their objective. The two countries had made a lot of progress, or so we are told by Dr Manmohan Singh, Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Khurshid Kasuri, to reach a mutually acceptable deal on the most contentious of all issues between them – Jammu and Kashmir. While the understanding on J&K reached in the 'back-channel' hasn't still been repudiated by either side, it will, for all practical purposes, remain buried in some highly classified file in some inaccessible room in New Delhi and Islamabad (more likely Rawalpindi), for the foreseeable future.

So long as the public sentiment in India doesn't get over the deep hurt and sense of violation caused by the Mumbai terror strikes, and there isn't a satisfactory closure on the fate of the plotters of this dastardly attack, bringing the peace process back on the rails will take some doing. Even if the Indian leadership decides to bite the bullet and resume the stalled dialogue, chances are that there will be a lot of talking at each other rather than talking to each other. Meaningful action against groups and individuals responsible for Mumbai is perhaps now an inescapable sine qua non for a meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan.

If Kargil was India's first televised war, Mumbai was India's first televised terror strike. The 60 hour long, live and saturation coverage of an act of mass murder in which Indians from every strata of society were mercilessly butchered, unleashed the sort of public fury among the middle and upper classes that is quite unprecedented in India. On the firing line was the political class in India, and of course, Pakistan, from where the attackers came. The government was swift to control the political damage. Heads rolled and a tough line was taken on Pakistan, which was, and still is, in keeping with the public mood.

The denials, obfuscation, flip-flops (for instance over the visit of ISI chief) by Pakistan hasn't helped matters. The counter-propaganda in the Pakistani media – remember the 'lawyer' who claimed that Ajmal Kasab was 'kidnapped' in Nepal by the Indian intelligence agencies and the rather silly, and utterly malicious, 'al faida' type of analysis by 'embedded' journalists with a reputation of asking questions based on hand-outs from the infamous 'agencies' – only hardened the Indian position. In the end, the Mumbai attacks not only killed people; it also killed the desire for good and friendly relations with Pakistan in many an Indian heart.

The suspicion and lack of faith and trust in Pakistan among Indians deepened after the non-serious prosecution and subsequent acquittal of Jamaatud Dawa chief, Hafiz Saeed, and the absence of any genuine crackdown on the Lashkar-e-Taiba. To make matters worse, the recent arrest in the US of two men of Pakistani origin (Tahawwur Rana and David Headley aka Daood Gilani) who were working for the LeT and were planning to launch terror attacks in India – the targets include the National Defence College in Delhi and Doon School in Dehradun – has convinced Indians that the ban imposed on LeT is an eyewash.

This distrust, in many ways, lies at the heart of the problem. It is natural for Pakistanis, who are themselves reeling under devastating terror attacks on practically a daily basis, to wonder why the Indians are making such a big deal about Mumbai. But the way the Indians see it, what the Pakistanis are facing is the result of their proxies – Taliban and their affiliates like the splinter groups of Jaish-e-Muhammad, Harkatul Mujahideen etc – going out of control; on the other hand, the terrorism in India is the handiwork of groups like the LeT which still operate pretty much like an auxiliary force of the Pakistani intelligence agencies.

Therefore, for anyone to imagine that the people of Mumbai and India have put 26/11 behind them and that a watered down version of Indo-Pak dialogue can resume sometime soon would be a mistake. It isn't always possible to pull off an Agra after a Kargil. No one knows this better than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, especially after the flak he faced from all directions over Sharm-el-Sheikh. His effort to try and resurrect the peace process ended up leaving him somewhat isolated on this issue within his own party.

Making the resumption of some sort of a dialogue with Pakistan politically palatable is only part of the problem that Dr Singh faces. The other part of the problem is that the Indian national security establishment is divided between the realists and the idealists over the utility of talking to Pakistan. The latter are of the view that there is no option but to use the dialogue process to resolve differences and improve relations with Pakistan. They believe that having faced the blowback of Jihadist terror, the Pakistani establishment has changed tack and is left with no choice but to wind up the jihad factory. They have also been encouraged by some of the efforts made by Pakistan to bring to book the perpetrators of 26/11.

The idealists accept that it is trifle unrealistic to expect Pakistan to carry out a purge of all the jihadists at the same time. With the Pakistani security forces stretched to the limit, opening another front in Punjab or other parts of the country is not quite feasible at this point in time and could easily destabilise even those parts of Pakistan that are relatively stable. In any case, they are of the view that India should try and strengthen the hands of the civilian politicians and reciprocate the desire for good relations that has been expressed from time to time by the top political leadership, both in government and opposition.

The realists, however, point out that these arguments are alibis that hold no value. They say that no purpose will be served by talking to the civilian leadership because it is not a credible interlocutor and is too weak to deliver on anything at all. The credibility of the government has also been severely compromised by what is perceived in India to be an 'establishment-driven' campaign to ensure that the political leadership cannot take any initiative on critical foreign policy issues without the approval of the military. Serious doubts are cast by the realists over the intentions of the Pakistan army to wind up the jihadist infrastructure that targets India. They argue that as long as the Pakistan army continues to treat as its biggest enemy, as also the biggest threat to Pakistan's security, it will sabotage any peace initiative by a civilian dispensation in Pakistan.

Being an idealist, Dr Singh is probably inclined to another attempt at peace with Pakistan. Whether he will succeed is altogether another question. With the wounds of 26/11 being opened by the media coverage of the first anniversary of these attacks, any initiative at this point in time (say, in Trindad and Tobago) would probably be a case of terrible political timing. But even if the Gordian knot preventing a resumption of the dialogue process is cut, peace between India and Pakistan will remain precarious, hostage to terrorists who will probably try everything to destroy any chance of peace between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. And given the public mood, the next spectacular terror strike could well unleash an Armageddon in the subcontinent.


    <1250 Words>                    16th November, 2009



Blogger Sikander Hayat said...

We must let the wheels of democracy role and let the elected officials complete their terms and let them go to people to ask for another term. If the people think that they have done something wrong then people will punish them by not electing them again. Surely that is the way democracy works.

4:58 PM  

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