To Tolerance, But Options
Are Limited Too
By Siddharth Varadarajan
17 July, 2006
The well-coordinated terrorist
attacks on commuters in Mumbai on July 11 have paved the way for the
re-emergence of two facile arguments, neither of which offers a convincing
way of ending this mindless, criminal violence once and for all. In
India, the blasts have led the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and
many security analysts to fault the Manmohan Singh Government for engaging
in a peace process with Pakistan, whose military regime has clearly
not lived up to its promise of preventing terrorist organisations from
operating from its territory. These critics also find fault with the
repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), claiming the police
have been demoralised as a result. According to this discourse, most
terrorist acts are a product of Pakistan's intelligence agencies; and
India is a victim because of the government's inability to take Islamabad
to task and allow tough measures against those suspected of involvement
in terrorism. The BJP has also sought to communalise the debate by linking
the "soft on terror" charge to "vote bank politics"
and the so-called "appeasement" of Muslims, ignoring the fact
that people from all faiths and regions in India sought the repeal of
POTA because it was used against innocent persons.
The second, equally problematic,
argument revolves around the need to solve the so-called "root
cause" of terrorism. Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri, Foreign Minister of
Pakistan, provided one variant of this when he suggested that the Mumbai
blasts were linked to India's failure to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
"I think the Mumbai incident — however tragic it may be and
it is undoubtedly very tragic — underlines the need for the two
countries to work together to control this environment, but they can
only do so if they resolve their disputes," he told Reuters on
Wednesday. His remarks drew a sharp rejoinder from India.
At a philosophical level,
the idea that a lingering dispute can lead to violence is unexceptionable.
Also unexceptionable would be the suggestion — though Mr. Kasuri
did not make it — that the "collateral" victims of the
Indian government's counter-insurgency campaign in Kashmir might feel
driven to commit desperate acts of terror. But what Mr. Kasuri and other
root cause-wallahs fail to appreciate is the nihilist nature of the
premeditated attack on Mumbai's commuters. Like the London and Madrid
bombings, and the atrocious attack on the World Trade Centre, the Mumbai
bombings were a deliberate attempt to target non-combatants. The perpetrators
do not feel the need to issue a statement or broadcast a charter of
demands because the motive of the attack is not the redress of a grievance
or the settlement of a dispute, but the creation of one. The motive
is to provoke more violence and insecurity and reduce the space that
exists for dialogue, debate, and dissent in favour of the hawkish certitudes
of the security establishment.
Though there is no evidence
yet, Mr. Kasuri has chosen to make the link between Mumbai and Kashmir.
But what he ought to have said is that those who have taken up arms
in the name of a "freedom struggle" or jihad have no right
to wage war against unarmed people. Political or religious-oriented
groups that claim to resist oppression have as much of a responsibility
to conduct their "struggle" according to the laws of war as
do the security forces. No unresolved dispute, no human rights violation
can ever give an individual — even if he or she happens to be
a victim of injustice — the right to blow up innocent civilians
on a train or elsewhere. "Root causes" are important and should
be debated and addressed but the first priority has to be good police
work, forensics, and intelligence so that the perpetrators are arrested.
On their part, Mr. Kasuri and his colleagues in Pakistan need to speak
out against such acts of terrorism. They must not seek refuge —
as they often do — in the dishonest innuendo that terror that
targets civilians is really the handiwork of agents provocateurs or
the Indian intelligence agencies.
In the case of Pakistan,
there is a responsibility not only to condemn such incidents but also
to act. In January 2004, General Pervez Musharraf promised his government
would not allow individuals and organisations in Pakistan to plot, finance
or launch acts of terrorism against India. Since then, cross-border
infiltration by armed insurgents in Kashmir is down, as indicated by
official Indian figures. At the same time, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed
— though banned in Pakistan — operate under a variety of
assumed names. Both groups sprang to life in the aftermath of last year's
earthquake in Kashmir and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest
they continue to have links with the Pakistani military establishment.
As the Manmohan Government
ponders over its options as far as engagement with Pakistan is concerned,
it must ask itself two questions. First, can anything be done to get
the Pakistani establishment to convert its half-hearted efforts against
terrorism into a wholehearted one? And secondly, has India conceded
anything in the composite dialogue that makes the country more vulnerable
on the security front?
My answer is `no' to both
but for all their criticism of the peace process, the BJP and its supporters
do not have clear-cut answers to either question. From the mawkishness
of Lahore to the hawkishness of Operation Parakram, the erstwhile Vajpayee
Government tried it all. Despite the deployment of troops on full alert
for 10 months and half-baked theories of "coercive diplomacy,"
"surgical strikes," and "limited war," it became
clear that there was no military solution to the problem of terrorists
basing themselves in Pakistan. But if the threat of military action
will not produce results, how can putting the peace process on hold
or delaying a meeting of the two Foreign Secretaries do the trick? In
any case, the peace process so far has been extremely positive from
India's point of view. A number of confidence-building measures have
been introduced, which allows India to bypass Gen. Musharraf and the
army and build a constituency for peace in Pakistan's civil society,
including its business community. And on Kashmir, the two sides have
begun to articulate a common approach that acknowledges that borders
cannot be redrawn. Based on the record so far, India has nothing to
lose from this process going ahead uninterrupted. If anything, it is
in Pakistan that one hears concerns about the "CBM trap" India
has laid to postpone a settlement on Kashmir.
This conclusion is independent of the identity of the perpetrators of
the Mumbai blasts. Broadly speaking, there are three possibilities.
First, Al-Qaeda — or some organisation linked to it — which
is as much at war with the Musharraf Government as it is with India.
The motive would be disrupt the peace process, foment a communal backlash
by giving a boost to the sangh parivar, and send a message to the world,
and the U.S. in particular, that the `war on terror' is far from over.
Under such circumstances, surely the optimal Indian response would be
to not hand the terrorists veto power over the peace process.
What if the authors of the
blast turn out to be the LeT or JeM, operating in collusion with some
section of the Pakistani state? If at all the government of Pakistan
or one of its agencies is linked to the Mumbai blasts, this can only
be because Islamabad is dissatisfied with the way the peace process
is going. Perhaps the Mumbai blasts were designed to put pressure on
India to make concessions on Kashmir. But the ISI must surely know that
what little concessions India appears ready to make are largely the
brainchild of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and are being opposed tooth
and nail by the bureaucratic and security establishment. If anything,
then, the Mumbai blasts make it even more difficult for the political
leadership to grant concessions.
There is another point Indian
policymakers should consider when assessing whether the Pakistani military
establishment might have had a hand in the blasts. Pakistan claims a
firewall exists between the anti-American, Al-Qaeda-linked extremists
and the anti-India groups such as LeT and JeM. But the Mumbai blasts
— their serial nature, the choice of public transport, their proximity
to the anniversary of the London bombings — serve to strengthen
the link between Kashmir and the `global war on terror' as far as the
international community is concerned. They can only lead to even greater
pressure on Islamabad to crack down on Kashmir-linked insurgents. It
is hard to see how such an outcome — which would have been perfectly
predictable to the terrorists who planned the Mumbai bombings —
would serve the interests of the Musharraf regime or ISI.
Even so, assuming some element
of official Pakistani complicity, India really has few options as far
as mounting pressure on Pakistan is concerned. If there are areas where
the peace process might make the country more vulnerable — the
Army would argue Siachen is one such area — an unstated go-slow
might be justified. But on other fronts, the process is clearly working
to India's advantage and there is no sense in scuppering the gains.
There is a third scenario
too, that the terrorists are neither Al-Qaeda nor Pakistan-backed but
homegrown fanatics, whether Muslim, Hindu or of some other religious
or political persuasion. But again, taking our national anger out on
the composite dialogue process would be illogical. Under all three scenarios,
the most pressing task is to conduct a swift and professional investigation.
Primary reliance must be on forensics and good detective work and not
on knee-jerk crackdowns and special laws. In the Parliament attack case,
the police produced spectacular arrests and `confessions' with ease
but the real masterminds remained undetected. Mumbai must not go the
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