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Archive | March, 2013

Blood on the rooftops

India and the West must reevaluate their positions on the continued persecution of minorities in Pakistan.

The attack on 150 Christian homes in Lahore’s Joseph Colony is the most recent in a series of attacks against minorities in Pakistan.  A mob of nearly 3,000 protestors pillaged through the community over alleged blasphemous remarks made by a Christian “sanitation worker” and set fire to homes and shops. Punjab police stood by and watched as the situation unfolded.  That no one died from this marauding rampage is less a consolation and more a miracle.  This image tells us a story of the anarchy that prevailed that day.

Two weeks ago in Karachi, a bomb ripped through a mainly-Shia community in Abbas Town. At least 45 people were killed and 150 wounded.  In the first two months of 2013, nearly 200 Shia were killed in Quetta in two separate bombings.  But the response from Pakistan’s leaders has been predictable.  The attacks in Quetta were a conspiracy.  The attack against the Christian community was also a conspiracy. There are no realities in Pakistan anymore; just conspiracies.

It is very likely that this disciplined and motivated assault on the minorities of Pakistan will continue.  There has been a deliberate attempt to portray this violence as a “sectarian conflict.”  But those who do so fail to recognize that a conflict requires two willing participants.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — the terrorist outfit of the Ahl-e-Sunnat-wa-al-Jamaat (ASWJ) —  which claimed responsibility for the attacks in Quetta is based in the badlands of south Punjab, where the writ of the PML(N), rather than that of the PPP, holds sway.  The LeJ has very recently made it clear (اردو) that its mission is “the abolition of this impure sect and people, the Shia and the Shia-Hazaras from every city, every town, every village and every nook and cranny of Pakistan.”  And yet, the Pakistani state can (will) do nothing about the violence carried out against its citizens in its own sovereign territory.

Article upon article has been written arguing that Pakistan is a failed state.  But Pakistan today is not a failed state as much as it is a failed idea.  Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision is invalidated with each mounting attack on sectarian and religious minorities in Pakistan.  It remains invalidated by the preservation of legal cover though the likes of the Hudood and XX Ordinances which allow for the perpetuation of the “cleansing operation” currently under way in the Land of the Pure.

Jinnah’s Pakistan has ceased to exist.  What we have now instead is a different project, whose odious objectives should be amply clear to everyone.  Under this new project, anyone who is not of a particular identity favored by the state will be systematically eradicated.  The Hindus that remained in Pakistan after Partition have always had to endure the agony of a state-mandated program of intimidation, subjugation and extermination.  However, the implementation of this new project means that the Shia and Ahmedis are also wajib ul-qatal (fit to be killed).

What is left of this failed experiment is a state in our immediate neighborhood with a population of 180 million having no capacity or willingness to protect its minorities.  But how does one provide for the security of those persecuted?  If the state has decided that it is unable and/or unwilling to do so, it presents an ethical dilemma to India and the West.  But more importantly, it also presents a security dilemma to India.  India cannot afford to have a Bangladesh-like scenario on both its eastern and western boundaries.

Members of the Shia and Ahmadiyya communities who are financially capable of seeking better lives in the Gulf or the West will migrate, or have already done so.  Persecuted Hindus will seek refuge in India without going through the rigors of its convoluted immigration process. India will most likely turn a blind eye to their presence in the country if they choose not to return to Pakistan.  But what happens to the vast majority of Pakistan’s minorities, who on account of being systematically persecuted and ostracized, lack the financial means to escape their daily horrors?

It has perhaps been politically judicious thus far for the West to not press Pakistan hard enough on the issue of its treatment of minorities.  An opportunity to correct these wrongs exists after the U.S. and its allies extricate themselves from their entanglements in 2014.  Human rights NGOs and news media from the West and India must be encouraged to increase their coverage of abuses against minorities in Pakistan.  Additionally for India, this presents an opportunity to reevaluate and streamline its immigration policy and to formalize a legal framework to grant asylum to persecuted individuals in its neighborhood.

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Damned lies and statistics

On Aakar Patel’s attempts to convince us that terror has decreased under the UPA.

When I read Aakar Patel’s op-ed in Pakistan’s Express Tribune on the “successes” of the Manmohan Singh government in combating terrorism, I was reminded of a Sherlock Holmes quote about yielding to the “temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data.”  Except that in this case, the data wasn’t insufficient as much as it was either ignored or used out of context.

Mr. Patel writes:

Under Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, terrorism has decreased in India and Indians have become safer.

….It is correct to say that Indian citizens are as safe as the citizens of Europe and America against Islamist terrorism. You would think that a performance so demonstrably successful would earn Manmohan and his team applause. Instead, we have the inane commentaries that issue from a media that is convinced the Congress is doing something wrong here. [Express Tribune]

To support this very grand conclusion, Mr. Patel cites the South Asian Terrorism Portal’s (SATP’s) figures on the declining number of deaths from terrorism from 2005 (3,259) to 2012 (804).

This is great, except that it doesn’t prove that “terrorism in India has decreased.” If it proves anything, it is that fewer people have died from terrorism (but more on that and J&K later).  An examination of the actual number of instances of terror tell us another story altogether.  According to SATP data, the breakdown of the instances of terrorism outside of J&K and the Northeast is as follows:

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
1 3 4 5 0 3 3 5 7 1 5 4 2 1

 

Thus, available data indicates that the number of instances of terror in India have not varied significantly during either the tenures of the NDA or UPA governments between 2000 and 2013 (barring a few anomalies).  Terrorism, therefore, has not decreased.

Mr. Patel would have been right if he suggested that fewer people have died in terror strikes in mainland India since 2005, but even this cannot be presented devoid of context.  Mr. Patel failed to indicate that the nature of the terror threat was evolving.  India and Pakistan have made two attempts at rekindling a “peace process” during the statistical period (in 2002 and 2009).  During these periods, there was a concerted attempt by Pakistan to appear to “play nice” with India, which meant that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)’s involvement in terror in India needed to be obfuscated.

Local terror groups, proteges of the military-jihadi complex, were thus needed to maintain the pressure on India. Beginning in 2003, local terror groups began assuming operational control over some attacks in India.  But misguided individuals or groups in India neither had the financial nor technical resources needed to carry out the sort of attacks that the LeT or JeM were capable of.  While the LeT and JeM attacks were sophisticated, including the use of fidayeen (having been provided facilities and professional training financed by Pakistan) groups like SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen have been capable of far less.  Attacks against India by local terror groups have been confined to IEDs and low-yield remote-controlled bomb blasts.Thus, there was a qualitative shift in the nature of terror being inflicted upon India beginning in 2003.

This has been the dominant pattern since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.  By their very nature, these attacks inflict fewer casualties than those orchestrated by Pakistan-based groups. Thus, fewer people dying from terrorist attacks isn’t a credit to the performance of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government;  it is merely a reflection of a qualitative change in the nature of terror India is currently battling.

A word on Jammu & Kashmir, since Mr. Patel apparently suggests  that there have been fewer instances of terror in J&K since the UPA took over.  This is true, but needs to be presented in the context of a larger theme.  The insurgency in J&K is dying a slow and inevitable death.  The Pakistanis recognize this as much as the Indians.  The number of casualties as a result of terror has been consistently decreasing since 2001. The 9/11 and 13/12 attacks, combined with U.S. pressure on terror financing channels have effectively ensured that the insurgency in J&K is on its last legs.  This trend would have held regardless of whether the UPA or the NDA was in power.

But Mr. Patel’s embarrassing lack of research is most evident when he suggests that “figures under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) excluded all Maoist violence because that wasn’t compiled under ‘terrorism’ till 2004, when Singh came to power.”

Since he doesn’t provide support for his statement, we can only assume that he arrived at such a conclusion based on a note in SATP’s website which says “Data Till 2004 does not include Fatalities in Left-wing Extremism.”  But this just means that SATP’s data on Maoist terror is incomplete, not the Government of India’s!  In fact, official data on left-wing terror casualties has existed since at least 2000, when the BJP-led coalition was in power.  A cursory review of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Annual Report 2003-2004 (pg. 41) would have indicated as much to Mr. Patel, but it should already be clear by now that Mr. Patel was not on a fact-finding mission.

Which brings us back to Mr. Patel’s point that terrorism has decreased and India is safer under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s terms in office.  Even if we are to accept that there were fewer instances of terrorism — which they weren’t, as shown in the table above — it is ludicrous to say that India is safer today (forget being as safe as the U.S. and Western Europe, as he suggests!)  The infrastructure for terror continues to exist in Pakistan.  We know from news reports that the intent to hurt India remains undiminished.  We also know that local infrastructure for terror — however nascent — is being developed to challenge the state.

India’s ability to address these threats is hindered by a crippled internal security apparatus.  State and Central internal security agencies are experiencing systemic institutional atrophy.  The NIA — the UPA’s solution to our woes after 26/11 — hasn’t solved a terror case since 2009. Communication and coordination between various Central and State intelligence and police forces is poor.  Even worse, Centre-State mistrust on issues of national security has increased during the tenure of the UPA, to the extent that critical progress on the NCTC and NATGRID has stalled.  None of these reflect too well on Mr. Patel’s theory of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s “demonstrably successful” performance in making India safer.

Ultimately, the question is this: given what we know about the state of India’s internal security infrastructure, can we afford to take comfort in the various data points being bandied around by Mr. Patel?  That he may prefer the UPA and Dr. Singh over the BJP and its allies is understandable insofar as it is one’s personal choice.  But cherry-picking data points and drawing broad and inaccurate conclusions on an issue as important as national security merely to better market his party of choice is both irresponsible and dangerous.

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