Tag Archives | 26/11

The day after Mumbai

India needs to arrest the narrative, break the cycle.

Familiar tragedy befell the city of Mumbai last night — three coordinated bomb blasts killed 21 innocent civilians and injured over 100.  My colleague over at Pragmatic Euphony puts across some important questions that deserve answers.  At the time of writing this blogpost, no one is yet to claim responsibility.  And while there were indications that some lessons had been learned by the government since the 26/11 attacks, the two terror incidents can hardly be equated.  The attacks of 7/13 have an unfortunately familiar signature to previous attacks in India — Bombay, 1992; Delhi, 2005; Mumbai 2006; Jaipur, 2008 and Guwahati, 2008.

Had this been a fidayeen attack or a commando-style assault resulting in a hostage situation (like 26/11), we’re not sure what the government’s response might have been. What we do know from previous incidents is that the nature of the attacks in Mumbai align with the modus operendi of two groups — the underworld, and local, but Pakistan-affiliated groups such as the Indian Mujahideen (IM).

India’s track record in bringing to book those responsible for terror attacks on its soil is troubling.  In The Hindu, Praveen Swami points out that despite multi-million dollar investments, India’s investigation into terror attacks since 26/11 have proven inconclusive.  Indeed, despite home minister P. Chidambaram’s claims that our counter-terrorism capabilities have been significantly enhanced since 26/11, we appear unable to even identify where persons on our so-called list of “most wanted” currently live.

It should be troubling to the state and to its citizens that on every occasion where innocent civilians are murdered in India, the narrative of preserving India-Pakistan peace is resurrected from slumber in the Western media. This is a narrative that India needs to arrest.  Like the need for India to talk to Pakistan ranks considerably higher than the value of the lives of innocent men, women and children who have died.  Let there be no “knee-jerk” reaction, they say.  But there’s already been a knee-jerk reaction. And several.

But beyond merely identifying those responsible for the heinous attacks on India, what is the government’s capability to deliver justice to victims?  What is to dissuade those hostile to India from carrying out further attacks in other large metropolitan cities?  If these attacks end up being traced to Pakistan, like 26/11 was, will justice ever be served?

This blog has repeatedly articulated the need for capacity to challenge terror infrastructure where it stood.  If the attack is traced to Pakistan, India has two options — pursuing the matter through political channels, which invariably leads to a cul-de-sac, or military, which appears infeasible given sufficient plausible deniability and international pressure. Now, India certainly has options available that don’t involve either the political or military to put it across to the perpetrators that their actions will not go unpunished.  The question is if India has the political will to deliver justice to victims of terror, by whatever means necessary.

Both within India and outside, those that have conspired against the state continue to act with impunity.  Until  the government can demonstrate that it can act decisively against those that wage war against it, this unfortunate cycle will continue.

India needs no new ideas.  The thinking that needs to be done has already been done.  No new whitepapers are needed.  This country needs doers.

 

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Talkistan ka matlab kya?

The politics of talking to our neighbor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited Pakistan’s prime minister Gilani and president Zardari to attend the cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan in Mohali.  Mr. Gilani has accepted the invitation while we’re waiting to hear from Mr. Zardari.  In the past, cricket diplomacy has been afforded to the likes of Gen. Zia-ul-haq and Gen. Musharraf.  This time around, the extension of invitations will result in two tickets being granted gratis to  individuals who neither craft nor implement Pakistan’s foreign policy, instead of our own VVIPs, who are accustomed to not paying for anything anyway.

They say there is momentum towards a resumption of talks between India and Pakistan.  Mr. Singh and Mr. Gilani met on the sidelines of the NAM summits in Bhutan and (infamously) at Sharm el-Sheikh.  Talks between India and Pakistan have also taken place in Lahore and New Delhi in the recent past.  Times of India’s diplomatic editor, Indrani Bagchi informs in her column that New Delhi was also keen to open channels of communication with the Pakistan army and its ISI (recall that DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Pasha had a tete-a-tete with India’s envoy to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal at an iftaar dinner in 2009).

Not talking to someone is more a momentary tactic and less a strategy. If the Government of India has decided to seriously engage not just the civilian administration in Pakistan, but also its military overlords in talks, then fine, but what is the end game?  In India, our leaders have repeatedly articulated that they are “not willing to give up on Pakistan.”  As if not giving up on Pakistan is a virtue!

Lest we forget, there is the more immediate matter of Pakistan prosecuting its citizens involved in the heinous terrorist attacks against India on 26/11.  It has been 2 ½ years since 200 innocent Indian citizens were killed in a state-sponsored project executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and members of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex.  Not only has LeT’s leader gone unpunished, he is also being invited to give speeches at that venerable bastion of justice, the Lahore High Court!

To be sure, the pursuit of  peace between India and Pakistan (or indeed between any two nations) is always desirable.  However, in India we are victims of our own unattainable quest for morality in international relations above all else.  Our leadership has always taken pride in suggesting that if Pakistan takes minor, but tangible steps in addressing our concerns, that we would be “willing to go more than half the distance” in resolving our disputes with our neighbor.  But why?

In the anarchic world of international relations, abstract terms such as morality have no place.  States promote their national interests by exercising their relative power, both in times of war and peace. If it is in India’s interests to talk to Pakistan, then negotiations must be dictated from positions of relative power.  Magnanimity has no place in international relations.  As the greater power, India must expect settlements to be more favorable to its interests, not the other way around.  To quote India’s former intelligence chief and senior fellow at Takshashila, Vikram Sood, “magnanimity is a function of victory; otherwise it is appeasement.”

Prime Minister Singh is right in pursuing talks with Pakistan, but he would be wrong to believe that India’s growth and prosperity were contingent on making peace with that country. If India and Pakistan can, by some remote possibility, reconcile their differences and live in peace with one another, then fine.  If they can’t, that should also be okay for us as well.  Prime Minister Singh will always be favorably remembered in India’s history books for loosening the shackles of our License Raj.  He should remain invested in bringing 400 million of our citizens out of poverty.  India’s growth and development cannot be held hostage to anyone’s grand visions of orchestrating peace with countries that seek nothing but our dismemberment.

 

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The worst offense

The U.S. is doing itself a disservice by holding on to tedious “arms race” narratives about India and Pakistan.

Tom Ricks’ The Best Defense ran a blogpost this morning entitled “The most likely apocalypse in our future: An Indian-Pakistani nuclear exchange.”  As a fan of the blog, I was disappointed with the sort of arguments put forth in the blogpost, peppered as it was with pedestrian and illogical arguments (many sourced from discussions at a recent Carnegie event) . My INI colleague Dhruva Jaishankar has exceptional rebuttal to the above blogpost, but this post will try to touch on a couple of other points.  Let us examine some of these arguments put forth in the blogpost (emphasis added as needed):

The fuse to ignite a war has been lit before — at Kargil in 1999, after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, and most recently, after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 — but a nuclear exchange has been prevented each time. With each of these incidents, though, the fuse has been cut shorter.

Way to use the passive voice.  But it begs the question, “who lit the fuse exactly?” If memory serves one right, during Kargil, it was Pakistan’s COAS, the good Gen. Musharraf, who moved his nuclear assets to the border with India at a time when India responded with limited conventional force in the face of extreme provocation from Pakistan.  Similarly, during the Mumbai attacks, it was Pakistan — not India — that tried to sell the rest of the world the story of an impending nuclear war with India. But such Pakistani hullabaloo is only to be expected — conveying the threat of a nuclear fallout is  a vital component to insulating itself, while continuing to use sub-conventional warfare against India — a “derivative of nuclear deterrence,” as K. Subrahmanyam called it.

The blogpost further states:

The greatest risk for nuclear war in our time is the scenario in which a Pakistan-based terror group with ties to ISI launches another attack on India. It’s nearly happened before. Aparna Pande, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, described the strong pro-nuclear strike faction in Indian politics after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and the common sentiment of, “if Pakistan can cross the border and hit us, why can’t we hit back?”

I would submit that Ms. Pande’s quote is presented out of context.  When one state continues to use terrorism as an instrument of policy against another, isn’t it only logical that the victimized state would assess its response options?  Why does the blogpost assume that India’s response would necessarily be nuclear?  In fact, given India’s conventional superiority wrt Pakistan, why would India ever consider such an option?  “Pro-nuclear strike faction” indeed!

And the pièce de résistance:

A journalist for the Pakistani Spectator, in worried and urgent tones, told the panel that, with the prevailing popular opinion in Pakistan, the United States is “pushing Pakistan in the corner, and they are depending more on the weapon because Pakistan is literally collapsing.” It will be up to the international community, and largely the United States, to help buttress Pakistan’s faltering democracy. The success or failure of stabilization efforts in the next several years will determine which cliché the Pakistani bomb will become: common ground, bargaining chip, or loose cannon.

First, this blogger would like some clarification on what corner Pakistan is being pushed into, who is pushing it into said corner, and what all this pushing-about business has to do with its accumulation of nuclear weapons.  Are we to understand from the Pakistani Spectator’s journalist that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are no longer India-centric and that it is now acquiring nuclear weapons as a contingency against the U.S. (the alleged entity pushing Pakistan into a corner)?  And second, how would Pakistan’s continued accumulation of nuclear weapons save it from collapsing?  Nuclear weapons, after all, are built to destroy, not built to build.

As this blogpost has pointed out previously, Pakistan sees value in portraying itself an an irrational and unstable state. A nuclear-armed Islamic state teetering on the precipice is bound to attract Washington’s attention, and benevolence. There is simply no link between the sort of assurances that the U.S. seeks to obtain on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons project and the emergence of true democracy in Pakistan.  In fact, Pakistan’s proliferation track record under the leadership of the likes of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto should worry D.C. even more.

But if you think you have heard this sort of spiel somewhere before, it’s because you have.  Many in D.C. are so captivated by the theme of India and Pakistan — each apparently as equally likely as the other to initiate a nuclear attack — endangering the region unless the U.S. steps in to resolve their disputes, that they have long forsaken much required rational assessments of the situation in the subcontinent.

Yet, that these sorts of dangerous arguments are perpetuated in high profile opinion pieces does the world no favors. In a recent, carefully articulated op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Messrs. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Hunn, wrote as follows:

Fifth, we recognize that for some nations, nuclear weapons may continue to appear relevant to their immediate security. There are certain undeniable dynamics in play—for example, the emergence of a nuclear-armed neighbor, or the perception of inferiority in conventional forces—that if not addressed could lead to the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and an increased risk they will be used. Thus, while the four of us believe that reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective, some nations will hesitate to draw or act on the same conclusion unless regional confrontations and conflicts are addressed. We must therefore redouble our efforts to resolve these issues. [The Wall Street Journal]

Thinking in the U.S. will hopefully evolve to understanding the nature of Pakistan’s nuclear brinkmanship and its impact on India, the U.S. and the world.  This will require folks in D.C. to truly examine what Pakistan is seeking to achieve and depart from the tedious narratives about a non-existent regional nuclear arms race.  Not altering the current trajectory of thought, and not doing so quickly, will be the worst offense.

 

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After Salmaan Taseer

Five questions for us to answer on liberalism in Pakistan.

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has rightly triggered introspection and discourse in Pakistan on identity — social, religious and national.  Of these, articles written by the likes of Raza Rumi, Huma Yusuf, Ayesha Siddiqa, Yaseer Latif Hamdani and Shehryar Taseer deserve special mention and commendation.  There is, however, no dearth for the alternative narrative in Pakistan.  PML-N’s spokesperson claimed (اردو) that Mr. Taseer would have been assassinated by someone else had Mumtaz Qadri not done so. Irfan Siddiqui suggests (اردو) that while Mr. Taseer’s assassination cannot be condoned, it was expected, given the governor’s “liberal extremist” views.

A parallel discourse is also occurring in the West and in India.  Declan Walsh laments on the fate of the liberal Pakistani; Shekhar Gupta qualifies and clarifies; Seema Mustafa foretells of further doom and gloom. An overarching theme in many commentaries is that a liberal Pakistan is in India’s interests; that a “liberal” Pakistani civilian government would (not to say “could”) radically alter its worldview, foreign policy objectives and how it seeks to achieve them.  The trouble with this argument of course, is that a liberal Pakistani civilian government has never existed.   Even so, some commentaries point to Benazir Bhutto and her administrations of the late ’80s and ’90s as  approximate models.

However, liberal though Ms. Bhutto may have been, Pakistan’s worldview did not undergo material change during her leadership. Bilateral relations with India did not improve. If anything, Ms. Bhutto’s reign coincided with the height of the Jammu & Kashmir insurgency fomented by Pakistan, and proliferation of nuclear technology.  Indeed, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and the motivation to match India to the detriment of all else took shape  under the leadership of her charismatic father, the wine-drinking, UC Berkeley-educated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (“We will eat grass…”).

It would therefore be a worthy exercise to ponder over these five questions on what a model for a liberal Pakistan would look like, and whether a liberal dispensation in Pakistan is a sufficient condition to alter the trajectory of its relationship with India.  For us in India, would the ascendancy of a liberal narrative in Pakistan’s internal discourse  lessen our own threat perception of our neighbor?

  • Could a liberal government in Islamabad effectively end the hold that the military-jihadi complex has on Pakistan’s formulation and implementation of foreign policy objectives?
  • Would it still maintain that India poses an existential threat to Pakistan?
  • What will its position be towards Kashmir? Specifically, towards the insurgency and state-sponsored sub-conventional warfare?
  • What will its position be on terrorism?  If another Mumbai were to occur, would this liberal regime disavow these groups? Actively confront them? Prosecute them? Extradite them, where permissible, to India? Cooperate with India’s own investigation?
  • Would it continue to maintain, by extension of #2, that Pakistan’s conduct in Afghanistan is just and only expected, given India’s commercial and political ties to Kabul?

Tough questions no doubt, but ones that need to be answered in India, as an internal battle for identity rages on in Pakistan.

UPDATE: My op-ed in The Pioneer has a more complete analysis of liberalism in Pakistan.


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