Sunday, November 30, 2008

The India - Pakistani rapprochement is even more important now

Shuja Nawaz writes in the Washington Post that the Mumbai terror attack appears to be likely to derail the recent moves towards a rapprochement between the governments of India and Pakistan. A number of other news reports echo this. But is this apparent common wisdom in the press accurate?

Pakistan has a new government in place since last April, and the terrorists in Pakistan have been attacking there also. Most noticeable was the recent bombing of the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad in September. Both Pakistan and India have suffered numerous smaller terrorist attacks in recent years.

Terrorism is a form of asymmetric warfare. It is being used by Political practitioners of Islamism to take down both the governments of Pakistan and India.

The first function of every government is to provide social stability. It is this function of providing a stable society that terrorists use to attack and delegitimize the existing government. The purpose of the terrorism is to weaken the government to the extent that it is forced to accommodate the otherwise unacceptable demands of the terrorists and possibly even to allow the terrorists to take the government over.

The governments of both Pakistan and India are under direct, violent attack by an alliance of terrorist groups often working together. Such attacks do not always delegitimize a government. Sometimes attacks like that in Mumbai and the earlier one on the Marriot in Islamabad can strengthen a government as people and organizations which otherwise would be competing with each other rally around the government to protect the nation. The single greatest failure of the Bush administration was to squander the opportunity to rally all Americans and much of the world around the American government after 9/11.

The attack on Mumbai is very probably an effort to derail the recent efforts of both the Pakistani and the Indian governments to reach a rapprochement. The Mumbai terrorists appear to have started their attack from Karachi, Pakistan, hijacked a boat, and come into Mumbai from the sea. The Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)has elements which have supported terrorist organizations which attacked India trying to dislodge Indian control of the disputed Indian state of Kashmir. Similar ISI elements appear to be supporting the Taliban in their efforts to retake control of Afghanistan. Pakistan's government clearly does not control all the territory that is generally internationally agreed to be part of Pakistan, nor does it control all the elements of the government itself. It is exactly the type of poorly controlled nation and unstable government most susceptible to the pressures that the terrorists are applying.

The current President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, has been trying to gain greater control over the ISI and remove it ant the military from active politics since becoming President in April. He recently disbanded the political wing of the ISI which is reported to have spied on Pakistani politicians in order to intimidate them and rigged national elections. This follows his earlier failed attempt to place the entire ISI under the control of the Minister of Interior instead of under the control of the military.

Zardari's recent efforts to reach a rapprochement with the India government may be in part an effort to lower tensions between the two nations so that the Pakistani people will feel less need for the Army to take over the government again as it has numerous times in Pakistan's 60 year history. If tensions with India are lowered, then Zardari has a better chance to take control of the uncontrolled parts of Pakistan like North and South Waziristan, provinces in which the indigenous people are supporting the Taliban and al Qaeda.

It would be no surprise to learn that the Mumbai terrorist attack was a push-back against Zardari's efforts to rein in the Pakistani military and the ISI.

If that's the case, then the government of India needs to help strengthen Zardari's government by not threatening Pakistan and instead working towards the rapprochement. Threatening Pakistan will have the perverse effect of strengthening the Pakistani military and weakening the civilian government. It is the general weakness of the Pakistani government which is the greatest threat to both India and Afghanistan.

Both the governments of India and Pakistan need to highlight their shared need to defeat the terrorist attacks by the groups which have been attacking them. By showing that they are fighting a shared enemy, they can take advantage of the "rally around the attacked government" effect.

By showing their respective publics that each government is under attack and is asking the help of the other to help defend itself from attackers based in the other’s territory, it will become more difficult for the terrorist groups to appeal to the people with a claim that their respective government is being propped up as a puppet by an outside government. It is this appearance of being an outside government propping up an unpopular local government that will be the greatest restraint on any U.S. involvement in the rapprochement between those two nations. No government today wants to appear to be a puppet government supported by the U.S.

This looks like a useful strategy for strengthening the existing governments in South Asia and making them more resistant to the kind of terror attacks that have recently occurred in both Mumbai and in Islamabad. Neither nation can accept that the other is providing a place to launch terrorist attacks on it, either with or without government support. An effective rapprochement between the two governments can give both of them assurance that the other government is not directly supporting attacks, while the strengthening of both governments so that they are able to minimize rogue elements and control their territory will allow the each government to have greater trust in other. The overall result will be to bring about the stability that is always the first function of government.

The Mumbai terror attack, likely intended to drive a wedge between the governments of India and Pakistan to weaken them both, could have the perverse effect of drawing the two national governments closer together and strengthening them both. But as Bush's total failure to use the world-wide desire to help America after 9/11 clearly demonstrates, the direction public opinion takes depends a lot on how the governments of Pakistan and India act.

Addendum 12/01/2008 11:09 am CST

The problem in Pakistan is that the national government does not have sufficient control over the various groups and tribal areas to prevent terrorist groups from using Pakistan as training grounds and staging areas for attacks. Many such groups have taken control of parts of the government itself, the ISI apparently being infiltrated. But the current central government is attempting to gain control of its nation, which is a reason why the terrorists are attacking inside Pakistan as well as outside.

That's why it is dangerous for outsiders, even angry Indians reacting to the terrorist events in Mumbai, to accuse Pakistan of sending the terrorists to Mumbai without very strong evidence. India cannot take control of Pakistan and solve the problems there. That has to be done by the Pakistani government. Accusing "Pakistan" of "sending" the terrorists weakens the government. That is why the Rapprochement between to governments of Pakistan and India MUST be strengthened to deal with the terrorist groups. That means that the Pakistani people must be encouraged to support their government at the same time that the government of Zardari must be supported in its efforts to root out the terrorist elements within rogue elements of the government, all without making the Zardari government look like a weak puppet installed by outsiders to "straighten out" Pakistan.

With that in mind, look at the complicated reactions of the Pakistani People to the Mumbai terror event as described In Time.
Most Pakistanis reacted with horror to news of the Mumbai killing spree starting Wednesday, having lived through equally devastating attacks on their own soil. But that initial sympathy quickly gave way to hostility as the focus of blame landed on Pakistan — a knee-jerk first reaction, rather than one based on any solid evidence. "It is a tragic incident, and we also felt bad about it as Pakistan is going through the same problem," says Abdur Rashid, a 67-year-old retired government servant in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. "But it was really unfortunate to see that even before the operation [to clear out the attackers] was finished, the Indian government stated that Pakistan is involved. It sounds that the entire incident was concocted to punish Pakistan."

On Sunday, Indian media began reporting that the only attacker captured alive, a Versace-T-shirted 21-year-old by the name of Ajmal Amir Kamal, was Pakistani, and that he had identified all his fellow militants as being trained by the banned Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba. Pakistanis are suspicious of these claims. "There is simply not enough evidence at this point to blame Pakistan," says Najam Sethi, editor of the English political weekly, the Friday Times. "No statement made under duress can be counted as 100% fact, and you can imagine the conditions under which this confession was made."

However, Sethi adds, "the Pakistan connection certainly can't be ruled out. These attackers were not hijackers negotiating with hostages. They knew they were on a suicide mission, and you can certainly find a lot of suicide bombers in the tribal areas." At the same time, the attackers clearly had a local connection, he argues, because out-of-towners could have had the intimate knowledge of the layout of Mumbai and of the targets to have caused so much carnage.

Amir Rana, an expert on Pakistani terrorist groups with the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, says he has heard some troubling reports, but says that no accusations should be leveled before a thorough investigation is completed. He cites several recent terrorist attacks in India that were initially blamed on Pakistan, only to have investigations later reveal that the perpetrators were aggrieved Indian Muslims, and in at least one case, Hindu extremists. Early accusations such as these, he worries, may only impede the close cooperation between the two countries necessary to resolve the issue.

"What we may actually be seeing here is an incident of transnational terrorism," he says. "The ideology is shared across borders, from Pakistan to India to Bangladesh." Terrorists these days are just as likely to meet in Dubai to discuss logistics, or in Katmandu to plan strategies. Training can take place not only in the ungoverned tribal areas of Pakistan, but also in Bangladesh, which also faces a mounting challenge from Islamic extremism. Weapons, distributed by a network of arms dealers that supply Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, Indian separatists groups and even Nepal's Maoists, are in easy reach. Neither the weapons, nor the tactics, of the Mumbai attackers point to any one country, says Rana. "For these kinds of attacks there is no need for training camps. There were no heavy weapons or guerilla tactics. The kind of training they needed could have been done in a single room."
IF the Mumbai terror attack was intended to derail the efforts towards rapprochement between the governments of Pakistan and India, (a conditional statement not yet proven, but highly likely) then rash accusations that the attacks were caused by "Pakistan" (suggesting that the government of Pakistan had a hand it the attack and that it was, at the very least, approved at the highest government levels) can serve only to give whoever directed the attack the victory they are looking for.

The People of Pakistan have themselves suffered through terrorist attacks, and as the Time Magazine article shows, were for the most part as horrified at the attacks on Mumbai as anyone else in the world. But the rash accusations that the Mumbai attack was "caused by Pakistan" have already begun to cause a defensive counter-reaction among the Pakistani people. The governments of both India and Pakistan must be encouraged to state that there will be no accusations until a thorough and independent investigation of the Mumbai attacks has been performed, and then both governments need to ensure that those independent investigations are performed without hindrance.

Accusatory statements should not be made by any government, especially governments other than those of India and Pakistan. The U.S. and Great Britain can aid by assisting in the investigations and by certifying their independence, but statements from either the U.S. or Great Britain have to be limited to expressing sympathy and support for the victims and (in muted terms that cannot sound like they are giving instructions - that's something hard for Global or ex-Imperial powers to do) their support of the governments of both India and Pakistan.

The issue of who wins or loses as a result of the Mumbai terror attack is still up in the air. The attack only started the real battle. It is now being fought-out in the court of public opinion, and the final results will be determined by the actions taken by the governments of India and Pakistan. The goal for the end game is that the governments of both India and Pakistan must be seen as strengthened, not weakened, by the Mumbai terror attack.

The example of what NOT to do was provided by the Bush administration reaction to 9/11. The end result of the attacks by 19 individuals on 9/11 has been two on-going wars, a cold war with Iran and an American nation with an international reputation and international support severely damaged by the government approved use of torture, the existence of Guantanamo and it's kangaroo courts which are not restrained by the Rule of Law, and by the events in Abu Ghraib for which no official of any significance has suffered punishment.

India and Pakistan must take advantage of the bad example provided by the Bush administration if they are to succeed in defeating the Mumbai terrorists in the court of public opinion.

Time magazine ends its article with a very similar admonishment which sums up what I have been saying.
Asim Javeid, a 23-year-old student in Rawalpindi, agrees. "The Mumbai attack shows that terrorism is a common threat to both India and Pakistan. Unless both countries join hands and take measures to combat terrorism, we will not be able to defeat this curse."

1 comment:

adolfo said...

Every time it comes to the crunch, ordinary Pakistanis show that they have a deep commitment to the country and know what is in the national interest. Thus, it is extremely reassuring to find that the media and NGO hype notwithstanding, Pakistanis are viewing the rapprochement process between Pakistan and India with caution.