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Lessons From The Peshawar Attack: Isolate all extremists

It’s humanly impossible not to be revolted by the killing of 134 innocent children in Peshawar by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and not to feel a surge of empathy with Pakistani citizens. This barbaric attack galvanised unprecedented solidarity demonstrations and vigils in South Asian cities.

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After Peshawar: Seize the peace opportunity

India can make this a unique moment for South Asia too by reaching out to Pakistan with earnest proposals for cooperation—whether in fighting terrorism, aggressively promoting trade, or stabilising Afghanistan. This entails a sea-change in the official mindset—from regarding Pakistan as an enemy to be vanquished, to a potentially friendly neighbour, with whom contentious issues can be peacefully resolved. India must not squander this opportunity.

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India-Pakistan: Courting yet more nuclear danger?

Eighteen years after it rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Indian government remains implacably hostile to it, and bristles even at attempts to raise the issue of its entry into force (EIF). This was demonstrated again last week when a member of an eminent persons’ group, established by the Preparatory Commission for the CTBT Organisation to promote EIF, visited India. He was given the cold shoulder by the foreign ministry. India professes a commitment to global nuclear disarmament, but doesn’t support an important, indispensable, step towards abolishing these mass-destruction arms — the only weapons which can exterminate all life on earth, and against which there’s no real defence.

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A perverse notion of modernity

The subcontinent’s leaders never learn from mistakes—their own, or one another’s. Nawaz Sharif’s White Elephant M-2 expressway was one of the greatest scandals in global infrastructure development history. Now, India is about to produce its match—in aviation, by building a $4 billion (Rs12,700 crore) new terminal at Delhi airport. Terminal-3, to be opened soon, is claimed to be the world’s fifth-largest airport terminal, and bigger than Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and Singapore ’s Changi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh euphorically described T-3 as signifying the “arrival of a new India , committed to join the ranks of modern, industrialised nations …”.

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India must defuse rivalry with Pakistan

India and Pakistan should acknowledge their respective and joint stakes in stabilising Afghanistan. This could best happen if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convenes a summit in New Delhi with Presidents Zardari and Karzai to discuss peace-building, trade and transit, joint action against jehadi extremism, people-to-people exchanges, and economic cooperation. There are two preconditions for the success of such an initiative. First, the India-Pakistan dialogue must be resumed quickly. India’s refusal to talk to Pakistan has proved counter-productive. Mature diplomacy must replace this approach.

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Reworking India’s Regional Policy: Resume dialogue with Pakistan

Does India have a half-way coherent policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two turbulent countries which have major implications for Indian security? Going by recent developments, the honest answer is no. India is losing opportunity after opportunity to help stabilise this critical part of its neighbourhood in the interests of the region’s people.

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An insecure arsenal

The task of securing Pakistan’s nuclear facilities against an extremist takeover cannot be left to the U.S. alone.

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The great capitulation

Indians and Pakistanis have to develop a common, rational understanding of the partition story that is free of nationalist prejudice.

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Welcome resumption

The News International, July 25, 2009

by Praful Bidwai (The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh surprised many of his own advisers and supporters by issuing a joint statement at Sharm-al-Shaikh in Egypt with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, which pledged to resume the bilateral dialogue process. It was widely expected that the dialogue, suspended after last November's ghastly Mumbai terrorist attacks, would be re-started only after Pakistan showed a credible commitment and took visible action to bring their perpetrators to justice and decisively fight terrorism directed at India from its soil.

Admittedly, the signs of this happening are still tentative -although Pakistan's 36-page dossier given to India names Lashkar-e-Taiba's Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakshvi as the attacks' mastermind and admits that Ajmal Amir Kasab and other attackers were Pakistani nationals. Islamabad has now brought the case to the prosecution stage. Its charge-sheet in the case contains important evidence gathered domestically, which adds to that provided by India. How the prosecution proceeds, and whether the culprits are punished, is an open question.

So was Singh right to have convinced himself that Pakistan means business now and therefore the stalled dialogue should resume, albeit gradually, at the foreign secretary level? Was the joint statement justified in saying: "Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed"? Was he right to stress that he hadn't diluted India's stand demanding action against terrorism?

In India, the Bharatiya Janata Party and hawkish former diplomats and soldiers have pounced on the "delinking" formulation and accused Singh of "surrender", capitulation to external pressure, and worse. Even the ruling Congress has distanced itself from the phrase. LK Advani has charged Singh with breaching the national consensus against talks with Islamabad unless it acts against jehadi groups. Worse, the statement's reference to Balochistan has been attacked as signifying India's admission that it has clandestinely fomented trouble there.

These criticisms are largely misdirected and based on the misperception that the composite dialogue has already been resumed and will continue full tilt no matter what. In fact, what Singh and Gilani agreed to was limited and laced with caution. As Singh told parliament, and Foreign Secretary Menon clarified, the talks won't restart until Pakistan shows "real progress" in anti-terrorist actions. The "delinking" formulation is inelegant, awkward and ambiguous. It can be interpreted by either side to suit domestic exigencies. Pakistan can claim it has succeeded in resuming the dialogue although the case against LeT operatives isn't completed. India can claim that it has extracted an assurance from Pakistan that it would act firmly against terrorism -as any minimally civilised country should do -irrespective of what happens in the dialogue.

In truth, the two processes -anti-terrorism action and dialogue--have their independent logic and dynamics. They will converge as they gather momentum at their own respective pace. That's what genuine, positive engagement leading to reconciliation is all about. Both sides must recognise and respect this. Neither should act unilaterally. For instance, Pakistan shouldn't stop acting against jehadi groups if, say, talks on Sir Creek or Siachen fail. The two governments must hold firm and persevere with the dialogue. Singh shouldn't be on the defensive about having made a leap of faith by agreeing to re-start the process. Atal Behari Vajpyee did exactly that -in 1999 and in 2004, when he launched the peace process with Gen Pervez Musharraf.

There are two differences, though. The 2004 dialogue began before Pakistan took credible steps to rein in or crack down upon anti-India jehadi groups. Today, it's being resumed after Pakistan has taken more effective action against them than at any time in the last quarter-century. The 2004 launch took place on the basis of Musharraf's verbal assurance that Pakistan would its utmost to prevent its territory from being used to attack India. Vajpayee, who had only a few months earlier ruled out talks, decided to take him seriously. The results aren't perfect. But India and Pakistan are unarguably better off after the dialogue. They even made significant progress on Kashmir in their "back-channel" discussions.

Today's context is in many ways better. Islamabad has admitted, frankly and categorically, that Pakistani nationals and groups planned and executed the Mumbai attacks. This is a departure from the long-practised strategy of "plausible deniability". This is happening when the Pakistan Army is fighting the Al-Qaeda-Taliban at its western border in alliance with and under the watch of the US-led International Security Assistance Force. Pakistan is under domestic and international pressure to erase the stigma of being a state that nurtured terrorism.

Pakistan is a divided, heterogeneous entity. Its civilian government has seriously signalled that it wants better relations with India. It has so far succeeded in keeping the hawks in check and pushed a moderate agenda in alliance with political and civil society forces genuinely opposed to violent extremism. Yet, the hawks and India-baiters in the ISI and other agencies haven't been marginalised. That can only happen when the moderates get more support.

It's in India's own interest to stop treating Pakistan as a homogenous entity and to build a strategic alliance with the moderate forces which combine an anti-extremist, anti-military outlook with a pro-democratisation agenda. It would be unwise to leave such alliance-building to governments alone. India and Pakistan must open up the process to scholars, artists, writers, cultural activists and civil society groups by facilitating their movement across the borders. Their interaction can produce dramatic results.

India should also do all it can to allay fears over its activities in Balochistan, -although there's no moral-political parity between India's suspect behaviour in Balochistan and Pakistan's own long-standing and large-scale support to violent separatism in Kashmir. Singh's hysterical critics fail to understand any of this. Indeed, they don't even pause to ask why Pakistan's moderates are so keen to resume a dialogue with India and remain invested in that agenda. Hawks in both countries have a single refrain: Pakistan and India are destined to be enemies given the history of three-and-a-half wars, the military's dominance in Pakistan, and the festering of numerous disputes.

This is a totally a-historical judgement. It erases or trivialises many instances of reconciliation and fruitful friendship developing between long-standing rivals. Take Germany and France, which were in a centuries-long state of intermittent war, in which they sacrificed millions of their people. Yet, after the Second World War, they reached reconciliation and laid the foundations of the Common Market, which later grew into the European Community and today's 27-member European Union.

The two European rivals achieved this through persistent, hard negotiations, which rejected pessimism, confronted issues head-on, and adopted a hard-nosed but positive approach. The process established a relationship called co-bonding in international relations theory.

Put simply, co-bonding involves former adversaries tying each other down through cooperative agreements, mutual interaction, and greater exposure of their citizens and officials to each other's cultures -so that there is no backsliding into mutual suspicion and rivalry. It's as if two wrestlers who balance each other had gradually moved from a posture exerting unbearable pressure to a friendly embrace. Co-bonding is precisely what India and Pakistan need. But for that to happen, both governments will have to try hard, earnestly, in good faith, not once but repeatedly. They have made a tentative but welcome beginning. -end-

Impressive victory of people's power in Pakistan

The world public must applaud the people of Pakistan for fighting authoritarianism and taking a major step towards real democratisation through an independent judiciary. It is a tribute to the moral strength of the civil society mobilisation for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that it brought President Asif Ali Zardari to his knees peacefully. The agitation has broken the fear barrier in Pakistan. This is a historic gain.

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Lahore: the final wake-up call

The News International, March 7, 2009

by Praful Bidwai

By targeting Sri Lankan cricketers in the heart of Lahore, Pakistani militants have crossed yet another red line. The attackers were well-trained terrorists armed with rocket launchers, grenades and automatic guns. That they engaged the police in a 25-minute gun battle and escaped only proves their professional prowess.

They didn't target the cricket team because they have anything in particular against Sri Lanka.

By targeting Sri Lankan cricketers in the heart of Lahore, Pakistani militants have crossed yet another red line. The attackers were well-trained terrorists armed with rocket launchers, grenades and automatic guns. That they engaged the police in a 25-minute gun battle and escaped only proves their professional prowess.

They didn't target the cricket team because they have anything in particular against Sri Lanka. We still don't know their identity, but they could be any one or a combination of jihadi groups, from Al-Qaeda offshoots, to Baitullah Mehsud's Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or Jaish-e-Mohammed. These organisations form a continuum, with a lot of flux between them currently.

Their motive seems to have been threefold. First, to produce mayhem and insecurity, and show that neither the police, nor ordinary Pakistani citizens, nor apolitical foreigners, are immune from their depredations, and the government is powerless. Secondly, they wanted to show they aren't cowed down by the recent arrests for the Mumbai attacks and can repeat a mini-Mumbai in Pakistan. They may also have been trying hostage-taking to free detained jihadi militants. Last but not least, they wanted to signal their bellicose defiance to coincide with the India-Pakistan visit of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Robert Mueller. The FBI is collaborating with Indian agencies in investigating Mumbai, and reportedly has strong evidence against LeT. Its personnel might stand witness in the Mumbai case.

An FBI team was camping in Pakistan to interrogate Zarar Shah and Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the Mumbai attacks' handlers. The jihadis' message to it was to lay off and recognise that Taliban-style militancy has come to stay in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under its sway, the disgraceful Swat deal to impose the Sharia can be repeated in the heart of Punjab. The message? The more you yield to the jihadis, the more emboldened they become to come back for more.

The Swat deal was signed by the NWFP government led by the secular Awami National Party. It was the result of utter desperation and insecurity, which is so extreme that ANP leaders no longer dare step out of their homes. The truth is the army's 20,000 troops in Malakand division could not defeat the TTP's 3,000 militants. Meanwhile, the ANP's strategy of countering the fundamentalism of the mullahs of the Tehreek Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi (TNSM) with Pushtun nationalism failed.

The writ of the state no longer runs in Malakand. The TTP and the TNSM under Maulana Fazlullah have overrun Swat, closing down girls' schools, turning women into prisoners in their homes, preventing men from shaving beards, and generally terrorising a 1.5 million-strong population, causing 350,000 people to flee. Yet, the government dishonestly rationalises the Swat deal as the sole means to restore peace in keeping with "the people's will". Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi has termed it "a local remedy for a local problem." Even information minister Sherry Rehman has rationalised its extension beyond Swat to the other five districts of Malakand.

The Lahore attack coincides with the aggravation of multiple other crises in Pakistan. These include a severe economic recession, inflation at 25%, and plummeting foreign reserves; a crisis of governance, with insurgencies raging in volatile provinces and; growing disintegration of state institutions.

The latest is the political crisis precipitated by the Supreme Court's judgment to disqualify former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, from holding public office or contesting elections. This has put Pakistan's two largest parties on a collision course.

The judgment is widely seen as a rigged verdict delivered by hand-picked judges appointed by President Asif Ali Zardari, who had been sworn in under former President Musharraf's Provisional Constitutional Order. Even Prime Minister Gilani regrets the verdict as unfortunate.

Zardari wants to control the Punjab and is loath to thwart any challenge to the collusive National Reconciliation Ordinance. He has betrayed his promise to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, for whose reinstatement lawyers are launching a mass agitation. This is likely to lead to a huge confrontation, with grave consequences for Pakistan's stability, and for the always-precarious balance between military and civilian power.

However, the army has no coherent strategy to deal with the rising tide of terrorism and religious extremism. It has allowed the Afghan Taliban's Quetta Shura to flourish and provided sanctuary to its militants in the border areas. But its calculation that it would achieve its objective of creating "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and yet control the Pakistan jihadi militancy has gone awry. Benazir Bhutto's assassination, the Marriott Hotel attack, and the Lahore episode bear testimony to this.

The army is either unwilling or worse, unable to fully join the fight against the jihadi militancy in Pakistan. Nor is it really cooperating with the US-led forces in Afghanistan and hasn't broken the nexus between Afghanistan's Al-Qaeda-Taliban and Pakistan's TTP-TNSM, as the latter escalate their deadly threat to its state. This has aggravated the state's legitimacy crisis.

With all its institutions in disarray, the Pakistani state is beginning to unravel. It may be too early to talk of Pakistan imploding, but power in Pakistan is increasingly fragmented and the state no longer controls large swathes of territory. The commonest image of this is the failed or failing state. Pakistan figures at Rank Nine in the Failed States Index compiled for 2008 by Foreign Policy magazine of the Fund for Peace (US).

Somalia holds the first rank, Sudan the second, and Zimbabwe the third. Pakistan is just two ranks below Afghanistan, and marginally higher than war-ravaged Central African Republic and Guinea.

The index may not be perfect, but it's a good pointer. Twelve criteria are used to compile it, including the state's criminalisation and delegitimisation, progressive deterioration of public services, widespread human rights violations, security apparatus as "a state within a state", legacy of vengeance-seeking groups, the rise of factionalised elites, uneven economic development along group lines, sharp and/or severe economic decline, and movement of refugees and internally displaced, etc. Pakistan scores badly (8 or higher on a deteriorating scale of 10) on 10 of the 12--a sign of its slow unravelling.

This will have dreadful consequences for South Asia, including Afghanistan. It's ludicrous to react to Lahore by pointing fingers at India, as some Pakistani leaders did, or adopting smug "we-told-you-so" postures, as India's Home Minister P Chidambaram did.

The US cannot sort out Pakistan. It has a myopic and parochial agenda -- witness its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 after creating the deadly mujahidin network there. Defence Secretary Robert Gates now says Washington "would be very open" to a Swat-style agreement in Afghanistan. The emerging strategy of a "troops surge", which President Obama is keen on, coupled with appeasement and bribery of the jihadis, is bad news.

The only sensible alternative is a regional approach to isolate the jihadis who are a menace for all of South Asia. But for this to materialise, the Pakistani state must summon up the will to crack down on groups like LeT and LeJ and their domestic and Afghan collaborators. Lahore is the final wake-up call. We must all answer it before it's too late.

India: 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' Approach to Pakistan

Inter Press Service, 16 January 2009

by Praful Bidwai

NEW DELHI, Jan 16 (IPS) - Exasperated by what it regards as "a continuing pattern of evasiveness and denial in Pakistan's response to the terrorist attack on Mumbai", India seems to be fashioning a two-pronged approach towards Islamabad to get it to act firmly against terrorist networks based on its soil.

If one element in this approach is to downgrade relations with Pakistan and remind it that the military option is not entirely off the table, the second element is to cajole Pakistan to proceed legally against jehadi extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and yet again, Tehreek-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awal).

Different officials of the Indian government have recently made varying statements suggesting the existence of such a dual strategy, or 'the good cop, bad cop' approach.

India's Ministry of External Affairs has by and large adopted a soft stance, while other officials have spoken as if they preferred a strategy to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan in a calibrated way.

Thus, following the second approach, India's newly appointed Home Minister P. Chidambaram told 'The (London) Times' that India could consider ending people-to-people and trade relations with Islamabad.

Chidambaram said: "There are many, many links between India and Pakistan, and if Pakistan does not cooperate and does not help to bring the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks to heel, those ties will become weaker and weaker and one day snap."

On Thursday, in another instance of this graded approach, India's army chief Deepak Kapoor told the media that New Delhi is keeping all its options open, but the military option would be "the last resort". He said: "There is no need for war hysteria" and emphasised that "waging war is a political decision".

More ominously, Kapoor hinted at the possibility of covert action in Afghanistan and said increasing India's strategic presence in Afghanistan is "one of the factors" to be considered in exerting pressure on Pakistan. But he made it clear that the decision would be a political one.

Kapoor said: "Changing our strategic policy towards Kabul in terms of raising military stakes is one of the factors that is to be determined politically."

Just a week earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had accused Pakistan of using "terrorism as an instrument of state policy".

Yet another indication of this gradual hardening of India's stance came in the cancellation of a meeting with Pakistan to discuss a maritime border dispute at Sir Creek, a narrow 100 kilometre-long estuary which divides the two countries on the Arabian Sea.

It was from the Sir Creek area that the 10 men who conducted the Mumbai attacks of Nov. 26-29 hijacked a fishing boat to reach their destination.

The Creek has long been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan, who disagree on the location of the maritime border, and have debated it since 1999. Officials of the two countries recently conducted a survey of the estuary.

The dispute is considered extremely close to resolution. "We have made considerable progress and hopefully, a solution should emerge in a couple of meetings," says an Indian official who declined to be identified.

"But the Mumbai attacks and Pakistan's refusal to take action on the basis of the detailed dossier on Mumbai recently given to it by India have complicated matters,'' the official added.

Pressure on New Delhi to adopt a tough stance vis-à-vis Pakistan comes especially from the media, from retired diplomats and military and intelligence officials. This is apart from ultra-nationalist, opposition political parties.

Immediately after the Mumbai attacks, several television channels launched a campaign in favour of punishing Pakistan. This has, however, become less hysterical recent days.

But 10 former ambassadors, last week, urged the government to downgrade diplomatic ties with Pakistan.

In a joint statement, the ambassadors, including four former foreign secretaries, called upon the government to suspend bilateral negotiations and the peace process, discontinue state-assisted cultural, sporting and other exchanges, review existing bilateral treaties and agreements and take specific economic measures against Pakistan.

They also want New Delhi to restrict procurement from countries or companies supplying defence material to Pakistan.

However, their appeal, and their view that that the attacks were carried out "with the knowledge and support of sections of the Pakistan military and the ISI" (Inter-Services Intelligence agency), are at variance with the Foreign Ministry's position against suspending trade, transport and cultural relations with Pakistan.

A senior Ministry official has said that the demand for terminating diplomatic and people-to-people links would "actually play into the hands of the Pakistani military establishment", which would like to stoke tensions and generate a state of siege in the neighbouring country.

India’s foreign ministry has reacted in a relatively cool and sober fashion to statements emanating from Pakistan to the effect that the Mumbai dossier contains "information", but not "evidence".

In a significant move, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told a television channel on Friday that India would be satisfied if those involved in planning and executing the Mumbai attacks are tried in Pakistani courts, provided they are "tried fairly".

An identical view was stated two days earlier in New Delhi by visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

This marks a departure from India's earlier demand that Pakistan must hand over to it some 40 terrorists and fugitives from Indian law. India has made this demand repeatedly since the Parliament House attack of December 2001, allegedly conducted by a Pakistan-based group.

India has not officially withdrawn that demand. "But there seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that it is not very practical to expect Pakistan to surrender its nationals for trial in India," says Achin Vanaik, a professor of international relations and global politics at the University of Delhi.

"This recognition is welcome, but Pakistan must do more on its own to crack down on jehadi groups,'' Vanaik added.

Many Pakistan-based analysts believe that Islamabad, in particular its weak civilian government, cannot afford to be seen to be caving in to Indian pressure.

For instance, former general Talat Masood has repeatedly said on Indian television channels that there is likely to be a divergence between officials pronouncements and actions, but that he expected some action on the ground.

As if on cue, on Thursday, Pakistan’s prime ministerial advisor on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, announced the detention of 71 members of outlawed militant groups such as the JuD and the LeT and such of their top ranking leaders as Hafiz Mohammed Saeed founder of both groups, Mufti Abdur Rehman and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.

Malik, in a televised press conference, said five "training camps" of the JuD had been shut down and its websites banned. A special investigation team headed by a top official of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) will now examine "without any prejudice" all aspects of the Mumbai attacks and the information provided by India, he said.

"India's best bet lies in patient diplomacy at the bilateral and multilateral levels to secure a firm commitment and action from Pakistan to put down jehadi groups,’’ argues Vanaik.

‘’All talk of covert operations in Afghanistan is a major distraction from this, Vanaik said. It can only stoke suspicion and hostility in Pakistan and strengthen the hardliners, besides creating new intractable rivalries in Afghanistan's already troubled situation."

Vanaik believes that it is unwise for India to place too much reliance on the United States, given President-elect Barrack Obama's intention to intensify the Afghanistan war. This, he said, calls for cooperation from the Pakistan Army and limits the amount of pressure the U.S. can mount on Pakistan.

Another of New Delhi's priorities has been to persuade Washington to abandon its plans to appoint a special envoy to South Asia, who will help mediate Kashmir as well as other outstanding regional issues. Recent indications suggest that the Indian government has had a measure of success in this.

Meanwhile, civil society groups in both India and Pakistan are stepping up their efforts to maintain people-to-people contacts and ask their governments to abjure the military option and jointly fight religious extremism and terrorism.

A 20-member delegation of Pakistani civil society activists is planning to visit New Delhi between Jan. 21 and 23. It will be hosted by a number of Indian peace groups and activists and will interact with senior political leaders, key policymakers, the academic community and the media.


Concern for Zardari's Civilian Gov't Stays India

[Inter Press Service, 7 December 2008 ||en]

by Praful Bidwai

NEW DELHI, Dec 7 (IPS) - After United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to New Delhi and Islamabad, in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, India has added a new rationale for stepping up pressure on Pakistan for taking decisive action against jehadi extremists operating from its soil.

However, India has still not determined what approach to adopt to achieve its objective, and is wary of using means which might escalate hostility with Pakistan in ways which would "play into the hands" of those responsible for acts of terrorism against its citizens.

In a special background briefing for the media, a senior Indian official only identifiable under briefing rules as "authoritative source" said India has proof of the involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the Mumbai attacks, which left nearly 200 people dead.

But India will not make this accusation publicly for fear that that would escalate tensions and weaken the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari, which it regards as favourably disposed towards the peace process with India.

This is the first time since last week's attacks that India has named the ISI for its role in them. By implication, the unnamed official also suggested that the Pakistan army was aware of the ISI's links with the attackers, because "it would be surprising" if the agency were able to operate independently and without the military leadership's knowledge.

The official did not share specific details of the evidence that Indian investigators claim to have found of the ISI's role in the attacks, but said they had "the names of the handlers and trainers of the attackers, the locations where the training was held, and some of their communications".

The messages he referred to were sent using Voice-over-Internet-Protocol to "addresses that have been used by known ISI people before’’.

The attackers are believed to belong to an extremist group called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the military wing of a fundamentalist organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, headed by Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. LeT is formally banned, but continues to be active under a different guise.

U.S. intelligence agencies too claim to have intercepts of the attackers' conversations on satellite and mobile telephones during the 60 hour-long operation launched by Indian security and police agencies to overpower them. But it is not known if they have compared this information with the details gathered by Indian agencies.

A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation team is currently in India, as are British and Israeli agencies. They are sharing intelligence and coordinating their investigations with Indian agencies.

As New Delhi formulates its strategy amidst domestic public and political pressure to show that it "means business", it makes a sharp distinction between Pakistan's elected civilian government and the army.

Indian officials believe the Pakistan army would want a military crisis on its eastern border, so that it could have a reason for redeploying the 100,000 thousand troops that are currently on the western border with Afghanistan, where they are engaged in a highly unpopular war supporting U.S.-led troops of the International Security Assistance Force.

But India does not want to "play their game" and wants the Pakistan army "to continue being engaged in the fight against terrorism" along the Afghan border, "because that's also our war’’.

This is the closest that India has come to in endorsing and associating itself with the ISAF operation in Afghanistan and along its extremely volatile areas bordering Pakistan.

"In some ways, this is a subtle departure from India's earlier position, which did not vocally declare the U.S.-led anti-al-Qaeda Taleban operation as 'our war'," says Achin Vanaik, professor of international relations and global politics at Delhi University.

"This shift seems to be related both to Indian leaders' discussions with Rice, and their desire to keep open the option of persuading U.S.-led forces to undertake military operations against the strongholds of jehadi militants operating against India from within Pakistan,’’ Vanaik said.

In her talks here during what may be one of her last forays into South Asia before she demits office, Condoleezza Rice promised all "cooperation, support and solidarity" to India in its fight against terrorists originating in Pakistan, but said it was primarily Pakistan's responsibility to act against them.

Reacting to President Zardari's statement that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack were "non-state actors", Rice also said: "Non-state actors sometimes act in the confines of the state and there has to be strong action against them... it's a matter of responsibility."

However, Rice made it clear that U.S. support for India is premised upon the assumption that India will not escalate tensions with Pakistan and offer it an excuse to divert its troops from the Afghanistan border. Their deployment at that border, and their cooperation with ISAF, are top priorities for the U.S. in a war that it is not winning.

Rice emphasised this in response to Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement and their joint press conference. Mukherjee said New Delhi is determined to take whatever action is necessary "to protect India's territorial integrity". She responded: "Any response by India has to be judged in terms of prevention and not by creating unintended consequences or difficulties."

In Islamabad, Rice extracted from Zardari a promise of "strong action" against any Pakistani elements found involved in the Mumbai attacks. She underlined the "urgency" of such action and emphasised the American nationals were killed in Mumbai.

The unnamed Indian official's briefing made clear that India's response to the Mumbai attacks would not replicate the strategy it adopted in December 2001 after India's Parliament House was attacked, allegedly by Pakistani terrorists.

India broke off or downgraded diplomatic and transportation links with Pakistan, and mobilised 700,000 troops at the border in an attempt to compel Pakistan to surrender "20 wanted fugitives" living on its soil, including the chief of the terrorist group Jaish-i-Mohammed, Massod Azhar, who had been exchanged for hostages in a 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane.

Pakistan responded by mobilising 300,000 troops. The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation continued for 10 long months, during which India and Pakistan at least twice came close to actual combat with a real potential for escalation to the nuclear level.

At his briefing, the anonymous Indian official said today's situation in Pakistan, with a divided or fragmented power structure, is not comparable to 2001: "Then, we were dealing with one Pakistan. There was Musharraf (the former president and army chief), and that was it. Today, the situation is different."

Some Indian officials are worried at the possible consequences of coercive diplomacy and any strategy of ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan to act against groups like LeT.

A senior diplomat who insisted on anonymity said: "We are acutely aware that the Pakistan situation is extremely fragile, and the state could disintegrate or unravel. The army could stage a coup citing a national crisis."

Vanaik argues that "excessive pressure from India, and especially any move towards deploying the military option, would impel the pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the border areas near Afghanistan to offer to join hands with the Pakistan army to unitedly fight India, which they now regard as a major ally of the U.S. and part of what they describe as the Christian-Zionist-Hindu global axis".

Former Pakistan foreign minister Gauhar Ayub Khan confirmed this assessment during a television debate on an Indian channel. He said: "These elements are strongly anti-India and joined wars against India in 1947-48, 1965 and 1971. They will do it again if India exercises the military option."

Some of these groups have already offered a ceasefire if Pakistan allows them to fight India on the eastern border.

As they try to fashion a coherent strategy to deal with the fallout of the Mumbai attacks, Indian officials are balancing different factors, including pressure from the domestic rightwing for tough action, their concern to keep the Western powers, especially the U.S., on board, and their anxiety not to further weaken the Zardari government.

As the unnamed "authoritative source" says: "The perpetrators have to be fixed", but we face a "dilemma".


Pakistan crisis: The General in his labyrinth

Khaleej Times Online, August 9, 2008

by Praful Bidwai

After days of uncertainty, dramatic tension and flip-flops, Pakistan's ruling coalition has decided to ask President Pervez Musharraf to resign or face impeachment. This might begin what could be a decisive battle for the assertion of will of the people's elected representatives against unaccountable centres of power — or precipitate a chain of negative events.

The tortuous manner in which the decision was reached — after vacillation, off-now, on-now moments, and the theatrical restoration of eight High Court judges amidst charges of perfidy — raises questions about its solidity and the coalition's ability to accomplish what is an extremely difficult task even in favourable circumstances in mature democracies.

It's also not excluded that Musharraf will strike suddenly to pre-empt or neutralise the impeachment move. Among the reasons that provoked the move was the apprehension that he might dissolve the national and provincial governments.

A confrontation will be averted if Musharraf himself quits in the knowledge that he may not be able to secure the backing of the United States or the Pakistan Army for a confrontationist course. After all, he is no longer in a critical day-to-day policy-making position, nor indispensable to the US-led Global War on Terrorism (GWoT). Besides, Washington cannot relish the prospect of a massive new Pakistan crisis during an election year.

As it appears barely two months after my visit to Pakistan, the situation there is marked by instability and potential for retrogression. As the divided, rudderless civilian political leadership flounders, the business of governance is in the deep freezer. Pakistan's economy is in poor shape. Pessimism and gloom rule.

The military is under enormous pressure from the US to escalate its operations against the Taleban along the Afghanistan border, or to allow the US-led International Security Assistance Force to undertake raids. The army's authority stands greatly eroded and its popular acceptance is low.

Extremist jehadi forces are growing everywhere in Pakistan. On the first anniversary of the Lal Masjid's storming, thousands of women pledged to raise their children for martyrdom in "holy war". Militants are torching girls' schools in the tribal areas.

There is a growing danger now that the gains from the recent trends towards democratisation could be undermined. These trends run against authoritarianism, negatively view the Three A's (Army, Allah and America), and favour moderation and accountability.

Pakistan is regressing into a state of being a hostage to three fundamental tensions from which it uncertainly struggled to free itself: opposition between the imperatives of a modern, moderate state and a religion-based self-identity; imbalance between military and civilian authority; and skewed distribution of power between different regions.

Two recent developments have further complicated the situation. The first was the July 26 notification placing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency under the control of the Interior Ministry, and its withdrawal within 7 hours.

The second is growing evidence that the ISI was involved in the July 7 suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, in which 60 people were killed. This has adversely affected the already tense peace process with India. Mercifully, the process hasn't been suspended. The ISI notification coincided with Prime Minister Gilani's visit to the United States to assure President Bush that the ISI under civilian control would cooperate earnestly with the US's GWoT. Its withdrawal had the opposite effect.

More important, it highlighted the weakness of the civilian government vis-a-vis the military. This is a significant setback to Pakistan's democratisation.

The second development is even more important. On July 12, the CIA despatched its deputy director Stephen R Kappes to Pakistan with evidence of the ISI's links with pro-Al Qaeda militants. This is the first time the CIA has confronted Islamabad with such intelligence.

The CIA's reported assessment confirms what Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has publicly alleged about the attack on India's embassy in Kabul, and his identification of the ISI as the source of violent activities calculated to destabilise his country.

According to The New York Times, "The CIA assessment specifically points to links between members of the ISI and the militant network led by Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, which American officials believe, maintains close ties to senior figures of Al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas." Haqqani is the face of the resurgent Taleban.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took up the issue with Gilani, who promised to order an independent investigation. However, Musharraf has since accused India of fomenting trouble in Balochistan.

The Pakistani foreign ministry has also charged India and Afghanistan with instigating violence in its tribal areas, and held Afghanistan responsible for its failure to protect its consulate in Herat from an attack on July 31.

Whatever the validity of these charges and counter-charges, there's little doubt that Afghanistan, a ravaged, unstable country, has emerged as a major battleground between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is keen to preserve its influence in that country which it has long regarded as its strategic backyard. It also seeks to deny India influence in Afghanistan.

India, on the other hand, is not only keen to deepen its historic relationship with Afghanistan, which is a legitimate agenda. It also seems to be looking for a vantage point from which to launch low-intensity operations across the border into Pakistan. That purpose is less than legitimate, and risks sucking India into an ugly open-ended confrontation.

India has run one of the largest and most successful aid programmes in Afghanistan. It has just expanded it from $750 million to $1.2 billion. Unlike Western aid projects, India routes its assistance without outsourcing it via numerous middlemen. Indian aid is far better focused than Western assistance and addresses felt needs in healthcare, education, urban transportation, and in the training of civil servants, diplomats, police and the judiciary. This has earned India a great deal of goodwill in Afghanistan.

It would be in India's and Pakistan's own interest to negotiate confidence-building measures, including joint projects, in Afghanistan as a means of defusing a new subcontinental cold war and rescuing the peace process. The alternative is competitive rivalry, which will harm both India and Pakistan-and above all, the Afghan people.

Praful Bidwai is a senior Indian journalist, political activist and widely published commentator

From Horror, an Opportunity for Peace, February 23, 2007

by Praful Bidwai

NEW DELHI – Horrific as it was, the fire-bombing of a speeding India-Pakistan train, killing 68 civilians from the two countries, is being seen as an opportunity for their governments to cooperate on anti-terrorism operations and reconceptualize security issues.

"The incident only adds to the urgency for us India and Pakistan to cooperate," Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid M. Kasuri told reporters on landing at the New Delhi airport on Tuesday. He then proceeded to the government hospital where several of the critically injured were brought from the site of the bombing, 82 km away.

Sunday’s grim message was unmistakable. Not only are Indian and Pakistani citizens vulnerable to the depredations of terrorists, but the India-Pakistan peace process is itself a prime target. Although investigations have not yet led to a disclosure of their identities, it is it only logical to infer that the attackers’ likely objective was to torpedo the ongoing dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad to resolve mutual problems, including Kashmir.

The timing of the attack, on the eve of Kasuri’s four-day visit to India, to co-chair the revived India-Pakistan Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) with India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, reinforces the same inference. On several occasions in the past too, terrorists timed their acts of violence to coincide with foreign dignitaries’ visits.

For instance, 35 Sikhs were massacred in Kashmir just before Bill Clinton’s presidential visit in 2000. And in 2002, moderate Kashmiri political leader Abdul Ghani Lone was assassinated a day ahead of the Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad.

"What makes the Samjhauta Express bombings special is that their targets were mainly Muslims, and that this is the first time that Indian and Pakistani citizens have been attacked together," says Sonia Jabbar, an independent Delhi-based researcher on South Asian relations and on Kashmir affairs. "The incident compelled the two governments to respond quickly. And they responded remarkably maturely."

After being partitioned in 1947, Indian and Pakistan have fought bitterly over the territory of Kashmir, which remains divided into portions controlled by the two countries.

Unlike in the past, both countries condemned Sunday’s attack sincerely and spontaneously, and promised each other full cooperation. India’s foreign office quickly set up an emergency counter at Lahore to issue special visas to the relatives of the victims so they can meet them.

The two governments’ willingness to work together purposively will be tested in the coming days by the degree of relief and compassion they can deliver to the victims.

"But their performance so far has been very good," adds Jabbar. "This is excellent augury for the Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism that they have agreed to establish. This agreement itself followed the ghastly Mumbai train blasts of last July."

Immediately after the Mumbai bombings, police and intelligence officials in India blamed Pakistan-based or -sponsored groups. New Delhi canceled a scheduled meeting between the foreign secretaries (chiefs of diplomatic services) of the two countries. But Indian officials failed to produce clinching evidence of Pakistani official complicity in the attacks.

There is intense speculation in both India and Pakistan over who was responsible for Sunday’s train bombings, and what their motives might be. In both countries, there are terrorists driven by religious fanaticism who oppose the peace process.

Pakistan’s Islamic fundamentalists and jihadist militants regard both President Pervez Musharraf and Indian leaders as "enemies" of the larger "ummah," or the global community of Muslims. They have repeatedly targeted Pakistani leaders, including Musharraf, in as-yet-unsuccessful assassination attempts.

In India, a fanatical fringe of Hindu nationalists allied to the political Bharatiya Janata Party also opposes the peace process. Among them is the Bajrang Dal, a militant group composed of thugs which recently announced the formation of a "suicide squad," which would undertake bomb attacks against "jihadist terrorists."

However, the involvement of groups external to South Asia is not excluded either. "The region has become more vulnerable to terrorism in recent months with growing volatility in Afghanistan and rising tensions in West Asia, in particular, the stepping up of the United States’ offensive against Iran and Iraq’s insurgents," says Qamar Agha, a West Asia specialist attached to Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi.

Argues Agha: "Both India and Pakistan have a stake in acting decisively against such fanatical groups. If their leaders are wise, they would stop looking for villains exclusively across the border and treating each other’s agencies as the prime suspects in any terrorist attack, unless they have hard evidence."

Instead, adds Agha, "the leaders should look for ways of working together against terrorist groups which are their common enemies. Such active ground-level cooperation will be far more valuable than formal agreements on incremental confidence-building measures. That’s the best way of building trust and trying to find common solutions to shared problems."

There are two areas where such cooperation would be especially fruitful: beefing up security arrangements at the air, road, and rail transportation facilities that link the two countries, and exchanging intelligence on known and suspected terrorist and extremist groups.

Sunday’s train attack exposes major flaws in the security arrangements at the Old Delhi railway station, from where the Samjhauta Express runs nonstop to Attari at the India-Pakistan border.

Passenger baggage is rarely checked thoroughly at Old Delhi. A newspaper reporter found that there were only six security guards at the station on Sunday to check total of 2,000 passengers and their relatives. Bribery is widely prevalent and guards often let passengers bring in excess baggage without subjecting it to metal-detector and other tests.

The platform from which the Samjhauta Express leaves has no closed-circuit cameras. It is open and freely accessible from all sides. Anyone can get in and out while the train is parked at the platform for one and a half hours before departure. On Sunday, two railway booking clerks issued tickets to four passengers although they did not possess valid passports and visas, which are required under the rules.

The situation in Pakistan may not be very different. Experts believe that both governments must urgently tighten security arrangements at train stations with frequent and thorough checks of passenger baggage and body searches, physical isolation and inspection of coaches, use of sniffer dogs, etc.

Apart from this, "India and Pakistan must cooperate by jointly launching an impartial probe into the utterly condemnable train bombings," says Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which supports the peace process, but criticizes both governments for their handling of the Kashmir issue.

This will lay the basis for future cooperation on anti-terrorism operations through exchange of mutually useful intelligence on different organizations and groups active on both sides of the border .

However, argues Agha, "this will demand a paradigm shift in the way India and Pakistan look at the whole issue of security and conceptualize terrorism. They will have to view each other in fundamentally different, non-adversarial, ways. This won’t be easy and will be stiffly resisted by their security establishments. But their political leadership must seize the initiative and try hard."

(Inter Press Service)