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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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Bringing Hindutva terrorism to book

The Hindutva terrorist network must be ruthlessly exposed and brought to justice. Its infiltration into the police, civil services and security forces must be thoroughly investigated. This is a precondition for reaffirming the secular character of the state and the rule of law.

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The convergence of fundamentalisms and new political closures – What next in the struggle for pluralism?

Development Dialogue, August 2009

by Praful Bidwai

A centrally important phenomenon of the past two decades, and one that is likely to persist for some time in different parts of the world, is the rise of fundamentalism of various kinds, whether religious and ethnic, or cultural, racial and linguistic. The impact of fundamentalism is evident in social relations and in new social fault-lines in and across many countries, in domestic and international politics, in national, regional and global balances of power, and in the many manifestations of violence around us - above all, in terrorism, of both the state and the non-state kind.

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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".


Religion-India: Secular Fabric Under Threat

Inter Press Service, November 5, 2008

by Praful Bidwai

NEW DELHI, Nov 5 (IPS) - Police in India have unearthed a well-organised terrorist network inspired by intensely Hindu-chauvinist ideas, which they suspect, has been involved in a series of bombings since 2003, primarily targeting mosques and intended to kill Muslims.

The discovery follows investigations into two bomb blasts on Sep. 29 at Malegaon, an industrial town in central Maharashtra, notorious for strained Hindu-Muslim relations and periodic communal (or inter-community) violence. Seven people were killed in the latest explosions.

At the network's centre are various organisations and individuals affiliated to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They are tied together by adherence to the ideology of Hindutva (Hinduness or Hindu-supremacism), and are collectively called the Sangh Parivar (RSS family or cabal).

Also implicated are three retired officers of the Indian army, and a serving colonel, belonging to the intelligence corps. At least two of them are connected with the Bhonsala Military School, a Hindutva-inspired institution established in 1937 at Nashik in Maharashtra.

The most prominent of the suspects arrested by the police for the bombings is Pragya Singh Thakur, a 38 year-old saffron-clad woman who calls herself a Sadhvi (the feminine for sadhu).

One of the bombs that exploded in Malegaon was planted on a motorcycle owned by Thakur and loaned by her to prime accused Ramji. She has reportedly confessed to this. The police also claim Thakur was unhappy at the relatively low number of fatalities in the blast and wanted to know from Ramji the reason for this.

Thakur has a strong RSS background and was an office-bearer of the BJP-sponsored students' union, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad for nine years, and more important, of the militant women's outfit, Durga Vahini.

The BJP has been badly embarrassed by the disclosures, which have shocked the secular public. But after initial hesitation, the party has decided to brazen things out and take the stand that Parivar activists are being framed.

The police have gathered evidence exposing the myriad connections between the RSS, the BJP, and their front organisations, estimated at more than 100 in number, which are active in fields as diverse as labour unions, indoctrination and education, lawyers' organisations, semi-religious groups, relief and service delivery, and specific targeting of India's religious minorities, which make up 18 percent of its population of a billion plus people.

Among the better known of the Sangh Parivar organisations are the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu council) and Bajrang Dal (violent vigilantes named after the monkey warrior-god Hanuman), Vidya Bharati (which runs thousands of Hindutva-oriented schools) and Adivasi Kalyan Ashram (which actively proselytises among indigenous people).

Groups like Durga Vahini, Rashtriya Jagaran Manch, Sanatana Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat are less well-known but often more active in militant ways.

These groups have been involved in a spate of attacks on Indian Christians across seven states, after first erupting in eastern Orissa last Christmas. Affected states include southern Karnataka and Kerala, central Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and western Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The Catholic-Christian Secular Forum (CSF), an influential non-government organisation (NGO) has demanded, in an open petition to the government that the Bajrang Dal- which it holds mainly responsible - be banned for attacks that are ‘’unconstitutional and threaten the secular fabric of the country’’.

According to published CSF estimates, over 50 Christians have been killed, 4,000 houses destroyed and dozens of nuns raped.

‘’The State of India has abdicated its responsibility and duty to protect Indian Christians, by not taking the concerned state governments ruled by the BJP to task and failing to protect the life and personal liberty of Indian citizens,’’ the CSF petition charged.

In the Malegaon bombing case, police say they have irrefutable evidence that three key individuals, Thakur, Abhinav Bharat, Sameer Kulkarni and former army major Ramesh Upadhye, were conspirators. They were also probably responsible, along with other RSS-Bajrang Dal activists, for recent bombings outside mosques in four other towns in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The police are also looking for evidence of their possible involvement in recent mosque bombings, as in Hyderabad in May 2007, in Ajmer in October 2007, and possibly on the Samjhauta Express train to Pakistan in February last year.

Police believe that Hindutva activists have been training themselves in bomb-making and other violent skills for many years with help from former military officers and institutions like the Bhonsala Military School.

In April 2006, two RSS-Bajrang Dal activists were killed during a bomb manufacturing operation at Nanded, also in Maharashtra.

According to the Maharashtra police's Anti-Terrorism Squad, the Nanded operation was part of a larger criminal conspiracy to create the impression that Muslim extremists would not hesitate to kill other Muslims. The motive was to sow disaffection, widen the communal divide and help Hindutva forces blame Muslims for acts of terrorism.

Similar cases of parivar activists' involvement in other bomb-fabrication operations has recently come to light through accidental explosions in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and again in Nanded, Maharashtra (in February 2007).

"This is not the first time that Hindu fundamentalists have been implicated in acts of violence," says Tanika Sarkar, a professor of modern Indian history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and author of several books and scholarly papers on the Sangh Parivar and the Hindutva movement.

"But this is probably the first time that an underground network operating on a large scale across different states, which has actually planted bombs targeted at Muslims, has been unearthed,'' Sarkar told IPS.

Sarkar added: "These Hindutva-inspired terrorists are no less dangerous and indefensible than terrorists inspired by jehadi Islam. But the difference is that the first kind of terrorism has a wider base because the Hindus are a majority in India. It also enjoys official sanction and state patronage, unlike jihadi militancy."

Sarkar argues that majoritarian extremism tries to pass itself off as inspired by nationalism, and that this is a major fallacy. It is as pernicious as minority extremism. The BJP stands isolated on the issues of its links with Sadhvi Thakur. It first denied that she has had anything to do with the BJP, the RSS or ABVP in recent years.

However, Thakur campaigned for the BJP in the last two legislative assembly elections in Gujarat, in 2002 and 2007. She also has close links with high BJP functionaries, including Madhya Pradesh state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan.

The BJP's prime ministerial nominee LK Advani tried to distance the party from Thakur, and said the law should be allowed to take its own course.

But last week, the RSS intervened and demanded that the BJP staunchly defend Thakur and other suspects. Party president Rajnath Singh now says that there can be no such thing as a "Hindu terrorist" and those who believe in Hindutva can never be attracted to extremism because Hinduism is inherently tolerant.

"This is hogwash," holds Sarkar, "because Hindutva is nothing if not a concentrated expression of intolerance, which believes in forcibly asserting and imposing Hindu primacy or supremacy on a society that is deeply plural, multicultural and multireligious."

The BJP claims to be uniquely concerned about and determined to fight terrorism, and makes security a central plank of its politics. Its hypocrisy and double standards on terrorism have shocked secular liberals in India. They are anxiously watching the United Progressive Alliance government's moves.

"The discovery of this network throws up a major challenge to the Indian state," says Zoya Hasan, an eminent political scientist, who is currently a member of the National Commission on Minorities. "The state has been tainted in the past by its perceived softness towards majoritarian and Hindu-communal groups. For instance, a Congress government allowed the Babri mosque to be demolished by the Hindutva forces in 1992.

"If the ruling United Progressive Alliance government rises to the challenge and pursues the investigation and prosecution in the present case through to the end, it will have made a major contribution to the reaffirmation of secularism in India,’’ Hasan said.


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)