Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The language is deliberate, the signals unmistakable: India is turning up the heat on Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks that have killed at least 195 people, and there is no knowing where this downward spiral in ties between the uneasy neighbours will end.
Beginning with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s warning that a cost will have to be paid by neighbouring nations that allow militants to operate, to Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s direct call to Islamabad to “dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism”, there is a sharp, cold edge to the tone that you can’t miss even factoring in the immediate anger and sense of outrage the attacks have evoked across India.
Then the signs: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in India on a previously scheduled visit to review the peace process packing his bags and heading home because Indian political leaders cancelled meetings with him following the attacks.
We have been here before, for sure. A 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, for which like the Mumbai attacks, the Lashkar-i-Taiba was blamed, triggered a set of measures by New Delhi including breaking sporting and cultural links, downgrading diplomatic relations, and the deployment of the military in full combat readiness all along the Pakistan border.
As if the challenge facing President-elect Barack Obama of stabilising Afghanistan was not difficult enough, it may have just got much, much harder after the Mumbai attacks soured relations between India and Pakistan — undermining hopes of finding a regional solution to the Afghan war.
As discussed in an earlier post, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed a group outside India for the attacks which killed at least 121 people. The coordinated attacks bore the hallmarks of Pakistani-based Kashmiri militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India says was set up by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
An attack of the scale and sophistication unleashed on Mumbai would not be possible without months of planning, and yet it completely went below India’s intelligence radar.
Indeed, so unaware were the security agencies that even when the attacks began, the first reaction was these were probably gangland shootings that India’s financial capital is known for. So if the agencies have been so clueless about an attack so mammoth in its sweep, the question experts are beginning to ask is how safe are India’s vital assets?
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed a group with “external linkages” for coordinated attacks which killed more than 100 people in Mumbai. The language was reminiscent of the darker days of India-Pakistan relations when India always saw a Pakistan hand in militant attacks, blaming groups it said were set up by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, to seek revenge for Pakistan’s defeat by India in the 1971 war.
An attack on India’s parliament in December 2001 triggered a mass mobilisation along the two countries’ borders and brought them close to a fourth war. That attack was blamed by India on the Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed - hardline Islamist groups with links to al Qaeda. Both have been associated with the kind of “fedayeen” attacks – in which the attackers, while not necessarily suicide bombers, are willing to fight to the death — seen in Mumbai.
“There is a little bit of Indian in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistani in every Indian and I speak today as a Pakistani, as much as the little Indian in me”- Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari quoting his assassinated wife Benazir Bhutto.
Words spoken straight from the heart, and directly to the millions of families on either side of the border, mine included, with common customs, language and roots until severed by Partition into two nations, two people unable or unwilling to live at peace with each other ever since.
After watching the tumultuous events of the past couple of years, and knowing that 12 months ago the idea of Asif Ali Zardari becoming president figured nowhere on my list of scenarios, I’ve learned to hedge.
U.S. military operations crossed another threshold in Pakistan this week when a Predator ‘drone’ aircraft fired missiles into Bannu area in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), away from the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas where it has conducted raids with impunity.
Attacking the self-governing and semi-autonomous FATA on the Afghan border, considered a haven for al Qaeda and Taliban, is one thing. Targeting the North West Frontier Province, or settled areas as Pakistanis call it, is quite another.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari says he would be ready to commit to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, in what would be a dramatic overturning of Pakistan’s nuclear policy. Pakistan has traditionally seen its nuclear weapons as neutralising Indian superiority in conventional warfare, and refused to follow India’s example of declaring a no first use policy after both countries conducted nuclear tests in 1998.
Zardari was speaking via satellite from Islamabad to a conference organised by the Hindustan Times when he was asked whether he was willing to make an assurance that Pakistan would not be the first to use nuclear weapons.
In what is being seen as one of the biggest projections of Indian naval power since India defeated Pakistan in the 1971 war, an Indian warship has sunk a pirate ship in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian navy is now looking at deploying more warships off Somalia.
In the Asia Times, former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar writes of the possibility of a new Great Game unfolding for control of the sea route in the Indian Ocean.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies released a note this week looking at the security, political and economic crises afflicting Pakistan.
For Pakistan watchers there was not much new, though the tenor of the note, despite its title “Pakistan on the Brink”, was a little less alarmist than other commentators, many of whom fear a nuclear armed state becoming a failed state.