From Mumbai to Lahore: Where do we go from here?
Research Officers, IPCS
Report of the IPCS Seminar held on 23 March 2009
Dhirendra Singh, former Home Secretary and President, IPCS Executive Committee
Mr PR Chari, Research Professor, IPCS
Dr D Suba Chandran, Deputy Director, IPCS
The scourge of terrorism has emerged as a major security concern in the subcontinent with the latest Mumbai and Lahore incidents reflecting its diverse nature. While there is considerable debate on the effects of terrorism, there is little consensus worldwide on its root causes, and on the best ways to tackle it. Understanding how a society responds and the performance and role of institutions to fight the menace like the police and judiciary is significant for terrorism studies. It is important to analyze the Mumbai and Lahore incidents together to understand their impact in shaping the destiny of the subcontinent.
In the past four months since the Mumbai attacks, a lot of debate and discussion has occurred in the press on the nature of terrorist threats in the subcontinent and the policy options for dealing with Pakistan. Given the 5000 year old history of the subcontinent, all events and happenings in the region are closely linked to each other, and nothing happens which is a totally new phenomenon. Everything that is happening today has happened before. One among the common features of the subcontinent is rule by imperial families whereby power is bequeathed to the ruler’s kin. As a result, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and to a large extent India also face a unique leadership crisis defined, not by the absence of leaders, but by the presence of imperial leaders. Having said that, the political process within Pakistan is mired with deeper problems: absence of a democratic tradition, unprincipled alliances, and no serious dialogue between political parties.
Moreover, Pakistan is marked by a particularly intense competition between leaders governed by the age-old Mughal saying: ‘takht ya takhta’ (throne or coffin) implying an ambition to aspire for the throne or die in the effort. The no-hold-barred struggle for power between Zardari and Shariff, post-elections, was apparent with both trying to upstage the other. The lawyers’ movement, Zardari reaching out to the PML (Q), and Gilani making secret contacts with the Army are indicative of the intense power struggle between the two leaders.
Pakistan is dominated today by four principal players – President Zardari who remains significant despite a considerable weakening of his position; the Shariff brothers who have become very important but not yet in control with limited influence beyond Punjab; Gen Kayani who remains in the background implying the unprepared-ness of the army to take charge as of now; and most significantly, Justice Choudhary who currently occupies a pivotal position in the scheme of things. His decision to either question the validity of military rule by Musharraf or withdrawal of cases against Zardari or to start afresh on a clean slate will determine the strategy of the other players.
A positive development noticeable in the past few months has been the emergence of people’s power, which was evident in the latest lawyer’s agitation against Zardari, Musharaf’s withdrawal from power and the conduct of free and fair elections. The impact of this upsurge of democratic forces must not be underestimated, which reflected in the police and law-enforcing agencies making no effort to stop the Long March by the Shariff brothers. History bears testimony to the significance of such non-cooperation by the law enforcement machinery. For instance, the naval mutiny in February 1946 in Bombay convinced the British government of their weakened control over the Indian subcontinent, and the need to leave India.
The Mumbai and Lahore incidents must be evaluated in this background. A linkage between the two attacks is inevitable given the kind of training and tactics displayed by the perpetrators. With mounting evidence of the involvement of Lashkar-e-taiba in the Mumbai attacks, the involvement of ISI who created the LeT is also becoming clearer. However, while the complete lack of response by the law enforcement agencies in Lahore lends credence to their complicity, the motivation for ISI to carry out the Lahore attack remains unclear. The Mumbai attack also only increased the isolation of Pakistan, intensified international pressure and added relevance to people’s power. This raises the pertinent question whether Mumbai was another strategic miscalculation like the Kargil intervention. Another critical question is whether groups like the LeT have gone out of the control of the ISI, as happened with the Sikh extremist leader, Bhindranwale, who eventually turned against the state. Dealing with non-state actors has becomes extremely complex. The two countries need to join in their fight against the menace of terrorism and reinvigorate the joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism.
D Suba Chandran
Assuming that India and Pakistan would like to resume the peace process, what Pakistan expects from it will depend on who are the major actors and other important factors. At present, there are five important actors influencing developments in Pakistan and its relations with India. They include the Government and the opposition; the Army; a stronger civil society emerging since the lawyers’ movement; the non-state actors; and the US strategy in Afghanistan-Pakistan.
Five factors will determine Pakistan’s attitude vis-à-vis India-Pakistan relations:
• Indo-US Relations: First, there is a heightened fear in Pakistan regarding the growing relations between India and the US. Pakistan views Indo-US ties as a strategic partnership after the nuclear deal. Pakistan’s biggest fear is how this relationship would affect Pakistan’s interests in the region. Second, Pakistan is apprehensive about the United States de-hyphenating India from Pakistan-India-US relations. Third, Pakistan is also worried that India may be perceived as a stable nation in an unstable region and therefore, it could take steps that may not be in Pakistan’s interests.
• Afghan-Pak Relations: First, there is a growing divide between the US and Pakistan on how to deal with Afghanistan. Second, Obama’s policy on Afghanistan is likely to further complicate relations, especially after recent reports of expanding American drone attacks in Balochistan. Third, Pakistan is worried whether the United States will allot a greater role to India in its Afghan-Pakistan strategy. The nightmare scenario for Pakistan in this situation would be India being de-hyphenated from Pakistan-India-US relations; increasing pressure from the US to do more, both in Afghanistan and to improve India-Pakistan relations; or its military and economic aid becoming conditional. Given this situation, the game plan will be to draw India into the Af-Pak strategy. The Mumbai attacks, in a way, have achieved this. The US and the UK are now more sensitive to Pakistan’s interests on its eastern borders.
• Stability in Pakistan: First, how Iftikhar Chaudhary will react, now that he has been reinstated, is crucial to Pakistan’s political stability. He may not revisit the cases against Asif Zardari or Musharraf’s policies. He is unlikely to upset the current balance; however, the main problem will emerge from Punjab (Nawaz Sharif and his party PML-N). An unstable Punjab means an unstable Pakistan. Second, is the spread of the Taliban into southern Balochistan particularly in the last one month. Will the Taliban cross the Indus? If yes, the nightmare scenario for Pakistan will be an unstable Pakistan and a spreading Taliban. As far as the Lashkar-e-Toiba is concerned, Pakistan is unlikely to take any action against it. LeT activities are based in Punjab, but primarily directed against India. There is no reason why Pakistan would antagonize a group that has not attacked Pakistan.
• Civil-Military Relations: At present, the Army is unwilling to take political charge because it does not have popular support. The nightmare situation for Pakistan would be the army not gaining any support in the near future and civil society pressurizing the government and the army to alter Pakistan’s approach towards India on the logic that working with India is considered to be in Pakistan’s interest.
• Political stability in India: The political map of India after the general elections in May 2009 and, more importantly, political stability in Jammu and Kashmir will determine Indo-Pak relations. The nightmare scenario for Pakistan would be its support becoming irrelevant in Kashmir.
• The Indian security agencies are reactive and not preventive in nature. It is therefore important to strengthen our internal security. There is no dearth of laws in India, however, the professionalism of the civil services and security agencies have eroded. Debate on special laws tends to get stifled because of the over-emphasis on the federal structure of India. The state has intelligence mechanisms, but has failed to utilize the same. Merely sacking the home minister after an attack on the scale of Mumbai will not solve problems. People in charge should be held accountable from the top down.
• Debate on the counter terrorism policy of India needs to go beyond the federal rights argument and assess critically the need for new institutions and laws to address terrorism. Reforms have to be introduced not only to strengthen the institutions that command respect and credibility like the judiciary but also create space for new institutions like the National Investigation Agency that combine the functions of intelligence and investigation. It is important not to shy away from amending the constitution if required.
• New Delhi needs to be more serious about the fact that the sub-continent is in danger. There is hardly any information or systematic study/scholarly expertise on India’s neighbouring counties. The government should encourage and invest money in this for it cannot afford a destabilized neighbourhood.
• Understanding the happenings within Pakistan is critical to shaping our dealings with it. Recent developments indicate the spread of the Taliban and their ideology across the country. Echoing the views of Gen Zia who banned secular political parties and stated that voting is not Islamic, Sufi Mohammad in Swat valley has openly stated that Islam is against democracy. The number of women wearing burqas has increased in Punjab. While dlone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas are strongly condemned, the response to the Mariott bombing was extremely muted. Despite the sophisticated training of the Pakistan army, they are unable to fight the militants. Weapons continue to be produced in the tribal areas with at least 30,000-40,000 militants are still active as admitted in Musharraf’s statement to the India Today conclave. The dominant trend in Pakistan is sympathy towards the Taliban, while America and India are considered the main enemy.
• There in no point in beating the 26/11 bush with Pakistan anymore. Pakistan will not do anything more that what it has done in investigating the attacks. It continues to practice the doctrine of ‘bleed India by thousand cuts.’ India needs to do all that is required to prevent such attacks in future. The best way of dealing with Pakistan is to do nothing; status quo is the only desirable answer. At the same time India has to act more philanthropically with its other neighbours – Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
• In dealing with Pakistan, it is important to build more bridges by working together on security issues that are ideologically neutral like drug trafficking. India should also push for an extradition treaty with Pakistan.
• To expect the Kabul scenario of Talibanization in Pakistan is farfetched, and so is the prospect of the Taliban crossing the Indus. If it does, then it will spell great danger for India.
• The Taliban (TTP) in the NWFP is not the same as the terrorist groups operating from Punjab. TTP does not have a pan-Islamic objective as different from the groups in Punjab. It does not have an agenda against India whereas extremists groups in Punjab are anti-India. India remains the main enemy for the vast majority of Punjabis. Moreover, there is no change in the attitude of the civil society; there is an increasing Muslim orthodoxy among students in universities. The civil society has not opposed the Talibanization in Pakistan, nor have they been able to seek better political and economic relations with India. Text books in schools and every doctrine in the armed forces identifies India as the enemy state. It is therefore advisable for India to maintain minimum relations with Pakistan until there is a change in their perceptions about India.
• The non-state actors in Pakistan are not a monolith; a distinction has to be made between the groups operating. Most of the terrorist groups fall into three categories. First, the al-Qaeda and its affiliates operating in the FATA. Second, the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) led by Baitullah Mehsud in the FATA. Third, the anti-Indian groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM).
• As far as Islamabad replicating Kabul is concerned, nobody is sure but there is a possibility. The federal capital is just 50-60 miles away from the NWFP, the province in which even the settled districts are getting affected by talibanization. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the Taliban will not spread to mainland Pakistan.