Are Mumbai attacks a chance for peace?
BBc, December 4, 2008
Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid in Lahore argues that rising tension between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks might provide the two countries with an opportunity to extract a more lasting peace.
If Lashkar-e-Toiba is indeed responsible for the attacks - as Indian authorities claim and Pakistan denies - it will be the second time that the group has single-handedly put the two countries on a war footing. In 2002 each mobilised one million men for nearly a year after Lashkar attacked the Indian parliament.
The attacks have led to rising public anger in India against Pakistan and right wing Pakistani jingoism against India, in which some have even called on the moderate President Asif Ali Zardari to go to war.
When the Pakistan army finally stopped allowing Pakistan-based militant groups from infiltrating into Indian-administered Kashmir in 2004, groups like Lashkar, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul Mujheddin splintered and fragmented.
Some militants went home, others got jobs or stayed in camps in the mountains.
However the youngest and most radicalised fighters joined up with al-Qaeda and the Pakistani and Afghan Taleban in the mountains of Pakistan's tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
They embraced the global jihad to fight US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and later attacked the Pakistan government and army as the Pakistani Taleban developed their own political agenda to seize power.
The group that attacked Mumbai may well include some Pakistanis, but it is more likely to be an international terrorist force put together by al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taleban, who are besieged by the Pakistan army on one side and a rain of missiles being launched by US forces in Afghanistan against their hideouts on the other.
Al-Qaeda is looking for some relief and a diversion.
What better way to do so than by provoking the two old enemies - India and Pakistan -with a terrorist attack that diverts attention away from the tribal areas?
Such a move would force Pakistani troops back to the Indian border while simultaneously pre-occupying US and Nato countries in hectic diplomacy to prevent the region exploding.
A diversion such as this would preserve extremist sanctuaries along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and would provide militants with a much needed respite - especially considering that in the next few months President-elect Barak Obama is due to send an additional 20,000 US troops to Afghanistan, backed by more Nato troops.
This strategic diversion ploy for the sake of al-Qaeda and its surrogates is the principle motive behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
It worked well in 2002 when the Pakistan army moved away from the Afghan border to meet the Indian mobilisation, thereby allowing al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban to escape from Afghanistan and consolidate their positions in the tribal areas.
If the two countries now mobilise their forces against one another they will be walking straight into the trap laid for them by al-Qaeda.
Charges that the Pakistan government, army or its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were behind the attack appear unfounded.
Pakistan can hardly contemplate a rise in tensions with India when it is beset by a monumental economic crisis, insurgencies in Balochistan and in North West Frontier Province, rising violence in Karachi and one-third of the country out of control of any constitutional authority.
Certainly Pakistan is not blameless. The army and its former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf must be faulted for refusing after 2004 to properly demobilise Kashmiri militant groups and being so reluctant to deal with the insurgency in the tribal areas. It was not until August when the army finally began a sustained offensive there.
And despite Musharraf's own peace overtures to India after 2004, the army itself has been slow to make the strategic shift from seeing India as the primary threat. It has taken time to understand that local extremists now pose a far greater danger.
As the militants working under the umbrella of al-Qaeda have targeted the army in the mountains and in its cantonments, the army has retaliated but it has been slow and late in doing so.
If India and Pakistan can understand that they are both victims of a strategic diversion by al-Qaeda and if international mediation can help deepen that understanding, then there is perhaps a greater opportunity for the two countries to address the conflicts that have bedevilled their relationship for 60 years - Kashmir and other lesser issues.
It will certainly be difficult for the two countries to walk away from the brink. India has a weak government whose counter-terrorism policies have been a failure and which faces an election in the next six months. The Indian public and media are demanding revenge - not co-operation with Islamabad.
Pakistan also has a weak government that is still trying to set parameters of co-operation with an army which dominates foreign and strategic policy and controls the ISI, the most powerful political entity in the country.
Pakistan's other problems could well overwhelm the government - a troops mobilisation is the last thing it needs.
To turn the possibility of war into the possibility of peace, the leadership of both countries need to show statesmanship, determination and authority even if they have to defy the public mood in their respective countries to do so.
Ahmed Rashid is the author of the recently published Descent into Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The world's headache - Economist
India’s 9/11? Not Exactly - New York Times
The Mumbai Terrorists' Other Target - Slate