Derailing the peace process

EVEN before the investigations could point to suspects, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to postpone the Pakistan-India Foreign Secretary talks scheduled for end-July.

By Nasim Zehra

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Published: Wed 19 Jul 2006, 10:30 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:43 PM

In fact, significantly soon after the BJP’s announcement that Narendra Modi, widely known for not activating the State apparatus to prevent the Muslim killings in Gujarat, was to lead the anti-UPA protests in Mumbai, Manmohan announced postponement of the Pakistan-India talks.

The Prime Minister charged Pakistan for not reining in Pakistan-based militant groups. He said that “the 7/11 blasts are bound to affect relations with Pakistan. The Indian Prime Minister’s words refuted Musharraf’s statement that the complaints that Pakistan was not doing enough were “aspersions being cast by the media. This is not the leadership’s and the official stance on the issue.”

Popular sentiment has influenced Manmohan’s reaction. Delhi’s Pakistan policy has also come under severe attack. Snap polls suggest 99 per cent of those respondents believe the government is being ‘soft’ on terrorism. The bombings have energised Hindu nationalism and put pressure on the prime minister to act. Some has to do with the Pakistani angle in

factors like Dawood Ibrahim, Azhar Masood, and the Kandahar hijacking. Background ‘briefings’ to the Indian media have pointedly been blaming Pakistan. The media has called for action against Pakistan. A distraught Indian public, as evidenced from their comments posted on various web sites, is highly critical of the government’s soft policy towards Pakistan, of its inaction to protect Indian lives and of its pampering of the ‘minorities’. The intense anti-Pakistan sentiment assumes Pakistan’s culpability.

The terrorism in Mumbai has targeted far beyond India’s Maximum City. It has wreaked personal tragedy on thousands of innocent citizens who have lost their close ones. Millions of Indians are anguished and outraged. Terrorism has also halted the Pakistan-India peace process, risking a deterioration of the security environment. Even worse, often inherent in the State’s response to terrorism is the risk of undermining pluralism, tolerance and communal harmony. Terrorism ultimately not only attacks humanity, but it can also potentially unwittingly dehumanise those who rise to fight it. This will be the challenge that the Indian State and society faces above all; the challenge to fight the scourge of terrorism without undermining democracy, tolerance and pluralism.

The objectives of the death merchants who mercilessly planted eight bombs on the Mumbai passenger trains could have been to exploit communal tensions in the area, to demonstrate the vulnerability of the Indian state or to undermine India’s leading business centre. A key objective would also be to undermine the Pakistan-India peace process, which has continued uninterrupted since 2004. Pakistan and India have honoured the ceasefire along the LoC and have engaged in talks about the major issues dividing them, including Kashmir and the common terrorist menace.

Despite the dialogue process, the absence of the trust factor persists. The sordid inter-state history of sabotage and subversion, covert operations, battling along the LoC, intelligence operations and militant activity, the finger pointing at Pakistan almost always precedes investigation results. Indians claim the now banned Pakistan-based LET is the main suspect. Nevertheless, violence and terrorism have also surfaced within the broader Indian context of the many insurgencies in the North East, the Babri Masjid riots, the communal factor, the violence-laced repression-response cycle within Kashmir, the Gujarat killings and the Varanasi attacks. There is an internal dimension, in the broader context too, the post-Babri and post-Gujarat radicalised Muslim. That makes sabotage and subversion by neighbouring States easy. And now maybe even fertile ground for Al Qaeda.

Indian authorities themselves claim that the banned Students of the Islamic Movement of India (Simi) maybe involved in the Mumbai bombings. Simi, a students’ group was set up in 1977 by a student of Aligarh University and now a professor in the US. Simi, according to Indian writers, was radicalised by the anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai in the nineties and in Gujarat in 2002. Indian media reports suggest that the Simi was trained by groups in Bangladesh and also LeT.

On the Kashmir struggle, the CNN-IBN website reports that “investigations by security agencies into the July 7 attacks show unemployed youths, orphans and petty criminals are increasingly being deployed by terror outfits to carry out grenade attacks.” The report suggests that a local Kashmir militant group the Hizbul Mujahideen is organising these grenade attacks. The Indian Press has reported that there has been an anonymous call claiming that Al Qaeda had begun operating in Kashmir. Indian intelligence experts have reportedly warned that Al Qaeda has been looking at ways of increasing support among India’s Muslims.

The anger is almost inevitable but the Press calling for action against Pakistan before the investigation ends must not be. To ensure that justice is done, that action is taken against responsible groups or institutions and above all to evolve a cross-national consensus on taken harsh steps against terrorism a transparent and credible investigation is needed. Tracking the sources of terrorism is complex, but crucial. If there is the Dawood Ibrahim factor and the LeT, then there is the less than upright record of the Indian security agencies. Significantly, despite the popular wisdom in India about the Pakistani State’s role in the attack on the Indian parliament, the 200-page court verdict on the attack said there was no mention of Pakistan because there was no evidence against Pakistan.

Is then Mammohan’s decision an attempt to stem the rising political pressure, to contain the anti-Pakistan tide and to tide over the intensely emotional aftermath? As a democracy and as a country hit with this scale of tragedy, India had to act. This is the common justification. Ultimately, for India’s own unity and security and indeed for it own internal stability, the Indian public needs to know that Mumbai bombings are the outcome of a phenomenon more complex that just the ‘neighbour across the border’. That just Pakistan bashing alone is not the answer. Ultimately, in fact, it will take a genuinely unified response to tackle the scourge of terrorism which for all of the South Asian countries is as much home grown for the context in which emerges as well as exacerbated by external forces.

While Pakistan needs to deal with the factors promoting or facilitating terrorism within and outside of Pakistan, within the Pakistan-India context, a preliminary working relationship between the two intelligence agencies is essential. Terrorism has no nationality or no religion.

It is a universal phenomenon and will take international cooperation to fight terrorism. Pakistan and India need to jointly tackle terrorism. Hence putting a break on the Pakistan-India peace process maybe ‘good’ for Indian politics, but not for defeating terrorism.

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