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DAWN - Opinion; July 30, 2008

July 30, 2008

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Is India under terror attack?

By Rahul Singh


THE bomb blasts last Friday and Saturday in Bengaluru (earlier called Bangalore) and Ahmedabad, two of India’s most important commercial cities, come after a series of similar terrorist blasts in other cities over the last couple of years.

Almost 50 people were killed in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, scores injured. Both attacks had the same imprint of low-intensity explosive devices with timers, leading to the conclusion that they must have been perpetrated by the same terrorist outfit.

The Ahmedabad outrage was particularly diabolical: two bombs were set to go off in the trauma rooms of hospitals where patients from the earlier bomb blasts had just been admitted.

The bombs used were fairly primitive and cheaply made. They were tied to bicycle handles, kept in lunch boxes, or left near crowded places like bus stops. The reason the toll was much higher in Ahmedabad than in Bengaluru was apparently because the intention was to kill in Ahmedabad, to scare and disrupt economic activity in Bengaluru. The latter city could also have been a ‘dry run’ for the former.

Ahmedabad is in Gujarat (ironically, the home state of Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence) and Bengaluru, India’s prime information technology city, in Karnataka. Both states are ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In 2002, following the deaths of some Hindu pilgrims in a train, Gujarat witnessed the worst Hindu-Muslim communal riots in its history, during which several hundred people died. There were serious allegations that the riots were state-sponsored, with the accusing finger pointed at the BJP’s Narendra Modi, the then chief minister who was re-elected fairly recently.

Police officers who had played a dubious role in the riots were promoted by his administration. He even boasted that terrorists would not dare attack his state, a boast that has now proved hollow. In Karnataka, the BJP came to power only last May, with a surprise win over the Congress Party. Karnataka’s capital city, Bengaluru is India’s most important infotech hub, with about 1,500 IT firms, accounting for a third of the country’s $41bn software exports.

Very similar blasts as the ones in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad took place less than three months ago in the tourist city of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, a state that is also governed by the BJP. There is now speculation that the next target could be Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, another state where the BJP is in power. Is there a pattern to these terrorist attacks?

Some of the worst outrages in recent years have been: seven bombs on Mumbai’s suburban trains killed over 200 people and injured 700 others (July 2006); two bombs on the Samjhota Express, a train service intended to improve Indo-Pakistan relations, killed 68 people (February 2007); and 42 people died from two explosions in a park in the city of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh (August 2007). The list of other terrorist attacks, where the toll was not so heavy, is much longer.

Clearly, India has somehow become a prime target for terrorists. Indeed, outside Iraq and Afghanistan, more Indians have probably died from terrorism in the past quarter century than in any other country in the world.

From 1984 to 1991, terrorism in Punjab took a fearful toll of some 30,000 lives and in Jammu and Kashmir, since 1991, about the same number have died due to the ongoing secessionist movement in that northern state.

The Indian government claims that in both states, which border Pakistan, the terrorists got training and arms from Islamabad, a charge that Islamabad has all along denied. In addition, there have been terrorist bomb blasts and attacks in various parts of India, the most serious being the Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993 — some of the perpetrators of which were convicted only recently — following the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu fanatics.

The Pakistani ‘hand’ could partly be blamed for the terrorism in Punjab and Kashmir. But what about the attacks in the last few years? Most observers feel that home-grown terrorist outfits, motivated by the pulling down of the Babri mosque and subsequent communal riots, with little or no direct link to Islamabad, are responsible for them.

Two outfits in particular are being singled out: the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which has been linked to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-i-Taiba, and the Harkat ul Jihad ul Islam (HuJI), a Deobandi group initially based in Bangladesh — it was allegedly responsible for an attempt on the life of former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina — but which has spread its tentacles in India. HuJI is supposed to be behind last year’s November blasts outside various courts in the state of Uttar Pradesh, targeting lawyers who had vowed not to defend HuJI suspects.

Be that as it may, the truth of the matter is that the Indian police have yet to catch any of the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in the last few years. There have been ‘leads’ and arrests but no convictions. That is an embarrassment for the police and a failure of India’s intelligence apparatus. Attacks like those that took place on the Mumbai trains, at Jaipur, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad must have taken a great deal of advance planning, with a large number of terrorists involved. How come the intelligence agencies got no wind of them?

BJP leader Lal Kishen Advani has blamed the Congress Party for the blasts in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, saying that it has been too “soft” on terrorists and that more stringent laws against terrorism need to be enacted. However, mere legislative measures cannot halt terrorism. An efficient police force and an effective intelligence network, spanning the whole of India, is required, something that is not there on the ground and will take a long time to build up. So much for the bad news. But fortunately there is some good news as well. Terrorists have two main objectives. One, to damage the economy and disrupt day-to-day life. Two, to create hatred between Hindus and Muslims. Till now, neither of these aims have been achieved. Life went back to normal in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad after the attack. In fact, in Ahmedabad reports say that Hindus and Muslims rushed into the streets to help each other after the bomb blasts.

The writer is a former editor of Reader’s Digest and The Indian Express.

singh.84@hotmail.com

The ISI and an SOS

By Cyril Almeida


FOR a few short hours the ISI had a new boss: Rehman Malik. Yes, the hyper-powerful, state-within-a-state, doer-of-all-things-bad-and-evil, Taliban-loving, government-slaying, election-rigging, tool-of-the-establishment ISI was going to report to a civilian, unelected adviser to a lame duck prime minister.

So confident were Messrs Gilani and Malik of the scheme that they scampered out of the country before the news was broken.

It may have been meant as a gift to appease the gods in Washington, who have long been suspicious of the ISI and were preparing to flog our hapless politicians. Or maybe Gilani and Malik were hoping to hide behind Bush, safe from the china flung out of the ISI HQ in a rage. But what really happened? Was the ISI blindsided by a PR stunt meant to placate Washington? Did the bumbling politicians in civvies really think they had what it takes to tame Pakistan’s original bad boys? The theories will flow thick and fast.

The ISI was blindsided, some will assert with confidence, else it would have dipped into its legendary collection of files in the Joint Intelligence Bureau and paid a visit to its nemeses. The conquerors of the mighty Soviets will never be the whipping boy of this government. They would sooner stage a coup. Others will argue that the ISI can never be tranquillised into submission. In Kayani the pols saw a new best friend, a general determined to stay apolitical for the sake of his beloved boys in uniform. Armed with its kryptonite, the hobbled coalition did the only thing it thought could tame the ISI — a bold, audacious strike against the evil empire. Dealing with the princes of darkness requires chutzpah. And fortune does favour the brave.

Some will see it as Kayani’s way of undermining Musharraf by humiliating his buddy, ISI chief, Nadeem Taj. Yet others will speculate that the folks over in the PM Secretariat got so sick of spies popping into their offices, putting their feet up on tables, lighting up cigarettes and ordering the PM’s staffers to make tea that the staffers thought it best to transfer the cowboys to Rehman Malik. One look at the hapless Malik and you will be inclined to believe this theory. He does seem like a bit of a masochist, trying as he is to fight a directionless counter-insurgency.

The more esoteric will mull the connection between Nadeem Taj, planes and changes in the army. He was a mere brigadier assisting Musharraf when the two were kept up in the air while Nawaz sought to end their careers. Eight years later, Taj’s job was being tinkered with again, this time by people flying off in a hurry.

Only of this can we be sure: we will not learn the truth of what transpired last weekend. As with the postponement of the by-elections, the disqualification of Nawaz and the CNG pricing fiasco or, on a grander scale and further back in history, the deaths of Zia and Liaquat Ali Khan, the truth is never uncovered. In a week another fiasco will occupy and agitate the minds of the people.

Yet, unwittingly, the government has exposed one of Pakistan’s key problems: the absence of a readily identifiable locus of power. Yes, we know the ISI won this round and the government lost. But whodunit? Was it Musharraf, protecting an old buddy and the keeper of many of his secrets? Was it Kayani, soldierly and professional but unwilling to tinker with army institutions at this stage? Was it Taj, furious at being kept out of the loop and swatting away any attempt to wrench control of his fiefdom? Was the original scheme cooked up by the PM, Malik or Asif — or even Kayani or Musharraf? The grocer at the corner is just as likely to have an answer as the men in the corridors of power. This amorphous locus of power is not just dangerous, it is inimical to any sort of governance.

Unfortunately, examples abound. When A.Q. Khan suddenly chirped up, the media giddily, and understandably, carried his story. Here was one of the most wanted men in the world gabbing about nuclear proliferation as though he was reminiscing about exchanging Disney cartoons with Kim Jong-Il. Yet nobody thought to ask why Khan was suddenly able to speak. For years if you rang up the Khan residence you were likely to be paid a midnight visit by spooks. Sure, the N-League wanted to make Khan a free man, but it wasn’t controlling anything. And it wasn’t as if Khan’s local SHO could decide to do the ageing nuclear mastermind a favour. Again, whodunit? There are only a handful of people in this country who could allow Khan’s mobile to be switched on. Some are in the media spotlight; others thrive in the shadowy world of power politics.

Or take a look at the anti-militancy policy. Who is in charge? Yes, the PM is chairing meetings but are the participants playing solitaire on their BlackBerries under the table knowing that the real orders come from elsewhere? And if so, where is that elsewhere? One of the numerous Zardari Houses that dot the cityscapes here and abroad? GHQ, Army House, Washington, Baitullah Mehsud’s lair, Osama’s hideout, the ISI HQ?

Inarguably the politicians are playing on a dodgy wicket. But they are compounding the problem by capitalising on the murky world of politics. The ANP’s supine, craven submission to the militants is based on the idea that blaming the establishment will keep them in the clear. Since nobody has articulated what the ANP is actually in charge of, the party has slyly worked out that a Pakhtun nationalist, anti-Punjabi army platform is good for it in the NWFP right now. Or take the N-League which realises the judges are popular and fighting militants is not, and so has jumped on the populist bandwagon. Never mind that the very establishment the N-League loathes nurtured the canard that the Taliban are one of us. Some lies of the establishment are convenient. The N-League has forgotten the point of the transition: ensuring that civilians become the real locus of power.

What happens in situations like this? The people begin to yearn for the good ol’ days. Like the ones of recent past where Dictator Musharraf issued orders and others complied.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Obama and Pakistan

By Prof Khwaja Masud


MR Obama’s ‘tough’ remarks about Pakistan delivered during his recent visit to Afghanistan, the ‘tone’ of the remarks, and his subsequent flip-flopping on the issue have been meticulously parsed in our press to detect signs of ‘softening’ in his attitude towards us.

But the general, rather hasty, conclusion of this exercise is that the prospect of his presidency should be a source of apprehension for us. This kind of discussion is unhelpful, and the conclusion is misconstrued.

Rather, as this article attempts to do, we need to parse Mr Obama’s remarks against the backdrop of our national interests, which they do not promote, and present a strong case to reject them.

While we do so we should bear in mind that Mr Obama is a product of Chicago’s corrupt politics, where slum barons like his former mentor and financial benefactor Mr Rizko rule the roost, and where what you see in a politician is not what you will get. “In Chicago,” Saul Bellow famously noted, “politics and crime occasionally overlap.”

Mr Obama lacks Mrs Clinton’s strength of personality. Mrs Clinton bravely champions the working class in the heart of the world capitalist system and put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. No wonder she is so despised by the American media and Karl Rove.

Mr Obama has been called a person of “seasonal principles” and a “standard-issue politician who will say and do anything to get elected.” The Economist has also noted “disquieting signs” that Mr Obama tends to “tailor his message to whichever audience he is talking to.”

So whatever Mr Obama says about us now is no indication as to what his position would be as president. Unfortunately, this means that the ad-hocism that mars our relations with America may continue in an Obama presidency.

If, therefore, we are to be apprehensive it should be about the prospect of yet another weak and malleable American president who, like President Bush, may be prone to blunder into foreign policy catastrophes.

Fortunately, Mr Obama’s victory in the upcoming election is not as certain as our pundits believe. Like a passing fad his lead over a very weak Republican opponent is diminishing. It is now down to only a handful of points, according to the latest Rasmussen poll. And the Republican sleaze machine has yet to unleash its ferocious attack dogs to puncture Mr Obama’s Wizard of Oz mystique as it did with Mr Kerry’s Vietnam war hero mystique.

Mr Obama is not wrong about not ruling out the possibility of unilateral American action inside our territory, which is ‘current doctrine’. Anything otherwise would turn combat missions against the Taliban into Mickey Mouse expeditions! But publicly announcing this is not current doctrine, and it is wrong to change it.

Broadcasting his ‘hot pursuit’ incursions into our territory and cross-border shelling into our land broadcasts his unashamed disregard of international law and principles, and gives the enemy ample justification to claim the high moral ground of defending Islam against an infidel invading force. The Financial Times correctly says this will “only strengthen religious extremists inside the country.”

Mr Obama is also wrong because he fails remarkably to recognise the new ground reality.

He would be right with the old ground reality, that is a military regime obsessed with the Indian menace, concentrating US aid on conventional armaments to prepare for war with India, nibbling ineffectually at the Taliban problem, and sacrificing hundreds of our brave soldiers by “playing footsie with the Taliban.”

But this is no longer the ground reality. The new reality is epitomised by Prime Minister Gilani’s recent address to the nation: “This war is our war, and we will fight it as our war.” The prime minister has also stopped the war dances on the eastern front, and ordered the army to quell the Taliban with good initial successes.

According to Robert Novak of The Washington Post these successes contradict “claims by Musharraf, his generals and friends in the US government that an elected civilian regime would slack off in the war against terror…. Money from Washington now flows into counter-guerrilla activities … and more raids in lawless tribal areas are planned.” Novak adds that the current assault against the Taliban by the civilian government was predicted to him by Benazir Bhutto last year, implying that it is not a knee-jerk reaction but a strategic policy shift.

All this is evidence that the civilian government has shown good judgment and decisive leadership in tackling the festering Taliban problem. Regrettably Mr Obama does not get this.

He should get it, because it is so vital now to strengthen the hand of our government in this fight. If Mr Obama is sincere about eradicating extremism he should declare full support for our government’s current effort, and announce additional steps to further build our counter-insurgency capacity.

He should also seriously follow up on Senator Biden’s proposal to triple development assistance to us to $1.5bn per year, and to develop our relations on firmer foundations in a mutually beneficial longer-term partnership. This kind of economic partnership will create economic opportunities in our country and prevent our young citizens from volunteering to blow themselves up.

Mr Obama’s ‘tough’ remarks about Pakistan led to a ‘butterfly effect’ that set off a storm in the local press. Though, in essence, only a storm in a teacup it is a fine tribute to the work of the mathematician Edward Lorenz who died recently in Cambridge. Lorenz coined the term ‘butterfly effect’ to describe how small changes such as the flapping of the wings of a butterfly may alter global weather conditions.

If, like Lorenz’s butterfly, Mr Obama hoped to create a storm in America and upend his Republican opponent by being ‘tough’ with us he should be disappointed, because his misconstrued remarks only reinforce his image of a vulnerable prospective commander-in-chief.

The writer is former principal of Gordon College, Rawalpindi.

Using torture to convince donors

By Jonathan Steele


MAHDI KHANFAR, a 35-year-old graduate in urban development, still trembles at the memory of his arrest by the Palestinian Authority’s mukhabarat (intelligence service) in May. “The mukhabarat asked me about Hamas and weapons. They put me in a zinzana [a small windowless cell] at mukhabarat headquarters in Jenin and started hanging me with my hands tied behind my back.

“My toes were only just touching the floor. Sometimes they also tied one leg so I had only one foot on the ground. It lasted for five days. I’ve lost all feeling in my left hand,” he told me last week.

One of several former detainees interviewed in Nablus and Jenin, he described what appeared to be a pattern in which Hamas sympathisers are often only released on production by their families of money or guns. The alleged abuse by PA forces appears to be aimed at convincing western donor governments, as well as Israel, that the authority is “clamping down on terror”.

Khanfar’s brother works in Qatar as news director of the Arab satellite TV station al-Jazeera. “They kept asking me about al-Jazeera broadcasts, which they didn’t like. I said that’s my brother’s business. This is crazy. They contacted Hikmat, my other brother, in Jenin and told him that if he wanted to have me free he should bring a weapon. Hikmat contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross who sent a delegate to see me. My treatment improved slightly but I was held for several more days, until after 53 days I was released.”

Fadel Morshed, 40, is a lawyer who has defended Hamas detainees. Arrested by the Jenin mukhabarat in January, he says he was kept for the first three days hanging with his hands behind his back. The torture, which creates massive pain without breaking any bones, is known as shabah. In a variant, Morshed was later tied to a stool fixed to the floor beneath the stairs so he had to crouch for hours at a time.

“They asked me why I defended Hamas people. I refused to answer and said that as a lawyer I was not required to discuss my clients with them,” Morshed said. “All the people arrested are moderates who favour unity and dialogue with Fatah. They were not part of Hamas’s military wing.” He was released after 45 days without explanation or charge but still has sores and swellings on his feet.

Some victims have been arrested more than once. Sheikh Hamid Betawi is head of the Sharia Court of Palestine and a member of the Palestinian parliament, elected on the Hamas-supported list, Reform and Change. He described how his 30-year-old son, Naser, a shopkeeper and father of two, was held and tortured by the mukhabarat in Nablus from March to May this year.

For the first month the family were barred from visiting. “When his wife was let in, the mukhabarat told her to provide money or weapons. Almost every prisoner is told to get money or weapons. Many do. There are plenty of gun-traders,” the sheikh said. She sold gold jewellery to raise the money to get him out, but a few weeks later he was arrested again.

“We’re facing two occupations, an Israeli one and a Palestinian one,” said Sheikh Betawi. “I spoke to Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] the other day about the attacks on Hamas but nothing has changed,” he added. The sheikh is convinced that European donor governments as well as Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton, the US officer overseeing security sector reform for the Palestinian Authority, is aware of what’s happening.

Jamal al Muhaisen, the governor of Nablus, an appointee of Abbas’s Fatah party, admitted that detainees are routinely swapped for guns. “We only arrest people who may have weapons. If a person delivers a weapon, of course the next day we will release him,” he said. He denied torture was a matter of policy. “We refuse to adopt harsh measures but sometimes people who work in prison commit mistakes and we’re not happy. It happens in every country, including the United States.”

Nablus has also seen almost nightly incursions by Israeli troops over the past few weeks, who have raided six mosques, closed three schools, a clinic, a TV station, a women’s group and the charity, Attadamun, which helps orphaned children. The Israeli foreign ministry describes the army’s actions, which have also hit hard in Hebron in recent months, as targeted at Hamas’s “organisational infrastructure”.

“The Hamas activity is carried out under the guise of charity, but the actual aim is the strengthening of the Hamas terror organisation and its grip on the population,” a ministry statement said. Hamas wanted to gather strength in the West Bank so as to get control just as it did last year in Gaza, it added.

Up to 200 people have been arrested by the Israelis, according to Governor Muhaisen. But although Nablus’s governor criticises the Israeli incursions, many in Nablus see Fatah’s relationship with the Israelis as one of collusion more than competition. They point to a revolving door of back-to-back arrests, in which people detained by the Israelis are later held by the Palestinians, or vice versa.

Dr Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative and an independent MP who criticises both Fatah and Hamas, said: “Since Annapolis there have been 2,560 Israeli attacks on Palestinians, 90 per cent of them in the West Bank. They’ve undermined the PA by their actions. They’re trying to turn the PA into a security sub-agent like the Vichy government (in occupied France).”

— The Guardian, London