Road that leads nowhere
IT is difficult to say whether the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram are the semi-finals.
The voters were agitated and angry over the terror attack on Mumbai on Nov 26 and it is difficult to say how they would have voted in normal times. There are still four to five months left for the final — the Lok Sabha polls. Much will depend on the people’s mood which is getting nastier by the day.
The BJP has, however, made it clear that its election plank will be Mumbai. This is understandable of a party which thrives on divisions and disruptions. Yet what is not understandable is the absence of L.K. Advani from the all-party meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss Mumbai and the aftermath. (Manmohan Singh and Advani did not travel in the same plane to Mumbai). The BJP’s second-rung leaders present at the meeting only criticised the government to their heart’s content. There was nothing wrong in pointing out the lapses in the system and there were many.
Advani could have presented them at the meeting. His presence would have sent a message to the terrorists and the world that whenever it came to India, the country was united and one. What happened in Mumbai has challenged the ethos of pluralism and the idea of India. Election is a means, not an end in itself. The end is governance through which the country’s ideals are protected.
Still the BJP has not given up its parochial agenda. When the fire of terrorism was raging, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was stomping in northern India, articulating national chauvinism. The party published joint advertisements in Mumbai newspapers blaming the government for surrendering to terror. Here was the time to raise the morale of the people, putting them back on their feet for a united response.
Advani and other BJP leaders should recall how former president Clinton offered his services to President Bush following the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York.
Surprisingly, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s mentor, has urged for unity in the country. The BJP still has not realised that India’s faith in pluralism is not a matter of policy but a commitment. The nation’s temperament is secular. The BJP saw how the semi-final that it had won before the last Lok Sabha election got converted into a victory for the Congress, relatively less communal.
But there is no justification for Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s warning that the military option was open. India has sent a list of some 20 people who have reportedly taken refuge in Pakistan after committing acts of sabotage in India. Certain names are the same which were sent in 1993. The point to underline is not the repetition of names but Mukherjee’s ultimatum within 24 hours of dispatching the list. Islamabad should have been given ample time to consider the names.
Talking of military option in the same breath does not speak well for our respect for the sovereignty of Pakistan, even if India has the right to bomb training camps inside Pakistan. Former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was also pressed on that point during the war in Kargil. But he refused to allow the bombing because he feared that hostilities could escalate. US president-elect Barack Obama has not sanctioned the bombing of training camps. The media is twisting his words. In any case, the military option is not one that New Delhi should consider.
Cutting off diplomatic relations with Pakistan, stopping railway and air connections or similar measures are harsh but more than adequate to show anger by a nation which feels outraged. However intransigent Pakistan may be there is no option other than peace to bring it around. Civil society on the other side is not yet asserting itself but it will do so in due course of time. Even a limited war will give a handle to those forces which want perpetual hostility against India.
The biggest casualty will be India-Pakistan relations. They have deteriorated to such an extent in the last few days that even the eventuality of a full-scale war is not being ruled out. Both possess nuclear weapons and they would be destroyed whether one uses the device first and the other later. Voices of reason in both countries are few and they are hardly heard when anger gets a hold of them.
Maybe things could have been sorted out on the Mumbai happening if there had been confidence between the two. When Manmohan Singh requested President Asif Ali Zardari to send his Inter Services Intelligence chief to New Delhi, the prime minister assumed that he had developed such an equation with Zardari that he would agree to it. He did and the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office announced that the ISI chief would be travelling to India.
It is another matter that some forces, called the third chamber in Pakistan, came in the way and nipped the effort in the bud. Had the ISI chief come, it would have established the joint mechanism to fight against terrorism that the two countries have been talking about for several months. Since there is no confidence between the two, Pakistan does not take into account even the confession made by the terrorist apprehended at the scene in Mumbai.
Whether he was trained in Muzaffarabad or came by boat from Karachi, it was for Pakistan to find out. By this time it should have searched the length and breadth of Karachi to satisfy India which feels angry. The new organisation in place of the Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad should have been banned and its activists arrested. Islamabad should have invited a team from New Delhi to check for itself how far Pakistan had gone to act. It would have given New Delhi proof of Islamabad assuaging India’s feelings.
Both countries should fight the scourge together.
It is a pity that people-to-people contact builds up goodwill inch by inch. But Mumbai-like incidents destroys this in a jiffy. Anti-friendship elements are too strong to allow the common man to live in a secure and peaceful environment.
Within India the disillusionment with politicians is understandable but not with politics. Better persons should be elected. Anger should not lead us to lose faith in democracy. In fact this is the system where we can change the rulers. In our effort to curb terrorism we should not take any step which may restrict individual freedom. America’s Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 has done a lot of damage to that society. The test of a nation’s faith in democracy comes when it is challenged by undemocratic forces.
The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.
What after Mumbai?
THE all-party conference on national security held recently in Islamabad has issued a firm resolution to deal with the situation after the attacks in Mumbai.
While sympathising with the victims of the attack, the leadership of the various political parties expressed concern at the Indian allegations and denied Pakistan’s involvement in the attacks. The resolution is certainly the first step towards consolidating the state and bridging the gap between state and society as it is for meeting the threat of external pressure. However, the backdrop of the APC has raised more questions than what the political leadership was prepared for.
This is in reference to a report that quoted a military official at a press briefing as saying that from Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah to Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Taliban were in fact patriotic, and the problems that existed between these Taliban and the Pakistani state were actually based on miscommunication and misunderstanding. Had the concerned official studied diplomacy and international politics in greater depth, he would have realised that such a statement could be interpreted in numerous ways. Furthermore, the statement from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) swearing allegiance to the Pakistani state that followed the official’s observation is likely to raise greater suspicion in the international community.
And hadn’t we been informed earlier that all these ‘patriotic’ warriors were in fact murdering Pakistan’s people and its brave soldiers? Wasn’t the popular perception in Pakistan that the military was now fighting the Taliban because they were being paid by the Indians and the American intelligence agencies? Or maybe we missed something.
Is there a possibility that these militants have suddenly changed their minds as a result of the jingoism of the Indian government and media in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks? How come we could not get them to change their minds earlier? These statements will certainly encourage India to abandon the bilateral negotiations route and make the Mumbai issue a multilateral affair in which case Pakistan is likely to face greater hardship than what the leadership attending the APC could have envisioned.
We could cry ourselves hoarse about a foreign conspiracy to finish Pakistan but it would not change the fact that Pakistan faces the threat of being internationally ostracised unless it begins to look inwards and institutionalises decision-making. In fact, the inward approach will not happen at all unless certain institutions are created and others strengthened.
This is not to suggest that Pakistan is admitting to some covert involvement in the Mumbai attacks but once its functionaries make statements that are sympathetic to elements fomenting trouble in Pakistan, people in the region, in fact worldwide, are bound to ask questions and point an accusing finger. Perhaps, the world also realises that arm-twisting client states works, especially if the patron does it. For instance, the Musharraf government capitulated to American pressure very fast after 9/11 despite the fact that none of the suicide bombers had anything to do with Pakistan.
Maybe the policymakers would like to consider the advice that the mounting pressure on Pakistan is linked to the absence of institutionalised decision-making. The political government takes decisions without consulting other political stakeholders, the intelligence agencies hold press conferences possibly without consulting the government, and the rest of Pakistan is unsure about what is happening.
Institutionalising national security decision-making does not require a national security council. But it does mean strengthening the cabinet committee for defence, empowering the defence ministry and civilianising it, and creating a national security advisory board. In the days after the Mumbai tragedy, the leaders of the two largest parties have listened to analysts with an array of perspectives.
It would also help the government to have an advisory board for national security on the pattern of the one in India. This would mean co-opting academics and experts from different fields to deliberate on issues, formulate advice and communicate the latter to the government. In India, for instance, the national security advisory board is comprised of committees looking at the nuclear proliferation issue, the environment and many other matters.
The purpose of such entities is to make government decision-making more informed. Various experts get together, debate an issue and come up with suggestions that the government can accept or reject after deliberations. This formula would allow all kinds of views and opinions of various stakeholders to be included in a process that would eventually result in a decision that could then be owned by most if not everyone. Institutionalising input in decision-making would help bridge the gaps that we find in Pakistan at the moment.
The absence of an institutionalised policymaking structure has not only resulted in mistakes by the new government in terms of not taking stakeholders on board, it has also exposed the elected government to a greater threat of internal instability. The gap between civil and military, which everyone wanted to ignore, has begun to resurface. In fact, the political government’s eagerness to cooperate with Delhi is in stark contrast to the military’s position. Both sides can be accused of not taking the other into total confidence.
Irrespective of the APC and the general public’s resolve to fight external pressure, the fact of the matter is that the government would have to deal with greater force from outside. In the coming days, the world might not be too impressed with a position where Islamabad could redirect its forces from the western to the eastern border, especially if the GHQ and the TTP continue to show their fondness for each other.
The threat that Pakistan is facing after Mumbai is twofold: external and internal. Externally, there will be mounting pressure because such statements and India’s position will make the world more suspicious of Pakistan’s inclinations. There is already a perception that the country possibly lacks the will, capacity and intent to fight terrorism. More importantly, if the political government does not give some thought to its style of decision-making and governance, there is a possibility that various anti-democracy forces could win once again. Internally, we stand more exposed and vulnerable than ever before.
The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.
An imploding government
HEARD of the new troika in Islamabad? There’s Dopey, Dopier and Grumpy. And Grumpy is becoming grumpier by the day. What began as a fairy-tale transition to democracy with a grand coalition has become a nightmare of high politics by trial and error.
Imagine you’re on the phone with the otherwise genteel Manmohan Singh. This time he’s agitated and irritable. Send me your ISI chief, he barks. What do you do? Well, there are many options for you, the avatar of the highest official of the land, the Pakistani PM. Not until Nov 28 would I have thought those options include agreeing to send the chap, perhaps with a plate of halwa in hand, without maybe, y’know, sorta checking with the army first.
It defies belief. I’m probably angrier because I too became a victim of this government’s incompetence last week. In the wake of Gilani’s announcement The New York Times came a-callin’. Any comments on sending the ISI chief to India? Since this was the first I had heard of it, my reaction was, are you sure? But there it was on the wires and soon enough Gilani himself would emerge and proclaim it so to the world. Surely, I thought, he wouldn’t add to his legend by appearing before the media and verifying his promise to Singh without asking Kayani what he thought of it first. So I went ahead and gave my comments.
I’m still learning the ways of Islamabad.
Lost in the ensuing ruckus though was the original question: was it a good idea? Here’s what I told the NYT: “Sending the ISI chief to India is a clear olive branch from Pakistan and indicates just how seriously it is taking India’s anger. It is an extraordinary step and indicates two things: one, the Pakistan military is confident that no direct links will be revealed by India; and, two, Pakistan is keen to avoid a repeat of the near-war situation following the attacks on the Indian parliament in December 2001. It seems the military and civilian government have realised that we have too much on our plate dealing with the tribal areas and terrorism in Pakistan proper to get involved in a dangerous slanging match with India over terrorism.” If wishes were horses.
Unwittingly Manmohan Singh had offered Pakistan a lifeline; predictably we figured out a way to wrap it around our necks. India can cry Pakistan when there is an attack partly because it knows the world will arrive to drag out and beat up the Pakistani wolf each time. Here was a chance for us to show the world a pair of clean hands, one civilian, one military, and with skill to turn around a bad situation. Instead, we made a hash of things.
Lost also in the emotion of last week was another question: what could India do about it? Forget for a moment about proof and evidence. Let’s assume India, wounded and angry, was determined to punish Pakistan. What could India do? The region has the ultimate no-war guarantee: 34,000 American troops in Afghanistan who depend on Pakistani supply routes to be fed, clothed and armed. As long as they and 30,000 other foreign troops are in the neighbourhood nobody is fighting any other war here. I’ll bet the American secretary of state’s personal jet on that.
So if we had looked past the chest-thumping of the Indians for a minute, we would have found the obvious answer: they would lean heavily on Pakistan via the US to act against militant groups operating here. It was obvious then and it is what they are doing now. The Pakistani wolf is being asked to castrate itself, and the Indians and Americans want the evidence.
Realising this, the government could have calibrated its response. Agreeing to send the ISI chief at some point after a quick but pragmatic round of consultations at home would have sent the strongest possible positive signal: Pakistan is ready to do its part in fighting these militants. We could have come out of this with some credibility, but that doesn’t seem to be a currency this government understands. Instead, the government has looked amateurish at a moment of crisis yet again and the military is ever more the sinister force thwarting peace with India. It takes a special kind of incompetence to arrive here.
Depressingly, it will only get worse. Every day will bring new stories of ISI perfidy and jihadi malice. A deliberate campaign of leaks from Delhi, Washington and Kabul will paint Pakistan into a corner. The direct pressure will be applied in blunt messages by high officials. Give up your jihadis. Shut down the training camps. Detain suspects. Hand over militants.
There’s no point in wasting ink pretending the government will be able to respond better. It will panic. Officials will babble and blather in public and bawl in private. You will almost feel sorry for them until you remember that they are there of their own choice and are endangering our lives.
It’s tempting to ask, what have we done to deserve this? I really don’t know. Governance here is like a wonky Rubik’s cube that defies solution. Blame the politicians, blame the army, blame the system, blame the soil, blame the gods — it really does seem to be our fate to lurch and stumble and stagger from one crisis to another. All the while the macabre circus of life goes on, with the noose tightening every once in a while.
There are ways out of this mess. But those solutions depend on the capacity of the government to implement them. And none of them involve simply riding the beast until it throws you off — the government’s approach.
Pakistan’s problems are more than the Mumbai attacks or American drones or an eviscerating economy. Right now we are witnessing yet another elected, broad-based, civilian government implode before our eyes, done in by its own inadequacies as much as the awesome challenges that face the country.
A region exhausted by war
THE massacre in Mumbai has stirred the ghost of war between India and Pakistan, just when relations were supposedly improving. That is what the terrorists wanted. That is the lesson that came from the West after 9/11. If belligerence and thumping retaliation are the lodestars of counter-terrorism, India is now entitled to assault Pakistan.
Until Washington went to war on Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001, virtually every nation in the region sympathised with the US over 9/11. The widespread view was that Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda had gone too far, much too far. It might take time to curb him, but even Iran and Egypt sent condolences, and Yasser Arafat gave blood for the people of New York. We tend to forget this.
The wars on Afghanistan and Iraq crushed all opportunity to use the disaster as a prelude to reconciliation, though Tony Blair did boldly pursue that opening in the weeks immediately after 9/11. It was obliterated by the Pentagon’s rush to war. The spirit of jihad fuelled a retaliatory jihad. The West breathed the word crusade.
A similar opportunity can be detected again. Sensible Indians know that sensible Pakistanis are appalled by the horror taking hold of their country. Opinion in both states can see that the surest route to curbing extremism is to normalise relations and collaborate against an insurgency that is feasting on the Nato occupation of Afghanistan. More Pakistani soldiers have died as a result of the occupation than those of any other state.
Exhausted is the best word to describe the so-called arc of instability from the Mediterranean to Islamabad after eight years of western intervention. Last week I watched Lebanon celebrate its independence day in the streets of Beirut. Soldiers marched, bands played, politicians saluted under awnings while planes roared overhead. But the streets were totally empty, cleared of people for fear of terrorist attack. There was not a murmur of applause. Even in modern Beirut, bleak, fearful exhaustion ruled the day.
Lebanon is exhausted by its feud with Syria and Syria by its feud with Israel. Hamas in Gaza is exhausted by its feud with Fatah. Israel, even as it approaches an election, is exhausted by the threat from Hezbollah. As a result its politicians might, just might, at last cut a deal with Syria — through the agency of the Saudis — on Golan and the West Bank.
Eastwards, the war in Iraq is petering out through sheer exhaustion. Two million Iraqis camped outside Damascus cannot hope to go home until the Americans have left and some new settlement reached between Sunnis and Shias. Iran, too, is a nation exhausted by external sanctions and internal squabbling between clerics and secularists, its economy deteriorating and oil revenues crashing. If only the outside world can back off, a moderate victory in its forthcoming election is just possible.
In Afghanistan exhaustion is reflected in the desperate pragmatism of its ruler, Hamid Karzai. He surveys his dwindling sphere of power but cannot cleanse his regime of the corruption and drug-lordism that exasperates his western masters. Seven years after the toppling of the Taliban, the leaders of the West now advocate talking to them.
Along the North-West Frontier, Nato is entering precisely the strategic trap that closed round the Russians in the 1990s — and the British in the 19th century. Yet even here, the rough coalition of Taliban, Al Qaeda and other insurgents is hard pressed by the Pakistan army, while extremist subsidies flowing from the Gulf are said to be declining. It is possible, just possible, that even Al Qaeda too is exhausted.
Long wave theory suggests that the Muslim world may now be ready for a reaction against the extremism that has brought such devastation on its head for the past two decades. It has not just torn apart small countries, such as Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, but convulsed large ones, such as Turkey, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan. It has given unprecedented potency to sects, militias and gangs, yet has failed to create peace — let alone the caliphate.
Any traveller to these parts at present is overwhelmed by Obamania. From the dinner tables of Lahore to the lecture halls of Beirut’s American University, the president-elect carries an astonishing burden of expectation. To a people for whom George W Bush became synonymous with mindless anti-Americanism, Obama’s race, name, moderation and lack of bombast have risen like a messiah from another land.
The hopes are unreal. Obama will back the Saudi plan for the Middle East and push Israel to the negotiating table. He will end the occupation of Iraq. He will calm relations with Iran and recognise that US aggression has aided only extremism. He will unleash his general, David Petraeus, to negotiate with the Taliban. He will stop bombing Pakistan villages and recruiting thousands to Al Qaeda. Obama will aid Pakistan’s secular schools, not its army.
These expectations are close to absurd. The new president, in his appointments and public statements, promises to be no more coherent in his regional strategy than other Democrats. Anyone who thinks a “surge” can win the war in Afghanistan, or is ready to invade Pakistan to guard its nuclear weapons has, at best, a steep learning curve ahead.
Yet Obama’s store of goodwill must be unprecedented for a US leader in modern times. Were he to visit Cairo or Beirut or even Tehran, he would be greeted as a custodian of promise. An area battered by dreadful US policies for a decade wants only a smile, a nudge and a promise to do better from a country that has done it such harm.
If Obama can withdraw his troops from the region, stifling the chief oxygen of jihad, a moment of opportunity would be at hand.
— The Guardian, London