The terror threat

Published December 6, 2015
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

TERROR has a logic to it. Especially in the Pak-India context. It did in 2001 and it did again in 2008. It was, in the big picture, perhaps not to trigger war, but to defeat peace.

And it worked both times. The logic of terror in the Pak-India context is to keep the sensible lot apart, to keep the peacemakers away.

That infuses a perverse kind of inverse proportionality to terror: the worse ties are, the less likely is a calamitous terror strike.

But it doesn’t always work that way. And the logic of what’s recently unfolding in India should alarm — and probably is alarming — those whose jobs it is to keep Pakistan and India safe.

Fear and danger are unmistakably in the air.

The communal tensions across the border is likely stoking jihadi flames.

The communal tensions across the border is likely stoking jihadi flames — inside India, regionally, everywhere, and surely here at home too — just as Paris and now California have demonstrated that the old ways of terror are giving way to new, uncontrolled and unpredictable forces.

Because it’s an incendiary subject — and suspicions of state behaviour here so ingrained internationally — it’s helpful to revisit history.

Because where terror’s goal once may have been to retard peace and reap policy dividends, today, the fires being lit over in India are creating new incentives for evil and terror that may have little to do with state policy.

So let’s go back to 2001. In December, the Indian parliament is hit. India blames Pakistan and one thing leads to another and there’s a military stand-off along the border.

Pak-India relations plunge. Pakistan and India squabbling again and scaring the world again — nothing historically anomalous there.

But there was a context in 2001: there were some idiots around with peace on their mind who thought they could do something about it.

Agra had gone bust, but Musharraf was still very much in charge and he hadn’t given up. Before him, Nawaz had made the civilian intentions clear. And over in India was a right-wing government that seemed interested in a deal.

If you’re a jihadi, peace is a deal-breaker. It’ll put you out of business. So they put the would-be peacemakers out of business first.

The 2001 attack killed off any funny ideas of peace either Pakistan or India had. Armies were mobilised, harsh words were exchanged; it would take a while for things to calm down again.

Terror had achieved its purpose.

Fast forward to 2008. This time it was bigger and more audacious — and the effect was even more dramatic.

Pak-India ties plunged to their lowest non-war level. Nobody could talk about peace in India. It was tantamount to treason. There was just anger and outrage. Inside Pakistan, there was a counter-effect. Indian bellicosity made talking peace a no-win situation. There was no political capital to be had. No opening that seemed realistic.

It was better to just shut up.

And again, there was the context. Musharraf had been kicked out, but his four-point formula still filled the air. There, in simple, easy-to-grasp language, was the Kashmir unicorn, a mutually plausible potential solution.

Inside Pakistan, the PPP had taken over. The boss, Zardari, seemed like he had big ideas and even mused about no-first strike and peace with India. It was heady stuff. Over in India, there was a prime minister from Pakistan who yearned to make peace. And a Congress-led coalition that was presiding over record growth and that was reasonably insulated from right-wing attack.

Mumbai killed all of that. This time, India tried a different tack in response — instead of mobilising its army, it worked to diplomatically isolate Pakistan.

It didn’t work as well as the Indians hoped. But it worked well enough to make talking peace a non-starter in India and a delicate subject inside Pakistan.

Terror had achieved its purpose.

In fact, Mumbai was so wildly successful that Mumbai-I had made Mumbai-II unnecessary. You don’t have to kill what is already dead. Terror knows to keep its powder dry.

Now, to the present. There is, first, no institutional interest here in a meltdown with India just now. The fight at home and the mess in Afghanistan are the clear and obvious priorities.

Second, there is no need for a Pak-India meltdown. Even the incorrigible optimists don’t see Modi cutting any kind of peace deal with Pakistan. There is no threat of peace breaking out.

But Modi and his right-wing politics are making all of us unsafe — Indians, Pakistanis, everyone. Because militants everywhere will know opportunity and glory beckon — the lone wolves and the organised lot; the home-grown Indian ones and the ones exported from here or neighbouring lands; the casual extremists and the dedicated; everywhere and everyone.

India, you can imagine the jihad lot thinking, needs to be taught a lesson. Modi needs to be taught a lesson. An attack to remember for the ages. No one would ever forget it. If it does come from here — and that possibility is what it is — the tail would finally and fully be wagging the dog.

Where previous terror — ’01 and ’08 — killed any funny ideas about peace, this one would be about the jihadis themselves setting the record straight. There’s us — believers — and there’s them and never shall the twain meet.

There’s also the unsaid. The war against the TTP and the operation in Karachi will have eaten up most of the state’s bandwidth. There’re only so many things that can be juggled at once.

Keeping the anti-India jihad lot muzzled here isn’t about snapping fingers and dog whistles. It requires a great deal of focus and attention. Focus and attention that simply may not be available right now.

Fear and danger are unmistakably in the air.

The old, reliable inverse proportionality may stand suspended. The worse ties are now, could a calamitous strike be more likely?

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2015


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