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A common enemy

January 23, 2013

THE Indian home minister’s claim that the country’s largest opposition party is sponsoring “Hindu terrorism” is an explosive and alarming one, not just for India but also for Pakistan. It is a claim so serious, in fact, that it will not be taken seriously by some sections of its domestic audience unless the home minister shares at least some of the evidence he says he has; the current dynamics of Indian politics, with a government under pressure and elections within sight, will make it tempting not to take his allegation at face value. Presumably he would only have made it on the basis of reliable investigations at the highest levels. As a first next step, then, he needs to share whatever information he can.

But if we assume for a moment that the remark could not have been an off-the-cuff one, it is as disturbing here as it should be across the border, because religious extremism in India and Pakistan is rarely just a domestic issue. For one, there is the threat of cross-border terrorism, as in the case of the Samjhauta Express bombing, which killed mainly Pakistanis and which the home minister has also traced to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Second, just as some Pakistani right-wing and extremist groups are both anti-Hindu and anti-India, there is a fine line between anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan sentiments when it comes to the BJP’s affiliate, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The growth of violent religious extremism in India, if it is taking place in the way the home minister suggests, can only fuel animosity towards Pakistan and hinder the peace process.

And it does the same here; Hafiz Saeed has reportedly already taken this opportunity to blame our domestic terrorism on Indian actors. The development underlines how important it is for both Pakistan and India to take seriously the spread not just of external threats, but also of home-grown violent extremism. Focusing on the former allows the latter to flourish, so that both feed off each other in a cycle that makes the entire region more violent. More importantly, as Pakistan knows only too well, religious extremism is insidious. It spreads faster and wider than is obvious, not just strengthening violent organisations but also transforming societal attitudes in a way that supports the growth of those organisations. Pakistan has seen the fallout from its own history of concentrating on foreign threats at the expense of fighting domestic ones and controlling the spread of right-wing ideas at home. As extremist viewpoints gain ground next door, India would do well to avoid the same mistake.