By Dr Shabir Choudhry
Terrorist action in Mumbai has once again shaken the world. World public opinion is united in the demand that menace of terrorism must be defeated; and those behind terrorist organisations must be punished. However opinion is divided as to what is the best method to eliminate or at least contain terrorism.
No matter how absurd they are, conspiracy theorists are busy churning out many possible culprits. Pakistani groups and officials are busy trying to find contradictions in the Indian news stories about the whole tragedy and trying to prove that it was done by the Hindu extremists. Some of these theorists even claim that the government of India could have hand in it as they wanted an excuse to 'attack Pakistan' and also 'influence forthcoming elections in India'
Other Pakistani conspiracy theorists say that CIA or Mossad could be behind this, as they want to twist hands of Pakistan to get more concessions on the war on terrorism. Although there is no conclusive evidence as yet to prove who was behind this heinous crime, but on the bases of available indications the international public opinion believes it was Lashkar E Tayba; and noose is getting tighter; but it remains to be seen around whose neck it would be tightened – LeT or government of Pakistan by creating a link between LeT and the ISI - Pakistan's elite secret agency.
Like Taliban, Lashkar E Tayba (army of the pure) was also set up by the Pakistani secret agency, ISI. Whereas the Taliban were assigned the task of toppling the Afghan government and create a friendly government in Kabul that Pakistan could have 'strategic depth' in case of a war with its arch rival India; the LeT was assigned tasks in Jammu and Kashmir and India to fight as a 'proxy war' 'in the contested territory of Kashmir, part of a decades-old strategy by the militarily weaker Pakistan to 'bleed' its bigger rival'.
Apart from LeT another militant group - Jaish-e-Mohammed was also set up to carry out militant actions in Jammu and Kashmir; and both are very oganised and well financed. The JeM is accused of being responsible for many brutal attacks, including the murder of Jewish American journalist Daniel Pearl. It is believed that both of these groups have close working relationship with Taliban and Alaqaaeda. Both groups believe that it is their religious duty to fight in Afghanistan and in Jammu and Kashmir; and to continue their struggle against enemies of Islam whereever they might be.
This terrorist action has not only caused death and destruction but has also provided an opportunity to extremists on both sides of the border to fan coomunalism and hatred which could throw spanner in the peace process and confidence building measures. This strategy of extremists must be checked as it could result in more violence in both countries; and could possibly drive the both countries to a war. A war which none of them want and in which tens of thousands of innocent lives could perish; and moreover which could possibly change politics and geography of the region.
The relationship between the ISI and these terrorist groups came under tremendous strain becaue of the tragic events of 9/11, and Pakistan's involvement in the war on terrorism. These groups were also accused of carrying out high target attacks in India and pressure was that they should be disbanded. Pakistani government for obvious reasons was reluctant to rein in on these groups but when there were attacks on General Musharaf, the government had no choice but to take some action against them.
These groups were seen as great strategic and military asset, as they helped to advance the cause of Pakistani secret agencies, which was not necessarily in the national interest of Pakistan and stability of Pakistan. True these groups were set up, trained and financed by Pakistani agencies; but with time they developed their own ideology, separate agenda, separate recruiting and training starategies with their own command and control system.
When Paksitan joined war on terrorism they developed closer ties with Taliban and Alqaeeda; and when they came under pressure from the Pakistani authorities their relationship with them strengthened. It is also believed that some disgruntled operatives of ISI, who disagreed with policies of Musharaf government collaborated with these groups.
Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist of The Times is of the view that ISI had longstanding links with JeM and LeT, but these links were cut back after pressure from Washington. However 'Pakistan never really cracked down and put either group out of business as it could have… 'The Pakistani security forces have always tended to see militants as tools to be used in India or Afghanistan, rather than as threats to stability'.
As a result of some pressure from Pakistani government these groups lowered their profile, but they were not out of 'business' and it is possible that they could have been activated to carry out this task. However it is unimaginable that the government of Pakistan which is facing very serious challenges, including acute economic and security challenges could even think of doing anything like that, especially when they have declared to establish more friendly relations with India.
Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, a leader of Pakistani Peoples Party in current affairs TV programme 'Aaj Kal' openly said, 'those forces are behind this act who were responsible for sabotaging the peace process by doing Kargil in 1999, and who wanted to undermine Nawaz Sharif government'. He said now that the 'Zardari government wanted to strengthen the peace process by forging closer ties and signing deals with India those forces have done it again'.
Whether guilty or innocent the government of Pakistan has to face the consequences of this attack. War mongers and hate preachers have their own agenda which is not in the interest of ordinary people, and which is also not in interest of both countries. It is therefore imperative that common sense prevails and power and influence of those who say India is 'under attack'; and that nation is 'at war' is contained.
American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Pakistani experience in FATA and in parts of North West Frontier shows that terrorism could not be eliminated by use of force alone, because violence breeds more violence and this cycle of violence has snow ball affect. India and Pakistan cannot change their geography – they both have to live in the same region and it is in the interest of both that they live as good neighbours. They should avoid falling in to trap of these terrorists and continue with their peace process and confidence building measures.
Among much hype and rhetoric one sane voice emerged in Times of India. Gautam Adhikari in his article 'Save Pakistan To Save Us All' argues that people of Pakistan are not problem, the problem is economic instability and Islamic extremism, which ISI and the army use to advance their plans. He says Pakistan needs to be helped and supported that there could be economically stable and viable Pakistan.
He further says: 'Stabilising Pakistan which means genuinely democratising its polity and helping its economy grow back to a sustainable level of prosperity in the medium term will help ensure a viable future for the nation and its people, thereby beating the menace of Islamist extremism that provides ideological energy for jihadi terror'.
In his opinion weak and unstable Pakistan is dangerous to every one; after all it is a nuclear country with a large army and weak political institutions. Economic and political instability will empower forces of extremism and hatred, giving further rise to terrorism, hence destabilising the whole region.
It is in the interest of Pakistan's neighbours and the world at large that there is democratic, stable and friendly Pakistan; rather than unstable, extremist and unfriendly Pakistan. Use of force against Pakistan or leaving it alone to put up with challenges of terrorism, extremism and economy will not help the matters, if anything it will help the extremists to takeover the politcial and national agenda.
True both countries have many unresolved issues, which could only be resolved by a process of dialogue. Both countries were in competition in Jammu and Kashmir and in many other fields; and now new dimension has been added and a new frontier has been included – and that is to increase their influence in a war torn Afghanistan, which further complicates the matters.
If common sense prevails and both countries are not influenced by domestic pressures and immediate political gains, then they can avoid further escalation; and work out a mechanism to jointly fight forces of extremism and terrorism. If on the other hand they give in to pressures then some kind of show down could take place early next year – probably February and March of next year with devastating consequences.
The writer is a Spokesman of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org