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Dec 4th 2008
Even though the terrorists probably came from Pakistan, India should
continue to keep its cool
PEOPLE in India are describing last week's terrorist attack on Mumbai
as India's September 11th. In many ways, the comparison is apt.
Although the death toll, at about 190, is a fraction of the number
killed in America, this brutal attack on a business capital has
traumatised an entire country.
But if the attack on Mumbai is like September 11th, India needs to
learn from America's mistakes. The 19 al-Qaeda hijackers changed
history seven years ago. Had they not felled the twin towers, America
would not have invaded Afghanistan or Iraq. The easiest way for India
to play into the hands of those who sent the ten terrorists to Mumbai
would be for India to consider a military response against Pakistan.
It is probable that the terrorists did embark from Pakistan. The
testimony of the surviving attacker, the fact that the band arrived by
sea, and American intelligence all point that way (see article). A
prime suspect is Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of several groups based in
Pakistan that are officially banned but suspected of receiving quiet
encouragement from parts of the Pakistani state to wage JIHAD in the
disputed territory of Kashmir and, increasingly, in Afghanistan as
When terrorists attacked the seat of India's Parliament in December
2001, the two countries mobilised their armies and came close to war.
This time India has shown admirable forbearance. There has been
remonstrance but no sabre-rattling.
But forbearance alone cannot be a long-term answer to the problem of
Pakistan. The Mumbai plot is only the latest indication that this huge,
nuclear-armed country is not under the full control of its newly
elected government. When President Asif Ali Zardari said after the
carnage in Mumbai that he would take the strictest action against any
guilty individual or group "in my part of the country", it was perhaps
a slip of the tongue. But the implication is true: large tracts of
Pakistan, notably the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan, are under the
control of local tribesmen, the Taliban, al-Qaeda or a mixture of all
The fighting in the tribal areas and the killing last year of Benazir
Bhutto misleads outsiders into calling Pakistan a failed state. If that
were truly so, America's policy of bombing al-Qaeda targets inside
Pakistan might make some sense--as might Indian military intervention
in Pakistan. But it is not that simple. Most of Pakistan is quite
firmly under the state's control. However, just as the state does not
control all the country, nor does Mr Zardari control all the state. The
ultimate arbiters of foreign and security policy in Pakistan have long
been the army and intelligence services.
The army's top brass seem in tune with their president in seeing
Islamist terrorists as the most dangerous enemy facing Pakistan. But
for some soldiers and spooks, the manipulation of the jihadists on
Pakistan's soil remains a rational instrument of foreign policy.
Although it is America's ally, Pakistan maintains links with the
predominantly ethnic-Pushtun Taliban in Afghanistan, as a hedge against
the day America leaves and a way to thwart a perceived Indian plan of
strategic encirclement. The insurgency in Kashmir, likewise, is seen as
a means of bogging down the old enemy, India. For those in Pakistan who
think this way, the warming of relations between America and
India--especially the rewriting of global proliferation rules to
forgive India for building a bomb--looks like a menacing change that
needs to be countered.
THE VENGEANCE TRAP
To understand these motives is not to condone them. India has every
right to demand that Pakistan stops letting its territory be used as a
terrorist haven and to track down those responsible. But these demands
have to be accompanied by a balanced strategy that bolsters Mr Zardari
and weakens the argument of his generals, not (as in the case of those
American bombing raids) the other way round. It should include
inducements, such as Indian flexibility over Kashmir, as well as
pressure. Pakistan's army would presumably like nothing better than an
excuse to give up its demoralising battle against fellow Muslims in the
tribal areas and redeploy against the traditional Hindu enemy in the
east. India must not fall into that trap.
See this article with graphics and related items at http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=12724958&source=most_commented
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