Dealing with Pakistan
Dec 4th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Even though the terrorists probably came from Pakistan, India should continue to keep its cool
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.
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 well.
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.
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
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.
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
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.