No country, big or small, is immune from terrorist violence. This is what the macabre events in Mumbai demonstrated with chilling clarity. Like 9/11, the 26 November attack on Mumbai was carried out by less than a dozen men motivated as much by hate as by their contempt for life. The carnage they perpetrated was the most horrific of a series of terrorist incidents that ravaged India through 2008. Ahmedabad, Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore, Malegaojn and Guwahati had their share of bomb blasts resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries.
Startling though this may be, it is Pakistan that is the world’s major victim of terrorism. The bombing of the Islamabad Marriott on 20 September, barely a few hours after President Asif Ali Zardari’s first address to the joint session of the National Assembly and Senate, jolted the entire nation. On 6 September, the day the president was elected by the federal and provincial legislatures more than thirty people were killed by a suicide bomber in Peshawar. In 2007 terrorism claimed an estimated 4,000 Pakistani lives i.e., more than the number of fatalities in the 1965 war with India. Last year the number of terrorist incidents reached 68 averaging more than one a week.
Parallel to this, the writ of the government is being swiftly and sharply eroded. A year back, when military operations began in Swat, the Taliban were in control of 25 percent of the state’s territory. Today 75 percent of Swat is under their draconian rule. In December the Taliban issued a warning that all girls’ schools would be blown up if they reopened after 15 January. These institutions, therefore, remain closed and 80,000 girls are being denied education and 8,000 teachers have lost their jobs.
The inescapable reality is that archrivals Pakistan and India face a common threat from a common enemy. The urgent requirement is that they should pool their resources, share intelligence and devise a joint mechanism for combating terrorism. Yet both spend exorbitantly from meager budgetary resources on maintaining huge armies and purchasing state-of-the-art weaponry directed mainly at each other. They seem to be oblivious of the truth that the actual enemy that threatens them both is amorphous and cannot be easily identified, targeted and destroyed by such military prowess. This lesson which should have been learnt from 9/11 has eluded both Pakistan as well as India. A coordinated, well-thought-through strategy is required but is not even on the anvil. The two countries are captives of their tension-dominated past which sparked wars because of unresolved disputes particularly over such issues as Kashmir.
US president Barack Obama has recognized the need for a Kashmir settlement so that Pakistan’s focus on fighting terrorism is not diluted. British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband also acknowledged the importance of resolving the Kashmir dispute during a visit to India in mid-January in the context of dealing with the problem of terrorism in the South Asian region. In an article featuring in The Guardian he wrote: “…resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western borders.” A graphic illustration of this was the redeployment of troops from the conflict-torn Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the country’s eastern border because of Indian saber-rattling almost immediately after its failure to preempt the terrorist attack on Mumbai.
The pride that Pakistan and India take on their decade-long status as nuclear weapons states is unwarranted because huge segments of their populations face chronic economic deprivation. India may well brag that its middle class is bigger than the entire population of the European Union, but it is also home to the world’s largest concentration of poverty-stricken people and is ranked below Sudan and Somalia on the international hunger index.
The economic plight of Pakistan, which faces stagflation, is even more dismal. Poverty-induced suicides recur with alarming frequency while the empty promise of roti, kapra, makan (bread, clothing, shelter) has turned out to be no more than a hackneyed political slogan reverberating through the streets and slums of hunger-generated despair.
The symbiotic relationship between violence and poverty is obvious. While moralists may preach that man does not live by bread alone, hunger drives him towards desperate acts of violence. It is from the soul-wrenching expanse of poverty that the foot soldiers of terrorist outfits are recruited, indoctrinated and trained to kill or be killed in the name of religion. There can scarcely be a greater blasphemy.
The co-relationship between poverty and extremist violence has been recognized by the United States as well as by other developed countries of the west. As Obama begins his first presidential term, the earlier Biden-Lugar proposal for a multi-billion dollar civilian, rather than military, assistance package to Pakistan to arrest the economic meltdown and the consequent destabilization of the country needs to be quickly approved. It is much more than a mere “democracy dividend” because economic and political stability are mutually reinforcing and indispensable for combating terrorism.
It is disconcerting that some Indian intellectuals, albeit a miniscule minority, think differently. For instance, R. Vaidyanathan, professor of finance and control, at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, expressed the absurd view in an article that “a stable Pakistan is not in the interest of world peace, leave alone India.” He proposed measures aimed at the economic strangulation and isolation of Pakistan. Shorn of sophistry, this amounts to economic terrorism.
Both Pakistan and India have more than their share of bigoted ideologues. In an article titled “Mumbai was not our 9/11,” Arundhati Roy quotes Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Tayba ranting: “There cannot be any peace till India remains intact .Cut them, cut them so much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy.” She then compares this histrionic outburst to Babu Bajrangi’s infamous boast about the 2002 Gujrat massacre: “We didn’t spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire…we hacked, burned, set on fire…we believe in setting them on fire because those bastards don’t want to be cremated…” After the UN sanctions of 21 December against the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, allegedly a smokescreen for the banned Lashkar-e-Tayba, Hafiz Saeed was put under house arrest but Babu Bajrangi is out on bail and lives in comfort in the Indian state of Gujrat.
The visionary leadership needed to tone down inflamed public reaction triggered by reprehensible incidents such as the Mumbai attack is sadly lacking in both India as well as Pakistan. Instead of moulding popular opinion in support of sane policies, weak governments are led by public outrage towards irrational decisions, Far from dousing the flames of the post-Mumbai tragedy, war was not ruled out as an option by New Delhi and this was reiterated by the Indian army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, prompting a response by his Pakistani counterpart.
Earlier, despite denials, Indian troops were mobilized, Pakistan’s airspace was deliberately violated and the untenable demand was made that the persons wanted by New Delhi be handed over for trial in India although no bilateral extradition agreement exists between the two countries and neither is it a requirement under the SAARC anti-terrorism convention. Even countries sympathetic to India, notably Britain and the US, distanced themselves from New Delhi’s unreasonable stance as a result of which India’s Minister for External Affairs, Pranab Mukherjee, was constrained to concede that the wanted men, who he described as “fugitives from India,” could be tried in Pakistan.
Instead of acknowledging that Indian intelligence failed miserably in preventing the Mumbai outrage, New Delhi has taken the easy way out by holding Pakistan responsible for the attack. Far from cooperating with Islamabad to deal with the threat from terrorism which both countries face, Pranab Mukherjee has even expressed reservation about the usefulness of any dialogue with Pakistan. In the third week of January he said: “Pakistan’s approach to the Mumbai terror attack has proved that the composite dialogue between the two countries was meaningless. The absence of a sincere and transparent position on terrorism has eroded the value of a dialogue process…this places a long-term question mark on the utility of a dialogue as a means to resolve bilateral issues with Pakistan. As a consequence, the popular support, which the dialogue process with Pakistan had, is now very significantly eroded.”
Despite the waffling on such issues as owning the nationality of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist involved in the Mumbai attack, the Pakistan government has taken measures against previously banned extremist outfits. On 15 January the Prime Minister’s Interior Adviser, Rehman Malik, announced the closure of five Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Tayba training camps, a ban on seven of their publications, blockage of their websites and the detention of 124 persons belonging to these outlawed groups. Though the measures against these organizations should be welcomed by the international community, it could also be construed as an unwitting admission that training camps have all along existed in Pakistan and the government was either unwilling or unable to shut them down.
In contrast to New Delhi’s post-Mumbai war mongering hysteria, the Director General of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, in a rare interview, is reported to have told a correspondent of the Hamburg publication, Der Spiegel, which is Europe’s largest weekly with a circulation of more than a million, that terrorism, and not India, was the enemy of Pakistan. He also said that he had been willing to travel to India to help in the investigation into the Mumbai attack but the idea had been shot down by the concerned authorities.
Terrorism has neither creed nor nationality. It is, therefore, wrong to stigmatize any country or religion as perpetrators of extremist violence. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and others have been equally culpable. Despite this, it is Islam that is blamed although Muslims are not responsible for a majority of violent incidents that have occurred worldwide. For instance, in India there were more than 2,500 terrorist-related deaths in 2007 of which more than two-thirds were caused by non-Muslim extremist outfits. Acts of senseless violence have occurred in the far corners of the world and no country can be singled out as the purveyor of terrorism.
However the undeniable fact is that in recent years those professing to be Muslims have been largely responsible for the indiscriminate slaughter of blameless civilians. The Mumbai massacre, the terrorist incidents in Pakistan, Bali, London, Madrid and 9/11, to cite only a few, have been carried out by those who pretend to belong to the Islamic faith. ,It is also undeniable that the epicenter of global terror is in Pakistan and the leadership of the country has been honest enough to admit this because their own nationals have been the primary victims.
It is no less true that terrorist acts are symptoms of a malaise embedded in economic, political and social iniquities. A concerted effort to eradicate poverty and resolve long-festering disputes in tandem with military action against terrorist groups is urgently needed.There are no quick fixes but a start has to be made now. If this is not done, the late Paul Samuelson’s theory of a clash of civilizations could well become a self-fulfilling prophesy.