November 28, 2008 / 4:27 PM / 10 years ago

COLUMN - Attack on Mumbai

(K. Subrahmanyam is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own)

Undated handout photo of independent strategic expert K. Subrahmanyam. REUTERS/Handout

By K. Subrahmanyam

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to take up the issue of the terrorist attack on Mumbai with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari later today.

On the basis of preliminary evidence obtained, the Indian government has reached the conclusion that the terrorist assault was carried out by elements originating in Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities have expressed their condemnation of the attack and promised collaboration in the investigation.

Sections of the Pakistani media have cautioned against jumping to hasty conclusions and blaming Pakistan for this act of terrorism.

According to Indian official sources, President Zardari promised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during their meeting in New York that he would not allow Pakistani soil to be used to launch terrorist activities against India.

At last week’s Hindustan Times Summit, President Zardari spoke warmly about his vision of future India-Pakistan relations.

At this stage no one in India is likely to accuse President Zardari of any complicity in the terroristic attack on Mumbai. The Indian Foreign minister has only referred to elements from Pakistan being responsible for the attack.

The Pakistani President himself has been a victim of terrorism. His wife, the tallest political leader of the country, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a public rally and the Pakistani government has invoked a UN investigation into the murder as no Pakistani agency is considered to have adequate credibility to carry out an impartial investigation.

Every day Pakistan sees acts of terrorism carried out by religious extremist groups.

While India is expected to produce persuasive public evidence on the involvement of Pakistani elements in Mumbai terroristic attack in due course, it is to be presumed that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should have had prima facie evidence to take up the issue at his level with President Zardari.

There is a lot of speculation in the international media about likely dip in Indo-Pakistan relations and its consequences for sub-continental stability.

This speculation takes place against the background of General Petraeus’s plan being drawn up for a surge in US forces in Afghanistan, the US pressure on Pakistan to be more active in the counter-insurgency operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan to neutralise the pro-Taliban forces and Pakistani excuse about their inability to do that because of the Indian threat on their eastern frontier.

President-elect Obama has gone on public record that India did not pose any threat to Pakistan and threats to Pakistan are from across its western borders and within Pakistan.

These views of President-elect Obama and the recently expressed friendly vision of Indo-Pakistan future by President Zardari have not been received very warmly even by sections of Pakistani establishment.

It will be a reasonable guess that they would not be welcome to the Pakistani Army and the InterServices Intelligence. The latter two are keeping silent due to the compulsion of circumstances in which they are placed.

Pakistan has been forced to go in for an IMF loan to avoid payment default. The inflation is above 20 percent. Contrast this with the situation in India.

A section of Pakistani establishment had always claimed parity with India going back to the British colonial days when the British in pursuance of the Divide and Rule policy equated the two parties — the Congress and the Muslim League.

Sections of Pakistani establishment therefore desired parity militarily, in nuclear arsenal and missiles. For such elements in Pakistan the Indian unity was artificial and they did not expect India with its enormous diversities to survive as a united nation. They have talked about bleeding India through a thousand cuts.

Today they are envious of India’s economic and technological performance and this was reflected in the attack on the five star hotels in Mumbai where Indians and foreigners were getting together to transact business.

Long before Professor Samuel Huntington formulated his ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his followers had formulated the two-nation theory and argued that Hindus and Muslims could not coexist in a nation and therefore the Muslims must have a separate nation of their own.

Elaborating this to the US media in 2002, the Delhi-born General Pervez Musharraf pointed out that while the Hindus venerated the cows the Muslims ate them. While Hindus worshipped thousands of gods the Muslims worshipped only one God. Therefore he argued they belonged to different civilisations.

It is the same argument which make Pakistanis believe that Kashmir should have gone to them though it was Jinnah, the constitutional lawyer who insisted that with lapse of British paramountcy each princely ruler was entitled to accede to the dominion of his choice or become sovereign.

This clarification is necessary to explain that there are significant elements in Pakistan which subscribe to the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis and for them it is natural to accept that the westerners (the crusaders), the Zionists (Israelis) and the Hindus are the enemies.

The terrorists in Mumbai hit a Jewish establishment and looked for American and British passport holders. The Pakistan Army maintains that it is the guardian of the two nation theory - the Pakistan ideology. While the new Democratic Government in Pakistan attempts to rein in the Army and the InterServices Intelligence Wing it is not easy to change mindsets which had prevailed for over half a century.

In such circumstances the control that the present Pakistan Government can exercise on jehadi elements is bound to be limited as is evident from the freedom enjoyed by Taliban leader Mullah Omar and other jehadi extremist leaders.

It is quite likely that Zardari government will privately express inability to control the jehadi terroristic activity and publicly take the stand that either proof is inadequate or the persons concerned are not Pakistanis.

That will be similar to the stand they have adopted in the case of Dawood Ibrahim a terrorist wanted both by India and the US for different offences. He lives in a posh house in the Defence colony in Karachi and Pakistan maintains he is not there.

However, India cannot allow the matter to rest there. The Indian public opinion will demand some action against those who allow their soil to be used for terroristic activities. However, moves by India on its own to step up pressure on Pakistan should not result in India walking into a trap set by the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis espousers in Pakistan.

They are waiting to persuade President-elect Obama when he assumes office that the relationship with India is highly tense and therefore they cannot act in FATA or against their own jehadis. The Pakistani two-nation theorists have enough cronies at the middle levels of US intelligence diplomatic and defence establishments to support them in such a stand.

That does not mean that India should not act when elements from Pakistan carry out such acts of terror. But it should not be a knee-jerk reaction.

We should also try to take international community with us. In 1992, President Clinton threatened to put Pakistan on terrorism watch list when an Israeli was killed in Kashmir.

This time the Pakistani jehadis have overreached themselves in attacking foreigners, including Israelis.

While considering various measures against Pakistan, special attention must be paid to mobilise the international public opinion in our favour.

We must also not overlook that the Pakistani middle class, except for the two nation theory subscribers, have a stake in fighting the jehadi extremists.

K. Subrahmanyam is an independent strategic expert

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