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Pakistan's footprints of terror

Almost simultaneous news about the arrest of prominent members of the Pakistani terrorist group, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, in Iraq, and of a group of terrorist conspirators of Pakistani origin in the UK, underlines, once again, Pakistan’s centrality in the network of international Islamist terrorism. Meanwhile, a steady stream of the rhetoric of hate from the LeT’s leaders – including its ‘Amir’, Maulana Hafiz Mohammad Saeed – as well as from the top echelons of leadership of a number of other Islamist terrorist groups operating openly in Pakistan, confirm that they are under no manifest pressure or restraint from the Musharraf regime. Numerous recent reports confirm that, though some of these groups, including the LeT, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and the Harkat-ul-Mujahiddeen (HuM), have been officially proscribed in Pakistan – evidently under US pressure – they continue to operate openly under new names, recruiting, training and publicly soliciting and securing substantial funds to support jehad related activities (reports indicate that the LeT alone, under its new name, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, secured more than Rs. 78 crores during Id last month from the sale of the hides of sacrificed animals donated to it during the festival. Though widely reported, no official action was taken to prevent this, or to recover or ‘freeze’ the funds). Tactical adaptations aside, the enterprise and infrastructure of the extremist Islamist jehad are alive and well in Pakistan.

At the same time, over the winter months of October 2003 through March 2004 there has been an average of more than 165 terrorism-related fatalities per month in J&K, despite the celebrated ‘peace process’, the increasing ‘people to people contacts’, and the cricket matches between India and Pakistan. Nearly two-thirds of terrorist attacks in J&K are now executed by the LeT alone, and well over two-thirds of all terrorists killed are foreigners, overwhelmingly Pakistanis.

Nevertheless, the selective blindness over Pakistan’s role and intent persists, not only within the US and the international policy community, but within India – the principal target and victim of Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorism – as well. "Pakistan," a commentator in The Los Angeles Times notes, "should have topped President Bush's ‘axis of evil’ list. Instead, it has been designated as a ‘non-NATO’ ally of the United States." There is, in this, not only a great irony, but equally great danger for the future stability of South Asia. Once again, the US intervention has had an immediate and destabilizing impact on the region, encouraging Pakistan’s President Musharraf to a display of reflexive belligerence. Almost immediately after the American announcement, Musharraf issued an ultimatum to Delhi: if they were no ‘positive developments’ vis a vis Kashmir by August, he said, Pakistan would withdraw from the ‘peace process’. There has, of course, been some subsequent official quibbling about whether this constituted a ‘deadline’ – Pakistani officials take cover under the plea that their President did not specifically use the word ‘deadline’ – but there can be no doubt that what Musharraf was clearly heard to say in a statement that was widely broadcast, did constitute an ultimatum.

This underlines, once again, the grave risks of rushing into an unprincipled ‘peace process’ on dubious and extraneous considerations. For one thing, there can be no ‘solution’, or even meaningful discourse, under an ultimatum, deadline or threat. Further, it is amply clear that the possibility of electoral gains was a major motivating factor in aggressively pushing forward the newfound entente with Pakistan, and these initiatives have little to do with any salutary developments on the ground within Kashmir, or with any objective assessment of a fundamental alteration in strategy or intention within the Pakistani leadership. These initiatives, however, will have little, if any, impact on the electoral process, and the sooner Indian politicians realize that the conventional considerations of such vote bank politics have lost their relevance, the better it will be for Indian democracy, and their own electoral prospects. Worse still, the ‘peace process’ and its various components have validated a succession of other measures by various international players to rehabilitate the Musharraf regime, even though there is no clear demonstration that it has unambiguously committed itself to dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism and nuclear proliferation, or to operating within the restraints of civilized international norms. Pakistan may shortly be restored to its membership of the Commonwealth, and is expected to receive increasing support from the European Union, despite the scathing denunciation of its rigged elections by EU observers in October 2002. And there has been a slew of American concessions and renewed overtures towards Pakistan – the complete withdrawal of earlier sanctions, the grant of major non-NATO ally status, increased military and financial assistance – that make a mockery of America’s repeated assertions of ‘strategic and ideological convergence’ with India.

There is, however, little ground to complain of the world’s increasingly supportive stance towards Pakistan, when India itself eagerly seeks unconditional ‘friendship’ with its dictator. Most countries and international organisations cite Pakistan’s ‘improving ties’ with India as grounds for softening their own stance against what was, before 9/11, on the verge of being declared a terrorist state and a rogue regime. The space for the progressive legitimisation of the Musharraf regime has been created, in substantial part, by Indian actions and initiatives; and these have not procured for India any substantial relief from Pakistan-sponsored terrorism on Indian soil, or any benefits in terms of improved international support for India’s position on Kashmir. The eventual gains for Pakistan are, of course, uncertain; but the visible disadvantages for India are already clear. In the day-to-day discourse with international agencies and diplomats from the US and other Western powers, the issue of the ongoing campaigns of Pakistan-supported terrorism on Indian soil is systematically sidelined, as attention is exclusively directed towards improving trade relations, ‘cooperation’, and ‘confidence building measures’. It remains an impenetrable mystery how confidence can be built, or cooperative enterprises engaged in, with a country that remains responsible for the ongoing slaughter of hundreds of India’s citizens each month.

The complete absence of realism and of any clear formulation of what the Indo-Pak ‘peace process’ is intended or expected to yield, actually and actively undermines the possibility of peace in the region, creating the operational spaces to keep the Pakistan-backed international jehad alive. The immediate impact is, of course, felt within the neighbourhood, most visibly in Jammu & Kashmir. But the increasing manifestation of a Pakistani footprint in terrorist incidents, arrests and activities across the world, in the US, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, even in distant and relatively insular South America, should make it obvious that distinctions between terrorist groups that target ‘us’, and those that target ‘them’, no longer hold. The survival of the infrastructure of terrorism and the continued support to terrorist groups in Pakistan is, unambiguously, a global threat; and for any country, most of all, for America – cast increasingly into the image of Islam’s ‘principal enemy’ by the jehadis – to believe that it will be exempt from the consequences, is nothing less than dangerously delusional.

(Published in The Pioneer, April 03, 2004)





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