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Thursday, 18 December 2008

The most damaging aspect of the jihadi infrastructure has been at the domestic level, as we have been transformed into a violence-prone society...

In our own interest — Talat Masood

Strategies and policies have to change in accordance with current realities. It may have been expedient to pursue foreign and defence policy through the use of proxies in the 1980s and 1990s, but not any more

The Mumbai attacks, if not handled properly, could shake the very foundations of the Indo-Pak peace process, and shatter once again hopes of normalisation between the two countries. In fact, with voices calling for a strong Indian response to Pakistan’s alleged involvement get louder, a serious crisis has emerged. The greatest challenge for the leaders of the two countries is to manage this growing crisis so that it does not escalate into a full-blown conflict, because then all that has been gained the last five years through the peace process would be lost. Every effort should be made to de-escalate tensions and ensure that we are not guided by a false sense of nationalism that invariably leads to confrontation.

To begin with, New Delhi and Islamabad have to fully cooperate, by sharing information and assisting each other, to track down the perpetrators of terrorism. Pakistan has a serious predicament in that it cannot appear to be ‘dictated’ by India, and yet would like to cooperate. It is for this reason that Islamabad keeps insisting on authentic evidence.

New Delhi has its own reasons for refusing to share evidence, fearing its sources would be compromised. New Delhi also claims that it provided sufficient information about the bombing of its embassy in Kabul earlier this year, but Pakistan failed to respond. Pakistan, of course, rejects these allegations.

Charges and counter-charges have become a part of the unfortunate relationship between India and Pakistan. Essentially, it is a question of trust, which regrettably is lacking between the two. But both countries have to disentangle themselves from the stereotypical thought processes and develop consensus on getting to the bottom of the Mumbai terrorist attacks as well as the larger problem of terrorism in the region, as terrorism is clearly a common enemy.

With advances in forensics and other investigation technologies, it should not be difficult to track down the assailants. In the event that there are linkages to elements in Pakistan, as alleged by India and seemingly confirmed by international sources, it is as much in our interest that they are brought to justice. And if it turns out that the crime was committed by homegrown terrorists in India, or in collaboration with them, which is likely, then both countries should cooperate to bring them to justice.

There is not a place in the world where Pakistan is not in the news, and not for good reasons. Pakistan’s credibility has sunk extremely low in the eyes of the international community, and only genuine and transparent cooperation along with multiple measures in other areas will rehabilitate our image.

In India, opinion is divided as to what line of action should be taken against Pakistan. Those favouring caution are of the view that it is in India’s long-term interest to have a democratic stable Pakistan. Only a democratically elected government can eventually defeat the forces of radicalism in Pakistan. They also realise that the current democratic dispensation is extremely fragile and a conflict will India will destabilise it, paving the way for a return to military rule. The counter-view is that for India, it is immaterial whether there is authoritarian or democratic rule in Pakistan, and Indian security interests are best served by launching a military operation and destroying the jihadi infrastructure.

Lessons from the 2001-02 escalation and the current political and economic realities, in all likelihood, will prevent the two sides from going to war. The United States, of course, is a major player, and is using its influence to defuse tensions as it fears that in the event of escalation, Pakistan will divert troops from the western front to the eastern border, which may adversely affect the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas.

Meanwhile, there is mounting pressure from India and the international community on Pakistan to destroy or disable jihadi infrastructure — training camps, indoctrination cells, leading cadres and sources of funding. There has been a stream of high profile visitors to Islamabad to maintain this pressure. There are doubts as to whether Pakistan is unwilling or incapable of taking such action. Moreover, this is scepticism as to whether or not President Asif Zardari has the authority and power to shut down these militant outfits; this scepticism relates to our skewed civil-military relationship. As long as these training camps exist, and non-state entities operate freely in Pakistan, developing trust with India and gaining international credibility is not possible.

In any case, the civilian and military leadership has to do some serious introspection about the cost-benefit ratio of these outdated and failed policies. Has Pakistan come any closer to achieving its objectives in Jammu & Kashmir by supporting militancy and proxies? On the contrary, the recent indigenous and autonomous uprising in the Valley served Kashmiri interests far better by arousing the Indian conscience and attracting international attention. The best option for Pakistan is to strictly confine its support to the Kashmir cause to the political and diplomatic domain.

The most damaging aspect of the jihadi infrastructure has been at the domestic level, as we have been transformed into a violence-prone society, and have become the object of international disrepute. This policy needs to be reviewed irrespective of the findings and outcome of the current crisis.

Demobilisation of these groups is a huge challenge, and will require adroit handling. Merely banning these militant organisations will not make them disappear. In fact, they would simply go underground and pose an even greater threat. The Jama’at-ud Dawa ostensibly has an extensive social services network whose tasks the government and other benign NGOs will have to take up. Most importantly, the militants will have to be demotivated and rehabilitated by providing them alternate means of livelihood.

We cannot afford to ignore world pressure and remain oblivious to our national interests any more. Strategies and policies have to change in accordance with current realities. It may have been expedient to pursue foreign and defence policy through the use of proxies in the 1980s and 1990s, but not any more. In case we fail to act, international powers in collusion with regional forces will continue to pressurise and destabilise us.

The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at talat@comsats.net.pk

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