Friday, December 26, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Magazine| Dec 22, 2008
essay: terror in mumbai
9 Is Not 11
(And November isn't September)
We've forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching "India's 9/11". And like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we're expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it's all been said and done before.
Thanks largely to the part it was forced to play as America's ally, first in its war in support of the Afghan Islamists and then in its war against them, Pakistan, whose territory is reeling under these contradictions, is careening towards civil war. As recruiting agents for America's jehad against the Soviet Union, it was the job of the Pakistan army and the ISI to nurture and channel funds to Islamic fundamentalist organisations. Having wired up these Frankenstein's monsters and released them into the world, the US expected it could rein them in like pet mastiffs whenever it wanted to. Certainly it did not expect them to come calling in the heart of the Homeland on September 11. So once again, Afghanistan had to be violently re-made. Now the debris of a re-ravaged Afghanistan has washed up on Pakistan's borders. Nobody, least of all the Pakistan government, denies that it is presiding over a country that is threatening to implode. The terrorist training camps, the fire-breathing mullahs and the maniacs who believe that Islam will, or should, rule the world is mostly the detritus of two Afghan wars. Their ire rains down on the Pakistan government and Pakistani civilians as much, if not more, than it does on India. If at this point India decides to go to war, perhaps the descent of the whole region into chaos will be complete. The debris of a bankrupt, destroyed Pakistan will wash up on India's shores, endangering us as never before. If Pakistan collapses, we can look forward to having millions of 'non-state actors' with an arsenal of nuclear weapons at their disposal as neighbours. It's hard to understand why those who steer India's ship are so keen to replicate Pakistan's mistakes and call damnation upon this country by inviting the United States to further meddle clumsily and dangerously in our extremely complicated affairs. A superpower never has allies. It only has agents.
One TV channel (India TV) broadcast a phone conversation with one of the attackers, who called himself 'Imran Babar'. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the conversation, but the things he talked about were the things contained in the 'terror e-mails' that were sent out before several other bomb attacks in India. Things we don't want to talk about any more: the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the genocidal slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, the brutal repression in Kashmir. "You're surrounded," the anchor told him. "You are definitely going to die. Why don't you surrender?" "We die every day," he replied in a strange, mechanical way. "It's better to live one day as a lion and then die this way." He didn't seem to want to change the world. He just seemed to want to take it down with him.
Through the endless hours of analysis and the endless op-ed essays, in India at least there has been very little mention of the elephants in the room: Kashmir, Gujarat and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Instead, we had retired diplomats and strategic experts debate the pros and cons of a war against Pakistan. We had the rich threatening not to pay their taxes unless their security was guaranteed (is it alright for the poor to remain unprotected?). We had people suggest that the government step down and each state in India be handed over to a separate corporation. We had the death of former prime minister V.P. Singh, the hero of Dalits and lower castes and villain of upper-caste Hindus, pass without a mention. We had Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City and co-writer of the Bollywood film Mission Kashmir, give us his version of George Bush's famous 'Why They Hate Us' speech. His analysis of why "religious bigots, both Hindu and Muslim", hate Mumbai: "Perhaps because Mumbai stands for lucre, profane dreams and an indiscriminate openness." His prescription: "The best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever." Didn't George Bush ask Americans to go out and shop after 9/11? Ah yes. 9/11, the day we can't seem to get away from.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Mohammed Yussouff, Retired Professor from IIT, Kanpur
The Indian Nation has been traumatized by the recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
It is clear by now that these attacks using mercenaries have been organized by people who want war between India and Pakistan. One option for India is to go down that path, attack Pakistan and may be totally destroy it once for all. But what does India gain from it. Revenge? Sure! Peace of mind? Hardly! Will Islam disappear from the face of the earth? No, because Pakistan is not Islam. Will everyone in the world convert to Hindu religion? Perhaps not! After Mahabharata, did Hindus live in peace? No, the Hindu kings were fighting each other. A similar situation exists for Muslims. They are as fragmented as Hindus. Whatever happens to Kashmir, the Muslims will never be united!
A clear analysis of the situation is necessary before taking action. Look at the past, the present and the future. Before looking at the past, let us ask a few simple questions. Can one billion people be defeated by ten terrorists with heinous designs? Let us remember one physically frail man who stood against the mighty British Empire with no weapons in his hand? Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian nation, won by the power of his ideas and ideals. But he was defeated by the rise of communalism. At the time of independence and soon afterwards, the Indian nation ignored him and ultimately killed him. The virulent communalism brought his demise. The payback has been coming in various stages and the Mumbai attack of 2008 can also be viewed as just another one of them.
Gandhiji was against communalism and partition of the country. He was against hatred and violence. His ways influenced many great leaders of the world. But Indian politicians soon started to deviate from the path shown by him. He opposed the creation of the monstrous entity called Pakistan which was based on religion. Only a few other countries including Israel are similarly formed and face many contradictions and difficulties due to their inherently absurd foundations. For example, Israel is trying to define who is Jewish?
Pakistan does not know who is a real Muslim? Muslims are fighting and killing Muslims inside Pakistan. Yet the struggle for Kashmir continues and they want Kashmiri Muslims in the mix.
Had Indians accepted Gandiji’s ideas of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence, a whole lot of problems in the Indian sub-continent could have been avoided. This is not to say that other problems like corruption, poverty, exploitation etc. would have gone away. But two nuclear armed neighbors coming to near war situations is by far the greatest threat to the subcontinent.
If religion is not at the root of this problem, then the only other reason is military occupation and suppression. With Chandrayaan in orbit and all the scientific advances and globalization, India has reached a stage where Gandhian ideas of tolerance and peaceful co-existence can be implemented from a position of strength. If you follow that path, the present situation offers a wonderful opportunity to defeat terrorism and correct the grave mistake of the past.
Let India, Pakistan and perhaps Bangladesh recombine into a single entity with distributed power base like the European Union. In that case, only the Union government will have defense and finance and rest of the states will have a lot of autonomy. The nuclear arms will be controlled by the union government and the Western nations do not have to worry about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Gandhiji’s dream was a multi religious, multiethnic, free and prosperous united India. The present situation gives the possibility of uniting the Indian subcontinent of Gandhiji’s dream.
A lot of work must be done to achieve this dream. First step has to be the mass mobilization for unity. The religious fanatics must be neutralized by proper media blitz and education. Open debates and proper mobilization of the public opinion are essential as starting points of such a “revolution” in the subcontinent. Many people will say that it is impossible. Similar reservations were present during Gandhiji’s time. But in the fast developing world, regimes are changing under public pressure. Once people have a will, it is possible to bring about change. So, why not try it out?
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
The Game Changer
Whoever planned the Mumbai massacre - and it was planned, funded and executed by some group in Pakistan - the murders of at least 188 people and paralysis of India's largest city were intended to change geopolitics.
Topping the shortlist of suspects are al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Pakistan Government and intelligence and security services, or rogue elements within those services working with Islamist extremists. But what would anyone in Pakistan stand to gain from a terrorist plot so easily traced to that country? And why has Pakistani culpability met with such a muted response from India and the West?
Pakistan is one of those countries - Israel another - for which a benign foreign policy environment is seen as essential to national survival. The stunted offspring of the Partition of the British Raj, Pakistan is doomed to live in India's shadow.
During the Cold War - in which Pakistan sided unreservedly with the United States, while India played footsie with the Soviets - Islamabad's existential fear of its neighbour was balanced by the confidence that only a friendly White House can give. But since the red menace evaporated and the West became a target of South Asia-based terrorists, Pakistan is less secure. The West's embrace of India as an economic and strategic balance to China has exacerbated Pakistan's insecurity.
The American alliance provided Pakistan with some immunity against India. Islamabad's politically-dominant army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) used or worked closely with a variety of extremists bent on fuelling secessionist violence in parts of India, including Punjab and Kashmir. America even turned a blind eye to Pakistan's covert nuclear program from the 1970s until the early 1990s, when America's victory in Afghanistan led powerful figures in Washington to believe they did not need Pakistan any more, and economic and military aid was cut off.
Fast forward to September 2001 when al-Qaeda and the Taliban attacked the US. Having backed the Taliban in Afghanistan and worked hand in glove with armed Islamists in the 1999 Kargil invasion of Indian-controlled Kashmir, Pakistan was caught hand in cookie jar. Only when General Pervez Musharraf agreed to join the so-called War On Terror did America forgive its sins.
But controllers of Pakistan's security services always regarded that as a mere tactical retreat. Since the time of an earlier military ruler, the late General Zia ul-Haq, the country's ruling elite retained a barely concealed contempt for an American superpower that spent hundreds of billions of dollars buying their friendship. They were confident the West would eventually see the wisdom of subcontracting to Pakistan the messy business of South Asia security. The lavish and misplaced lauding of Musharraf as a hero in the War on Terror illustrated the tendency. But this year, Pakistan's confidence in its ability to set the terms of engagement was badly shaken. American strikes went ahead on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces based in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas despite Islamabad's vociferous protests. Meanwhile, India revived its diplomatic influence in an Afghanistan long regarded by Islamabad as an unofficial province of Pakistan. Adding to hardline alarm has been the vocal adventurism of Pakistan's new president - Asif Ali Zadari, widower of former leader Benazir Bhutto.
He recently pledged to shake up the ISI and uttered the ultimate apostasy by declaring Pakistan had nothing to fear from India and should have warm relations with New Delhi.
The Mumbai attack was designed to wreck rapprochement with India and replace it with military crisis. The same strategy underpinned the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament - an attempt to murder the entire Indian government.
The key suspects for Mumbai all want the US to halt military strikes on Pakistani soil. They want to undermine Western resolve to stay in Afghanistan, thereby facilitating Pakistani suzerainty there. The strike on Mumbai was meticulously planned and expensive, with the foot soldiers getting the sort of specialist training usually restricted to commandos. Above all, it was exquisitely timed to tame two new presidents.
Pakistan's Zardari will find it difficult to pursue his peace and domestic reform agenda in the face of rising tensions with India. And Barack Obama finds his country plunged into another looming crisis in South Asia, one tailor-made to circumscribe his options so that his policy ultimately serves a Pakistan wedded to a chaotic and bloody status quo.
No sooner had India blamed Pakistan than Pakistan threatened to shift to the Indian border military forces fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda - a threat guaranteed to send shivers down the Washington spine.
Panic, of course, is the wrong reaction, as is naivety. Nothing moves in Pakistan without ISI knowledge. The Mumbai massacre could not have been set in train in Pakistan without assistance of the security and intelligence establishment, past or present.
It has taken Pakistan decades to become the sovereign equivalent of a suicide bomber: "Do what we say or we'll blow ourselves up - and take everyone else with us!" Who would call the bluff? Nobody wants to see self-immolation of a country of 170 million people with nuclear weapons.
As always, India will be expected to swallow pain and turn a blind eye to the escape of the back room perpetrators. The more strident New Delhi's reaction, the more it suits the planners of this outrage. But the bitter pill of restraint will be made more palatable for India if it results in closer diplomatic, military and intelligence co-operation aimed at containing the Pakistan problem.
Events like Mumbai are rarely the work of wounded idealists. They are cynical acts of mass murder designed to achieve specific political outcomes. There is method in this madness, but also desperation.
Pakistani extremists - in and out of uniform - want to scare us out of the region and hold hostage to Pakistan indulgence our improving relations with India.
By staying the course, by building a stronger, better targeted international military presence in Afghanistan, by deepening our economic and security ties with India, and by working patiently and methodically to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in South Asia, we deny the massacre architects their most heartfelt desire, and best serve the security of millions of decent people everywhere, including our own.
Christopher Kremmer, author of four books on modern Asia, is a scholar with the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
|Hope Amidst Ruins|
|In the rubble of the hundreds of lives lost and maimed, of the iconic buildings burnt, of the incompetence of the processes and institutions we trusted, however cynically, there's hope. And that's the cliché of Nov 2008.|
From my diary.
Nov 29, 2008:
I did not lose any family or friends in the horrific attacks, yet I have lost.
I feel violated, hurt and very angry.
But I am not alone.
Who amongst us does not feel violated and hurt and angry?
Who amongst us has been able to douse our rage of the last few days?
Who amongst us can forget the 60-hour-long attack, the flames, the bodies, the grief of relatives and friends?
Who amongst us has not come out of our de-sensitised shell, transfixed by the sheer enormity of the tragedy and the utter incompetence of people we trusted our lives with?
Who amongst us has not shed a tear?
Who amongst us today believes that we will return home in one piece every night after work or after dinner?
Who amongst us is not praying, or at least hoping, that there will be a difference?
And, who amongst us is not willing to go out and do something, anything, that will make that difference possible?
There is so much outrage, so much anger, so much disgust amongst people like you and me, I am surprised there haven't been reactive incidents.
On Friday night, 48 hours to the attack and still counting, I was prepared to hear that someone like us had lobbed a home-made grenade at the chief minister's bungalow, or that of some politician who took an oath of office, on the Constitution of India, to protect her people.
Or that someone who professes to be a Hindu, under the garb of being an ultra-nationalist Indian, had gone hunting for his Muslim neighbour whom he equated with Pakistan
Or that there was a growing clamour for an all-out war with Pakistan.
Or that outrage took demonic forms and pitted Indian against Indian.
That none of this has transpired, so far, means that this time we behaved with incredible maturity at a time of great distress.
It means that we see the possibility of directing their anger and passion into something constructive.
There is now no doubt that the glorious and celebrated spirit of Mumbai, an inexplicable mix of commerce and attitude, was not in its soporific dance on Day 1 after an attack, as it has been on every single occasion in the past.
March 1993, Dec 2002, Jan 2003, August 2003, July 2005, July 2006.
And several instances of violence, or the threats of violence, in between.
The spirit of Mumbai was always a cliché that those outside Mumbai chose to describe the no-nonsense attitude and the demands of a commercial system.
Mumbaikars simply put their heads down, subjugated their fears to their roles as cogs in the commerce wheel, and resumed the rhythm of life.
Not because we wanted to, but because we had to, because that was the only way we knew.
No one asked us if we wanted to retreat and nurse our wounds. No one asked how we could be so resilient, or even if we wanted to be resilient.
The resilience, that spirit, dissipated sometime in those 60 hours.
Mumbaikars chose to retreat.
It's a welcome change because people elsewhere will take note, and cease to pretend that nothing major happened.
As an Indian, as a shaken Mumbaikar, as a trying-to-be-dispassionate journalist, I am hoping that constructive change, or changes, will gradually begin to take shape over the next few weeks and months.
It's important that we do not stop being angry or hurt. You or me or anyone else.
And, it's important that we do not dissipate these emotions by fulminating in our drawing rooms and online chat rooms.
Sign all the petitions for peace, light all the candles possible, march in all the demonstrations that will be, hold up placards and banners, but safe-keep the emotions.
These are our strengths now, these are the driving forces, these are the tools to effect the changes we wish to see.
In the rubble of the hundreds of lives lost and maimed, of the iconic buildings burnt, of the incompetence of the processes and institutions we trusted, however cynically, there's hope.
And that's the cliché of Nov 2008. Hope amidst ruins
My hope is that the anger and the hurt will be channelised as they ought to be.
To bring individual losses on a collective platform and demand fundamental changes in the way we are governed.
My confidence, despite everything loaded against it, is that the Idea of India -- the idea of Mumbai -- has taken a physical blow but will not disintegrate or change to suit the designs that our friends or enemies may have.
I remember many lines from many pages but one sticks in the head.
"When you're running down my country, man, you're walking on the fighting side of me"
Friends say fightback is a negative term, but it need not be.
This is indeed a fightback, but it has to be a peaceful, passionate, consistent and constructive one.
Because Mumbai matters.
Because India matters.
December 1, 2008
MUMBAI REKINDLES DEBATE ABOUT MUSLIMS, THEIR BEARD AND SO ON
By Jawed Naqvi
WHAT else could one do to cope with relentless grief? So I joined an impromptu candlelight vigil held by a dozen friends at India Gate, where we paid our silent tribute to the fallen brave of Mumbai. Scores of men, women and children were visiting there anyway, eating ice creams or buying dinky toys. They were ordinary citizens having a holiday due to the Delhi assembly elections. Some of them also joined us in lighting candles.
There was no speech, no slogan, just a silent tribute. I grabbed the balloons from a boy vending them and gave him a candle to light. He hesitated, not believing that he was being urged to join the nation’s grief. Later he said thank you. I am not sure if it was relief at being returned the balloons or for being given a candle to light along with a class of people for many of whom he was no more than a pest. Two other boys in tattered sweaters were walking around the colonial war memorial selling hot coffee. I gave them candles too as I looked after their steaming kettles.
I handed out candles to a group of evidently upper class women. A friend, a woman journalist who doesn’t normally have patience with communal gossip, overheard their conversation. She whispered to me that the women were suspicious of me. She thought it had something to do with my beard and the Afghan cap I wear on cold evenings. Only when I introduced myself and declared that India needed a dictator did they look relaxed. I said Narendra Modi was my hero, even though he sports a different kind of beard. This was a ploy that works when there’s no scope for serious discussion. The women said the country needed Modi as prime minister. I endorsed the view so that they could sleep peacefully that night. We parted on this cordial note.
On the way back, my friend and I discussed how beards had become particularly suspect since the advent of Osama bin Laden. And here, the Mumbai terrorists who themselves were probably clean-shaven pub-crawling college kids, had deepened mistrust that was not just rooted in facial hair. They had succeeded in their mission to drive a deeper wedge among Indians as evident at India Gate.
It didn’t seem to matter to the women that the Jewish rabbi who was killed in Mumbai with his wife also sported a beard. It was irrelevant that Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the revered icon of the RSS wore a mullah-like beard as did the troika of Marx, Engels and Lenin. If anything Hitler and Stalin were always neatly shaved. But that’s not the point. Today in India it has become difficult to say exactly where and how prejudices are given shape such as the kind the women exuded.
The next day, on Sunday, I attended Sabina Sehgal Saikai’s simple funeral at an electric crematorium near the Nizamuddin Aulia’s shrine. She was charred when they found her in the bombed out room at the Taj Mahal Hotel from where one of her last messages from her mobile phone, as she hid under the bed, said: “They have entered my bathroom.” Why the terrorists bombed her room is not known. But it is fair to surmise that reckless TV journalists gave her location to them with the TRP-linked live coverage. Sabina was a journalist at Times of India and we shared a common interest in Indian classical music. She learnt singing from an Ustaad of the Dagar family. The funeral brought many of her friends together. They ranged from the left to the right of the political spectrum. But she was a singularly liberal intellectual who joined causes such as the defence of artist M.F. Husain against religious fanatics.
Given the range of her friends and the grief Sabina left them with, the funeral became a platform to exchange the dominant theme of the occasion: What was to be done? Film actress Nandita Das was among the mourners that broke into a dozen groups or more, each more worried than the other about what was happening to India. Nandita has just made a film about the social isolation of Muslims in Gujarat. She told me some of her close friends had wondered why she was sympathetic to Muslims, and one of them even asked if she had a Muslim boyfriend. What I know is that she has a Gujarati mother.
Let me share a bit of an email Nandita sent to her friends the day before the funeral. It said: “It hadn’t hit me hard enough till Thursday morning…I have to say, it had very little effect on me. My predictable response was, not again...more people will die, more fear, more prejudice and more hatred. But at some level the response was instant and cerebral. But this morning when I got up things felt different. Got a message from an unknown no: “See what your friends have done.” Strangely a close friend of mine got a similar message last night, but from an acquaintance. Just because Firaaq, my film, deals with how Muslims ‘also’ get affected by violence, the terrorists are supposed to be my friends!
“Today a common young Muslim man around town is probably the most vulnerable. I got many messages from my Muslim friends who feel the need to condemn it more than anyone else, who feel the need to prove their national allegiance in every possible way. They are begging to be not clubbed with the terrorists, a fear not unfounded. Then of course there were tons of messages from well-wishers across the world who asked about me and my loved ones’ safety. I too did the same. And strangely that was when tears started rolling down my cheek, almost involuntarily. Guess the thought that if our loved ones were fine, it’s all ok, seemed like a bizarre way to feel. When will our souls ache when anyone is hurt, even those that we have never seen and will never see? The more I wrote back in sms’s and emails that I was ok, the more miserable I was feeling.”
Nandita’s torment may not be unrelated to the way our democracy has evolved. Here you are an unprecedented terror attack by any global standards, which begins with the elections in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and ends with polls in Congress-ruled Delhi. The outcome will not be known till next week. The BJP doesn’t need Muslim votes but it doesn’t want the Congress to benefit from this indifference either. So it mounts pressure on the Congress, accusing it of being soft on terror (forgetting that it was the BJP government that had freed the man who went on to kill Daniel Pearl).
A newspaper declared on Sunday that the government had been finally jolted from its sleep. How did the newspaper know? The evidence was there for all to see, it said. The government had put back on the table the hanging of Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri convict, sentenced to die for plotting to blow up the 2001 parliament, it says. Will that go an inch in curbing terrorism? The killers of Mumbai seemed quite prepared to die. Guru himself wants to be hanged. So what’s the logic in hastening his death ahead of others who have been languishing on the death row for much longer than him? Some years ago they had hanged Maqbool Butt who became a Kashmiri hero. You can’t have vendetta or prejudice for state policy. It’s a mercy that the women at India Gate are not running the government. Or aren’t they?
Inter Press Service,
December 1, 2008
INDIA/PAKISTAN: PLEAS FOR SANITY AS SABRES RATTLE OVER MUMBAI MAYHEM
by Beena Sarwar
KARACHI, Dec 1 (IPS) - The pattern is all too familiar. Every time India and Pakistan head towards dialogue and detente, something explosive happens that pushes peace to the backburner and drags them back to the familiar old tense relationship, worsened by sabre-rattling war cries from both sides.
The relationship between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours has been marked by tentative ups and plunging downs, particularly over the past decade. This decade is also marked by increasingly vocal voices for peace on both sides of the border who openly criticise their countries’ political and security establishments.
The fallout from the Mumbai mayhem is no different, if all the more ominous for having taken place in the midst of the global ‘war on terror’ with its ‘us versus them’ rhetoric that has contributed to escalated violence around the world and pushed fence-sitters onto one or other side.
On Wednesday a ten-man squad of Islamist warriors armed with assault rifles and hand grenades landed in the port city Mumbai and, after going on shooting spree, seized control of two of its finest luxury hotels and a Jewish centre. By the time commandos neutralised the attackers and lifted the sieges Friday, 200 people lay dead —including 22 foreign hostages.
Pakistan and India are part of the Indian sub-continent. They share a landmass, mountain ranges, rivers and seas, ancient cultures, history, languages and religions. Yet they have fought three wars since gaining independence from the British in 1947, after the bloody partition of the sub-continent into two countries — largely Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan.
The fourth major conflict between the two countries was the Kargil conflict of 1999 that the political leadership on both sides referred to as a ‘war-like situation’. The nuclear threat that underlined this situation drew the world’s attention to India-Pakistan relations, and the festering issue of the disputed state of Kashmir, as never before.
A year earlier, India and Pakistan’s nuclear tests of May 1998 had plunged the region into an unprecedented state of tension. The governments celebrated their nuclear capability, feeding rivalry, jingoism and nationalism on both sides that the media played up. There was far less coverage of those who condemned the tests and the governments’ encouragement of reactionary forces that equated religion with nationhood.
Those who protested were swimming against the tide, labelled as traitors and anti-nationals, and ‘agents’ of the other country, like Islamabad-based physicist A.H. Nayyar who has been active in the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy since the organisation was launched in 1995.
As Nayyar and pro-peace activists addressed a press conference condemning the nuclearisation of the region, charged-up young men who supported Pakistan’s nuclear tests physically attacked them with chairs.
Now, expressing his shock at the "mindless, horrible event" in Mumbai, he told IPS: "There are people in both countries who don’t like efforts towards rapprochement. They take the first opportunity to start blowing the bugles of war and instigate hostility."
The nuclear tests were followed by the historic Lahore Declaration of Feb. 1999, when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invited his Indian counterpart A. B. Vajpayee to Lahore.
Two months later, the Kargil conflict dashed all hopes for rapprochement as it transpired that while the governments talked peace, infiltrators from Pakistan were busy grabbing positions in Kargil on the Indian-administered side of the disputed state of Kashmir.
Sharif denied knowledge of the operation, but his army chief Pervez Musharraf insisted that Sharif had been briefed. It took the intervention of then U.S. president Bill Clinton to de-escalate the tension and comple the Pakistani army into making the infiltrators withdraw by July 1999, pulling the countries back from the brink of a nuclear war.
In October, Musharraf ousted Sharif in a military coup. The present composite dialogue process began in 2004 during the Musharraf regime, but India is now dealing with a democratically elected government for the first time in a decade, note observers. They also point out that it is for the first time that a Pakistani government appears to be genuinely attempting to undo the damage done by past policies.
These policies, linked to Washington’s need to pull down the former Soviet Union and drive the Soviet army out of Afghanistan, nurtured religious extremism and armed militancy. Later, these armed, indoctrinated forces, supported by the Pakistani establishment, fuelled the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir and led to the worst sectarian violence in Pakistan.
The third phase came after ‘9/11’ when Pakistan officially rejected these ‘Islamic warriors’.
As the Pakistan government now tries to formulate new security paradigms while also combating the terror menace at home, it needs support, say observers. "For the first time, it feels like we are at war," says a Karachi-based analyst asking not to be named. "Under Musharraf, it was a game to show the Americans that we are taking action but actually continuing to nurture some militant elements against India."
"With the threat of global communism gone, and the need for Middle East energy primary, America suddenly recognises India as an ally against Islamism, and Pakistan becomes a buffer to be squeezed relentlessly," commented Vithal Rajan in Hyderabad, India who works with several civil society organizations. "The Indian government in relief at winning American friendship has fallen in with this ploy, further distancing itself from the fledgling democracy of Pakistan, and leaving no real solution in sight."
Mumbai was still burning when Rajan wrote to civil society activists in Pakistan and India on Nov. 28 urging them not to "just be reactive like the popular press" but take a more thoughtful view of the situation.
Angry condemnations "lead us nowhere; political demands (may) make vote-catching politicians rethink strategies, but these might remain ineffectual. (We) should create space… to think things out in the long term…
"...[Lal Krishna] Advani has called this attack in Mumbai by a few terrorists as ‘a war.’ This is dangerous stuff and nonsense. A war is fought between sovereign countries, not between the police and criminals. It is in India’s interest and in Pakistan’s interest to have stable, progressive governments."
Advani, who is opposition leader in Indian parliament and represents the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has repeatedly accused the ruling Congress party, which professes to be secular, of allowing India to turn into a ‘soft state’ in the face of a series of deadly bombings in Indian cities, this year, that have been attributed to Islamist groups.
Pakistan’s new civilian government has, however, been making attempts to step out of the familiar well-worn grooves, note observers. President Asif Ali Zardari, for example, has signalled major policy shifts by terming the militants in Kashmir as "terrorists", stating that India is not Pakistan’s enemy, and then declaring that Pakistan had adopted a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons.
Participating via satellite link in the prestigious ‘Leadership Summit’ conducted by India’s prestigious ‘Hindustan Times’ newspaper, on Nov. 22, four days before the attack on Mumbai, Zardari quoted his late wife Benazir Bhutto to say that there is a ‘’little bit of India in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistan in every Indian’’. Bhutto was assassinated by suicide bombers, last year, while on election campaign.
The religious right in Pakistan — and its supporters within the establishment — is clearly unhappy at Zardari’s peace overtures towards India. Militants involved in fighting the state on Pakistan’s north-west border have announced a stepping up of efforts to assassinate Pakistan’s political leadership.
Pakistan and India’s fights against extremism "will founder if fought alone," noted the young Britain-based Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid in a recent op-ed in the Guardian, London, warning that India’s rush to implicate Pakistan is a "dangerous mistake". "The impulse to implicate Pakistan is of course understandable: the past is replete with examples of Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies working to destabilise the historical enemy across the border."
Many analysts believe it is too soon to pin the blame on anyone. "To take on the government of a country of 1.2 billion just like that is unbelievably stupid," says Nayyar in Islamabad, referring to the handful of youngsters who held Mumbai hostage for three days. "If it is the work of a fringe group then it is very alarming that the states are getting worked up to this extent.
"But if the perpetrators were part of an organised group, then it is also very alarming. We need to sit down and do our homework all over again and see how such groups can be contained, or we will all perish."
Beyond India and Pakistan, the global activist group Avaaz.org is launching a message calling for unity following the attacks in Mumbai, to be published in newspapers across India and Pakistan and delivered to political leaders within one week.
"The message is that these tactics have failed and we are more united than ever. And we are determined to work together to stop violent extremism, and call on our political and religious leaders to so the same. If these attacks cause us to turn on each other in hatred and conflict, the terrorists will have won."
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