India and the world need Kashmir resolved

SRINAGAR, India // Writing last week in a popular Indian newsweekly, Michael Scheuer, a former CIA counter-terrorism chief, warned India against “doing an America” following the Mumbai attack. He advised New Delhi to be firm with Pakistan, take responsibility and turn northwards.

“The Kashmir issue clearly incites Pakistani and Indian Islamists, as well as those associated with or inspired by al Qa’eda,” Mr Scheuer wrote. “Whether those Islamists are right or wrong is irrelevant. India’s positions on and actions in Kashmir motivates them.”

Since its disputed accession to India in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars over this predominantly Muslim region of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. A bloody insurgency against Indian rule began in 1989, leading to more than 60,000 dead yet little progress regarding the territorial tug-of-war.

After the Mumbai attacks, analysts and observers from Washington to Waziristan have suggested ways to cut the Gordian knot that both binds and repels India and Pakistan. Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist group and the prime suspect in the Mumbai attacks, sprung from the Kashmir dispute, along with about a dozen militant groups – a handful of which the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have armed as part of a death-by-a-thousand-cuts policy against India.

Some advisers to US president-elect Barack Obama argue that solving Kashmir will help solve Pakistani terrorism. Others warn against such simplistic reasoning. But Mr Scheuer distills the point down to its essence: India’s stance in Kashmir incites Islamist terrorists. Their al Qa’eda-style insurrection threatens to rock the foundations of the Indian state, to topple Pakistan and Afghanistan and endanger western targets as well.

If the world’s terrorism nexus is Pakistan, its roots lie in this lush, war-torn Himalayan valley, which may be more ripe for resolution than at any moment in recent memory. Violence has plummeted, dropping steadily every year since 2001. Although still only a trickle, travel and trade between the two sides of Kashmir – Indian and Pakistani – have further reduced tensions. And last summer, mass pro-freedom marches outlined a new movement of Gandhian non-violence, less hard line and perhaps open to dialogue.

Finally, over the past month Kashmiris have turned out impressively for state assembly elections – double, even triple the 2002 turnout in some districts – suggesting that many have moved beyond their tired separatist leadership and are amenable to a lesser, more India-friendly form of freedom.

Further afield the outlook is also bright. Both houses of the US Congress passed resolutions urging Pakistan to root out extremist groups and prevent its territory from being used to launch attacks. The UN Security Council has banned the Lashkar front, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and is applying strong pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorism. And the incoming Obama administration has hinted at a regional approach to Afghanistan that will include resolving Kashmir as a crucial element of ensuring Pakistani military support.

India could use this domestic and international consensus as leverage to pressure Pakistan – not only to root out terrorism, but to hack at the roots of regional terrorism by moving towards a resolution on Kashmir. Yet presented with this golden opportunity, India has buried its head in the sand.

“The attack on Mumbai has nothing to do with India-Pakistan relations or with Kashmir,” the Indian foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said at a press conference in Srinagar last week.

As the dispute’s more powerful party, India has long been satisfied with the status quo and has therefore seen little reason to allow international intervention or to negotiate openly with Pakistan. But after the devastating attack on Mumbai, the Indian state must realize that the Kashmir dispute is no longer a stable, self-serving stalemate but a malignant tumor. Both parties now have an urgent interest in finding a resolution; India and its people will gain security, as will Pakistan and the world beyond.

Led by Asif Ali Zardari, the president, Pakistan’s democratic government has acknowledged that the greatest threat to its integrity is not India but locally based, state-supported terrorism outfits. The jailing of dozens of alleged terrorists and a ban on Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a good start. But the real test will be the Pakistani military, which has controlled the levers of power and wielded terrorism as a proxy for decades. Its leadership may be getting the message as well.

“The civilian and military leadership has to do some serious introspection about the cost-benefit ratio of these outdated and failed policies,” Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant-general in the Pakistan army, wrote in the Daily Times last week.

“Has Pakistan come any closer to achieving its objectives in Jammu and Kashmir by supporting militancy and proxies?” he asked. “The best option for Pakistan is to strictly confine its support to the Kashmir cause to the political and diplomatic domain.”

Kashmiris widely cheered the election of Mr Obama as the next US president, perhaps with good reason. At the urging of advisers like Mr Scheuer and a soon-to-be-published report from Gen David Petreaus, the architect of the Iraqi surge now overseeing the war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is likely to prod India and Pakistan to come to the negotiating table on Kashmir – with or without international assistance. Considering the grave threat exposed by the Mumbai attack and the golden opportunity before it, New Delhi would be wise to heed the call.

-- published Dec 21 in The National, www.thenational.ae.


Kashmiris Hope for Christmas Poll Gift

Srinigar // Waiting for Santa Claus will be particularly excruciating for Kashmiris this year.

After Wednesday’s vote, Kashmir has gone to the polls six times since mid-November, and six times they have turned out impressively. The seventh and final vote – on Christmas Eve here in the state’s winter capital – will put a new state government in place, bring an unsettled populace into focus and perhaps put an end to a virulent yet non-violent pro-freedom movement that seemed to trouble New Delhi more than militancy.

Since a bloody insurgency against Indian rule began in 1989, more than 60,000 have died in this landlocked and predominantly Muslim region of Jammu and Kashmir state. Violence has slowed in recent years as more than half a million Indian troops have imposed New Delhi’s will.

Yet when blockaded roads threatened local traders during a land row late last summer, hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris thronged the streets in a furious mass catharsis – releasing almost two decades of frustration and rage with chanting, dancing and the crying of pro-freedom slogans.

The central government banned the marches, beefed up security and called for snap elections. Although separatists say voting strengthens New Delhi’s hand, turnout in the early phases of polling hit nearly 70 per cent in some districts and has remained high despite daytime curfews, occasional police clashes and ubiquitous checkpoints on polling days.

The ground has shifted in Kashmir, but exactly how remains unclear.

“Everything has changed,” said Malik Sajad, 21, a student and political cartoonist for the valley’s leading daily newspaper. “That time you had people on the road. Now there are troops, and people are either inside or getting beat – I feel my childhood days are returned.”

Some of the 1990s danger has returned – security forces killed two commanders of militant group Hizb-ul-Mujihadeen in a shoot-out on Wednesday – even as voters went to the polls. In embracing Indian democracy and turning against what so many demanded so vocally so recently, have Kashmiris betrayed themselves?

“People going back and forth, protesting and voting, is not unprecedented in Kashmir,” said Zarief Ahmad Shah, a political analyst and retired government servant, citing historical antecedents in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Pointing to the continued presence of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops and the poor strategies of the separatist leaders, he said: “People are confused, not sure of what they want.”

Individuals seemed sure during Wednesday’s polling, as south Kashmir’s hilly Anantnag district saw 57 per cent turnout in a chilly drizzle. Kashmiris as a group, however, did not.

“We don’t have schools, good roads or a hospital, and there is unemployment,” said Khaleda Sheikh, a 37-year-old mother of two, while waiting to vote in the riverside village of Kashiteng Zarpara. “The government will help us.”

At a polling place a few kilometres away in the village of Kanalwan, a group of men had another perspective.

“We are voting so that they solve the Kashmir issue,” 58-year-old farmer Haji Mohammed Abdullah Shah said to murmurs of approval. “All this other stuff – roads, education, jobs – that’s nothing. This is about solving Kashmir.”

Queueing to vote nearby, Ghulam Nabi Karchoo explained. “There are several types of azaadi,” said the 45-year-old father of four, using the local word for independence. “There’s complete independence, but there’s also the ability to move freely, to cross borders and not deal with so much security.”

Others believe the quest for azaadi must remain pure. Outside a polling station in Anantnag, the district capital, several dozen men gathered to protest the elections.

“People in the government are puppets, and the strings are in Delhi,” said Mohammed Asim, 26, a computer engineer sporting sunglasses, a long beard and a black, leather jacket. He was surrounded by a group of agitated men. Some had voted, but they broke into anti-India chants at the slightest urging.

“These people who are voting – they don’t realise what they are doing,” said Mr Asim, a supporter of hard-line separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. “Voting gives India the power to say we are with them.”

The accuracy of that stance will be tested with the final vote in Srinagar, which represents a fifth of the valley’s five million population. Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, a key separatist politician and religious leader, has called for a boycott and pro-freedom march.

Shops will be shut, streets will be silent and security forces will patrol the city. Turn out is expected to be low, between 15 per cent and 30 per cent.

“The results of these elections don’t mean anything,” said Mr. Shah, the political analyst. Their apparent success, however, “is a big blow for separatists”, he said.

“If people lose heart, India has won.”

The city’s urbane youth are aware of greater international scrutiny post-Mumbai; familiar with popular YouTube videos such as “Bleeding India”, which depicts the deaths of several young Kashmiris at the hands of security forces; and frustrated by restrictive government dictates, such as a ban on text messaging, ongoing since July.

They were also at the head of the nonviolent campaign for self-determination this year.

“I don’t think I will vote because there is nobody who can represent us,” said Mr Sajad, the cartoonist. “I don’t think the protests are over. They will be over only when the government starts listening.”

For many, such meaningful dialogue is a long way off.

“The protests sent the message that we will accept nothing less than independence,” said Mr Asim, the Anantnag computer engineer.

“Are we willing to embrace violence again? We don’t want to, but if that’s the only way.”

Mr Asim raised his eyebrows. The men around him began nodding their heads.

-- published in The National, www.thenational.ae, on Dec 19.

Ideals collide in Kashmiri elections

Patelbagh, India
// Asadullah Bhat is no stranger to polls, but he is not sure why he keeps coming back.

“My wishes have not been met, change has not taken place,” the 45-year-old paddy farmer said while waiting to vote for the seventh time in 25 years, all in this village a few dozen kilometres south-west of Srinagar. “But we have to vote because the government will be formed either way – so I keep hoping.”

Voters in parts of Kashmir went to the polls amid heavy security on Saturday in the fifth phase of staggered elections to choose the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly. Protests and deadly violence flared and accusations of vote-rigging flew as the people of this war-torn Himalayan valley continued their conflicted duet with Indian democracy.

The predominantly Muslim region has been gripped by conflict since 1989 when separatists took up the gun against India. About 60,000 have died and although violence has slowed in recent years, separatists see elections as a show of fealty towards New Delhi.

Yet turnout in the early phases of polling had reached nearly 70 per cent in some districts. Though numbers have begun to droop as voting moves into less India-friendly regions, Saturday’s results – nearly 50 per cent turnout in two Kashmir districts – represent significant increases from the previous elections in 2002.

Observers see an emerging line of thinking that separates independence from day-to-day governance.

“Why not delink voting from azaadi?” said Shabir Hussain, editor and publisher of a local daily, Kashmir Newsline, using the Urdu word for independence. “Unless we make ourselves a party to these elections, India will continue to thrust jokers and tricksters upon us. We have to consider what kind of damage we are doing to ourselves.”

That damage has been visible throughout the elections — in beefed up security across the valley, in empty streets every Friday and every polling day as bands of Indian troops enforce daytime curfews and in violent flashes from police, who beat up a handful of journalists attempting to cover an anti-election rally on the previous day of polling, Dec 7.

Kashmir election days rarely pass without trouble. On Saturday an early morning protest in Koil village escalated to stone throwing, prodding security forces to open fire – killing a 21-year-old student and injuring two others.

Yet thousands of Kashmiris stood in slow moving lines under cloudy skies to make their mark. Their differing voices revealed the complexity of Kashmir.

Saba Settar, 18, was idealistic about her first vote. “I hope I can choose a candidate who will solve our problems,” said the Pampore resident.

Ms Settar placed education before independence, saying “of first importance is our future”.

Naseer Ahmad, 22, a university student, participated in the mass anti-India protests this year but saw no contradiction in voting.

“I support independence first, but I also vote,” he said, queuing up with friends in Pampore. “We can’t let Jammu get all the government attention.”

In Patelbagh village, Abdul Rahim Yattoo, 70, a farmer, seemed to contradict himself.

“I don’t want all our men that have been killed in the last 20 years to have died in vain, so I want azaadi,” he said. “But I’m happy with India, so I’m voting.”

In traditionally separatist Shopian and Tral, locals are less happy. Several dozen young men chant anti-India slogans outside a Shopian town polling place. Inside, a Congress party poll minder was roughly ejected after accusing an opponent of helping burqa-wearing women to vote twice.

In the village of Nikas, near Shopian, villagers said soldiers had come the previous night and urged them to visit the polls. By noon Saturday voting stood at 12 per cent.

“This is democracy, we have the right to boycott,” said Arshad Hussain, a Nikas resident who did not vote. The 28-year-old is unemployed despite a master’s degree in history from Kashmir University. “India is taking only our blood, not giving anything in return.”

Yesterday, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, spoke of giving back at a Congress party campaign rally near Shangas, in Anantnag district, which will vote on Wednesday. He announced a reconstruction programme of 26 billion Indian rupees (Dh1.97bn), along with planned power projects, roads and colleges.

“Autonomy and self-rule is also possible if the Congress is brought back to power,” he told a crowd of less than 1,000 supporters. Mr Singh congratulated Kashmir for its participation in the elections, saying “this proves that you have full faith in democracy”.

Mr Hussain, the Nikas resident, foresaw a dark future. “People are not joining together, taking one line,” he said. “Sometime they are with India, sometime azaadi.”

Mr Bhat, the Patelbagh paddy farmer, may have hit on why.

“The mainstream politicians cheat people and among the separatists there are no good leaders,” he said. “[Politicians’] children are studying in another country, in the US, but look at ours — they have no education, no future. What kind of leadership is that?”

-- published in The National, www.thenational.ae, on Dec 15.


Political revamp far off despite bloodshed

They could not even let the blood dry.

Indian officials’ post-Mumbai opportunism and finger-pointing began while lives remained in danger, and has continued long after. They have bickered, bumbled and placed blame, but have done very little of what they are paid to do: lead.

As commandos prepared for a final assault on the Oberoi Hotel, Narendra Modi, who is the Gujarat chief minister and a divisive, charismatic national figure for the opposition BJP, offered 10 million rupees compensation to the family of the Mumbai antiterror squad leader Hemant Karkare, who was killed in the attack. The family rejected the offer, perhaps because the previous week Mr Modi had verbally abused Karkare’s squad for implicating Hindu nationalists in a previous bomb attack.

That same day, the BJP ran a political advertisement on the front page of the Hindustan Times (national parliamentary elections are scheduled for early next year). Immediately below an editorial calling for political unity, the blood-splattered ad blamed the “brutal terrorist attacks” on a “weak and incapable government."

Hours after terrorists were finally evicted from the rooms of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, took a celebrity film director on an official visit to the hotel. “Many people come to such places,” he said. Such nonchalance apparently trickles down. Of the assault, Mr Deshmukh’s deputy, R R Patil, said, “small incidents like this do happen in big cities”.

But the impropriety may have peaked with V S Achuthananthan, the chief minister of Kerala, who was turned away when he tried to offer condolences at the home of a commando killed in the attack. “Had it not been a martyr’s house,” he said later, “not even a dog would have gone there.”

For Ramachandra Guha, historian and author of India After Gandhi, this has not been a proud moment for India. “There’s just no excuse for this shameful, vulgar behaviour,” he said.

“It’s a consequence of the weakness and shortsightedness of Indian politicians. There’s also a larger systemic cause, this fragmented polity, wherein every coalition is extremely vulnerable and looking at short-term survival as opposed to the efficacy of security, education, health policy or anything else.”

Indeed, the leadership in New Delhi has fared little better. The Mumbai reaction speech by Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, conveyed neither confidence nor conviction. And after the resignation of Shivraj Patil, the home minister, who as terror attacks piled up in recent months looked more and more like a deer in headlights, P Chidambaram, the finance minister, stepped into the post.

Mr Singh, an economist himself, temporarily assumed the finance portfolio – leaving India without a full-time finance minister during the 21st century’s first global financial crisis.

Combined with the jaw-dropping security and intelligence failures that led to the assault, the inability of any public leader to adequately frame the nation’s roiling mix of anger, fear, outrage and sorrow has revealed the fragility of the Indian state. Urban, informed Indians have responded to the leadership vacuum with a groundswell of venom.

In thousands of online forums and viral text messages, young Indians are denouncing their opportunistic, deceitful and inept politicians. An angry, anti-politician demonstration outside the Taj hotel attracted nearly 20,000 Mumbaikars on Wednesday – a huge number for the normally laissez-faire metropolis.

Leading columnists, well-known authors and Bollywood stars are prodding Indians to be accountable and ask the same of their leaders. Others have urged people to refrain from voting or to stop paying taxes. Perversely, the anger seems directed more towards politicians than terrorists. Perhaps because the Mumbai assault targeted not just foreigners but the Indian upper class, who were suddenly moved to act.

“All the horror and outrage is because it’s the Taj, a symbol of aspiration for a very long time,” Mr Guha said. India’s poor suffer similar upheavals practically every day.

The death toll from a cyclone that hit the Tamil Nadu coast on the first full day terror gripped Mumbai, for instance, has passed 180 – making it more deadly than the terror attack. The storm has also displaced nearly 2.5 million, yet elicited barely a whimper from either the media or the newly activist urbanites.

So will this vague, narrow-minded rage result in a political reckoning? Some early signs are encouraging.

Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir have each held state elections since the Mumbai assault, and all recorded higher than average voter turnout.

The Association for Democratic Reforms, a network of 1,200 democracy advocate organisations across the country, is pushing to include a “none of the above” option on ballots and pressing for the right to recall candidates.

Yet if crying for change is no silver bullet, neither is removing politicians, as it is impossible to ensure the rise of effective successors. For now, the focus should be on improving security, and the creation of a central intelligence agency for terrorism based on the model of the US Department of Homeland Security is a good first step.

The next is depoliticising a hoary security system in which senior appointments are made by politicians. “In that kind of situation, where the security apparatus is always looking to please political masters, you cannot have efficient functioning,” Mr Guha said.

Grossly incompetent intelligence and security institutions; flailing, venal, and morally questionable leadership; and a populace separated by yawning divisions of income and geography: is India the world’s largest democracy or its biggest banana republic?

“Because India is so diverse and complicated it will always be vulnerable to conflict and attacks of this kind,” Mr Guha said. “This will not lead to the collapse of Indian democracy. We will stumble along, hopefully we will learn something and move on.”

--- ran in The National, www.thenational.ae, on Dec 7.


'It's an Attack on Everything'

As the most audacious terrorist attack in Indian history wound down, David Lepeska, Foreign Correspondent, met with Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, a New Delhi-based think tank that studies regional terrorism and insurgency. Mr Sahni is also the executive editor of Faultlines, an Indian quarterly, and writes frequently about South Asian conflict and Indian security dilemmas. In his offices not far from the seat of Indian power, Mr Sahni spoke about the implications of the Mumbai assault, the suspected involvement of Pakistan and the outlook for counter-terrorism in India.

Q: Many are calling this India’s September 11. Your thoughts?

A: The entire approach to terrorism in India is sensationalist and tragically transient. Somebody called Mumbai the “soul of India”. Then I would like to say that the soul of India has been attacked again and again and again. What’s the big deal? We did nothing last time. The attacks in 1993 and 2006 both had greater numbers killed. Why does this become September 11? I don’t see that.

This was a meticulously planned operation involving dozens of operatives and lengthy planning – and it came two months after a known terrorist group warned authorities of an attack on Mumbai. Yet Indian intelligence found no clues, no warning signs?

This is not at all surprising. We have no intelligence capacity. Everybody believes the Intelligence Bureau is some million-armed octopus with a presence everywhere in this country. The reality of IB is that it has 3,500 intelligence gatherers across the country. The force dedicated to counter-terrorism is about 200 personnel – this in a country of 1.2 billion. Considering that, I am amazed we are not blown up more often.

Rate the security response to this attack.

I see exemplary courage, exemplary leadership and exemplary dedication to duty, in everybody who responded from the security forces. I see people who are given virtually nothing to fight with and putting everything they have into the fight, with many losing their lives.

And yet finally seven hours after the beginning of the incident the so-called elite counter-terrorism force arrives. That is an absolute structural failure. A terrorism operation can only be contained, in terms of its potential, in the first few minutes, which means the first respondents have to be equipped, trained and capable of if not neutralising than at least containing the terrorists. If the first batch of police had come and immediately engaged with the terrorist they probably would have been able in both of these hotels to isolate the terrorists in small corners of the hotel and minimise the damage.

Many are blaming the police for the extent of the damage and the protraction of the assault.

Look, we are among the most under-policed countries in the world. We have a primitive police force, an early 20th century force trying to tackle a 21st century scourge. They’re just not trained, they’re not equipped. I could be lugging a weapon of whatever efficacy, for 10 years, without having the opportunity to use it. And then suddenly I am confronted with terrorists, well-trained, well-equipped, capable of blowing the crap out of me – and I barely know how to hold my gun straight. That is the state of Indian policing.

The reality is that nobody in India, no political party, wants a professional police force.

What do you mean by that?

During the ongoing investigations into the Malegaon blasts [in which Hindu nationalists have been arrested and charged], all the parties related to the Hindu right have been consistently attacking the very people who have laid down their lives in this Mumbai encounter. They have vilified them, they have denigrated them, they have abused them, they have accused them of torture, with the fabrication of case.

Why? Because they are trying to protect certain accused.

Every political party in this country wants to make sure the police investigates only what it wants them to investigate. They do not want an efficient, independent, professional police force. They want to use the police as their partisan thugs. Just a tool, and not a tool for the management of law and order, its declared purpose, but a tool for my political party.

So what will it take to change the mindset?

We have a problem in this country. We have an electorate that is more or less illiterate and ignorant. We have fed the world nonsense about the natural and instinctive wisdom of the people, but the people have no wisdom. They are a rabble and they are more easily led by caste or communal mobilisation than on issues. Unless we are able through public action and the media to generate so much pressure on politicians that they begin to address these issues, the politician himself has shorter routes to power, he will take those.

Early signs point to Pakistan-based Lashkar-i-Taiba, do you agree?

Absolutely. And if there is an Indian role it will be the Students Islamic Movement of India, in a secondary role. I do not see Simi having achieved the capacities to execute an operation of this nature independently.

What is their intent, their goal with this audacious attack?

It’s an attack on everything. It’s an attack to weaken India where you can. And if we can’t weaken India, never mind, just kill as many people as you can. It’s part of a larger campaign that is pan-Islamist. And the second, underlying motivation is Pakistan’s strategic interests. And these have been married into an ideological mobilisation that instrumentalises Islamism.

Is the targeting of foreigners in India a new twist?

As long as local Indian cadres with comparatively local objectives were involved, they were hitting local targets. As they become part, more and more, of the pan-Islamist movement, and their exposure to al Qa’eda ideology becomes deeper and deeper – they start looking for the wider target.

So if it is traced back to Lashkar, how will this affect Indo-Pak relations?

Not at all.

Same old, same old?

Same old, same old. What’s new?

Lashkar’s 2001 attack on the Indian parliament certainly changed Indo-Pak relations [India and Pakistan went to the brink of war].

No country has ever argued that a strong and stable enemy is in its interests. India has now argued that. The entire leadership – the military leadership of this country – is convinced that a strong and stable Pakistan is in our interests, even if Pakistan remains hostile. I have never come across greater and more entrenched stupidity.
You believe the leadership of Pakistan is at the very least aware of these attacks?

Absolutely, without question.

President (Asif Ali) Zardari, Prime Minister (Yusaf Raza) Gilani?

As far as I’m concerned there is only one leadership in Pakistan, that’s the military leadership. I don’t care who’s in government. Democracy makes no difference, elections make no difference, the people in charge are the people with the guns.

Might those people start attacking this problem?

I don’t see the necessary ideological or strategic shift. Everyone in the Pakistan army still believes that India is its principle enemy. And the only instrument they have for India’s containment is terrorism. And the only instrument they have for terrorist mobilisation against India is extremist Islam. So the sheer logic of their belief systems and their strategic calculations means they cannot abandon terrorism, either against India or against Afghanistan.

What about input from foreign sources – Scotland Yard, for instance, the FBI?

No one can come and fight India’s wars. I’m not saying we have nothing to learn, but I have found the ignorance of western experts to be terrifying. They come here and say: ‘Why don’t you do this?’ I say: ‘Have you seen our police stations in India?’ I know that I cannot have a Scotland Yard or Federal Bureau of Investigation here. I would have a parody of the FBI here.

We need to learn from western experience, but western expertise cannot solve our problems.

So India must deal with terrorist attacks for some time to come?

Even if the leadership changes tomorrow, in its intent and orientation, if we begin to fight this within the existing apparatus of government it will take decades. If we have a leadership that starts to fight this on a war footing it will still take years. You don’t understand how complex it is, we see it from the inside and it frightens us.

-- ran in The National, www.thenational.ae, on Dec 1.

Mumbai Assault Offers Second Chance To Go After Pak Terror

On a hazy December morning seven years ago, a boxy white Ambassador crashed through the outer gates of New Delhi’s Parliament House and slammed into the car of India’s vice president, fortuitously parked to block the building entrance. Five gunmen emerged and began spraying bullets towards the interior, where some of India’s highest-ranking elected leaders were assembled. After half an hour, the attackers had been shot dead by security men, but not before they had killed five policemen, a security guard and a gardener.

The next day, India demanded Pakistan clamp down on Lashkar-I-Taiba (Lit) and Jaish-I-Mohammed (JiM), two terrorist groups suspected in the attack. New Delhi demanded raids on safe houses, leaders captured and financing cut off. Pakistan stood firm, prodding India to deploy troops to its Kashmir and Punjab borders and inciting a tense nuclear stand-off. Fortunately, the parliament attack occurred shortly after September 11, enabling New Delhi to join forces with the United States, which was at the time also strong-arming Pakistan to address its internal terrorism problem.

Responding to the pressure, Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president at the time, banned Lit and JIM in Jan 2002 and vowed that Pakistani territory would not be used to launch cross-border terrorism. About 2,000 members of banned militant groups were rounded up, including Masood Azhar, the head of JIM. In March, US agents, aided by Pakistani intelligence, tracked down and captured an al Qa’eda commander, Abu Zubaydah. Several more raids in the ensuing days corralled more than 60 al Qa’eda suspects, nearly half of whom were foreign-born.

But India was soon distracted by domestic religious violence and the United States by Iraq, allowing Pakistan and the terrorist outfits to return to business as usual. Mr Azhar was released a few months after his capture. Lit and JiM shifted military operations to Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, where an ambiguous legal status means minimal governmental oversight. Within Pakistan proper, Lit continued to operate under its political wing, Jamaat-ud Dawa – whose Nov 2002 conclave attracted more than 100,000 people. Al Qa’eda regrouped in Pakistan’s remote, lawless tribal areas, gaining operational confidence along with the Taliban and the newly formed Pakistani Taliban.

The result? A rash of monstrous terrorist attacks within Pakistan, including the Dec 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the recent bombing of the Islamabad Marriott; a growing Taliban insurgency that threatens to topple Afghanistan’s toddler democracy; and, finally, a series of bombings across urban India that culminated in last week’s assault in Mumbai.

The Mumbai investigation is ongoing, but as in Dec 2001, early signs point to Lit and JiM. Both have a recent history of fedayeen attacks within India. Much like Mumbai, these are gun-spraying, kamikaze raids on government sites, police stations or other high-profile targets in which the attackers do not expect to survive.

Both, furthermore, have ties to the Pakistani establishment. Although direct links are hard to pin down, Pakistan’s military has for decades been training and supporting jihadi outfits – which its intelligence service, the ISI, then wields as proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The Pakistani government may not have had any knowledge of the Mumbai assault, but its links to terrorism mean it shoulders some responsibility.

So seven years on, here is a second chance to hack at the roots of international terrorism. Although unpopular at home, where enraged citizens are calling for action, India’s muted response is wise. Any act of aggression would play into the hands of terrorists, who seek to destabilise the region.

Refraining from brinkmanship will also increase international sympathy for India and support for its ensuing antiterrorism efforts – including the support and co-operation of terrorism’s greatest victim, Pakistan, whose president, Asif Ali Zardari, has sworn to act on good evidence. Finally, quick strikes are not the answer; rooting out terrorists in Pakistan will take years, not weeks or months.

Condeleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, arrives in New Delhi today. With Pakistan warning it would shift up to 100,000 troops away from its unstable western border to address a possible Indian threat to the east, the United States is worried about Afghanistan. New Delhi can use this leverage to its advantage and agree not to attack Pakistan or threaten to do so as long as Washington does the following:

a) Pushes for complete transparency from Pakistan, including zero tolerance of terrorist outfits from the Pakistani military and the handing over of terrorist bigwigs, such as JiT chief Hafiz Saeed, the JiM leader Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim, a mafia don who masterminded the 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed more than 250. With Ms Rice already urging Pakistan to follow wherever the investigation leads, this is little more than an extension of current US policy.

b) Embraces Indo-US counter-terrorism co-operation, involving sharing of all intelligence on Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan-based terrorist outfits. Terrorism is a global problem based in the South Asian region – only such co-operation will snuff it out.

In return, India should offer to open negotiations with Pakistan on Kashmir. This may seem like rewarding an alleged tormentor, yet neither Pakistan’s new government nor the majority of its people have any blood on their hands. Further, the broader regional vision of the US president-elect, Barack Obama, which sees a resolution on Kashmir as a key to regional peace, is looking prescient.

Apart from religious differences, Kashmir is the wellspring of Indo-Pak tension and distrust. Both Lit and JIM base their Indian antagonism in Kashmir. And in his 2007 book, Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam, Zahid Hussain, a veteran Pakistan journalist, had this to say about Pakistan’s broader internal terrorism problem: “As long as the Kashmiri issue remains unresolved, the government seems prepared to embrace it.”

While the sting of recent failure remains fresh, India, Pakistan and the United States must ensure this golden opportunity does not slip away.

-- ran in The National, www.thenational.ae, Dec 3.