The possibility of non-state terrorism having become a regional phenomenon and posing a common threat to India and Pakistan and other countries in the region constitutes the principal ground reality in South or South-West Asia, from which there may be no escape in the foreseeable future. As a foremost victim of such terrorism, Pakistan has no problem in understanding this ground reality, which has also been acknowledged as such by Afghanistan. It is India that refuses to recognize this gory fact and, consequently, instead of jointly responding to the region-wide terrorist threat, singularly accuses Pakistan for “not doing” enough in this regard.
We are all too well aware of India’s knee-jerk reaction to terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November. Even while the first shots were being fired by terrorists, Indian government officials and media analysts with one voice began floating the all-too-familiar theme of Pakistani ISI sponsoring yet another Lashkar-e-Tayyiba-led terrorist attack in India.
Pakistan’s official denial of Indian allegations was accompanied by a hurried explanation that the terrorist attack in Mumbai involved “non-state actors” over which the government of Pakistan or its state institutions had no control. This was the first occasion when Islamabad, while denying Indian allegation of Pakistan’s official involvement, as it had always done in recent years, underscored the possibility of non-state actors based on Pakistani soil being involved in terrorism in India. The mere mentioning of such possibility at a time while the terror drama in Mumbai was still unfolding appeared to signal an apologetic stance on the part of the Pakistani government at the time, for which it received domestic public criticism.
However, with a benefit of hindsight, it can be argued now that considering the possibility of internally-situated non-state actors’ involvement in regional terrorism proved to be a reasonably farsighted idea for two reasons. One, in the last eight months, Indian investigation into the Mumbai attacks has found no official Pakistani link to these attacks. Two, Pakistan has itself admitted that its territory might have been used for the purpose.
Perhaps that is why the leaders of India and Pakistan agreed this month at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt to resume the peace process by de-hyphenating it from terrorism. If this one precondition had been agreed upon by the two countries’ leaders in January 2004, when the peace process began with mutual declarations of “irreversibility,” the stalemate in Indo-Pak ties caused by July 2006 commuter train bombings in Mumbai and February 2007 bombing of Samjotha Express in East Punjab could have been prevented.
In South Asia, violent non-state actors include all those organizations engaged in trans-national terrorism in the region, including al-Qaeda or its affiliates. They are as much interested in destroying the state fabric of Pakistan as they are in perpetuating the misery of Afghans, terrorizing the people of India, sabotaging its peace process with Pakistan or destabilizing South and South-West Asian region. They can plan their terrorist attack in one country, conduct in another, and channel financial support for the purpose from a third country, which may or may not be necessarily located in the region, as Mumbai attack investigation by Interpol also revealed.
The Qualitative Shift
India’s ruling elites, in particular, have failed to appreciate the great qualitative shift that has taken place over time in Pakistan’s perception of terrorism, the gravity of the threat it poses and the steps needed to combat it. In their view of Pakistan, Indian politicians and opinion leaders still seem to be stuck somewhere in the pre-9/11 era, when Pakistani state institutions may have overlooked or even assisted organizations actively contributing to militant uprising in the disputed region of Kashmir. India may have bled in the process, but this is an old story now, confined to the decade of the 90s.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Pakistani state made the first conscious choice of taking a U-turn against Taliban in Afghanistan. Within months, it took a second U-turn by banning militant organizations such as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, with President-General Pervez Musharraf in his January 2002 speech, explicitly declaring not to let any “non-state actor” use Pakistani territory to conduct terrorism in the name of Kashmir.
Since the middle of 2007, Pakistani state security institutions and personnel, ISI included, as well as the society as a whole is in the firing line of terrorists, including those nurtured by Kashmir uprising and Afghan infighting in the 90s. Unfortunately, India’s political elites and media pundits are yet to acknowledge Pakistan’s radically different state priorities and societal challenges in the last eight years.
During this period, Pakistani leadership, the present as well as the previous, has attempted to accommodate several Indian interests, including the abandonment of traditional stand on Kashmir, the initiation of trade and transport links without Kashmir settlement and the most recent willingness to facilitate India’s transit trade with Afghanistan.
Despite this, India’s rulers, the current and their predecessors, refuse to move an inch away from their self-deluded portrayal of Pakistan as an “epicenter of terrorism”—a discourse that has no relevance to the current regional ground reality, pertaining to the possibility of the very militant jihadi groups for whom Pakistan may have had a soft corner years ago having become as big a Frankenstein Monster for it as the Arab Mujahideen-turned-al-Qaeda became for the United States and its allies.
In retrospect, it would be unfortunate, therefore, if the Indian leadership continued to hold Pakistan responsible for future instances of terrorism in India in the aftermath of recent resumption of the peace process between the two countries, especially its de-hyphenation from terrorism. India’s eight-month long official investigation into Mumbai attacks, including the most recent confession of Ajmal Kesab, one of the main accused of these attacks currently facing court trial, has failed to establish any Pakistani sate link to Mumbai terrorism. Indian investigation into the 2006 Mumbai train bombings had met a similar fate, and the one into the 2007 Samjotha Express bombing had embarrassingly found a high-level terrorist sponsorship from within the Indian army itself.
If India had taken Pakistan’s argument on the eve of last November’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai regarding the possibility of non-state actors using its soil to conduct terrorism in India seriously, and responded positively then to Islamabad’s offer of joint investigations into Mumbai attacks, then not only the five-year long peace process between the two countries would have survived these attacks, Islamabad and New Delhi might have consolidated the Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism that was agreed in a meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in September last year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York.
Pakistan had earlier offered similar help in investigating the Mumbai train bombings and Samjotha Express bombing. In both cases, it was New Delhi’s rebuke to Pakistan’s offer coupled with its usual accusation of Pakistani state sponsorship of terror events in India that had put the peace process between the two countries on hold for several months. And, each time—as in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks—the leadership in Pakistan had to go an extra mile in assuring and re-assuring India that it would do all in its power to prevent its soil being used for terrorism in India.
In the current scenario, apart from this guarantee, New Delhi expects Pakistan to do everything possible to “bring the culprits of Mumbai attacks to task.” Such expectation may be reasonable when compared with New Delhi’s earlier demand regarding the handing over of Pakistani nationals included in its “most wanted terrorists” list. However, it is still unclear as to what Pakistan needs to do to satisfy India’s terrorism concerns and also to which extent New Delhi is willing to go to respond in kind to Islamabad’s cooperation in this regard.
Complexity of Issues
Obviously, Pakistan has its own grave concerns over India’s alleged involvement in Taliban-led terrorism in the country’s border regions with Afghanistan and elsewhere as well as the terrorist insurgency in Balochistan. Non-state terrorism in a region is never a one-way process. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly handed over to his Indian counterpart a dossier at Sharm el-Sheikh with evidence pointing to Indian hand in the terrorist attack on a Police Academy in Lahore in March and its role in the insurgency in Balochistan. Indian officials deny the existence of such a dossier, even though the issue of Baloch insurgency was raised in the meeting between the two leaders and it is also listed in the Joint Statement issued afterwards.
What is important here is that New Delhi’s concerns regarding the threat of cross-border non-state terrorism allegedly emanating from Pakistan are not inseparable from Islamabad’s concerns regarding India’s alleged involvement in terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan. In fact, India should be grateful to Pakistan for proactively combating Taliban terrorism, simply because just as Pakistani state and society cannot afford a Taliban takeover, the specter of Taliban amassing on India’s borders if such eventuality ever arises, is surely not in India’s interest.
Perhaps the most complex issue pertaining to an effective regional campaign against non-state terrorism is the resolution of Kashmir conflict. Its non-resolution will continue to fuel non-state terrorism, provide a pretext to violent non-state actors in the region to engage in militancy, including terrorism, and distract Pakistan as a frontline counter-terrorist state in the region from proactively combating terrorism. In fact, neither India nor Pakistan can any longer afford the luxury of continuingly pursuing a peace process which only produces cosmetic results in trade, transport and confidence-building spheres and does not address the core issues of dispute between the two countries such as Kashmir.
With reference to violent non-state actors engaging in cross-border terrorism in South and South-West Asian region, times have changed so have the circumstances. It is the due acknowledgement of this great qualitative region shift that the key issue today. It is, therefore, in India’s interest—as much as in Pakistan’s—to be a part of this joint struggle against al-Qaeda-inspired non-state terrorism in the region.
Pakistan can no longer afford to overlook any violent non-state actor that is unwilling to mould itself in accordance with the existing constraints of the state and threatens its territorial integrity and refuses to respect inviolability of its borders. By overlooking or facilitating non-state terrorism or insurgency in Pakistan, India, alone or in partnership with post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan, New Delhi will only complicate Pakistan’s ability to proactively combat domestic as well as cross-border non-state terrorism.
The onus of responsibility, therefore, lies squarely on the shoulders of India’s political elites, in government or opposition, whether they are interested in reshaping the national public opinion nurtured for decades with ISI-bashing, and reach out honestly to their Pakistani counterparts to fight a common enemy and resolve bilateral conflicts on which this enemy thrives.
To conclude, a regional wave of non-state terrorism requires a common, bilateral or multilateral, regional response—including a) all the immediate steps needed to pre-empt, prevent and proactively combat terrorism, b) a joint mechanism to investigate instances of terrorism whenever and wherever they occur, and c) a broader approach to resolve regional conflicts such as Kashmir, which fuel non-state terrorism.
This article is based on excerpts from the paper the author presented at an
international conference on ‘Strategic Stability in South-West Asia in the Wake of New U.S Policy for the Region’ organized by the Foundation for Peace in Islamabad on July 28, 2009.
Access column at weeklypulse.org