Shift to diplomacy

Published : Jan 02, 2009 00:00 IST

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a press conference in New Delhi on December 3.-RAMESH SHARMA

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a press conference in New Delhi on December 3.-RAMESH SHARMA

The U.S., while showing support for Indias cause, does not believe that the Pakistani state sponsored the terrorist attack.

WITH evidence mounting by the day that those involved in the November 26 attacks were Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba members, New Delhi, with the active help of Washington, has been trying to pressure Islamabad to take immediate action against terrorist groups operating from Pakistani territory. Finally, in the second week of December, the Pakistani authorities arrested a number of prominent operatives of the Lashkar and other militant organisations. There were reports, based on briefings by senior officials, that Islamabad was given a 48-hour deadline jointly by Washington and New Delhi to take action against individuals and groups they had identified as terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks.

Indias Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon had flown to Washington immediately after the attack to brief the United States Department of State on the attackers Pakistani links. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top American officials rushed to South Asia on a troubleshooting mission. Condoleezza Rice, who came to New Delhi in the first week of December, demanded that the Pakistan government take urgent action against those responsible for the terror attacks. At the same time, she ruled out the direct involvement of Pakistans Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the attacks but blamed non-state actors. The Indian government had initially indicated that the ISIs fingerprints were visible in the attacks.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, there was even talk in government circles of India resorting to military action, especially surgical strikes against the terrorist targets inside Pakistan. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee asserted, at his joint press conference with Condoleezza Rice, that his government was determined to act decisively to protect our territorial integrity and the right of our citizens for a peaceful life with all the means at our disposal. He told mediapersons that the peace talks, which started in 2004, could get derailed if the response of the Pakistani government was not proper.

To make matters worse, the Pakistani military was put on high alert after a mysterious phone call from Delhi to the Pakistani President warning him of dire consequences. Pranab Mukherjee vehemently denied having made any such call, but it required high-level intervention from Washington to defuse the tension.

One of the reasons that prompted the despatch of top emissaries from Washington was Pakistans warning that it would move troops from its border with Afghanistan to the Indian border if tensions escalated further. This was not welcome news for the George Bush administration, which views the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan with increasing alarm. In early December, the Taliban in Pakistan had launched two audacious attacks in Peshawar on transport depots housing hundreds of flat bed trucks and vehicles used for carrying essential NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) supplies into Afghanistan. There are credible reports that Peshawar itself is in imminent danger of falling into the hands of the Pakistani Taliban. Shifting of Pakistan forces to the Indian border would further embolden the Taliban, which is tightening its grip around Kabul, Afghanistans capital, by the day.

Those in charge of Indias foreign policy and internal security, despite their initial impulse to teach Pakistan a lesson, have now realised that exercising the military option involves very high risks. There is still no conclusive proof of the involvement of the Pakistani state apparatus in the terror attacks. Besides, the international community also advised restraint. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev conveyed the same message to the Indian leadership during his recent visit.

The U.S. Secretary of State, while addressing a news conference in New Delhi, urged India to exercise restraint and called on Pakistan to show resolve and urgency in finding those who helped plan the attacks. During the same news conference, Pranab Mukherjee said that India had enough evidence that the attackers and their handlers were from Pakistan.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, also urged the Indian government to be cautious in its responses. He said that there was no conclusive proof of Pakistani government agencies being involved in the terror attacks.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Washington that while restraint on both sides was important, it was also important to find out who was responsible. The U.S., on previous occasions, had been quick to blame the ISI for allegedly arming and supplying Taliban fighters in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan.

Washington and New Delhi have been playing the good cop, bad cop role in pressuring Pakistan on issues relating to terrorism for quite some time now. U.S. officials have told the media that the recent visits of Condoleezza Rice and Mullen to Islamabad were to convince the Pakistani intelligence agencies that their primary mission was to help actively in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Until now, their primary focus was on the traditional enemy, India.

Russian Ambassador to India Vyacheslav Trubnikov warned soon after Medvedevs visit that India should not fall into the trap of those who do not want the cold wall dividing India and Pakistan to melt. He said the British government had refused to repatriate a notorious Chechen terrorist to Russia despite repeated requests. Moscow, however, did not allow this incident to impact adversely its relations with London.

Russia, like India, has a huge Muslim population. Both countries have to work out a strategy different from the disastrous one followed by the U.S. to combat terrorism. Many experts are of the view that the roots of global terrorism can be traced to the clandestine war the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan waged against the secular government in Afghanistan in the 1970s, which was supported by the Soviet Union. The madrassas, the breeding ground for terrorists in Pakistan, were set up with American and Saudi funding during the 1970s at the height of the war in Afghanistan.

After the Mumbai terror attacks, India has publicly demanded the extradition of 20 persons from Pakistan. In a demarche on December 1, India demanded strong action against those elements from Pakistan who were involved in the Mumbai attacks. According to informed sources, a list of three wanted persons was given to Islamabad. They included Tiger Memon, an accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case; Dawood Ibrahim, the don allegedly involved in the blasts; and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the supreme commander of Lashkar. A statement by the External Affairs Ministry said that Pakistans actions needed to match the sentiments expressed by its leadership that wishes to have a qualitatively new relationship with India. Lakhvi was arrested in the second week of December. Pakistan insists that the two other wanted men are not on its territory and are anyway not involved in the recent terror attacks.

Pakistani officials assert that the list of 20 wanted men is an old one dating from the 1990s. According to them, both sides had agreed to close that file in 2002 when the new normalisation process began.

Islamabad has once again renewed its offer for a joint investigation into the Mumbai terror attacks. But Indian officials say they are waiting for concrete action rather than mere assurances. India has spelt out the steps Pakistan needs to take.

Senator John McCain, who lost the recent presidential election in the U.S., during a visit to Islamabad, warned that Indian forces were confident of their ability to carry out swift cross-border surgical strikes once the government gave the green signal. Despite the rhetoric, the Indian government is no doubt aware that it is dealing with a nuclear-armed neighbour. Ever since Pakistan gained nuclear parity with India in 1998, an armed conflict between the two neighbours, despite Indias military superiority, can be suicidal for the region and the world.

Professor Juan Cole, a prominent American academic and expert on West Asia and Islam, has warned India against falling into the trap that the U.S. fell into after September 11, 2001. He pointed out that the Bush administration had mistakenly concluded that state actors were involved in the New York attacks. We have entered an era of asymmetrical terrorism threats, in which relatively small groups can inflict substantial damage, writes Cole. He thinks that much of the Indian establishment believes in the fallacy that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai were trained by a state. Focussing on a conventional state threat alone will leave the country unprepared to meet further asymmetrical, guerilla-style attacks, he says.

The Indian government has now taken the issue to the United Nations Security Council. It was the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that had first suggested that the government take the Mumbai terror attacks to the Security Council instead of merely resorting to sabre-rattling. In the weeks following the terror attacks, a national consensus seems to have emerged, with even the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporting the move.

On December 9, Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahmed told the Security Council that the Mumbai attacks were a qualitatively new and dangerous escalation of terrorism sponsored from across the border. Ahmed demanded a global ban on the Jamat-ud-Dawa, the front organisation of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Ahmed emphasised that India retained the right to take all actions as we deem fit to protect its citizens.

The U.S. gave the Security Council its own list of suspects. They include four top retired ISI officials accused of training the terrorists who attacked Mumbai.

The Bush administration, which in 2001 used its influence to dissuade New Delhi from an open confrontation with Islamabad following the terrorist attack on Indias Parliament House, seems to have once again persuaded New Delhi to take recourse to a diplomatic path. Anyway, the U.S. military has been hitting alleged terrorist targets inside Pakistan with increasing regularity since early this year. The Bush doctrine has bestowed on U.S. forces the right to attack targets in countries that cannot deal with terrorism on its own. It will not be a surprise if American military drones attack Lashkar targets if their links with Al Qaeda are formally established.

President-elect Barack Obama too has promised to update the Bush doctrine. On the campaign trail, he had said that he would send American troops into Pakistan to root out terrorism, if the need arose.

The Bush administrations response to the Mumbai terror incident has been done in close coordination with Obamas advisory team. Obama has justified Indias right to respond to the horrendous act of terror emanating from Pakistani soil. At the same time, he is urging New Delhi to tread with caution. He talked to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a few days after the Mumbai terror attacks. Obamas advisers said that he had been kept in the loop by the White House. They emphasise that Obamas response to the latest crisis between India and Pakistan as President would have been similar to that of the current incumbent in the White House.

Some observers of the region have characterised the Mumbai attacks as a pre-emptive strike against the Obama strategy of making Afghanistan and Pakistan the centrepiece of his foreign policy. Obama will have to support Indias tough stance on the Mumbai attacks while at the same time keep Pakistan sufficiently humoured. Islamabads support for the NATO forces in Afghanistan has now become even more critical. Pakistani officials have been reiterating that not a single Pakistani soldier will remain on the border with Afghanistan if their country is threatened by India.

Obama has been saying that there has to be peace between New Delhi and Islamabad if Pakistan has to remain fully focussed on the war in Afghanistan. He views the unresolved Kashmir problem as an unnecessary diversion and a complicating factor in the fight against the Taliban. An Obama administration would want the Pakistani government to expend its military capacity fully in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, believed by the Pentagon to be the key to Al Qaedas and the Talibans successes on the battlefield. Some prominent American commentators describe Pakistan and India as part of a greater West Asia and hence, they say, the Obama administration should look at India and Pakistan from a new angle as allies of Washington against a common enemy.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment