A week is a long time in a crisis. Last week I wrote about how war should not be our first response and that the India-Pakistan military balance was such that there could be no useful outcome from the use of force. I had argued that if we set out to give Pakistan a bloody nose, we could be bloodied too.
There were three assumptions behind my reasoning. The first was that the government of Pakistan, including its armed forces, were sincere when they said they were appalled by the Mumbai massacre and that they would do everything to help us to get to the bottom of the issue. The second, flowing from the first, was that Mr Zardari and his government were one with India in delivering a bloody nose to the terrorists and non-state actors operating in Pakistan. The third was that India was not keen on any option that could involve some loss to itself.
A week later, it seems that all three of my assumptions were wrong. Pakistan has decided to brazen it out. After having gone through the motions of proscribing the Jamaat-ud-dawa (because of the UN Security Council decision and not to oblige India, as their Minister of Defence insists), the enthusiasm to aid India has vanished. It has been replaced by a systematic and organized campaign of barracking, whose goal seems to be to protect those involved in the attacks by raising the spectre of war.
India’s Prime Minister correctly noted on Tuesday that “the issue is not war, it is terror and territory in Pakistan being used to promote, aid and abet terror here.” Significantly, the PM noted that “non-state actors were practicing terrorism, aided and abetted by state establishments.” To me it appears he is saying that the Lashkar were aided by the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate.
This seems to have a startling confirmation from across the border in Pakistan. One of the most telling responses has been from the real boss of Pakistan — General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani. In the past month, neither he nor the Pakistani military establishment has uttered a single word regretting the Mumbai massacre. The ISI, which has been mentioned as a co-conspirator, reports to General Kayani. The general could have taken the opportunity to tell the world that since the ISI was mentioned, he had personally looked at the records and could assure everyone that his organization was in no way involved in the horrific event.
But he has said nothing to that effect. Instead, he has blustered about how Pakistan was prepared for war and that the Pakistani armed forces would mount “an equal response within minutes” if India carried out any kind of strike. This seems to be the behaviour of a cornered guilty party, rather than that of one who has nothing on his or his institution’s conscience.
So, the government in New Delhi is faced with little option but to contemplate a chastisement strategy that could cost India some. But the mood in the country is such that the government would pay a higher price for doing nothing. In other words, it has the public backing for the use of any measure that would send a message to Pakistan that enough is enough.
In my article, I had expressed my hypothesis that the attack had been initiated by elements in the Pakistan army. I still think this is correct. At its lowest point in history, and faced with a debilitating war against people of their own ilk, the ISI came up with the terrible strategy of attacking India and provoking an Indian response. Two months ago, Asif Zardari and his civilian government were riding high; today they have tamely lined up behind Kayani and are hiding behind the national flag.
There is an important subsidiary reason why the international community needs to take the Mumbai massacre very seriously. Terrorist organisations have an internal dynamic. These are dependent on successful operations which enable them to expand their area of influence and boost recruitment. It is important to disrupt this process either by unearthing underground cells by arrest, choking funds, or by military action that targets their overground infrastructure like camps.
If India does not react adequately to the Mumbai strikes, the Lashkar will be tempted to step its attacks up to a higher and presumably more horrifying level. The logic here is that after being formally banned in Pakistan in January 2002, the ISI relocated Lashkar camps to Azad Kashmir. Simultaneously, it began to use its Bangladeshi proxies and other assets to create the “Indian Mujahideen” who would be Indian recruits, using local material to make bombs, but under the command and control of the ISI.
But the serial bombing campaign across Indian cities in the past few years has not yielded much return. There have been no communal riots or signs that India has been seriously hurt economically. Besides their ability to plant the bombs, the IM achieved little in terms of jihadi goals.
This could have been the trigger for the Mumbai attack. And as the logic goes, Mumbai has united rather than disunited the nation, and so there is a need to press home the idea of an even more intense strike. India needs to break these dynamics, and it can do so with the help of the government of Pakistan and the international community.
But if this help is not forthcoming, it must go it alone. The price of failure will be an even higher intensity of attacks and could well culminate in the use of nuclear weapons as well. Don’t forget, these are supposed to be in the custody of the Pakistan Army.
A month after the Mumbai strike, we have the strange situation where Pakistan has seized the mantle of victimhood. The issue, according to its leaders, is not that of a terrorist strike struck at a premier metropolis of a neighbour, killing nearly 200 people, injuring hundreds and terrorizing thousands, whose origins are in Pakistan, but that that neighbour is now allegedly threatening military action against Pakistan.
There is a strange pathology at work here and New Delhi needs to carefully feel its way towards a response. But being careful does not necessarily mean that it should be indecisive. It should not to be pushed to military action, but it should not rule it out either.
The issue should be seen from the perspective of the outcome. At present there is nothing more important than ending the dynamic of terrorist violence in the country. One part of this requires an internal response in terms of institutions, doctrines and action. The other part is external.
India has been found wanting in both because it has so far seen terrorist attacks as episodic distractions. The unfortunate reality is that we are in the midst of a long war which requires changed strategies and tactics. The sooner we begin to act on this realisation, the better.
This article appeared in Mail Today December 26, 2008