Thursday, November 25, 2010
No closure as yet on Mumbai
Parliament has been brought to a halt because of the 2G spectrum scam. The Opposition thinks it is justified in demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), considering the magnitude of the corruption and the seemingly extraordinary measures— including having a friendly CVC appointed—that have been taken, by those who do not want the culprits to be exposed. You may say that the Indian parliament is like that only, but consider, on the other hand, the US Congress. In January 2009, it held two-day hearings on the Mumbai terrorist attack and its implications. In March this year another subcommittee held hearings on the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. In contrast, none of our Parliament’s committees have seen it fit to conduct hearings on a matter which you will agree is every bit as important, if not more, than the 2G spectrum scam.
These thoughts come to mind because we are just days away from the 2nd anniversary of the terror attack that took so many lives and destroyed so many families, not just in India, but across the world. In these two years, there has been a lull of sorts in terror strikes in India. Barring the Pune Bakery attack, there has been no major strike attributed to the Islamist terrorists, homegrown, or otherwise.
Yet, it would be hazardous to argue that counter-measures taken in the wake of the Mumbai attack, which coincided with the exposure of the so-called Indian Mujahideen group that had carried out a series of bombings in cities across the country, have acted as a deterrent against fresh attacks. Neither would it be prudent to claim that the arrest of David Coleman Headley and Pakistan’s domestic preoccupations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have led to this lull.
What is remarkable is that though it has been two years since 26/11, we are still learning new things about the manner in which the attack was planned and launched. In October 2009, we learnt about the role of Daood Gilani aka David Coleman Headley in providing reconnaissance for the attackers. Unfortunately, the extent of Headley’s role in the conspiracy became apparent only after he had plea bargained with the US authorities to avoid a death sentence.
This year, courtesy ProPublica and Washington Post, we have come to learn of the role played by Sajid Mir, Headley’s handler, in the attack. Mir was the voice which was providing to the rampaging gunmen minute-by-minute directions, including those that led to the execution of several hostages. Mir’s name figured in the dossier that India gave to Pakistan in February 2010. He was described as a top Lashkar-e-Tayyeba commander. But the ProPublica report implies that Mir is a serving officer of the Pakistan Army. Indeed, it cites the French anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguière to say that Mir “was a high-ranking officer in the Pakistani Army and apparently also was in the ISI.”
The Indian dossier of February also lists a Major Iqbal who also acted as Headley’s handler. He was the person who provided money to Headley for his expenses in India. Bob Woodward noted in his Obama’s Wars, that initially the CIA claimed that the Pakistan Army was not involved in the Mumbai attack, but then, in a footnote he disclosed that “The CIA later received reliable intelligence that the ISI was directly involved in the training for Mumbai.” In fact, the CIA had within a month of the attacks got direct confirmation from Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, that at least two retired Pakistani Army officers with ISI links were involved in the attacks, though the General had denied tht this was “an authorised ISI operation.”
So our current dilemma, as well as that of the United States is: how do we deal with the Pakistan Army which is complicit in this monstrous event? There are no easy answers. For the US, maintaining good relations with Pakistan is the key to its Afghan commitment.
And that engagement is crucially dependent on the attitude and role of the Pakistan Army. So, even though by law, the US Administration must bring to book the Mumbai killers who were responsible for the deaths of, among others, six American nationals, they remain helpless on the issue.
For India, too, the predicament is acute. New Delhi would like to continue the process of reconciliation and resolution of all disputes that had gained great momentum in the presidency of Pervez Musharraf. But since then, things have gone steadily downhill, despite the efforts of the civilian leadership in Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The single factor militating against this has been the actions of the Pakistan Army. It may be recalled that it was Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was the ISI boss when the conspiracy was launched, who prevented the civilian government from sending Gen Shuja Pasha to India.
It was the same Kayani who torpedoed the July 2010 Foreign Ministers meeting by getting Shah Mehmood Qureshi to take a hostile line against his visiting counterpart S.M. Krishna at the joint press conference. We should not forget, either, that it was the Pakistan Army under Musharraf which had undermined the far-reaching Lahore Agreement of 1999 by organising the Kargil incursion.
With the US virtually hors de combat because of the Afghan quagmire, India has little additional diplomatic leverage against Pakistan on the Mumbai attack issue; New Delhi lacks the military leverage to pressure Islamabad in any case. The case against Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and a few others, moves on desultorily in the Pakistani courts, and the Pakistan Army conspirators, retired or otherwise, are not even on the radar of the authorities.
The international scene is not too good either. We may have got David Cameron’s ringing endorsement and Obama’s nuanced one, but Pakistan has powerful and amoral China in its corner. The discussions of the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the United Nations this September, do not give any hope that the international community is determined to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism. The UN counter-terrorism edifice rests on three resolutions. The first, 1373, adopted in response to Nine Eleven requires all states to criminalise terrorist acts and penalise financing and other support for terrorism.
Resolution 1267 of October 1999 imposes an air embargo and an assets freeze on the Taliban. Resolution 1540 of April 2004 is aimed at preventing weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of non-state actors. As the September 2010 meeting noted, states were ready to unequivocally condemn terrorism, but there is still no UN definition of terrorism, a lacuna that leaves a huge loophole for member states like Pakistan to slip through.
So, the key take away from the two years of counter-terrorism is that international cooperation remains, at best, limited. Notwithstanding American commitments and agreements, the US has its own self-imposed limits which it cannot exceed. As for the UN, it remains a talking shop. The fight against terrorism for us thus remains a lonely road. We can, and must, take what help we can when it is offered. But we must be clear that in terms of planning, organising and execution of counter-terrorist strategy, we are on our own.
Unfortunately for the country, we have a set of Parliamentarians who will do anything other than focus on this continuing and important threat to the country. And so, we must suffer the consequences.
Mail Today November 24, 2010