Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Living under the shadow of terror

Disparate incidents last week - the explosion in the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad, the bombing in Quetta targeting polio workers, the terror strike in Jakarta, and the harassment of a Muslim couple by a gang of vigilantes in Bhopal - can all be knit together to reveal the pattern of emerging dangers.
The attack on the Pakistani consulate is an indication of how much the ground has slipped from under Islamabad’s feet in the country it had hoped would provide it with “strategic depth” against India.

Just the week before, an ISI-organised attack had targeted the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif, in the name of Afzal Guru. 

The damaged Pakistan consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan

Indeed, there have been several ISI-directed attacks on Indian diplomatic facilities in the country, usually executed by Pakistani proxies of the Haqqani network. 
But Pakistan itself becoming the target is a sign of the new times. Islamabad is being made to realise that just as arming religious zealots to prosecute its policy aims in India and Afghanistan led to a blowback in the form of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, similarly, its policy of attacking Indian facilities is being copied by elements inimical to its role in Afghanistan. 
Pakistan has to understand that its continued duplicity on the issue of using religious proxies for its proxy wars could well lead to the rise and consolidation of Islamic State (ISIS) elements in the AfPak region.
US President Barack Obama warned about the possibility of instability in Pakistan lasting decades, which could enhance the sanctuaries and training facilities of jihadis. Many will pay the price, but perhaps the biggest price will be paid by Pakistanis themselves, as is evidenced by the Quetta attack which sought to prevent the dissemination of the polio vaccine. 
In the past 35 years, the high tide of violent religious extremism has overwhelmed a large part of the world. Two major countries with large Muslim populations had been relatively immune - India and Indonesia. Now both are being buffeted, but for different reasons.

In Indonesia, it is a case of attrition. Islamists have been active for decades, and there have been horrific terror attacks through the 2000s. However, complacency and lack of effective political leadership has led to an overall deterioration resulting in last Thursday’s incident. 

The incident near Bhopal where a Muslim couple travelling in a train were attacked by a gang of vigilantes who alleged they were carrying beef are yet another sign of the emerging danger that confronts India. 
It is no longer “intolerance” but an insistent effort to marginalise and humiliate the Muslim community. No community in whatever a majority cannot coerce a minority into obeying its diktat. 
The vigilantes of the Gau Raksha Samiti may be outliers, but they are very much the product of a movement led by the RSS which seeks to “Hinduise” India by establishing their twisted version of Hindu norms across society. 
Destabilising the largely peaceable Muslim population of India could lead to the development of something that has been absent so far- a large-scale domestic Islamist militancy. 

We are at a point of inflexion where it comes to the threat of Islamist radicalism. Countries that were relatively immune like India and Indonesia could be under threat. And countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which sought to export their problems to their neighbours, could well go under. 
In the last decade all of us - India, Indonesia and Pakistan - have sought to counter radicalism in our own way. Pakistan has been a late entrant, but you should not doubt the scale of its effort that has led to thousands of its security personnel being killed. Since the threat seems to have metastasised, there is need for unified action against it. 
PM Modi is right, the international community needs to urgently conclude the international convention against terrorism. In the past two decades efforts to work one out have stalled on the issue of differing definitions of terrorism. 
This is the moment when Indonesians, Indians and Pakistanis can understand that those who target civilians, as in Mumbai in 2008, Bali in 2003, and Peshawar in 2014 are the same kind of people, regardless of what they call themselves. 
Pakistan, of all countries, needs to realise that cracking down on the Jaish-e-Mohammed is not about kowtowing to India, but about the future of Pakistan. Regardless of India, Pakistan will have to end that distinction between good and bad jihadis, because it is all too easy to contaminate the former with the latter. 
Likewise India needs to see that every step that Pakistan takes is not a victory for India, but a victory for both - New Delhi and Islamabad.
Mail Today January 17, 2016

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