By Raja Murthy
I hear what I never again wanted to hear: time ticking for the next major terrorist strike in India. This usually means another bloodbath in my home city Mumbai.
The ticking got louder on May 2, with the Indian government asking the United Nations to help nab masterminds in Pakistan behind murder of 166 people in Mumbai, in November 2008.
Given Pakistan’s history, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s UN move seems as hope-filled as U.S. President Barack Obama emailing Santa Claus to help reduce the $18.2 trillion national debt.
India seeking UN intervention came after a Lahore court let loose on bail Zaki-ur-Rehman (55), the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief accused of training the 26/11 killers. Lakvi is free, not from the inescapable law of cause and effect, but free again to perhaps ensuring the next loud “bang” we hear in south Mumbai is not a firecracker.
It’s a pattern. How successive Indian governments have dealt with “Pakistan-involved” terrorist attacks has only sown seeds for the next terrorist attack. For the past two decades, I have written of this deadly cycle of delusion in India’s foreign policy dealings with Pakistan.
Unfortunately, I have not been proved wrong. So here I go again with the delusion cycle: every terrorist attack is followed by cries of “betrayal” from the Indian government, and a break in bilateral ‘talks’ until Pakistan acts against the killers. “No proof,” Pakistan shakes its head, refusing to even acknowledge existence of home-grown terrorists. The Indian government next runs to western governments, mostly the US, this time to the UN
Nothing happens. Befuddled foreign policy planners then push again for “peace talks” with an unrepentant neighbor. The “ice-breaker” is another prime ministerial summit, which the Indian media gushes as “historic breakthrough.” With this return of “normalcy,” the terrorists return.
Personally and professionally I am a deeply interested party to this cyclical process — I live in the heart of a city that is a big hit with terrorists (*1).
I was there minutes after an RDX bomb scattered bodies and body parts, shrapnel and glass shards outside the Air India building in 1993 — part of 13 serial bomb explosions that killed 257 people and injured over 500 across what was then Bombay, on Friday, March 12. Dawood Ibrahim, the prime suspect accused in the bombings, continues to be a protected guest of the Pakistani establishment.
I was again near the Air India building 30 minutes after gunmen began their carnage inside the Oberoi and Trident hotels, on that night of Nov. 26, 2008 (see ‘Mumbai’s night of terror’).
Given the impermanence of all things, I am not ruling out chances of being the bloodied body bits in next such headline news, instead of reporting it from Mumbai. At the ripe old age of 49, if I proceed to my next life literally with a bang, consider this chronicle as tribute to the Indian government’s remarkable proceedings with a neighbor it accuses of sponsoring terrorists.
In the immediate aftermath of 26/11, I remember an Indian foreign ministry official declaring: “Expecting Pakistan to take action against the 26/11 terrorists is like expecting a criminal to go arrest himself.”
On cue, the Pakistani establishment promptly denied the gunman captured alive on 26/11 night was a Pakistani citizen — until journalists tracked Ajmal Kasab’s house and family to Faridkot village, Okara district in Punjab, Pakistan. During interrogation, Kasab implicated his handlers in the Mumbai attacks (*2). One of them, Lakhvi, walked out of Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail this April.
Pakistan’s denial of having nothing do with terrorists, like Interpol-wanted Dawood Ibrahim (*3), has as much credibility as swearing to have no clue to Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts — until the world’s most wanted terrorist was found in Bilal Town, outside the Military Academy in Abbottabad, northern Pakistan.
Bewildering then is how the Indian government expects results “talking” with a government run by the Pakistani military and its ‘intelligence’ agency.
“Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif has no say in formulating foreign policy of the country,” said Pakistan’s courageous rights activist Asma Jahangir, in a Joint Action Committee for Peoples Rights meeting in Lahore last Dec. 7. She was echoing common knowledge, and what former Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari openly moaned regarding his lack of power.
The peculiarity deepens when India is accomplice to crippling U.S.-sponsored economic embargoes against Iran and Myanmar — countries that have done nothing to harm India. At the same time, successive Indian governments have sought to widen trade and sporting relations with the country they have not only accused of sheltering terrorists for decades, but also fostering violence in Kashmir, counterfeiting Indian currency to sabotage India’s economy, and smuggling thousands of tons of narcotics into India’s border states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir.
India’s approach makes as much as sense as this: you invite to your birthday party a neighbor you accuse of sheltering and training killers who murder your family members and set fire to your house.
The staggering contradiction has made it harder for people of Pakistan to believe their country is the world’s deadliest sponsor of terrorism.
Ultimately, change for the better in South Asia and Pakistan can come only when its people wake up, stir and fight to give themselves a genuine democracy, not a government that lurches as an army puppet. Maybe conflicting “elements” are ruling Pakistan, we know, but only the people of Pakistan can crack this conflict.
Let time be the healer. This is the sub-continent’s best bet for realistic peace. Wait for the generation born after 1971, year of the last full-fledged Indo-Pak war, to take over governmental reins in both countries. Until then, I see only futility engaging with a country that has a powerless civilian leadership. Realistic diplomatic strategy cannot escape from truth.
Realistically, India needs the middle path between going to war and going around the world crying. The interim way out is India temporarily suspending all ties with Pakistan — until that suffering country completes a course correction, a self-redemption.
A phase of detached disengagement should return India and Pakistan to the relatively quiet years between 1971 and 1978, when a blundering Indian government broke status quo. It sent a cricket team to tour Pakistan. In following decades, ‘cricket diplomacy’ became camouflage for military dictators Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf to wage a diversionary proxy war in Kashmir — to hoodwink their people that India, not a looting military junta, was real enemy of Pakistan.
Atal Behari Vajpayee, then the External Affairs Minister in 1978, continued his fatal blundering when he became prime minister. His famous ‘bus ride’ to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the India-Pakistan border in 1999 only led to the Kargil war as reward. Over 3,000 soldiers died both sides of the border.
The legacy of blundering continued in 2014 when Prime Minister Modi invited to his swearing-in ceremony Nawaz Sharif, back again as prime minister of Pakistan. After media-hyped “bonhomie,” Modi and Sharif have sunk into a spectacular sulk.
India’s machinery that churns such perplexing policy remains an elite domain. Less than 15 officers are annually inducted into India’s Foreign Service from the Foreign Service Institute in New Delhi (*4). Whether External Affairs Ministry officials are creating or are victims of political dithering and delusion, the result brings a dangerously recurring impasse with a neighbor who continues hosting terrorist training institutes.
India’s non-reality based Pakistan policy not only puts more lives at risk, but pushes a country already on the brink further down the path to self-destruction.
A complete break in ties would give tormented minds in the neighborhood some diplomatic solitude to wonder: why wallow in poisonous hatred, when life offers a billion better options to travel through a day.
1. Terrorist strikes in Mumbai
2. Mumbai terror attacks: the making of a monster, Telegraph, UK, April 12, 2013.
3. Dawood Ibrahim in Pakistan, The Statesman, May 5, 2015
4. Professional Course for Foreign Diplomats, Foreign Service Institute, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
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