Gulf News, July 19, 2006
Over the last few days, terrorists have severely disrupted – some argue, fatally undermined – the peace processes in South Asia and the Middle East.
Unlike Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, widespread violence has not yet erupted between India and Pakistan.
But given the two countries’ history, their war of words should not be allowed to escalate unattended.
As someone who was sceptical about the outcome when the current India-Pakistan peace process began in January 2004, I take no delight in being proven right two years later.
I had written then, “That India and Pakistan are willing to talk again is a positive development. The nuclear-armed neighbours were on the brink of war less than a year ago. But the thaw in their relations is just that – a thaw, rather than a major breakthrough. We have seen similar developments in the past hailed as breakthroughs, only to end in breakdowns.”
A recurrent theme in my analysis, and one that often annoys many Pakistanis, is the need for Pakistan to put Islamist militants, the jihadis, truly out of business.
As India postponed the next round of India-Pakistan talks in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Pakistan gave no indication that it was willing to move in the direction of shutting down jihadi groups based in the country.
Pakistan’s official response to India’s allegations about the complicity of Pakistan-based groups in the Mumbai attacks has been technical, not politically substantive.
The foreign office spokeswoman argued that India had not conveyed “anything in writing or talked of any evidence”.
That is hardly the point of contention at this moment.
It may well be true that India has not yet found conclusive evidence of Laskhar-e-Taiba’s involvement in the Mumbai attacks and that the attacks might have been the handiwork of a homegrown Indian terrorist group.
Extremist rhetoric cannot be disavowed by rhetoric about need for proof of a specific group’s responsibility for specific attacks against India.
Just as Lebanon is paying the price of tolerating and co-opting Hezbollah without securing a commitment of renunciation of violence from the group, Pakistan risks responsibility for the actions of non-state actors it gives free rein.
The need to deal with terrorist groups is independent of the need to address their causes.
Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf secured international legitimacy in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States by becoming an American ally in the global war against terrorism.
The Musharraf regime has, over the years, taken some steps against Al Qaida operatives seeking refuge in Pakistan.
The Pakistan army has paid a heavy price in fatalities at the hands of terrorist sympathisers in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.
But Pakistan is far from rooting out terrorism from its soil. There is a clear reluctance about moving against anti-India groups.
That these groups share an ideology and worldview with Al Qaida does not seem to alter the Musharraf regime’s perception of these groups.
With such policies, why should anyone be surprised if Pakistan gets blamed for tolerating or supporting terrorists?
In his speech, released through Al Jazeera in April, Osama Bin Laden spoke of “a Crusader-Zionist-Hindu war against Muslims”.
Bin Laden’s decision to add Hindus to his traditional harangues against Zionists and Crusaders indicates that the Al Qaida chief understands the value of aligning his views with those of Pakistani jihadi groups.
The recently released video of Shahzad Tanveer, one of the suicide bombers involved in last year’s attacks in London, spoke of his training at an Al Qaida training facility in Pakistan.
Such connections between Pakistani groups and global terrorists should worry Musharraf, who was himself a target of terrorists not long ago.
The jihadis have only brought violence, instability and defamation for Pakistan. Now their presence has caused the breakdown in South Asia’s peace process, which is crucial for the region’s stability and prosperity.