Lebanon and the Lessons for Pakistan

Indian Express, July 24, 2006

Over the last few days, terrorists have severely disrupted — fatally undermined, some argue — 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.

It is unrealistic to expect sustained dialogue between India and Pakistan until Pakistan puts Islamist militants, the Jihadis, truly out of business and India begins to address the insecurities of Pakistan’s elite about Pakistan’s long-term strategic situation.

For the last several years the Jihadis have simply been put on hold, told by Pakistani officials to suspend operations without actually being decommissioned. 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.” But that is hardly the point of contention at this moment. Pakistan’s argument would have been much stronger if Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) did not operate freely at all within Pakistan despite having been officially banned five years ago.

It may well be true that India has not yet found conclusive evidence of LeT’s involvement in the Mumbai attacks and that the attacks might have been the handiwork of a homegrown Indian terrorist group. But the fact that LeT operates in Pakistan as Jamat-ud-Dawa, and even received acknowledgement from General Pervez Musharraf for aid work in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake in northern Pakistan and Kashmir, is hardly conducive to an India-Pakistan peace process.

No amount of denials from Pakistani officials, or even LeT itself, of non-involvement in the latest attacks inside India washes away the group’s history. Its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed declared in 1999 that, “Our Mujahideen will create three Pakistans in India.” Then, in 2003, he told a Pakistani reporter that he considered suicide bombing the “best form of Jihad.” Hafiz Saeed also rejected the very notion of a peace process between India and Pakistan.

Such rhetoric cannot be disavowed by rhetoric about the need for proof of a specific group’s responsibility for specific attacks against India. By allowing Hafiz Saeed, his group and others like them the freedom to organize and operate in Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf’s government has undermined its own credibility in the peace process. Just as Lebanon is paying the price of tolerating and co-opting Hezbollah without securing a commitment of renunciation of terrorism from the group, Pakistan risks responsibility for the actions of non-state actors it gives free rein.

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. But there is a clear reluctance about moving against anti-India groups. That these groups share an ideology and worldview with Al-Qaeda does not seem to alter the Musharraf regime’s perception of these groups.

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-Qaeda chief understands the value of aligning his views with those of Pakistani Jihadi groups.

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. Why then are Musharraf and the Pakistani establishment reluctant to root out the Jihadis with the vigor that Pakistan’s military governments have often shown in vanquishing their political enemies? The answer lies in one of the major fallacies defining the Pakistani establishment’s worldview: the need to “internationalize” the Kashmir dispute.

During the recent controversy over whether Musharraf, as army chief, had cleared the 1999 military operation in Kargil with the then prime minister, Musharraf claimed that Kargil had helped “internationalize” the Kashmir issue. Most thinking people the world over consider Kargil a misadventure and a strategic blunder that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of all-out war and cost Pakistan heavily in lives and international prestige. But for Musharraf the cost was worth it because the conflict “internationalized” the Kashmir dispute and that “internationalization” is somehow the key to resolving the Kashmir problem in Pakistan’s favor.

Just as Kargil was useful in “internationalizing” the Kashmir dispute, the presence of Jihadis is seen by some Pakistani strategic planners as an instrument of focusing international attention on an issue that would otherwise be forgotten. But just as Kargil resulted in little substantive gain for Pakistan, internationalization of the Kashmir dispute through the statements or action of violent groups is also unlikely to be of any long-term utility in an era of global consensus against terrorism.