Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Mumbai Attacks: Bringing Back the Hindu Extremists | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Despite the horror of the recent Mumbai attacks, the operation revealed the fundamentalists’ failure and that of their cause. According to the investigation, the single remaining terrorist who was captured alive stated that it was their intention to kill five thousand people, specifically targeting foreigners and Israelis.

The Indian government pointed fingers at Pakistan because of its past and because of its intelligence agency, which is associated with such operations.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanded transparency from the Pakistani authorities in its handling of information and investigations. With great difficulty, New Delhi is trying to take a stand by distinguishing between the Islamabad government and terrorist groups based in Pakistan, but the Indian public is extremely angry and is not accepting of this distinction.

The Indian government is not in a strong position and is being forced to react. It cannot think of this meticulous and well-thought out terrorist operation merely as an incident that took place in a major city. India has two options: it can either shoulder the responsibility for its weak security apparatus or it can hold Pakistan accountable. The first option could lead to the Indian government’s downfall whereas the second option could lead to it becoming embroiled in a war.

In 2001, the Lashkar-e-Taiba organization attacked Indian parliament. The Indian government needed a full week to make a decision and it finally mobilized its troops on the Pakistani border, further escalating the situation and almost launching a nuclear war. If India wants to take similar action, it could delay the decision to send troops to the border because of internal political differences. Pakistan will try to avoid a crisis by declaring its full support and its willingness to cooperate with India to confront this problem.

The self-restraint that has been shown by the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) could lead to the end of the political party. Indian public opinion views its position as weak and it is not convinced that the government is waiting for tangible evidence before taking action. However, with the elections coming up, and with some left-wing parties choosing to set aside their differences with the government to call for national unity, right-wing extremists now feel that this is their opportunity to regain power by riding the wave of nationalism that is gripping the public.

The opposition Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began publishing front-page advertisements in India’s major newspapers accusing the INC of failing to defend the country. The BJP is seeking to promote itself by using headlines such as ‘Terrorism Strikes Again,’ ‘The Government is Weak and Incapable,’ ‘Fight Terrorism’ and ‘Vote for the BJP.’

For Pakistan to prove that it genuinely wants to cooperate with India on this particular issue, it would have to launch operations along the Indo-Pakistan border against the Islamist extremists. However we are unsure if Pakistan would be able to do this even if it wanted to as there are elements within Pakistan’s security authorities that could foil the government’s plan in this regard. Moreover, Pakistani public opinion would oppose any such operation. If the government attempted to carry out this operation, it could lead to a downward spiral into complete chaos. However, by not taking any action, Pakistan would be dependent on the mercy of Islamist extremists, and if it descends into chaos, the influence of the Islamists would increase even further. Therefore, in both cases, the consequences of the Mumbai terrorist attacks may result in an increase in the influence of Islamist extremists in Islamabad.

In any case, India will not get an answer. Nobody knows if those who masterminded the Mumbai operation are able to pull off other attacks, especially since the weak have struck such a heavy blow against all of India’s official apparatus.

Following the Mumbai attacks, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to India. Under direct pressure from the US, Pakistan agreed to send Chief of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha to India to discuss matters with officials there. However the decision to send Lieutenant Pasha to India, a decision made incidentally following a telephone conversation between Rice and the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, was retracted on the advice of the Pakistani chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Qayani, a former chief of the ISI himself, who claimed that this would weaken the morale of the Pakistani army and make it appear as if it had caved in to Indian pressure. At the time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent India’s Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to Washington for a meeting with Barack Obama’s advisors. Washington intervened putting pressure on India to soften its threatening military tone against Pakistan.

The reason for this intervention is that the Pakistani military brought the “Afghanistan factor” into the equation. If American and Indian pressure continues, Pakistan’s level of participation in the war on terror in Afghanistan would change.

And so Afghanistan is a playing card in the hands of the Pakistani military. If the situation between India and Pakistan deteriorates in the days and weeks to come, then America should expect Pakistan to withdraw its 100,000 troops from the Afghan border and deploy them along its western border with India, which would of course affect the dynamics in Afghanistan dramatically.

A US military report that was issued recently underlined the importance of keeping the Pakistani army on the Afghan border. It highlighted that “[there has been a] change in the Pakistani mindset and the Pakistanis now believe that what is happening on the border is a problem that threatens Pakistan and should be resolved as soon possible. This way of thinking did not exist a few years ago.”

Washington is aware that all of its logistic supplies pass through Pakistan. China and the Israeli Mossad are also in the picture. The Chinese Foreign Minister spoke to his Pakistani counterpart recently by phone and they both condemned the Mumbai attacks. The Chinese Foreign Minister expressed his hope that Pakistan and India would continue to strengthen cooperation and maintain the peace process. The two ministers also agreed that they would exert efforts to enhance Chinese-Pakistani bilateral ties. China conveyed solidarity with Pakistan and encouraged India’s self-restraint.

Therefore, with Rice’s visit to India, the US will try to calm the situation in order to avoid a potential war between two nuclear countries. It might succeed, not because of the ethics of the two countries involved and the mutual trust between them, but because of their situations. Moreover, the United States is going through a transition period. This also demonstrates that the mastermind of the Mumbai attack took its timing into consideration as well.

The Pakistani government is weak, its leadership is losing credibility, and the army and security authorities are battling with the government for control of national security and foreign affairs. With its economy on the verge of collapse, Islamabad recently obtained a loan from the International Monetary Fund [IMF] but on strict political terms. For example, Pakistan would have to reduce its military budget and gradually phase out subsidies on food. In fact the two terms would be difficult if the situation with India further deteriorated, and Pakistan should begin to implement these two conditions as it needs more loans to revive its economy. As for India, its economy has been hit by the global financial crisis and the recent terrorist operation struck its financial capital, revealing the shortcomings of its security bodies. The world awaits India’s reaction.

When the Indian parliament was attacked in 2001 and India mobilized its troops along the border with Pakistan in 2002, the BJP was in power and it confronted Pakistani Islamists.

Today, intervention may have been successful at avoiding immediate war between India and Pakistan but the ruling INC may pay the price. There is the possibility that India’s anger may turn towards extremism in the ongoing elections as well as in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

The days to come will be decisive as the BJP intends to exploit the current government’s hesitation. It may also call for early elections. This party and its Hindu allies may encourage spreading civil strife within Indian cities in order to put more pressure on the INC government.

The INC must overcome the consequences of the Mumbai attacks because if the terrorists succeed in bringing the extremist Hindu party and its extremist political discourse back to power, the crisis of Indo-Pakistani relations will continue to deteriorate.