Thursday 02 Apr 2020 | 23:46 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Apr 2020 | 23:46 | SYDNEY

Pakistan: Defusing the state-as-suicide-bomber

12 December 2008 08:33

Christopher Kremmer is a former ABC and Fairfax South Asia correspondent. He is now a research scholar at the University of Western Sydney. This two-part post draws on an article first published in the SMH. You can read part one here.

The Mumbai attack was no rag-tag effort by a few disgruntled Indian teenagers. It was meticulously planned by experts in covert operations. It was expensively funded, and the foot soldiers clearly had months, if not years of training similar to that given to Special Forces soldiers.

It is possible that the attack was an al Qaeda operation in which the terrorists were under orders, if captured, to implicate Pakistan. There was little to be gained by al Qaeda claiming responsibility for the attack. From bin Laden's perspective, a war between India and Pakistan would create more breathing space for his movement. It could also hasten the demise of the Pakistani state, creating further opportunities for his Islamist project.

 It is also possible that Mumbai was the work of Pakistani Islamists in or out of uniform, working with or without ISI knowledge and approval to derail President Zardari's efforts to end the politics of jihad. Sadly, however, it is also possible that the operation went ahead with the knowledge and assistance of the Pakistan Government. To argue otherwise is to ignore Pakistan's long history of violent provocations cloaked in the garb of plausible denial.

The timing of the attack suggests a desire to influence Washington and Islamabad. Pakistan's President Zardari will find it difficult to pursue his peace and domestic reform agenda in the face of rising tensions with India. And even before President-elect Obama takes office, the US is forced into managing another looming crisis in South Asia designed to recruit American power to serve Pakistan's chaotic and bloody status quo.

A new crisis in India-Pakistan relations triggered by Mumbai will only divert Western attention from the war in Afghanistan and the campaign to destroy terrorist bases in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It will revive interest in 'sorting out' Kashmir, the only way Pakistan can hope to achieve territorial gains there. It would also provide an excuse to re-deploy Pakistani forces currently involved in FATA to the Indian border, surely a victory both for the Islamists and those in Pakistan's army and intelligence community who work with them. No sooner had India criticized Pakistan for allowing its territory to be used to mount the attack on Mumbai, than threats to redirect forces were made.

The problem is that on too many issues, Bin Laden and influential sections of Pakistani opinion are of one mind. Both, for example, want the US to stop  attacking terrorist bases on Pakistani-controlled territory. Both would be happier if the international community lost interest and pulled military forces out of Afghanistan. Both support the Islamist insurrection in Kashmir. Their reasons differ, but their positions are similar.

Pakistan is not a small country. It has 170 million people, most of them moderate Muslims, with a large and well-trained military and a small but growing arsenal of nuclear weapons. It has the potential to be an influential and prosperous member of the global community. But whether due to an unfortunate history, a difficult location, or simply very poor leadership, the country now seems to exist in a more or less permanent state of crisis.

Once, Pakistan's involvement in key Cold War struggles gave it immunity from the consequences of its reckless regional behaviour, and kept India from meddling in Central Asia. Now, America bombs Pakistan-controlled territory despite Islamabad's protests and facilitates the revival of Indian influence in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Once, Islamist ideology and jihadi military adventures were the sole preserve of the Pakistani state; now they are weapons in the hands of independently powerful militant groups. Once, Pakistan could be counted on as a reliable Western ally in regional struggles; now it postures as the sovereign equivalent of a suicide bomber, threatening to implode rather than renounce its ties with Islamist extremists.

It will take an American president of rare courage to call this bluff. Nobody wants to see a nuclear-armed Muslim nation self-immolate.

More likely, India will be expected once again to swallow its pain and turn a blind eye as those who directed the Mumbai terrorists escape justice. Whether or not New Delhi has evidence for its assertions of Pakistani involvement — and from what we know, it has plenty — the more strident its reaction, the more it will suit those who planned the attacks.But the bitter pill of restraint will be sweetened for India if it results in a clearer understanding in the West of the true nature of the Pakistan problem.

The terrorists in Mumbai posed as disgruntled Indian Muslims. But the aim of those who sent them was to stage a spectacular geo-political game-changer. Events such as this are rarely the work of wounded idealists. They are cynical acts of mass murder designed to achieve specific political outcomes. The principal aim of Western policy towards South Asia after Mumbai should be to ensure that the aspirations of those who sponsored the attack are frustrated. This can best be achieved by:

  1. Tying Western aid to Pakistan to progress in relations with India.
  2. Supporting Afghanistan's difficult struggle for stability and sovereignty.
  3. Refusing to reward the use of force aimed at 'resolving' the Kashmir issue.
  4. Deepening the West's economic and security ties with India.
  5. Continuing to work patiently and methodically to dismantle the infrastructure of terror in South Asia.