Who will pull India back from the brink?
It’s amazing how quickly India appears to be falling into the terrorists’ trap. It seems obvious that Pakistan’s civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, has no interest in stirring up trouble between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. And it seems equally obvious that any elements of the ISI, Pakistan’s notorious intelligence service, who might ...
It's amazing how quickly India appears to be falling into the terrorists' trap.
It’s amazing how quickly India appears to be falling into the terrorists’ trap.
It seems obvious that Pakistan’s civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, has no interest in stirring up trouble between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. And it seems equally obvious that any elements of the ISI, Pakistan’s notorious intelligence service, who might have been in some way involved in the attacks in Mumbai would have done so in order to undermine rapprochement between Islamabad and New Delhi.
As for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Kashmir-focused militant group has made clear that it aims to provoke conflict between India and Pakistan and stir up a pro-Islamist backlash among Muslims in India.
Yet one can already see public anger in India leading political developments in a direction the terrorists wanted. Some Indian politicians have been less than careful in saying the terrorists were sent by Pakistan, the state, rather than that they came from Pakistan, the country (which hasn’t even been confirmed yet, anyway). India is considering halting talks over Kashmir and ending the five-year cease-fire along the Line of Control. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has vowed to "go after" those responsible for the attacks, which could box him into the dangerous step of taking action against Lashkar-e-Taiba within Pakistan-held territory.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s hackles are up, its military leaders raising the alert levels of their forces and threatening to divert troops from the Afghan border to the eastern border with India. Zardari’s about-face on sending ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha to New Delhi is clearly a response to domestic pressure after Indian newspapers said Pasha was being "summoned." Similarly, the more vocally India calls on Zardari and Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kayani to crack down on militancy, the tougher politically it will be for them to do so lest they be seen as doing New Delhi’s bidding.
In India, the same sort of perverse dynamics are at work. Already, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making political hay out of the terror in Mumbai. The party has been running newspaper ads saying, "Fight Terror. Vote B.J.P." Instead of rallying behind Singh’s government, the BJP has instead called for its resignation and accused Singh of being soft on terror. These tactics may well backfire, but based on the BJP’s history of populist, anti-Muslim rhetoric, we should be concerned about its return to power.
Cranking up the pressure on Pakistan may fit the public mood in India — and it may be smart politics for Singh and his ruling Congress Party — but it is folly as policy.
Who benefits in Pakistan when tensions with India rise? Precisely the anti-democratic hardliners in the military and intelligence services, and the Islamic hardliners who are their sometime allies, that India should want to see marginalized. As one South Asia analyst told Reuters, "The forces that are threatening the West, the forces that are threatening the civilian democracy in Pakistan and the forces who are acting against India are all interlinked to each other."
We should pray that Singh has the wisdom and the political acumen to navigate this minefield more skillfully than he has thus far.
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