Fatal Drift in South Asia
Last Sunday's bomb blast near the Lal Masjid in Islamabad occurred while thousands of Pakistanis had gathered to protest peacefully against the government's crackdown against the mosque one year ago. The blast was carried out with precision. It killed a score of policemen. It was a message -- most likely a message from some pro-Al Qaida outfit. Has the Pakistan government understood the message and its implications?
On Monday a suicide bomber exploded at the door of the Indian embassy in Kabul killing thirty, including four Indians. Have the Indian and Afghanistan governments understood the implications of what is unraveling? Has any South Asian government appreciated the dimensions of the challenge confronting the subcontinent?
India is familiar with terrorism. But there is a crucial difference between terrorism in India and terrorism in Pakistan. Terrorism in India is perceived by the overwhelming majority to be pro-Pakistan and anti-India. So, while terrorist acts cut and bleed the nation, they do not significantly divide it. In Pakistan, terrorism is perceived to be pro-Pakistan. Terrorists enjoy considerable support in the public and among covert sections of Pakistan's ruling establishment. Terrorist acts in Pakistan, if not squarely confronted and quickly contained, could result in polarizing the people to disintegrate Pakistan. What is at dispute in Pakistan is the kind of society that the country should have. There is little doubt that the ideological inspiration, and possibly direction, of falsely invoking Islam for terrorism comes from the Al Qaida. If the Pakistan government and civil society do not recognize the problem for what it is, they commit a fatal error. Present indications suggest they do not appreciate the dimensions of the challenge facing them.
Their current strategy is bound to fail. The Pakistan government is attempting to contain militancy in a way that does not further alienate orthodox Muslims who sympathize with some of the stated objections of the fundamentalists against the Pakistan government and the USA. This only protects the covert sections within the ruling establishment and army that have divided loyalties. To effectively counter the fundamentalists would necessitate taking on these covert sections even at the risk of open confrontation. As long as such a confrontation is avoided, Pakistan will continue to slide into the arms of fundamentalists, and towards eventual self-defeat. The fundamentalists will succeed then in converting Pakistan into a full fledged fundamentalist state that could become Al Qaida's base of operations for conducting global terrorism.
Al Qaida's main tactical advantage is that it is transnational. It can use recruits and territory in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India for its operations. As long as Pakistan limits its own counter-strategy within Pakistan it remains at a severe disadvantage. To effectively fight the fundamentalists Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India must openly and totally cooperate to take on Al Qaida. In that event the US and NATO forces could be quietly requested to leave. Only western intelligence agencies need cooperate by feeding information. The initiative for this, even if through silent diplomacy, can best come from Pakistan. Perhaps the Pakistan government would be embarrassed to make any such move? It should stop prevaricating. All four nations -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan ' are victims of terrorism. Each nation will continue to lose if it chooses to fight terrorism singly against an enemy having tentacles in all four countries. But if the four nations genuinely cooperate, then their armies could expeditiously stamp out terrorism, and expel Al Qaida from South Asia.
The ball is in Pakistan's court. Prime Minister Gilani should stop dithering.