The political leaders in India and Pakistan should get together to avoid an armed confrontation that the people and nations can ill afford, but they seem to be doing exactly what the terrorists in Mumbai wanted, neutralizing each other as the strategic space for the Pakistan Army, the ISI and the terrorist groups increases.
On the contrary the Taj Mahal and Trident Hotels in Mumbai, symbols of the 26/11 terror attack on India's commercial capital opened on 21 December, even before a month passed by. The Leopold Caf' had opened on the fourth day, markers of the resilience of the people of Mumbai as well as a reminder to the terrorist groups that attention span of their dastardly acts lasts but a few hours and days in the public mind space.
Not so however for the political class, after being shamed by their inaction after the nth attack in the country, political leaders both in India and Pakistan are out to fall into the trap set by the terrorist groups, confronting each other across the trip wire if not an actual war. The cost of such an enterprise in terms of human and material expenditure would be enormous. But that does not worry the leadership in New Delhi and Islamabad, as they ratchet up jingoism to suit their nefarious ends.
So be it Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad of Madam Gandhi in Jammu or former Captain Jaswant Singh in New Delhi, they are out to make the most political capital out of the sad death of over 180 innocents killed in Mumbai.
Take Nawaz Sharif first. In a television interview he questioned the credibility of the Zardari government facing the most difficult situation in Pakistan's recent history, facing a two front war, at home and possibly against India. Nawaz talked of a failed state and also questioned the government's stand of hiding the identity of Kasab. Both honorable propositions, but timed to suit his political advantage. While many would classify a failed state as that in Somalia, others may not be generous enough for Pakistan as the elected governments since the 1990s have lost control over policies. The non state actors have been dictating the same and these have all the time been encouraged by the army. The problem is not that the political parties were not aware of this but were not willing to challenge the forces holding the strings as they were afraid of losing power.
Now it is increasingly evident that the Pakistan government has not only lost the control over activities of the non state actors but also territory. The caliphates and emirates springing up in FATA and NWFP under leaders as Mangal Bagh and Baitullah Mehsud have larger connotations for the states survival. Their focus shifts from Afghanistan to Pakistan and vice versa and are now seen to challenge the NATO forces.
While Mr. Sharif's statements can be dismissed as that of political power play between him and the PPP or Mr Zardari, this has also sought to rightly bring the debate of the very concept of sovereignty in the country to the forefront. However Mr. Sharif's main opponent is the Army which has failed to keep the state together.
The problem in Mr. Sharif's approach is in creating a question mark over the ability of the democratic forces in Pakistan to survive as they intend to shape the strategic sphere remains uncertain. To what extent the parties can observe the Charter of Democracy where in the state is to restructure the policies towards India and Afghanistan would decide the key to Pakistan's survival. Confrontation between the political hierarchy which seems to be sharpening the divide between Nawaz Sharif and Zardari which would be highly deleterious to stable relations in the days ahead and weaken the overall resolve to solve the national crisis.
The Mumbai terror attacks have brought out sharply the multitude of dangers faced by Pakistan. To what existed earlier, the threat of a possible confrontation from India on the military side needs to be considered. The problems are thus increasing with the internal threats now piling up to external ones. The nationalist sentiment in both the countries has grown exponentially and therefore this has led to the possibility of another crisis of sorts. There is increased apprehension in India that Pakistan is not doing enough and there is an atmosphere of deniability, On the other hand, in Pakistan the facts that India is launched a vicious propaganda campaign has led to some resentment and the denial arises from these facets.
In terms of domestic crisis within Pakistan most analysts put the denial of the threat posed by religious extremism and militancy to internal order and stability as a primary one and the government's ability to control religious extremism and militancy is adversely affected by the polarization between sympathizers of militant groups and those who favor tough action against them. Pakistan does not have the option of defying the United Nations or isolating itself from the international system. Pakistan needs international support to put its economic house in order, as well as to cope with the difficult internal and external security situation. Thus control of extremism is a sine qua nan to Pakistan's anti militancy strategy.
Coming on to India, the peripatetic External Affairs Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is in the forefront of the Indian diplomatic offensive against Pakistan, blowing hot and cold over the credibility of the regime. The centre piece of the debate seems to be handing over of Masood Azhar by Pakistan. He was the main leader who had been released after the IC 814 hijacking by the opposition party now the BJP. Release of Azhar would be a great victory for the Congress to be flaunted in the elections coming up in April. With inflation down to 8 percent and less, it would be a land slide victory for the Congress party if Azhar is released.
Alas for Mr. Mukherjee, Pakistan has realized this game plan much before and after acknowledging his house arrest is now denying that he is in the country. If ever there was subterfuge at the highest level then this is it.
Instead of playing these narrow political games, the political leadership in both the countries must sit together to keep the Pakistan Army and its support system including the ISI and terrorist networks as the Lashkar out of the discourse on Mumbai. By allowing themselves to be carried away by their political compulsions at home, the field is being left open for jingoism and rattling sabers, just what the Al Qaeda's and Lashkars want. Can we get out of the terror trap, demonstrated by the Leopold Caf', Taj and Trident just yesterday?