The notion of a Pakistani intelligence chief on Indian soil, sharing evidence with his Indian counterparts in a joint operation against a horrific attack in Mumbai was in the end too remarkable to be true. Recognizing that terrorist extremism is increasingly threatening internal and external security for both states, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari devised the best confidence-building measure in a generation when the Indian Prime Minister requested and Pakistan’s President assented to send Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) head Ahmed Shuja Pasha to New Delhi to assist in tracking down those responsible. But unable to come to grips with the thought of ‘enemy’ intelligence agencies sharing forces, and perhaps worried about their own political fortunes, hardliners in both countries jointly snuffed out this visionary and unprecedented step. Both India and Pakistan are poorer as a result.
Both leaders took a substantial risk in even suggesting the collaboration, knowing the blowback that would accompany it. But they also both recognized the greater danger at hand, and the need to try something different. The Mumbai attack symbolised more than just a breakdown of Indian intelligence--it represented the failure of status quo law-and-order anti-terror policies in South Asia as a whole. This was a professional attack by trained forces who prepared without government interference, and intended to maximize political destabilization, fear, and international media exposure. The local police were confused, outmatched, and completely unprepared, but to expect any different is to create unrealistic expectations of (and force undue blame upon) city gatekeepers when the militants could have been stopped a year ago as they trained.
Of course, the political blame game of who didn’t heed what warning and who is tough enough on terror has already started. Many in India have already fingered the Pakistan government during this contentious election season, pointing to evidence linking the ‘Deccan Mujahadeen’ terrorists to the banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The truth, however, is more complicated. LeT operates within Pakistan with impunity, because the central government lacks the capacity, manpower, and perhaps even the will to stop them. LeT exploits this vacuum of power to plan and launch attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and is a threat to all states in the region. Pakistan now owes a debt to both itself and its neighbours to bring this group to justice.
However, the Pakistani government’s fingerprints are closer to LeT than many are comfortable with, making swift retribution both problematic and internally dangerous. The ISI has been rumoured to fund and train the LeT in the past, and it is possible that at least one faction of the ISI is still doing so now. And because the relationship between Pakistan’s civilian leadership and ISI is strained at best, it may be doing so without the knowledge or permission of Zardari himself. Further, the ISI may also be undergoing an internal power struggle between hardliners and pro-government forces within its own ranks, making it unwise to assume that any ISI support was sanctioned by either the government or by ISI leadership until or unless when evidence proves otherwise .
To define any of the recent attacks in India (including as well the recent bombings in Delhi and Assam) as open and shut cases of state-sponsored terror is both simplistic and misleading. Asymmetrical terror represents the present and future enemy of global anti-terror efforts. Groups inspired by easy access to arms and the achievements and ideology of al-Qaeda and others can over time develop the capacity and expertise to inflict large-scale damage without the need for extensive state backing. They can act with little direction from any government, and learn from the experiences of others, perhaps even receive clandestine training from friendly accomplices, and are then left to copycat successes of the past while becoming increasingly beholden to nobody but themselves.
However, it is the response which will define the historical significance
of last week’s events. Will Pakistan make a serious attempt to bring those
responsible for these attacks to justice? Will India
uphold the rule of law, or hastily pass Patriot Act-style legislation that
encourages human rights violations without providing real security, thus
repeating the post 9/11 errors of the United States? Will Pakistan amass the
required political will and military muscle to counter other terrorist groups
harboring in its NWFP and FATA areas? Will India continue with tough talk while
ignoring the overworked and undereducated police stations that could have
thwarted these attacks? Will either country move beyond anti-terror military
solutions at the national level to realize that security forces alone are not
What is needed now from India and Pakistan is a visionary joint reply, recognizing that these common adversaries are strangling them both as they play the same old zero-sum games of the past. What must be avoided at all costs is a reversion to the same ‘tough on terror’ political rhetoric, saber-rattling and increased militarization that pays only lip service to the chain of events that led to this horrific attack. Full-scale war remains a low risk barring evidence of direct involvement from Zardari’s government, but until India and Pakistan realize that they are on the same team in this battle, these attacks will become more brazen, more deadly, and worst of all more frequent. Reflection upon how 60 years of blame and mistrust has led to nothing but death may yet re-open the door for cooperation, but we’re not holding our breaths.
Namrata Goswami is an Associate Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. Jason Miklian is a Researcher with the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO)