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Dealing with terrorism

Dealing with terrorism

Author: G. Parthasarathy
Publication: The Tribune
Date: February 7, 2008
URL: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2008/20080207/edit.htm#4

ISI not to change its destructive practice

Dr Manmohan Singh astonished the country after a meeting with President Musharraf in Havana in September 2006, when he announced that like India, Pakistan was also a "victim" of terrorism. He then proceeded to tell his baffled countrymen and the world at large that the terrorist violence in India was not being perpetrated by the ISI, but by "autonomous jihadi groups". The Prime Minister had earlier proclaimed that the dialogue process with Pakistan was "irreversible", suggesting, as a perceptive observer noted, that "the threshold of our tolerance for Pakistan's sponsorship of terrorism has no limits".

He also proudly announced the establishment of a "Joint Terror Mechanism" with Pakistan, which was to be the magic mantra for curing all the ills of ISI sponsorship of terrorism. This ill-conceived proposal has fallen by the wayside, with Pakistan renouncing its earlier pledge not to allow "territory under its control" to be used for terrorism against India, by claiming that the violence in J&K was not terrorism but a "freedom struggle".

Testimony given by American academic and erstwhile adviser to Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Mr Ashley Tellis, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on January 16 suggests that Dr Manmohan Singh's comments in Havana may well have been made in order to bring India's foreign policy in line with the US, which was determined not to do anything to embarrass its favourite General in Islamabad. Describing the US approach to broker a Benazir-Musharraf political alliance, Mr Tellis said that Benazir's assassination had "undermined the administration's efforts to broker a 'marriage of convenience' between Bhutto and Musharraf that would produce a governing dispensation that is civilian in appearance, accept Musharraf's continuance in office because of his importance to US interests and strengthen the elements of moderation in Pakistan. Bhutto's violent end instantaneously fractured these goals".

Were Dr Manmohan Singh and his aides absolving General Musharraf of all responsibility in sponsoring terrorism in Havana either because of President Musharraf's "importance to US interests," or were they carried away by the American advocacy that the Pakistani ruler is our "best bet" also?

Mr Tellis has painted a grim scenario ahead for President Musharraf, who has pledged that his "re-election" by the outgoing lame-duck National Assembly would be submitted to the incoming National Assembly for validation. He notes that Pakistan's people "are tired of both President Musharraf and entrenched military rule", adding that "they are unlikely to give President Musharraf the benefit of the doubt if the February elections are marked by gross irregularities".

With polls by the International Republican Institute estimating President Musharraf's support as varying between 21 per and 30 per cent, it should be evident that unless the elections are massively rigged, (a scenario that is not entirely improbable according to Mr Tellis), President Musharraf will face an assembly with those opposed to him enjoying a majority. According to Mr Tellis: "Musharraf's problems are that he cannot countenance any National Assembly that would not agree to validate his election, or restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his associates", who were dismissed for refusing to endorse the patently unconstitutional Provisional Constitution Order, abrogating fundamental rights, issued by President Musharraf.

With the new Army Chief, Gen Ashfaq Kiyani, ordering his officers to stay away from politics and politicians and with around 100 former Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals demanding President Musharraf's resignation, the besieged former General can hardly expect the Army to come rushing to his aid in the event of a political confrontation.

Referring to terrorism emanating from territories under Pakistan's control, Mr Tellis notes that there are five different types of terrorism that one has to look at. Firstly, there is sectarian terrorism (entirely domestic) by extremist Sunni, Wahabi-oriented, groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Secondly, there is terrorism sponsored by groups like the Lashkar-e -Taiyaba and the Hizbul Mujahideen involved in terrorism in J&K and elsewhere in India. Thirdly, there is the Tehriq-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan led by Baitullah Mehsud, who, despite denials, is conveniently accused of masterminding Benazir's assassination.

This group virtually controls the tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan Fourthly, there is the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar operating against the Karzai regime and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Finally, there is the Al-Qaeda and its Uzbek and other affiliates, operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in North Waziristan.

Mr Tellis notes that since September 2001 General Musharraf has pursued a "highly differentiated counter-terrorism policy". He has acted against indigenous sectarian outfits like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Al-Qaeda and its "non South Asian affiliates". Mr Tellis confirms that in contrast, President Musharraf has "largely ignored" terrorist outfits operating against India and dealt with the Taliban controlled by Mullah Omar, "more akin to the Kashmiri terrorists, and has avoided targeting them (the Afghan Taliban) comprehensively. He (Musharraf) has specially overlooked their leadership, now resident in and around Quetta".

Mr Tellis argues that this strategy practised by President Musharraf since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 is not just his personal approach, but evidently constitutes the considered strategy of the Pakistan military establishment. He adds: "Because the original Taliban and especially its Kandahar leadership is critical to Islamabad's objectives vis-a-vis Afghanistan, just as the Kashmiri terrorist groups vis-a-vis India, the Pakistan State has refrained from attacking them in any significant way.

The Tellis testimony contains a message for those who express "grudging admiration" for President Musharraf, wail that terrorism against India is being conducted by "freelance terrorist groups" and believe that ill-conceived ideas like the "Joint Terror Mechanism" will end Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. He concludes: "Even if Musharraf was to suddenly exit the Pakistan political scene at some point, Islamabad's currently discordant counter-terrorism strategy will still survive so long as the 'men on horseback' continue to be principal guardians of national security decision making in Islamabad".

One cannot, however, agree with the optimism that Mr Tellis expresses on securing Pakistani cooperation to hunt down Al-Qaeda elements. Over six-feet tall Osama bin Laden, who suffers from renal failure, requiring regular dialysis, cannot survive all these years without high quality medical attention, which is hardly available in the mountains of North Waziristan. The Pakistanis fear, not without justification, that should Osama meet his end, there will be little prospect of their getting the sort of massive American assistance they now receive. But, more importantly, one hopes that our government will get its act together in dealing with the continuing acts of terrorism sponsored from across the border. The ISI is set to continue using terrorism as an instrument of state policy in both India and Afghanistan.


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