Restraint v. Denial

India: The Politics of Restraint

When ten terrorists began their attack on Mumbai on the 26th of November 2008, hour upon hour, day after day, news channels showed the nonchalance and brazenness with which these men followed through with their goals. By the time nine of the ten terrorists were finally killed, fingers were already pointing across the border, to non-state actors in Pakistan. The Indian media hosted a variety of speakers – film stars, politicians, women and men off the street – most of whom seemed to want to carpet-bomb Pakistan, “flush out the militants,” and wage a war. Hordes of television cameras also zoomed in on candle-light vigils in up-market Mumbai where the rich and the vacuous suggested not paying taxes, floating a new political party, or doing away with democracy altogether. Elements of the Hindu Right lauded the “recent” arrival of Hindu terrorists, suggesting these might provide a suitable response to Pakistan’s non-state actors. These pronouncements of the Hindu Right, along with others’ demands to start a war were duly reported in the Pakistani media.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, however, acted calmly and along several fronts. After belatedly sending commandos to deal with the terrorists still causing havoc, it finally convinced the then Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, to resign. Callous comments from reigning Ministers in the state of Maharashtra and an enraged public ensured more heads rolled. Days later, bills leading to the establishment of a new National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) were pushed through Parliament. It was pointed out that security services, including those of the elite commandoes, were being used to protect VIPs, and the process of ‘right-sizing’ security began. More resources were sanctioned for the strengthening of coastal security and towards the training of “special commando units” in the states. Although some of these measures have only just been scrutinized, and now require clarification, the need for reforms, particularly of the police, the intelligence and the judiciary, has acquired greater urgency and weight.

Meanwhile, information provided by Amir Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist caught alive, through intercepted phone conversations, from boats found by the Coast Guard, as well as other intelligence, helped piece together a complicated picture of the “master-minds” behind the attack. Authorities deemed the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), allegedly banned in 2002 by General Pervez Musharraf, as the prime suspect. Now operating under the name Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), this outfit had gained a makeover in the eyes of international community because of the social services it provided during the major earthquake of 2005 in Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province. In light of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian government moved to have the JuD banned by the United Nations Security Council. India then proceeded to share its intelligence on the attacks with the FBI, Interpol, and other intelligence agencies. One consequence of this attack, which claimed the lives of citizens of the United States, Britain, Israel, Australia, among other countries, was that the international community was perceived as having a vital role to play in the investigative and other processes to follow.

Perhaps it is this perception that enabled the UPA government to act with restraint, secure in the knowledge they would draw support from the international community. However, this perception has proven to be false in the last few weeks. While it is still not clear along what lines the Obama administration will develop its foreign policy, a January 2009 Asia Society Task Force Report (“Delivering on the Promise: Advancing US Relations with India”) urges it to take big steps towards expanding counterterrorism ties with India particularly in the wake of the Mumbai attacks that revealed “the shared vulnerability of our open societies.”

Pakistan: The Politics of Denial

Almost two long weeks after the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani government led by President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani were forced by the UN ban to place the chief of the JuD and LeT founder, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, under “house arrest”. The government also conducted raids on a few branches of the JuD and arrested a few members including Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah, both of whom are believed to have played key roles in the Mumbai attacks. However Pakistani leadership floundered on major counts.

First, its willingness to send the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to India to discuss the possible role of the ISI itself in the Mumbai attacks swiftly changed to a decision to send a junior-ranking official from the ISI. Second, in response to a careless hoax call threatening war, allegedly from India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Pakistan placed itself on “war alert.” There was much saber-rattling across news-rooms. Third, by the time the Pakistan government banned the JuD, the group’s liquid assets had obviously been transferred to safe havens. Fourth, after the much publicized investigative journalism of the London Observer and Pakistan’s own Dawn revealed that the lone terrorist caught alive was indeed a Pakistani citizen, Pakistan moved to disown him and claim that his identity was still to be deciphered. The government also barred the media from access to Kasab’s family in a village in Faridkot, Punjab. As the noted critic of the Pakistani military and commentator Ayesha Siddiqa wrote, this might have solved Pakistan’s problem in the short term but there were far too many instances of suicide- bombers, particularly from the Punjab, blowing themselves up in cantonments and other locations for the problem to be swept under the proverbial carpet. (Siddiqa, ‘A Social Transformation’, Dawn, 26 December 2008).