December 4, 2008
Pakistan Reaction: Something dark is growing in our own backyard
This is the first of two parts on Pakistan and terror. Next week: Anti-Semitism and Pakistan.
"Abhi India me pat'ta bhi nahi hil sakega."
"Now even a leaf will need permission to stir in India," remarked R, a young Indian woman at an expat dinner off London's Baker Street on the Saturday after the Mumbai bombing. She was deep in discussion with three Pakistanis and nine fellow Indians about the expected tightening in security measures after the tragedy.
"It will be like the U.S. after 9/11," she said, as heads nodded in agreement around the room. One of the Pakistanis opened her mouth but shut it quickly.
For Pakistanis at home, the fear is more palpable. It is not necessarily fear of immediate violence, but of something much darker growing in our very own backyard. Initially, the tragedy had seemed somewhat distant, but then came the damning reports that the terrorists used a boat to travel from Karachi. If proven true, this confirms yet again what the people of Karachi (and all over Pakistan) have known for a long time, that this city is being used as a base for terror groups. The long-term implications are terrifying. In the short term, Pakistan is worried that, as in 2001, when the Kashmir-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) -- the same group being named for the Mumbai terror -- attacked the Indian parliament, the two countries could be brought to the brink of war.
Caution vs. the Blame Game
The Mumbai attacks made front-page news across Pakistan in the English-, Urdu- and regional-language media. All political statements condemning the merciless assault were carried, and Pakistan was one of the first countries to make its stance clear.
However, much of the media debates were fed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement that it was evident the group that carried out the attacks was based outside the country, and that India would act against any neighboring country that allowed itself to be used as a base for attacking India. These words raised alarm bells all over Pakistan and in a way have provided a case study of the divisions between the English and Urdu media. Also important was that President Asif Ali Zardari denied any Pakistani role in the attacks, pledged action against any group found to be involved, and advised New Delhi not to "over-react."
The timing of the Mumbai attacks is extremely suspicious to some analysts. It just so happens that whenever the government of Pakistan reaches out to work on peace with India, something terrible happens to sabotage the process. Sabotage may be a strong word to use here, but consider Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid's words. The author of "Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" said on Nov. 4, just weeks before the attacks, that he would hardly be surprised if something were to happen to derail the talks initiated by Zardari. He gave examples of how the military had sabotaged diplomatic efforts for peace with India in the past: Benazir Bhutto met Rajiv Gandhi in her first term, following which problems in Kashmir flared up; Nawaz Sharif met with A.B. Vajpayee, following which then-President Pervez Musharraf went into Kargil, a border hot spot with the two countries.
Thus, there are sections of society and the media that harbor a general mistrust, and help perpetuate it between the two countries, despite the fact that the two were one nation for hundreds of years until 1947. Some sections of the Urdu media exemplify this stance. They condemned the loss of life, but nonetheless fed into the blame game, an old tack. Their opinions ranged from the alarmist to the paranoid. Jang, one of the more widely read Urdu newspapers, warned in an editorial that Pakistan should be careful. But the editorial's use of the word "propaganda" against Muslims to malign Pakistan had an old-school ring to it. The same line was taken by daily Urdu newspaper Nawa-i-Waqt, saying in its editorial that this was part of a "great game" by America, India and Israel against Pakistan.
Daily Urdu Ummat went so far as to indirectly support the "Deccan Mujahideen" by saying that their demands for the independence of Kashmir were "proof" enough that India could not "oppress" its Muslim populations for long. Urdu daily Khabrain chose to extrapolate on the earlier arrest of one Indian army lieutenant colonel for conspiracy by saying that India needed to get its own house in order. Similarly, daily Urdu newspaper Express felt that the "Indian rulers ought to change their thinking of hatred towards Pakistan," urging them to look in their own backyard for terrorists hiding there, a reference to the time when Hindu extremists attacked a church in Mumbai.
This is not to say that one should dismiss the possibility of homegrown terrorism for India. But as some sections of the English media demonstrated, in a much more cautious, balanced and well-informed tone, there is another way of factoring that into the analysis of the situation rather than just by being accusing. For example, Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a well-respected political and defense analyst, pointed out in an op-ed piece in Daily Times that the blame game between India and Pakistan serves the political agendas of both hard-line Hindus and hard-line Muslims, who have always opposed normalization of India-Pakistan relations.
"India will soon learn what Pakistan already knows: It is not easy to control shadowy militant groups, especially when they cultivate support in sections of society," he wrote.
Similarly, in its editorial, Dawn -- one of the most widely circulated and oldest English newspapers -- cautioned that those implicated in previous attacks in India have been homegrown Muslim militants. "In addition, Hindu militants have been linked to attacks targeting Muslims and Christians in India. What this all clearly adds up to is that India has a massive problem of domestic terrorism that it appears ill equipped to respond to.... But Pakistan cannot afford to be smug as India suffers. We have a grave problem of militancy, and the attacks in Mumbai are a grim reminder of the endless possibilities of terror." These voices, mostly from the English media, acknowledge the problem, but instead of perpetuating insular rhetoric colored by anti-Semitic bias, urge cooperation; opinion based on historical trends and emerging facts; and transborder, regional solutions -- given that the terrorists operate globally.
Photo: The Chabad House in Mumbai (before.) Next page: Chabad House interior (after)