Â by Sherry Rehman
Like all episodes that trigger trans-national crises, the Mumbai attacks have seemingly altered our world. Not since the 2000-2001 military stand-off betweenIndiaandPakistanhave relations between the two stood at such a low point as they do today.
We were not always like this, mired in a debilitating tableaux of the cold war. In 1988-9, in fact, on the sidelines of a SAARC conference inIslamabad,Â the groundwork for peace was laid, and years later, amidst cheering populations on both sides of their border, the two countries had embarked on a historic composite peace dialogue. It was a fragile sapling, but by 2004 the Pakistan-India peace process had begun to spread its roots, beginning what looked like the dismantling of a costly trust deficit.
After Mumbai, though, the vulnerability of the peace process, stood too quickly exposed. Of particular alarm was a statement made last week byIndia’s Minister for External Affairs, Pranab Mukherjee, who said that the composite dialogue between the two countries was meaningless, and thatPakistan’s position had put a large question mark on the achievements and utility of the peace process. This disappointing statement came on the heels ofPakistansetting up a tri-member committee to probe in 10 days the Mumbai evidence provided byIndia, followed by trials of any suspects insidePakistan.
In fact, one can trace a curious pattern in the Pakistan-India relations during the last two odd months.Pakistan’s consistent and steadfast offer toIndiafor cooperation and joint investigations, coupled with appeals not to let Mumbai reverse the peace process have, by and large, been met with a baffling intransigence. The insistence on implicating the Pakistani state’s involvement in the Mumbai attacks is unhelpful, to say the least, and refutesPakistan’s efforts as meaningless. In this context,India’s questioning of the efficacy of the composite dialogue only rachets up a war of words that is as unhelpful as it is dangerous.
The questions are not new, but need to be revisited. Where will this war of words lead to? Does anyone profit from it in any sustainable sense? If not, doesPakistanhave to carry the burden of this borderless scourge of terrorism alone?
For a start,Pakistanis now a different country than the one that was engaged in Â a proxy war inAfghanistanas part of a super power great game in the region. Today, non-state actors make its own citizens victims of a war with no name. There is now a democratic civilian government in place which is challenged by a global financial crisis as well as high food and oil prices at home. The struggle to create a national security consensus is long and hard, but it has found space in a plural arena where democracy co-exists with unprecedented security challenges.
Â Important shifts are taking place in the perception of Pakistanglobally as well. The world does not think that Pakistanalone can fight one of the most critical battles that defines the 21st century alone. While acknowledging Pakistan’s numerous sacrifices made in the continuing fight against terrorism and its ongoing efforts to root out extremism from within its borders, the international community has expressed a clear opinion that terrorism can only be eradicated from South Asia by a closely coordinated and collaborative effort of bothPakistan andIndia. This vision naturally includesAfghanistan as well.
This message was carried by several visiting dignitaries and international organizations from theU.S., U.K. Saudi Arabia, and the INTERPOL on their recent visits to the region. Speaking in Islamabad last month, visiting INTERPOL Secretary, Ronald K. Noble said: “Any country that has suffered as much at the hands of terrorists as Pakistan is in need of international support, not international condemnation at such a critical time in the world’s anti-terrorist struggleâ€¦We should have learned from the September 11 terrorist attacks that the only way to fight terrorism effectively is by sharing information nationally and internationally so as to disrupt and prevent as many planned terrorist attacks as possible. BothPakistanandIndiaare important and essential components of INTERPOL and of the world’s anti-terrorist and anti-crime struggle. They need to cooperate.”
Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to India, David C. Mulford said that the evidence given by Indiato Pakistanwas credible but Indiashould give Pakistantime to act on it: “The Pakistani government has responded cooperatively. We all understand there has to be a level of cooperation to move from here. If you have to make progress, you have to make some element of cooperation and that means looking at ways to accomplish some minimal levels.” This past week, visiting British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband argued in an article published in The Guardian: “â€¦the best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term is cooperation.”
The world is beginning to recognize thatPakistanis itself a primary victim and target of terror. No country has offered and, in turn, suffered more in the global fight against terrorism since 9/11 thanPakistan. In doing so, it has incurred tremendous loss of life and erosion of social peace, economic stability and political security.
There are no pre-packaged instant solutions, but the world now understands that only a democraticPakistancan defeat extremism. More importantly, there is a new sense of urgency and local buy-in for policy responses at home.Pakistan’s fledgling democratic government has made a clear policy departure by owning, with the clear stamp of legitimacy, the fight against violent extremism asPakistan’s own. Having lost its leader Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to a cowardly terrorist attack, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government is committed fully to the task of tackling this scourge on multiple fronts as essential to its core interests.
Â Â Â Â Â There is no equivocation inPakistan’s democratic government, for instance , that in the knowledge that extremism poses a clear and present existential danger toPakistan’s own national security. The historic National Security Resolution unanimously passed by the parliament in last October was a step in that direction. It was an endorsement Â of the government’s efforts to build a national political consensus and support for fighting violent extremism as a national battle.
The point here is simple:Pakistandoes not need more external pressure for a fight that has stretched its resources and consumed in its fires our own iconic leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Yet, our new democracy cannot fight this borderless enemy alone. We need the international community, particularly our neighbors, to understand and pursue our shared goals of countering extremism and terrorism. Clearly, these are global problems that require global solutions based on cooperation.
A recent RAND Corporation report tells us that the Mumbai attacks indicate “an escalating terrorist campaign inSouth Asiaand the rise of a strategic terrorist culture.” The report goes on to say: “â€¦The focus onPakistanshould not obscure the fact that the terrorists likely had help from insideIndia. Local radicalization is a major goal of the terrorists, and will be a major political and social challenge forIndia.” As it is today forPakistan.
India’s prevarication, and often hostile stance, therefore, is not productive. To shoot down the importance of the peace process as an exercise in futility is a grave miscalculation, the repercussions of which would be disastrous if the composite dialogue is abandoned. ForSouth Asia’s stability and security, there cannot be and must not be an alternative to peace.
Not too far from our region, the ongoing developments in theMiddle Easthold important lessons for bothIndiaandPakistan. History as well asGazahas shown us that violence begets violence; that war cannot resolve contentious Â issues between two parties; and that there is no credible alternative for conflict resolution except a sustained peace process.Gazateaches us that a military confrontation only takes human Â lives, brutalizes the region and earns international renunciation.
BothIndiaandPakistanneed to understand and value this contemporary reality, and look for ways to provide their citizens with economic and human security, so thatSouth Asiadoes not descend into a spiral of senseless violence sponsored this time by our two nuclear-armed states.Indiamust understand that a military confrontation withPakistanwill only serve to make our populations more vulnerable than they already are. Ending the endangered peace process will only empower the non-state extremists who are challenging both our states.
Putting a premium on tactical military action at the sheer cost of human security is not an answer. This kind of solution flies in the face of the political traditions of any democracy, be itIndiaorPakistan. Terrorism cannot be eliminated from any region without letting the local democratic political order take ownership of this battle in cooperation with neighbors and international community alike.
In peace, as a general rule, democracies are safer. They thrive more. The democracy-loving people ofIndiaandPakistanhave worked too long and too hard to build a strong constituency of peace, which gave birth to the composite dialogue between the two governments. Let not an impulse for muscle-flexing spin events out of control, when one state is compelled to use force against the other out of the sheer cold-war imperative to equate posturing with maturity. No nation-state will leave its borders and its citizens undefended. So let us not throw democraticIndiaandPakistaninto a vortex of claim and counter-claim, action and matching response so that our far larger strategic goal of sustainable peace is jettisoned along the way.
None of this is rocket science. All sane minds acrossSouth Asiaknow this one truth: the region needs bridges, not more bombs. We must collectively use this moment to translate it into a reality.