by Sherry Rehman, Islamabad
Like all episodes that trigger trans-national crises, the Mumbai attacks have seemingly altered our world. Not since the 2000-2001 military stand-off between India and Pakistan have 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 1988-89, in fact, on the sidelines of a SAARC conference in Islamabad, 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 recent statement by India’s minister for external affairs, Pranab Mukherjee, who said that the composite dialogue between the two countries was meaningless, and that Pakistan’s position had put a large question mark on the achievements and utility of the peace process. This ame on the heels of Pakistan setting up a tri-member committee to probe in 10 days the Mumbai evidence provided by India, followed by trials of any suspects inside Pakistan.
In fact, one can trace a curious pattern in Pakistan-India relations during the last two odd months. Pakistan’s consistent and steadfast offer to India for 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 refutes Pakistan’s efforts as meaningless. In this context, India’s questioning of the efficacy of the composite dialogue only ratchets up a war of words that is unhelpful and dangerous.
The questions are not new – but they need to be revisited. Where will this war of words lead to? Does anyone profit from it in any sustainable sense? If not, does Pakistan have to carry the burden of this borderless scourge of terrorism alone?
For a start, Pakistan is now a different country than the one that was engaged in a proxy war in Afghanistan as 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.
Important shifts are taking place in the perception of Pakistan globally as well. The world does not think that Pakistan alone can fight one of the most critical battles that define the 21st century. While acknowledging its numerous sacrifices made in the fight against terrorism and its ongoing efforts to root out extremism from within its borders, the international community has said unequivocally that terrorism can only be eradicated from South Asia by a closely coordinated and collaborative effort of both Pakistan and India. This vision naturally includes Afghanistan as well.
This message was carried by several visiting dignitaries from the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, and also from Interpol on their recent visits to the region. The chief of Interpol in particular had said that “any country that has suffered as much at the hands of terrorists as Pakistan” was “in need of international support, not international condemnation”. He had further said that one primary lesson of Sept 11 was that the only way to fight terrorism effectively was by sharing information nationally and internationally and that in this regard India and Pakistan needed to cooperate.
Earlier this month, America’s ambassador to India, David C. Mulford, had said that the evidence given by India to Pakistan was credible but that India should give Pakistan time to act on it. More recently, British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband argued in an article published in The Guardian during the time he was visiting South Asia that the “best antidote to the terrorist threat in the long term” was cooperation.
The world is beginning to recognize that Pakistan is 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 than Pakistan. 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 democratic Pakistan can 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 as Pakistan’s own. Having lost its leader Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to a cowardly terrorist attack, the Pakistan People’s Party-led government is committed fully to the task of tackling this scourge.
There is no equivocation in Pakistan’s democratic government, for instance , that in the knowledge that extremism poses a clear and present existential danger to Pakistan’s own national security. The historic National Security Resolution unanimously passed by the parliament last October was a step in that direction. It was an endorsement 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: Pakistan does not need more external pressure for a fight that has stretched its resources and consumed in its fires its own iconic leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Yet, our new democracy cannot fight this borderless enemy alone. We need the international community, particularly our neighbours, 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 in South Asia and the rise of a strategic terrorist culture.” It goes on to say that the “focus on Pakistan should not obscure the fact that the terrorists likely had help from inside India” and that “local radicalization is a major goal of the terrorists, and will be a major political and social challenge for India”.
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. For South 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 the Middle East hold important lessons for both India and Pakistan. Gaza teaches us that a military confrontation only takes human lives, brutalizes the region and earns international renunciation.
Both India and Pakistan need to understand and value this contemporary reality, and look for ways to provide their citizens with economic and human security, so that South Asia does not descend into a spiral of senseless violence sponsored this time by our two nuclear-armed states. India must understand that a military confrontation with Pakistan will 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 it India or Pakistan. Terrorism cannot be eliminated from any region without letting the local democratic political order take ownership of this battle in cooperation with neighbours and international community alike.
In peace, as a general rule, democracies are safer. They thrive more. The democracy-loving people of India and Pakistan have 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 democratic India and Pakistan into 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. The region needs bridges, not more bombs.
January 25th, 2009
Courtesy: The News