War On Terror- Stakes for the Sub-continent

War On Terror- Stakes for the Sub-continent

Terrorism does not have any religion; nor does it have any loyalty. It took a brutal attack against the most powerful nation, to convince the civilized world that it does not have any boundary either. It is axiomatic to say that stray events like this do trigger a collective response, loss of life not withstanding. For long the issue was identified with societies in the impoverished third world and confined mostly to strategic debates and diplomatic discussions with sporadic actions taken by some of the victim states like Israel as a matter of self- existence. As death and destruction held its cosmic dance at World Trade Center and Pentagon, the citadel of West’s economic and military might, it is to hope that a battle against terrorism may just have begun.

It has almost been a strategic convention to relate security to purely military matters. With threats of large wars gone, the world got re-polarized along the lines of the zones of affluence and peace and that of poverty and turbulence. Low intensity conflicts with unconventional means of aggression are now coming to replace wars with conventional arms or even weapons of mass destruction. The distinction is that in this type of warfare by forces of such non-state entities involving violence fuelled by religious fervor and narcotic funding, no parts of the world remain immune. The high degree of professionalism and astounding rate of success on September 11 exposes sophistication and meticulous planning and the enormity of the challenge and vulnerability the modern world faces from international terrorism. This also confirms the prediction that future wars are destined to be conducted in an asymmetric manner. Democracies are specially vulnerable to terrorism given their justified reluctance to curb the freedoms of their citizens and the built in opposition to rather harsher methods in countering terrorism. Modern technology, innovative ways of financing and global connections have given the terrorists extraordinary capabilities and equipped them with better resources to wage unconventional warfare. (Times Of India 13 September 2001)

Terrorism is not new to the world. In the past left wing ideologies are principal sources of unconventional warfare. The use of violence against innocent people was sought to be justified in pursuit of progressive causes. Now right wing ideologies using ethnic or religious hatred has become the dominant source. This has the potential to be more enduring. (C. Raja Mohan, The Times of India 13, September 2001) It must be remembered that terrorism is no monopoly of those misusing it in the name of Islam. It is never the religion but the blind faith and dogmatic preaching that is corrupting the mind. (C. Uday Bhaskar, The Economic Times, 13 September 2001) Besides it will be dangerous to link terrorism to any religion, Islam included, as it will prove to be counter productive for any united effort by the world community against terrorism. (Indian External Affairs and Defence Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh The Hindu 16 September 2001) The acts of vandalism of the sort that happened in New York and Washington, can be interpreted as a significant development in the post cold war global security discourse triggering an expectation for extraordinary response from the international community. It is now up to the open societies to pool their resources and define a radically different strategy than conventional warfare.

Predictably Washington has declared ‘war’ against terrorism or as CNN has chosen to use as a headline in news broadcasts, launched a ” War on Terror.” In many ways this portends to be quite different from any operation that US has ever engaged in given the sensitivities and logistics involved. Paul Wolfwitz Deputy Secretary of Defence said that America’s latest war is not about ‘initiating a single military strike or capture a few terrorists and hold them accountable,’ it is about ‘removing the sanctuaries, the support systems, ending states’ who sponsor terrorism.

States most likely to be affected are Afghanistan and Pakistan and India. Over the years the head quarters of international terrorism has been shifting from West Asia to the sub continent. Afghanistan has become both a sanctuary and a breeding ground of extremist ideas. In a sense this became the logical culmination of policy of containment that the erstwhile Super Powers of the Cold war years were pursuing with weaponisation of various warring factions with loose chains of command. Ironically, In Afghanistan Washington may find itself pitted against the weapons which it supplied to groups or regimes as counter to Soviet occupation in the seventies and eighties.

The military regime in Islamabad readily agreed to join the international coalition. On the face of it this seems almost pathetic; given the fact it is Pakistan that propped up the Taliban Militia in Afghanistan to serve its strategic objectives in the first place. Pakistan’s history of association and alliance with United States in cold war days stood in the way of its acceptance as a leader or at least an ally of the Islamic World. It was never taken seriously even having in possession a sophisticated and highly trained armed forces as well as nuclear weapons. Islamabad, say the analyst, sought acceptance by an identity with the “pure Islamic thought” that Taliban was propagating. It also closed its eyes when the Taliban movement was hijacked by the Pan Islamic ideology of Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately now, Pakistan is left with little choice. Ironically, Pakistan seem to have become, at once, a part of the problem as well as the solution to America’s new security predicament. The infrastructure for terrorism that Pakistan has nurtured over the last two decades in its own territory and in that of Afghanistan makes it a part of the problem. But now US need the bases that it used during operations against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It also needs a landing in Pakistan for possible land offensive. This puts Pakistan in an unenviable position of providing the solution as well. (C. Raja Mohan The Hindu 21 September 2001) Alternative might have meant Washington looking at India. In international affairs India has always been Pakistan’s betenoire and the object of diplomatic one-upmanship. Besides refusal would automatically have legitimized India’s long claims on Pakistan’s role in sponsoring cross border terrorism. By allying with Washington, Pakistan might have camouflaged its terrorist leverage against India. But it is wishful thinking to hope that this will appear fundamentally compatible with the American war to eliminate terrorism root and branch. At a tremendous cost to its pride – the magnitude of loss of life may not yet be unprecedented, US must have learnt the basics that the war against terrorism and fanaticism can not be fought by accommodation of the type Islamabad expects. India however, needs to be reassured by the Bush administration that its current support to Pakistan would imply no toleration of Islamabad’s support to cross-border terrorism, and that nothing will be transferred to Pakistan that will endanger India’s security. A quid pro quo also mean that India restraining itself from stirring up issues that may complicate the security calculus of Pakistan at a time when it is facing its gravest national crisis.

Islamabad’s commitment can be seen as at odds with the interests of New Delhi when it was just succeeding in isolating Pakistan at least on issue of international terrorism and drug trafficking taking advantage of the shift in US policy towards South Asia. At the height of the crisis India became one of the first nations to reiterate that terrorism across the globe must be rooted out by combining diplomatic, economic and military measures by a broad-based coalition of nations. “We have to look at what has given rise to the formation of this terrorist international.” (The Indian Ministry of External Affairs quoted in The Hindu 19 September 2001) Besides even as Islamabad was balking at the idea of American combat units coming in, New Delhi offered to give “unconditional and un-ambivalent support for any action the United States may take to deal with the problem of global terrorism.” Given India’s cold war isolation from the bloc led by the States, the eagerness to assist US operations may appear rather like ‘jumping the gun’ as some commented. But India’s eagerness to help global fight against terrorism “in every possible way” need to be judged in the context of its long-held view that terrorist acts against any one country cannot be seen as problems of that country alone. (The Hindu 15 September 2001) Drawing parallel the Indian Prime Minister said that “what happened in Mumbai one day is bound to happen elsewhere tomorrow, that the poison that propels mercenaries and terrorists to kill and maim in Jammu and Kashmir will impel the same sort to blow up people elsewhere.” Calling upon the nation to be a part of this global war on terrorism” the Prime Minister urged that “the world must join hands to overwhelm (terrorists) militarily, to neutralize their poison.” (The Hindu 16 September 2001)

India has justified reasons to demonstrate extraordinary concern or what the US State Department termed in appreciation the “exceptionally strong” support for its decision to move in a firm manner and its offer to stand solidly with the US and the international community in this fight against terrorism. For decades India has been on the front line of terror. For years, India has been urging the world to institute measures to check terrorism. For a country long ravaged by the scourge of terrorism military action against terrorists may appear to be fine, but not enough. Action against terrorism should dismantle the military, intellectual and financial networks that sustain it. This gives New Delhi reason enough to point out the nexus between the Taliban, Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence and several jehadi groups active in both sides of the border. (The Pioneer 18 September 2001) “After a decade of failing to persuade the United States of Pakistan’s role as a sponsor and initiator of terrorism in India, we now have the perfect opportunity to reassert our case.” (Edit. The Hindu 17 September 2001) And though US is yet to ask India for any direct help in its operation against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, President George Bush nevertheless called up the Indian Prime Minister to thank him for India’s strong statement of support. ‘‘We can help you, you can help us,’’ and reported to have underlined that freedom loving people everywhere should come together and fight against terrorism which was a universal problem.(The Indian Express 17 September 2001)

From India’s stand point, Washington’s continued omission of the terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir has now become a matter of serious diplomatic challenge. It was almost a bad news for New Delhi that it failed to get Washington acknowledge the fact that the training camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir are also a source of the same evil that killed thousands in New York and Washington. (Seema Mustafa The Asian Age 19 September 2001) The possibility is that the “war against terrorism” will be a long drawn affair. The struggle between the collective sanity and the sectarian frenzy of a besieged religiosity will continue to manifest itself differently in different parts of the world. Any continued US-Pakistan engagement will put India into a state of strategic irrelevance vis-à-vis Islamabad. (Edit. The Statesman 19 September 2001) Now that the time is available for some sober thinking, India need to understand that the rules of engagement best be defined by it. An eagerness to put the right of sovereign decision making at the alter may prove dangerous as has happened earlier specially with US involvement that often has encouraged and countenanced violence against established order and thereby making the patron fall into the trajectory of failed states. (Harish Khare The Hindu 19 September 2001) In this perspective it is not surprising that a view emerged that favored Indian participation only under the aegis of the United Nations. (Neena Vyas The Hindu 17 September 2001) “Any such international strategy must be credible, effective, sustainable and defensible in the eyes of international law and world public opinion.” (Deliberations in the Congress Working Committee reported in The Pioneer 20 September 2001)The argument also drew strength from some major international players notably Russia. (Vladimir Radyuhin, reported in The Hindu 16 September 2001)

Pragmatism demands a more realistic analysis by both India and Pakistan. Realism and national interests are synonymous and international politics is all about opportunities and conveniences. India has taken different stands on many international issues in the past. India condemned the Anglo-French invasion of the Suez and American policy in Vietnam but remained silent on the Soviet crackdowns in Eastern Europe. As one of the victims of a brand of terrorism that does not script well with the variety the US intends to pursue, India must develop and sustain its own campaign. Pakistan must also take its lessons from history books. It never got the type of support it expected from US in course of its rather obsessionist engagement with India. Given the unchallenged nature of US ascendance, the current alignment can only be one of convenience. This does not give Pakistan a blank cheque to en-cash against India as it did during Russian occupation of Afghanistan. The current alignment gives US no reason to jettison its agenda for nuclear non-proliferation, and democracy not to mention its earlier dislike for Islamabad’s overt support to the terrorist network that is now the target. The suicide attacks have further shattered the myth of nuclear deterrence. It has also come as double edged sword. There can be no deterrence against men possessed of a suicidal rage. And a suicide terrorist loose with nuclear weapons presents a nightmare of catastrophic dimensions.

India must feel vindicated in the sense that USA now sees terrorism in a global perspective, threatening civil societies everywhere. Since independence, India has been in war against terror- in Punjab, in Kashmir, in the northeast and even deep in the heartland and down south. Although the terrorist camps are located just across the border, there was no action due to fear of reprisals, which had the potential to turn into a full-scale nuclear war. A joint operation having the sanction of the international community would have reduced the nuclear risks. Pakistan however ceased upon the possibility and effectively neutralized any role for India.

During Clinton Presidentship, India began to get recognition as a country, having to deal with the scourge of terrorism. India has been consistent in exposing lethal combination of narcotics and terrorism that was on the grow. Though there was no encouragement to strike the bases whether inside its territory or elsewhere, the sympathy nevertheless translated into US opposition of Pakistan’s clandestine intrusions in Kargil. There have also been an overwhelming insistence for restraint, initiating dialogues that metamorphosed into Sub-continent’s longest ever cease fire and definitive peace initiatives culminating in Agra Summit between India and Pakistan.

India unfortunately is not in a position to claim absolute identity of purpose with US in the present offensive initiative. India’s tryst with terrorism is fundamentally different from the brand of international terrorism that US seek to eradicate. It is also pitted against a good number of terrorist groups that are inbred and seeking liberation of territory or separation from mainland howsoever ill conceived the notions might seem to be. The US on the other hand needs to engage with groups that are waging ideological battles against a whole range of institutions transcending national borders. There is besides no guarantee that US will be keen to fight India’s war.

It will be naïve to expect that an international campaign can be used to bolster political and partisan objectives among parties. It is also not clear whether military intervention can be the final solution to root out terrorism that has spread its tentacles the world over. Pakistan was not in a position to say no and was rather compelled to give up its political and emotional investment in Afghanistan. This may come at a price for the military establishment. India on its own has a right to expect that the war on terror would be taken to its logical conclusion by dismantling also the infrastructure that has taken root in Pakistan and Afghanistan just across the sensitive border.

Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya