Published in California's 'Muslim World Today' / Jan 09
As a doctrine, the term pledges never to go for an all out War. Such is the beauty of Nuclear Weaponry. As a state of mind, however, it denotes a moment of insanity willing to gamble away a lifetime of progress. Such is its terrifying potential. Here, one State has been charged with sponsoring a brazen attack on an Indian City. The other is guilty of reckless provocation in its immediate aftermath. Now War beckons on the Eastern front as 2 Nuclear Powers complacently toy with the idea of settling old scores - while the world cautions them from the sidelines.
This is not the first time Pakistan and India have teetered on the edge of war. Both nations hold on to an ancient grudge (Kashmir) and have a history of sparring over water, officious spy agencies, fisherfolk accidentally straying into enemy territory etc. In past conflicts, sometimes Pakistan prevailed in air combat, just to lose a part of its territory later. Other times Indians pulled off an unexpected win, to be saddled with an embarrassing loss elsewhere. Those were the good old days.
But today, when IAF does its 'inadvertent intrusion routine', as it drops in unannounced while India declares Pakistan a no fly zone (so to speak) for their own Cricket teams, it makes world leaders jittery. An unexpected troop movement sends a shiver down the spine. Because the rules of engagement for nuclear powers are frighteningly simple - each can wipe out the other; and wonderfully complex - none may live to gloat about it.
When the Pakistani State was initially accused of masterminding the 26/11 attack on an Indian City carried out by a handful of gunmen that claimed 171 lives , left 239 injured - it is supposed to have done so during the worst financial and security crisis in its 61 year history. Despite the traditional rivalry, this was not such an open and shut case as Indians made it out to be. But long before the 60-hour long siege ended, a battle weary Pakistan stood on the docks, leaving both nuclear-armed States on the brink of war and the world racing to pry their impetuous little fingers off the nuclear trigger. Perhaps, this is a predictable turn of events, given the abrasive nature of terms between these two nations.
It is, nevertheless, a ridiculous position to be in given the current scenario, where Pakistan spends a good part of its day cleaning up after suicide bombers, random bomb blasts, while its troops are deployed on the Western front , the economy is in a dreadful mess and an energy crisis has hit the critical mark. But even if this argument absolves the Pakistani State of complicity, its territory serves as a destination of choice for many disgruntled terror outfits, which is why Pakistan, despite all its good intentions and sacrifices, continues to be viewed with suspicion.
Though American counterterrorism officials had let the ISI (Pakistani intelligence agency) or any government based operatives off the hook in the tragic terror attack, the Indians have not. In their preoccupation with ISI's now defunct pet project - the LeT, (accused of 26/11 attacks) and its supposedly benign front - The JuD, they have not forgotten the ISI. Since the outlawed militant group LeT had past associations with these ISI 'wallahs', this makes its present actions awkward to explain.
For those who do not know, ISI is the same agency - charged with super powers that allow them to blow up enemy embassies in Afghanistan and dimwitted enough to allow worse attacks on their own soil. Sometimes spies get too much credit. Fresh accusations come on the heels of a dossier of evidence linking State actors and consequently the Pakistani State, based on the 'sophisticated nature' or 'military precision' of the commando like operation to 26/11. Any one of India's neighbours can testify to the lethal strike package wielded by a small group of 'non-State actors'. Superpowers have not remained immune to their destructive influence. India should never underestimate the extent of power exercised by non-State actors, overestimate the intelligence of enemy spy agencies or undermine Pakistan's sufferings by accusing it of duplicity in a matter that has global consequences and comes at great personal cost.
At the same time, Pakistan cannot deny the presence of such elements on its soil or ignore it has enough grounds for action against them. Not the sort of action indicated by the IAF though. For if the existence of terror camps can be proven, the only thing IAF's kind offer of surgical strikes can hope to achieve will be a Nuclear Winter. Besides, the decision to clamp down hard on Jihadists came from Pakistan before any concrete evidence surfaced against them.
This nation is already embroiled in a bloody war against one kind of terrorism and taking out suspect jihadist outfits by clipping the wings of a once pampered progeny means risking the ire of its present caregivers and perhaps the wrath of past father figures. It is a risk worth taking. Since no one can guarantee where the Jihidist agenda ends and Al-Qaeda/Taliban interests begin, UN's demand to ban the LeT and its umbrella organizations is added incentive to stay the course this time around. That the JuD will now be closely monitored instead of being closed down as originally intended has sent ripples of unease around the world. The only way to get both allies and adversaries off our back is to dismantle the terrorist side of the network and isolate pawns used for charity work from real players, notwithstanding their involvement in 26/11. The War hysteria has yet to die down despite Pakistan's efforts at shutting down the terrorist export/import business.
As pressure on the Pakistani government mounts every day, it is difficult to comprehend how a single attack on India's sovereignty changed Pakistan's status from hapless prey to wily hunter. While Pakistanis commiserate with the victims of this tragedy and share their outrage, they also wonder at the lack of compassion shown for compatriots felled by similar elements.
Now there is no actual scorecard, but we will assume that such a morbid concept exists somewhere. And it shows that if this were a competition, India would lose - hands down in their recent run in with terrorism. If they want to see who racked up the biggest body count in civilian and /or military casualties, we are still counting. If they want to compare the structural damages inflicted upon their city, they should not bother. They, at least, could gather at the site to mark the event; while we can only gaze upon the ruins of our once famous landmarks and lament the loss of our holidaymaker's paradise.
The projected economic fallout of the Nov 2008 incident will still be far less than the devastating meltdown that threatens to consume Pakistan. And given the intricate nature of this war, terror will continue to haunt Pakistan, long after the memory of it has faded for the Indians.
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