TOI EDITORIAL COMMENT
2 Jan 2009, 0004 hrs IST
Despite mounting international pressure on Pakistan to move against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists responsible for 26/11, operation cover-up proceeds relentlessly in Islamabad.
Even though a Pakistani official has confirmed to US and UK newspapers that Zarar Shah, an LeT kingpin picked up after 26/11, has confessed that he helped plan the attacks, and his account matches that of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the terrorist in Indian custody, Islamabad's official stonewallers haven't missed a beat.
Information minister Sherry Rehman has said that Pakistan isn't aware of anyone in its custody making such a confession, while Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman of President Asif Ali Zardari, has described Zarar Shah's confession as "far-fetched".
What makes the denial by official quarters of LeT's role in 26/11 itself far-fetched is that it continues despite the US having provided Pakistani authorities with a tape of an intercepted phone call from Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, another LeT kingpin, to terrorists holed up in Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel. Such all-encompassing denial and information scarcity leads to an atmosphere rife with conspiracy theories, which is conducive for terrorism to grow.
This can be a recipe for disaster even from the point of view of those responsible for denial of information, because rumours cannot be controlled and there is no saying who they will target next.
Contrast the state of denial in Islamabad to fresh winds sweeping Dhaka, where Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who just led the Awami League to a landslide electoral win in Bangladesh, has said she will not allow Bangladeshi soil to be used as a breeding ground for anti-Indian terrorists, and proposed the idea of a joint South Asian task force to combat terrorism.
Bangladesh itself has been a victim of religious extremism, but the overwhelming electoral verdict in favour of the Awami League, which has often been targeted by extremists, shows that most Bangladeshis don't share the extremists' goals. Cutting off one's own nose to spite a neighbour's face is no longer viable in South Asia.
Wajed's promise of joint action against terrorists would benefit both Bangladesh and India, and Pakistan as well if it is willing to participate in such an exercise. But frank acknowledgement that a problem exists would have to be a first step for such cooperation to happen.
Wajed and Zardari share something in common, their families have suffered at the hands of terrorists. But their responses are markedly different.
The flip-flops undertaken by Pakistan's civilian government since 26/11 raise the possibility that it could be acting at gunpoint.
The lack of transparency in Islamabad, and its refusal to take responsibility for terrorist action emanating from Pakistani soil, show up the weakness of its civilian institutions. That's disturbing and is a huge threat to South Asia's stability.
Source: the Times of India, New Delhi
PAKISTAN HAS A BAD YEAR AHEAD
by Najam Sethi
IT’S BEEN an unexpectedly tumultuous year for Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on the eve of a new one. But we don’t know who did it.
The general elections were postponed amidst speculation that General Pervez Musharraf was up to some trick. But they turned out to be incredibly fair and knocked the bottom out of General Musharraf himself. Asif Zardari insisted he would remain out of the political limelight. But he became a powerful president instead. Pundits said Mr Zardari and Nawaz Sharif would quickly come to blows. But they joined forces to oust General Musharraf.
Mr Zardari said he would restore the judges. But former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the core judge, is still whistling in the dark.
Democracy has been restored. The media is alive and kicking. Most of the judges are back in the saddle. There are working coalition governments at the centre and in the provinces. The federal government has taken ownership of the war on terror from the Pakistan Army. It has not galloped headlong into a political confrontation with the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) in Punjab. Trade with India has opened up. The ISI’s political wing has been disbanded and some unduly hawkish and controversial generals sent packing. The economy’s bleeding has been plugged. The IMF is back in business with relatively soft conditionalities.
Relations between the US administration and the Zardari government are excellent. The US has pledged to give up to US$ 1.5 billion a year as financial assistance to Pakistan for ten years for help in the war against terror.
Most Pakistanis are still reluctant to accept the war against terror as their war and not just America’s war. The writ of the state has significantly eroded in Federally Administered Tribal Areas ( FATA) where the Taliban are rampant. The marriage between the PPP and PMLN has still not been consummated. Relations with India have plummeted to dangerous levels following the Mumbai attack.
The ISI is back in the news as the allegedly hidden hand behind Mumbai.
The economy is still in the doldrums because foreign investment hasn’t picked up and the rupee has been devalued by about 30 per cent. There are strains between the PPP and PMLN, between the PPP and army, between the PPP and media, between the PPP and lawyers’ movement, and between the US administration and the Pakistan army over doing “more” or “less” against the Taliban in FATA.
The deposed chief justice will not be restored. Doing so would give Mr Sharif a strong ally against Mr Zardari in the political battle ahead. Indeed, it is likely that the PPP and PMLN will clash in Punjab sooner than later and each will try and clutch at the judiciary for support.
This clash may occur before the Senate elections in March as each side tries to woo the PML ( Quaid) and strengthen its coalition prospects.
A clash between the media and the PPP government is also on the cards. The media has constantly seen the government’s glass as half- empty. It has not supported the government’s war against terror. It has disapproved of its relationship with the US and the IMF. It has hyped up anti- India war hysteria while the government was trying to cool things down and press ahead with the peace process.
Worse, the government perceives some powerful media elements as being personally hard on Mr Zardari and soft on Mr Sharif.
The PPP government’s relations with the Pakistan Army could be further strained and add to instability. The khakis think Mr Zardari is suspiciously soft on Washington and New Delhi. They think he means to undermine the “national interest” since they equate it exclusively with their own institutional interest. Like most of the media, they are in a state of formal denial about any Pakistani link with the Mumbai carnage since it would lead directly to non- state actors linked to them in the past.
But the PPP government is not so sanguine about the whole affair following the media’s independent investigations into Ajmal Kasab of Faridkot and the arrest and interrogation of two Lashkar - e- Tayyeba activists who are reported to be “singing”. Indeed, some PPP- ites actually believe this may have been an attempt by rogue elements in the agencies to do a Kargil on Mr Zardari after his unilateral opening of trade with India and blithe reversal of Pakistan’s long standing position on the nuclear doctrine of First- Strike.
Certainly, the Mumbai attack has served to refocus attention on the simmering disputes between India and Pakistan, especially Kashmir, and established their link with the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and FATA. There are two elements of this link. First, there is the Pakistan Army’s threat to withdraw troops from FATA in the west and shift them to the border with India in the east in the event of a continued threat of war with India at a time when the incoming Obama administration in Washington is committed to moving 20,000 extra troops to Afghanistan and is exhorting the Pakistan Army to “do more”. Second, the Obama administration’s loud thinking about the need for a high powered regional envoy to resolve the inter- Afghanistan, Pakistan and India disputes has been given a fillip ( much to the anger and discomfort of India) by the post- Mumbai war rhetoric between the two nuclear- armed neighbours who are fighting intelligence- agency non- state actor proxy wars in Quetta, Kashmir and Kabul which have thrown a spanner in the American works in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al- Qaeda.
Pakistan’s political outlook for 2009 is not good. The regional cauldron is going to bubble with deadly great game politics involving a superpower and a regional hegemon. Domestically, there will be no national consensus among the key stakeholders — the media, opposition, army and government — on how to handle the situation. Meanwhile, the Al- Qaeda- Taliban- Jihadi network is likely to join hands with rogue elements from the agencies to create chaos. Political assassinations are on the cards. The economy will hunker down in cowardice.
Rising urban middle- class unemployment and falling income- alienation will aggravate an environment of outraged religious nationalism. If Pakistan’s army and PPP government cannot jointly contain and mediate these domestic and international pressures properly, more than just their corporate or political interests will suffer immeasurably.
The writer is Editor, Friday Times Source: Mail Today, New Delhi
Lalita Panicker, Hindustan Times
January 01, 2009
The recently-concluded Bangladesh polls have been quite a turn-up for the books. Though the odds were in favour of Awami League (AL) chief Sheikh Hasina, no one really thought she would notch up a staggering 230 against the 27 of Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Many may think that irrespective of which Begum wins, we’ll just see more of the same. Well, we might be in for a surprise.
Unlike Khaleda Zia, Hasina has made it clear that she will have no truck with the fundamentalist Islamist parties. In fact, militant Islamic organisations have been used by the BNP to counter the League. The elections have shown that the Islamist parties do not have popular support. But this does not mean that the threat to democracy from them is any less. And this is the greatest challenge that Hasina will face.
Today, Hasina with her strong mandate can rewrite the Constitution and initiate the reforms she wants. But here we are speaking of democratic processes. The real threat to Bangladesh and to India is from those who operate outside democratic norms, and who will feel ever more threatened by a Hasina regime. On the threat from across the Bangladesh border, India has been tardy due to vote-bank politics: illegal immigrants get hold of identification papers thanks to political patronage. But, the truth is that India has been far more preoccupied with Pakistan and has not focused enough on Bangladesh. Economic immigrants is one issue but many intelligence sources say that along with them, Pakistan-trained jihadis also find their way here.
It is no secret that with the US prowling around Taliban country and Pakistan’s restive tribal belts, many ISI-sponsored militant camps have shifted to Bangladesh. With, of course, the blessings of those in power, notably the army. Organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba are known to preserve its own top-notch fighters and send in Bangladeshi jihadis to do its dirty work for it in India. Clearly, the latter are considered more expendable and the trail runs cold past the Chittagong hill tracts.
Hasina’s ascension to power is perhaps a good time for New Delhi to address the threat from outside the eastern border. Bangladesh has 64,000 madrasas and 900 kindergarten madrasas. Many of them have been subverted by vested interests into becoming recruiting grounds for jihad, mainly against India. The ISI’s collusion with many of the Islamist parties in Bangladesh is well known as well as its unholy interest in the madrasas that are close to the Indian border. But unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh can still get its act together. For one, the ordinary Bangladeshi is not so much driven by religious fundamentalism as by linguistic nationalism. In essence, they are of the same stock as Indian Bengalis whose love for argument and dissent is the stuff of legends. They naturally resist any cookie cutter model of religion. It is perhaps the fear of violence that has subdued their voices all these years.
Now with Hasina in the saddle, we can only hope that these irrepressible sentiments come to the fore. It is in India’s interest to give Hasina a hand. No sooner is she sworn in, attacks on her will begin from all sides. Apart from fundamentalism, her greatest challenge will be that of the development of the desperately poor country. It is here that New Delhi can really be of assistance. It would be a wise investment in securing a 4,096-km border. It would also ensure that those bent on the destruction of India will have fewer places to operate from. The chances of success have never been better. A progressive government in Bangladesh and Pakistan facing international heat. If India plays its cards right, the region might just become a safer place