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Islamic World News ( 15 Dec 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Mumbai terror attack and Pakistan media



Close up: Mumbai in flames By Salama A Salama

Stepping away from the brink by Abbas Rashid


The media and Mumbai By Dr Tariq Rahman

Indian Tragedy, Al Qaeda Triumph Ayaz Amir

India-Pakistan: Bound by Sorrows By Mohsin Hamid

The terrorist trap By Ahmad Faruqui

The Mumbai Massacre and Pakistan’s New Nightmares: An Interview of Pervez Hoodbhoy

By Christina Otten for FOCUS Online

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau







By A H Nayyar


PAKISTAN may be facing the most crucial moment of its existence. Its back is pushed to the wall, and it seems to have been left with no choice but to do what it should have done several years ago. It should have, on its own, abandoned the policy of using proxy warriors for ill- conceived security objectives, and reined in the religious warlords who have been repeatedly challenging the writ of the state.


Sadly, the realization has come not from how the jehadi organisations have lately turned against Pakistan and wreaked havoc in its cities and tribal areas. It has come from intense international pressures after the Mumbai carnage. Which means that had the external pressure not come, Pakistani policies would have continued to be prevailed upon by those who regarded, and perhaps continue to regard, these elements essential for the country’s security. Only very recently, a former chief of ISI (not Hameed Gul) was advocating on a popular TV channel that Pakistan should surreptitiously support and protect the Pakistani Taliban to defeat NATO forces and the increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan. He was also suggesting denying such a support in public.


Although the Pakistani leadership had been making statements against these terrorist outfits for a long time, not enough action was ever taken to eliminate them.


President Musharraf survived at least three direct terrorist attacks. The former Prime Minister Shoukat Aziz survived one direct attempt. Benazir Bhutto was not that fortunate.


Now most in the government are convinced that elimination of jehadis and terrorists has become an urgent need for Pakistan’s survival as a democratic country.


Whether this change in view would easily get translated into a final action against terrorists remains to be seen.


T HAT India has taken the case of Mumbai terrorist attack to the United Nations Security Council, and succeeded in getting sanctions imposed on a few organisations and individuals, has in a way stunned the Pakistani establishment and analysts. They had been expecting, and bracing themselves, for some kind of punitive strike from India on terrorist targets, and a possible reaction from Pakistan. Policy analysts were speculating that such a strike would get an immediate military response from Pakistan, which could lead to heightened tensions, and perhaps a war. But they were comforting themselves that the nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s arsenal would deter India from undertaking an all- out war as it had in 2001- 2.


But the Indian move to solidly array international opprobrium against jehadi outfits in South Asia — read Pakistan — will not necessarily make them heave a sigh of relief.


The United Nations has placed sanctions against the top leadership of Lashkar- e- Tayyaba ( also written as Taiba or Toiba), implying that Pakistan will be obliged to not only seal its offices and arrest the leadership but will also be required to freeze their assets. The UN has also required these actions against Jamaat- ud- Dawah ( JD), which it has rightly pointed out as the front organization of the LeT. Pakistanis


Pakistanis should fear that if India brings out a convincing link between the Mumbai terrorists and the ISI, the world will now have no hesitation in placing sanctions on the ISI. That will come as a very bitter pill to the Pakistani establishment.


Recall that LeT as an organization actually stands banned in Pakistan for quite some time. You do not see its open presence anywhere in the country because it had re- formed itself into JD. Jamaat- ud Dawah wal Irshad was the original organisation based in Muridke near Lahore, out of the womb of which the LeT was born.


The leaders of LET/ JD, including the chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, were arrested at the time of the ban, but were later released without any indictment.


Even before India moved the UN Security Council, Pakistan had started action against JD by arresting a few leaders, and locking up its offices. The reports of investigation into the Mumbai carnage were convincing enough to force the Pakistan government to do this. But Pakistan needs to ban JD as well as such other organisations as Jaish- e- Mohammad.


Thus the war against terrorism for Pakistan has now a very broad front. It is against the likes of LeT, JD, JM, etc., on the one hand, and against the Taliban styled militants in the tribal region at the Pak- Afghan border on the other. These militants had unleashed a barrage of suicide bombers against the Pakistani public in the last three to four years.


T HEY are not letting the Pakistan Army take control of the region, inflicting heavy casualties on them, and extending their influence from the tribal areas into some settled districts.


The Pakistan Army is currently actively engaging them in Bajor Agency, but other areas that are relatively quiet are also far from being under the military or government control. The Taliban have established their writ in most areas in which no outsider can enter without their permission.


It is said that even the presence of the Pakistan Army units in those areas is not without permission from the local Taliban.


The old tribal power structure has been uprooted. Most maliks (tribal heads) have either been murdered or have fled the area. In their place is the rule of the local Taliban without any central leadership.


They are essentially local religious warlords inspired by the Afghan Taliban.


The local Taliban have established their theocratic rule in their respective areas of influence with unheard- of brutalities and barbarity. They seem to have full control of the Swat Valley, and are ready to take over Peshawar. The NATO supply trucks that had been plying since 2001 have suddenly come under attack right on the outskirts of Peshawar. Rumours are that Peshawar’s rich have started to move out with their valuables. It is not clear to the Pakistani public if the Pakistani establishment wishes to fight and root out the Taliban, or is keeping them for Afghanistan under the now- discredited security paradigm.


The two kinds of terrorists Pakistan now needs to fight are not necessarily disjointed.


They represent two heads of the same monster. Most people also accept that the monster is home- grown. It is immaterial that that these groups were initially nurtured by the United States in its war against the Soviet Union. What is important is that if Pakistan has to survive as a modern democratic state, Islamic militancy of all kinds has to be eliminated, and a writ of the state has to be established in all nooks and corners of the country.

Courtesy: The Mail Today, New Delhi, 13 Dec. 2008

(The writer is Research Fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad)


Close up: Mumbai in flames

By Salama A Salama

After the attacks in Mumbai, one cannot fault India for thinking that it is being targeted by enemies who wish to undermine its progress and stop it from claiming its rightful position on the world stage. Along with China, India is a candidate for the exclusive club of major world powers. And India has something that its rival, Pakistan, doesn't have: democracy.

Indian officials were quick to accuse Pakistan of masterminding the attacks. The two countries have a long history of animosity, mostly because of the dispute over Kashmir. India and Pakistan went to war three times since they split 60 years ago. But nearly 140 million Muslims still live in India and they often clash with Hindus and Sikhs. The recent wave of communal atrocities took place in 1993, after a group of Hindu nationalists burned down the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in Utter Pradesh.

Despite recent attempts at normalisation and several rounds of talks aiming to resolve the Kashmir problem, tensions persist between India and Pakistan. Actually, when the recent terror attack took place in Mumbai, the Pakistani foreign minister was on an official visit to India. He hastened to deny any Pakistani connection with the attacks, noting that Pakistan too is a victim of terrorism. The Pakistani foreign minister recalled the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to support his argument.

It is generally believed that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai came from Pakistan. A previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the attack on several luxury hotels and a Jewish centre. The nature of the attacks suggests that the terrorists were out to get Americans, Europeans and Israelis. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni offered to send an Israeli team to investigate the attacks. India turned down the offer, but agreed to let a US intelligence team take part in investigations.

Pakistan may be said to be the primary suspect, but it hardly has anything to gain from the attacks. The sophistication of the attacks suggests that the group responsible has been planning them for months and may have stashed considerable amounts of arms and ammunition prior to the coordinated assault. It appears, so far, that a fanatical group opposed to reconciliatory settlement with India over Kashmir carried out the attacks. In the days following, the Indian interior minister stepped down, taking the blame for failure to anticipate the tragedy.

Western analysts say that the perpetrators used some of the tactics normally associated with Al-Qaeda and suggested in a paper published on the Internet in March 2004 by Abdel-Aziz Al-Moqren, leader of Al-Qaeda fighters in Saudi Arabia. In this paper, Al-Moqren urges militants to start out by killing Jews, then take hostages and film their execution and post it on the Internet, and then kill Christians, followed by Muslim apostates.

The grimness of the attacks lends itself to such interpretations. Consequently, the focus is turned once more on so-called Islamic terror. And the media is again warning of Al-Qaeda and its ability to convince other groups, such as the Deccan Mujahideen, to conduct acts of mayhem across the world.

Should political violence spread in India, right-wing parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, may clinch victory in the next elections in May. No one knows if the Mumbai attacks are enough to trigger another war between India and Pakistan. Should this happen, India would be derailed from its quest for global ascendance. And Pakistan would be in even worse shape than it is now.




Stepping away from the brink

By Abbas Rashid

December 13, 2008

If the Pakistani government is destabilised or undermined as a result of Indian tactics, the forces of militancy and extremism will not only get greater space in Pakistan, India too will end up facing a bigger problem

A fortnight after the Mumbai attacks that killed over 170 people and injured many more, Pakistan remains under pressure to do more to apprehend groups accused of playing a key role in the operation. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has referred to Pakistan as the epicentre of terrorism and has insisted that the international community ensure the dismantling of the ‘infrastructure of terrorism’ in Pakistan.

The accusation is particularly directed at the Lashkar-e Tayba (LeT), the banned group that is seen as having taken the form of, or subsumed under, the Jama’at-ud Dawa (JD), also led by the former head of LeT, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. The Indian media has by and large weighed in with considerable hype more likely to inflame popular sentiment rather than promote reasoned discussion. At the same time, the temperature has also been raised by media reports that the defence forces of both countries have been put in a state of heightened preparedness.

In an encouraging sign, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament on Thursday that attacking Pakistan to ‘avenge the Mumbai terror attacks is no solution’. However, this statement was accompanied by the demand that Pakistan hand over no less than forty people that India believes are behind the terror attacks.

Whatever the merit of such a demand, the government would risk a serious domestic backlash going though with it without unimpeachable proof of guilt being provided. Meanwhile Pakistan has sought the custody of Lt-Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit, allegedly involved in the Samjhota Express attack.

Among other things, we need to keep in mind that the Mumbai attacks also had the effect of reliving pressure on the Far Right extremist groups in India who appear to have supporters in the Indian armed forces as well, going by Purohit’s suspected involvement in the Samjhota Express attack. Similarly, it is extremist groups operating in the vicinity of Pakistan’s western border that have the most to gain from heightened tensions on the eastern border with India. Instead of more forces being moved west, as many advocate, to consolidate whatever gains have been made, this would have the opposite effect of relieving pressure on these groups.

Certainly, one key aspect of the issue then is whether Pakistan and India should cede a kind of veto to these groups over the peace process between the two countries.

The Pakistan leadership has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to cooperate in apprehending the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre and bringing them to justice. A number of JD members have been picked up from Azad Kashmir and its leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has been put under house arrest.

There is also now a broader context to this focus. A Security Council panel late Wednesday declared Jama’at-ud Dawa a terrorist group subject to UN sanctions, including an asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo. Now that authorities in Pakistan are moving against those identified by India and the international community, it would be far better to help in making this process more effective by sharing relevant intelligence, for instance.

Meanwhile, we cannot afford to lose sight of the peace process. Not least because, as the Indian external affairs minister has indicated, war is not an option. Given Pakistan’s many and widely known problems at this juncture, it seems that the Indian government regards this as an appropriate time to put maximum pressure on Pakistan. But if the government is destabilised or undermined as a result of Indian tactics, the forces of militancy and extremism will not only get greater space in Pakistan, India too will end up facing a bigger problem.

Pakistan must proceed with doing what it should have done much earlier, i.e., reorganise its forces and intelligence services to deal effectively with the greatest challenge to its integrity as a nation-state, which comes from within. This is not something that we should be doing at the behest of India or the United States, or any other country for that matter, but in our own national interest.

And certainly it poses a threat to our integrity if groups are found putting us in a position of vulnerability by using our territory as a launch pad to attack another country, whether on one border or the other. As President Zardari is reported to have told the most recent in a long line of visitors from the US, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, “The government is undertaking its own investigation of the incident and taking appropriate measures.”

At the same time, India needs to work with Pakistan to restore the peace process and to get the scheduled meetings back on track. The two countries have also in this tragedy had the opportunity to see how fragile this process remains after all the years of confidence building measures that have gone into it.

Both countries must go back with renewed vigour into resolving the issues that have been held up for years not only because of their complexity but more due to the absence of political will. Sir Creek and Siachen are two such issues. The groundwork for settling both is pretty much in place and it would be a fitting response to the terror unleashed in Mumbai last month if the two governments move for their resolution in 2009, as well as embarking on a credible initiative on Kashmir.

Abbas Rashid lives in Lahore and can be contacted at





By Foqia Sadiq Khan


THE Indian as well as the Pakistani media, particularly the electronic one, has been extremely irresponsible in its coverage of the Mumbai carnage. India and Pakistan have dozens of electronic media channels but they seem, by and large, to lack the responsibility that comes with running them in times of crisis.


It was distasteful to see the Indian media engage in Pakistan- bashing even before the operation to flush out the terrorists was completed. It was equally distasteful to see the Pakistani electronic media raise hysteria against India, rather than showing solidarity at such an hour of crisis.


It seems both India and Pakistan are living in denial of their deeds. India seems to be in denial of the Kashmir issue and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.


Pakistan seems to be in denial of becoming a hotbed of terrorists. Whether it is the July 7, 2005 bombings in London, the attack on commuter trains in Spain in March 2004 or the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008, there is always some kind of connection to Pakistani actors and/ or groups. Pakistan seems to have become a safe haven for terrorists who kill innocent people mostly in Pakistan but also in the rest of the world. This grave realisation was completely missing in any analysis by the electronic media in Pakistan.


One cannot overlook the US role in all this. Had America not imposed its proxy war on Pakistan 1979 onwards, Pakistan and the rest of the world would have been a much safer place now. It was the CIA- financed war, operationalised by the ISI that created a network of global jihadis which has now blown back on America, Pakistan and the rest of the world. American imperialism played a definite role in making Pakistan do its dirty job and Zia- ul- Haq’s military government was more than willing to receive huge military aid and be an active promoter of the jihadi culture that has come to haunt everyone today.


B UT we cannot turn the clock back.


We have to deal with the fallout and clear our mess. This cannot be done if both India and Pakistan continue to live in a state of denial and blame each other. The Indian security forces have to own up to their atrocities in Kashmir since late 1980s. Indian right wing religious fundamentalists have burned churches and destroyed the Babri Masjid and carried out a massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. It is a complete failure of the Indian state that something as gruesome as the Gujarat massacre happened in the first place. It is an even bigger failure that the government of Narendra Modi has not been held accountable for it so far. Having said that, no amount of injustice condones the murderous attacks in Mumbai. Violence cannot end violence — it only leads to more violence.


Pakistan has to accept a clear responsibility since terrorists seemed to have come from Pakistan. The recent arrests of the mastermind of Mumbai carnage and others members of the banned Laskhar- e- Tayyeba by Pakistani security agencies is a step in the right direction.


Pakistan has also offered to carry out a joint investigation of the attacks.


To quote an example from the Pakistani media, Lt- Gen ( retired) Salahuddin Tirmizi openly referred to India as “ dushman mulk” ( enemy country) in a top talk show aired at prime time — and this was while the tragedy was still unfolding in Mumbai with militants still in a shootout at the Taj. Is this the way neighbours express solidarity at such a delicate moment of mayhem and crisis? One wonders why such a jingoistic commentator was invited by a prime private TV channel, in the first place.


Unfortunately, Pakistanis do not have access to the Indian media. If they did, there would be many more such examples to quote from India as well. One gets the sense from the media coverage and after talking to peace activists in India that the Indian media has been extremely jingoistic as well.


S IMI Garewal, the popular TV host, is reported to have said in a talk show: “ Go to the Four Seasons and look down from the top floor at the slums around you. Do you know what flags you will see? Not the Congress’, not the BJP’s, not the Shiv Sena’s.


Pakistan! Pakistani flags fly high!... You know what I think? We should carpetbomb Pakistan. That’s the only way we can give a clear message.” Could anyone in the right state of mind make or carry such a statement? In Pakistan, the electronic media would take statements from the Indian left and present it as a proof of intolerance in India. Shabana Azmi’s clip about her inability to find a flat in Mumbai due to her Muslim name was played time and again on the Pakistani media. So were the gruesome scenes of the Gujarat massacre.


I think it was opportunistic of the Pakistani media to pick and choose the statements of the members of the Indian left to suit their propaganda objectives.


It was also extremely irresponsible of the Indian media to beat war drums due to an act of terrorism. Pakistan itself faces the greatest danger of terrorism. It has become a hotbed of terrorists but it needs to be helped rather than being ‘ carpet- bombed’. One hopes that better sense will prevail on both sides and unadulterated blame games and muscle flexing will give way to restraint, rationality, moderation and sanity.


The writer is a doctoral candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies ( SOAS), University of London, and is currently based in Pakistan     


The media and Mumbai

By Dr Tariq Rahman


THE Mumbai attacks have seen the media, especially the electronic media, in both countries conduct itself in an irresponsible fashion.


Hours after the attack began, the Indian media started showing Bollywood-style films about the perpetrators of the carnage allegedly in Pakistan. Just as quickly the Pakistani media went into complete denial.


Both responses were exaggerated and irresponsible. The Indian media could not have made any credible film on actors within Pakistan and the Pakistani media could not be sure that there was no Pakistani connection. The Indian media ignored the possibility of the fallout of such hysterical coverage, for after all it could play into the hands of Pakistan-haters in India who do not want peace. Had troops been moved the western border of Pakistan would have gone to the Taliban and India would have faced the intensity of the ‘Islamic’ threat. That would have been tremendously dangerous for India.


As for Pakistan, the media did not show sufficient sensitivity for the dead and wounded in Mumbai. That is a moral failing. Then, to make matters worse, the whole history of the creation of the jihadi outfit in Pakistan was not even mentioned. This is not just insensitive; it is dysfunctional. Nobody outside Pakistan buys the argument that Pakistan is not a base for terrorist outfits which have been around since the Afghan war days and were fed on American money and allegedly supported by the security agencies.```


Very often they do not even deny their involvement in what they still call jihad and have even accepted responsibility for some actions in India. With this history, it is obvious why westerners and Indians blame Pakistan even before the evidence is fully in. The Pakistani media need not react against this. Instead it should see to it that it does everything in its power to change public opinion in a way that our governments can fight terrorists and dismantle terrorist outfits in the country.


But what have sections of the Pakistani media been doing? After having denied that there could be any evidence regarding the involvement of elements in Pakistan, they attack the civilian government’s attempt to arrest suspects from an extremist group. Anchor persons, among them some respected for their stance on issues like the removal of the chief justice and the rule of law, dismiss the government’s actions as a consequence of external pressure. Even respected columnists can be criticised on this score.


This is exactly what the media had been doing with reference to the Taliban’s attacks on Pakistan’s cities until the Taliban started owning them. The attacks increased at such a pace that some people started debating whether the war in Fata and Swat was Pakistan’s war after all. And yet, such is the confusion among Pakistanis that even now most people think it is America’s war and not ours. With Nato vehicles being burned and disparate groups of people defying the state, the reality is that the state is losing its sovereignty over parts of Pakistan. Still respected members of the media are in a state of denial that this is Pakistan’s war.


Why this inability to see the truth? I believe there are many reasons. Firstly, there is much hatred against the United States and India. America is hated for its unjust support for Israel, the totally uncalled for war in Afghanistan and criminal aggression in Iraq. India is hated for its suppression of the movement for self-determination in Kashmir and recent reports on the discrimination against Indian Muslims. Secondly, there is much in Pakistani textbooks and the media against India. Some of this matter is wrong and fabricated while some is correct. There is nothing in the textbooks against America but there is no shortage of anti-American stories and conspiracy theories doing the rounds. Indeed, there are conspiracy theories in which Indians, Americans and Jews feature prominently and people believe them. And, lastly, there is the blindness induced by nationalism (or shall we call it chauvinism?) which makes the media so hawkish.


These factors combine to prevent our anchorpersons and columnists from understanding that they should acknowledge the truth before moving on to suggest cures. And much can be done against the Taliban who attack our cities and other groups who presumably still operate across the border. The media can strengthen the government as no other organisation or force can but the media so far chooses not to, oblivious of the great danger in which it is placing Pakistan.


Let it be understood, if the government still does not act against terrorists the United States will make a pariah of us which India will welcome. That such an eventuality is neither in India’s nor in America’s interest the two countries will only understand when they find the Taliban staring down at them. Pakistan is needed as a stable, democratic and peaceful force in South Asia to undo past evil. This can only happen if the media allows the government to suppress the extremists.


The government also needs the help of the media to confront the army and intelligence agencies which act as parallel governments in Pakistan. They have always had an anti-India bias of the kind which has prevented them from appreciating that it is peace which is in the interest of Pakistan and not war. I do not know what the army thinks in this crisis though so far there is reason to believe that it has been supportive of the government in its efforts against the Taliban. Even if the army remains supportive while extremists are suppressed within Pakistan, help from the media will be welcome as ordinary soldiers are as influenced by the ubiquitous media as other people.


The government too should make the media’s job easier by presenting proof against those they arrest and take action against. If this involves confessing to past blunders let it be so. The public mistrusts the government because officials lie but if they start telling the truth the trust deficit can come to an end. Governments on both sides have been pretty balanced and responsible so far. Now the media on both sides has to control itself in the interest of peace in South Asia.



Indian Tragedy, Al Qaeda Triumph

By Ayaz Amir

5 December 2008


Piercing through the clouds of outrage and emotion evoked by the tragedy visited on Mumbai, the outlines of the wider consequences of this dreadful event are becoming clearer.

Whether Al Qaeda is involved or not — and we must wait for the evidence to come in before jumping to conclusions — the unfolding consequences of this dark event are proving to be a triumph for Al Qaeda and its strategic aims and a grave setback for the broad coalition, led by the United States, which is trying to defeat and destroy Al Qaeda, so far, it has to be said, not all that successfully.

Osama bin Laden, if he is still around, must be rubbing his hands in glee, as would his second-in-command, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, for at a stroke the regional ‘war on terror’ coalition lies unhinged. The way India and Pakistan are responding to this tragedy could have been scripted by Al Qaeda. As so often before they are at each other’s throats once again, their hesitant moves towards a more enduring rapprochement in shreds. Indeed there is no shortage of hawks all too eager to believe that they are closer to outright hostilities than at any time since the Kargil flare-up in 1999.

It takes no genius to figure out what renewed Indo-Pak tensions mean for the Pakistan army’s ongoing operations against Taleban and assorted militants in the tribal Wild West along the Afghan frontier. The Pakistan army’s heart was never in this fight in which it found itself engaged only because of overwhelming American pressure. Now with India sounding aggressive and thirsting for some sort of revenge in the wake of the attack on Mumbai, the Pakistan army has a valid and pressing reason to turn its attention to something closer to its ethos and training: the threat from India.

Let us not forget that Al Qaeda had declared war on Pakistan for being an accomplice of the United States, the terror bombings, suicide attacks and assassination attempts mounted in Pakistan being a response to this perceived role. But what the terror bombings and suicide attacks inside Pakistan could not lead to, the Mumbai attacks look like achieving: drawing Pakistan’s attention away from the western theatre to the eastern front. Whom does this situation suit? Al Qaeda.

The US too could have done without this distraction. When it has its hands full in Afghanistan, it suddenly has to step in and “defuse” tensions between India and Pakistan. Level any accusations against Pakistan — that it is a haven for terrorist groups, etc — but its support is crucial for America’s increasingly problematic war in Afghanistan. If the Pakistan army pulls out the four or five divisions deployed in and around FATA, the Taleban heave a sigh of relief, their insurgency in Afghanistan gets a boost and America’s Afghan war becomes that much more un-winnable.

This is strategy, the indirect approach, on a grand scale. The Madrid train bombings got Spain out of the American coalition in Iraq. Spain’s contribution to the coalition was largely symbolic but with the train assault even that came to an end, handing Al Qaeda a psychological victory.

The Twin Towers attack of September 11, 2001, led to a situation which the perpetrators or the handlers of that terrible event could scarcely have foreseen: throwing the world into turmoil and pitch-forking the US into two wars — Afghanistan and Iraq — with whose unintended consequences it is still trying to grapple.

America’s global supremacy was unchallenged in 2001. There were no rivals even remotely on the horizon. Getting entangled in these distant adventures has bled the US and diminished its international standing. What was supposed to be the American century seems now after Afghanistan and Iraq not all that certain a proposition?

Did Mohammad Atta and his companions or Osama bin Laden — if we subscribe to the belief that the planning for Sept 11 took place on some remote mountain peak or cave in Afghanistan — have these consequences in mind when they were planning for their scarcely believable undertaking? Stretches the imagination.

Terrorism when used as a political weapon — and no one in recent history has used it in more masterly fashion than Al Qaeda -- works in ways different from conventional warfare. What one seeks to achieve in conventional war is the destruction of (1) the enemy’s will to fight and (2) the destruction of his fighting capability. Terrorism works in different ways, triumphing not by the amount of destruction it can cause — armies engaging in war cause far more havoc — but by leading the object of terrorism into irrational behaviour.

It can be argued that the US had a legitimate reason to attack Afghanistan because the Taleban leadership had given refuge to Osama bin Laden who had not only, in a manner of speaking, declared war on the US but was also behind the Sept 11 attacks. Although there is a counter-argument that even from its own standpoint the US would have been better served to take out bin Laden by other means, a case can be made out for America’s Afghan war.

But none whatsoever for America’s Iraq venture which had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or terrorism and everything with misguided imperial overstretch to the extent that this was an irrational response, it played into Al Qaeda’s hands.

Mumbai falls into the same category in direction if not in scale. Because by leading India into irrational behaviour it serves Al Qaeda‘s interests, whether, as already noted, Al Qaeda is involved or not. Let it also be said that the feelings being presently manifested in India towards Pakistan are only partially connected to Pakistan’s alleged involvement in Mumbai.

They are also a throwback to the past from where the emotion arises that if only India can get the US on board this is an unrivalled opportunity to teach Pakistan a lesson.

Whether Pakistan can be taught such a lesson or not is a separate issue. Lost in the heat of the moment is the realisation that any weakening of Pakistan will fatally undermine the US’s war against the Taleban…to the point of making the US presence in Afghanistan untenable. Which is not to say that the world owes Pakistan a living or that because of its real or presumed strategic importance Pakistan can get away with wilful or erratic behaviour? It is only to point out the dangers of irrational behaviour, which serves neither India’s interests nor Pakistan’s.

Of course, Pakistan has a problem of home-grown militancy on its hands. There’s no denying it or, more accurately, we should no longer be in a state of denial about it. But this is not a problem, which has developed overnight. It has been decades in the making with the US also involved in its initial growth and nurturing. It won’t go away in a hurry.

At the same time there is another angle to this problem. Pakistan’s American connection is making it worse by enabling the militants to claim that far from pushing extremism they are battling American domination, a claim strengthened by America’s presence in Afghanistan and its drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas.

India can be taken to task for the many skeletons rattling in its cupboards — mass repression in Kashmir, the growing alienation of Indian Muslims which among other things is giving rise to a brand of militancy indigenous to India. But this may not be the time to go into all this. Suffice it to say that by stoking bellicosity and seeking to enlist American help to drive Pakistan into a corner India is playing a short-term game, which can only be grist to the mills of Al Qaeda.

These are testing times for Pakistan, putting heavy demands on its people and its leaders. Never was there a greater need for unity and clear thinking. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, relatively new to the responsibilities thrust on them by fate or whatever, give the impression of swimming in waters too deep for them. Their initial response to the pressure from India could have been better thought through and better coordinated. But for better or worse they are the leaders Pakistan has and the people of Pakistan have no other choice at present but to put up with them.

However, they can make things easy for themselves if they avoid the temptation of solo flights for which they are scarcely equipped and if they rely more on institutionalised decision-making.

Ayaz Amir is a distinguished Pakistani commentator and lawmaker



India-Pakistan: Bound by Sorrows

By Mohsin Hamid

 3 December 2008

 In the rush to blame Pakistan for the terrorist atrocity in Mumbai, a dangerous mistake is being made.

The impulse to implicate Pakistan is, of course, understandable: the past is replete with examples of Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies working to destabilise the historical enemy across the border.

But it is too soon to know who is behind the current attacks. Some or all of the attackers may indeed come from or have supporters in Pakistan. Equally, some or all may be Indian. The desire of some in India to ascribe guilt to Pakistan before the evidence is in is, therefore, an attempt to avoid introspection.

India and Pakistan are more alike than politicians of either country tend to acknowledge. The triumphal narrative of India as an incredible success, and the defeatist narrative of Pakistan as an impending disaster are both only half true. For much of this young century, Pakistan has enjoyed economic growth rates not far behind those of India, and this year Pakistan has emulated its neighbour by returning to democracy. India, meanwhile, is, like Pakistan, home to many simmering insurgencies.

Had recent protests in Indian Kashmir occurred in a former Soviet Republic, they would have been hailed by the world as a new Orange Revolution (and had they occurred in Tibet, they would have resulted in calls for international pressure on Beijing). Similarly, the tensions in India’s northeast, the armed Naxalite movement, and the slaughter of Muslims in Gujarat all run counter to the half-truth of “India shining”.

Both Pakistan and India are plagued by extremist violence. Both have in their six decades of independence dramatically failed their poor. Earlier this year, the World Bank reported that half of Indian children are so malnourished their bodies fail to achieve normal size. That is twice the rate of child malnourishment found in sub-Saharan Africa.

The reason to look at the similarities between India and Pakistan is not to drag India down or to deny the wonderful accomplishments of which Indians should be proud. Rather, it is to point out that the countries are in this together. Their fights against extremism cannot be separated by national borders into convenient compartments, one marked “domestic” and the other “foreign”.  Just as Pakistan and Afghanistan must cooperate if they are to solve the problems of violent extremism, so must Pakistan and India.

There has never been a better time for such cooperation. The people who can best understand what the residents of Mumbai are going through are the residents of Islamabad. The destruction of the Islamabad Marriott only weeks ago foreshadowed the attacks on the Oberoi and the Taj, and the pitched gun-battle between extremists and government forces in South Mumbai has eerie echoes of last year’s bloody and prolonged standoff at Islamabad’s Red Mosque.

Just as Delhi has seen bombings this year, so has Lahore. Just as rogue elements of Pakistan’s armed forces have been accused of supporting terrorists, so has a lieutenant colonel in the Indian army. Of course India and Pakistan are not the same, but the parallels are remarkable. Continuing to ignore this serves only to divide two countries that could benefit greatly from greater unity.

Fortunately, a coming together is possible. Pakistan is emerging from a long period of denial about its terrorism problem. The Pakistan army is engaged in a massive offensive against extremists in the tribal areas, willing to take hundreds of casualties and displace hundreds of thousands of Pakistani citizens in the process. President Zardari is extending olive branches to India in the form of calls for greater cooperation against terrorism, more economic integration, and compromises on Kashmir.

The Indian government has been slow to seize this opportunity. The Mumbai attacks now provide a perfect pretext to reject Pakistan’s overtures and set in motion a train of events reminiscent of 2001, when the terrorist attack on India’s parliament brought the countries to the brink of war. Such a reaction would only benefit the terrorists. It would do so directly by distracting the Pakistan army from its offensive in the tribal areas, and it would do so indirectly by turning public opinion in Pakistan, which is slowly hardening against extremism, against India instead. The alternative is to acknowledge that -— like rivers, languages, and history — terrorism ties India and Pakistan together. India cannot prosper while Pakistan festers. Pakistan cannot progress while standing in the way of India’s ascent. Only by cooperating can both countries hope to achieve security and make dreams of prosperity come true for more than a small minority. When terrorism strikes, divisive anger is a natural response.

Wisdom lies, however, in realising that we of India and Pakistan are united by our shared sorrow.

Mohsin Hamid is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. This article first appeared in The Guardian



Mumbai terror attack and Pakistan media

As Indian media reports the facts and other information related to terror attacks, a totally opposite image of India has been built by Pakistani media. A report said that the attacks could be the handiwork of “radical elements within Hindu community”.

TWO WEEKS have passed since terror struck Mumbai. The investigations are going on at full swing and till date, according to Indian agencies, all indications are that Pakistan’s land has been used in this dastardly attack. Indian media has also tried to highlight the involvement of Pakistan which has created pressure on the neighbours as they are now bound to act. USA and other countries have openly supported India and want Pakistan to act fast and with sincerity.

As Indian media reports the facts and other information related to terror attacks, a total opposite image of India and her investigation agencies has been built by the Pakistani media. I have read few articles and videos of Pakistan media and was surprised and outraged by what they were showing?

A report said that Mumbai terror attacks could be the handiwork of “radical elements within the Hindu community” who are “unhappy with domestic and foreign policies of the Congress-led government” and speculates that these attacks could have been engineered to influence the outcome of the general elections. Another news channel claimed that the Mumbai attack was masterminded by the RAW itself to defame Pakistan. A video claims that Kasab is not a Pakistani and a Muslim, but a Sikh boy, and his real name is Amar Singh. Because of the band he was wearing. (Mumbai Police has now revealed that terrorists wore the band for deception).

A sizeable number of Pakistanis feels that September 11 attacks were the product of a Zionist-cum-CIA conspiracy to malign the Muslims and topple the Taliban and Iraqi regimes. And in this case also they feel that this attack is a handiwork of the RSS, VHP and BJP combine. This was to stop the probe in Malegaon case in which many Hindu extremists are involved. Geo News covered the attacks round-the-clock and blamed the Indian government for failing to anticipate the attack and mishandling the rescue operation. They interviewed people like Hameed Gul, former director general of the ISI, and Shirin Mazari, former director general of Institute of Strategic Studies and they repeatedly classified the Mumbai attackers as either Hindu militants or Indian Muslims, but definitely not Pakistanis.

If such news is reported in Pakistan media 24/7, it is bound to have its impact on the people of Pakistan. I have always been told that people on both sides want peace but if such unregulated and false reports are circulated in one country, it is just impossible to accept that mental state of people will change. This will lead to mistrust among the people. I don’t know what will happen next but I want a few things from my government.

Pakistan has openly claimed that India has no evidence of the involvement of Pakistanis in the attack and it will not charge any of its citizens unless given concrete evidence. If the claims made by Indian investigation agencies are true then they should be made public and the proof of the same should be submitted to Pakistan government as well as United Nations. Pakistan should be made to take action against those involved in the act of terror

We should publicly disclose the details of the investigations so that Pakistan media can also be taught a lesson. Moreover, these reports should be made public by Indian authorities only and not US or UK. The truth must be told. At the same time, I would like the Indian authorities to do some introspection and tell the people where it failed and what steps it will take to overcome fallacies and weakness.

The citizens of the country have suffered the most and they have a right to know the truth.

Source: http://www.merinews


The terrorist trap

By Ahmad Faruqui

THE ten attackers went about their business methodically; knowing that their exploits would fill TV screens the world over for days to come. Armed simply with assault rifles and grenades, the young men unleashed a bigger punch than a lone attacker with a large bomb could have pulled off.

There was something unusually primeval in being hunted down and shot to death by unknown assailants, some of whom sported smiles and wore Versace T-shirts and blue jeans. The slow-motion killing spree in the midst of opulence and luxury stripped hundreds of affluent hotel guests of their exclusive sense of security. As the hours rolled on, the killers outdid the carnage one finds in a Bond film.

It is too early to say who carried out the slaughter of innocents in Mumbai in those harrowing 60 hours in late November. Finger-pointing will simply whip up slogan-chanting mobs into frenzy.

But it is not too early to surmise why the terrorists went about their savage business with ruthless determination and why they chose to carry out their mission within a few weeks of the American presidential election. Four explanations suggest themselves.

First, the attackers wanted to derail the new-found peace process between India and Pakistan. After many false starts during the Musharraf interregnum, it seemed to have gotten a full head of steam in 2008.

Second, they wanted to undercut the credibility of the newly elected democratic government in Islamabad. It had made far too many friendly overtures to India. President Zardari’s offer to make South Asia a nuclear-free zone and to extend a no-first-strike policy to India seems to have upset them to no end.

Third, they wanted to hurt the chances of the dovish and secular Congress Party in next year’s elections in India. While it is difficult to see how the BJP and its fundamentalist Hindu allies would benefit the Muslims of India, it is easy to see that the terrorists thrive on confrontation between the two countries.

And fourth, they wanted to send a clear and strong signal to the incoming Obama administration in Washington that Kashmir was a live issue that needed to be put on the front burner, ahead of Afghanistan and ahead of Iraq.

Perhaps all four theories are valid. They are certainly not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they may well be the four pieces of a political jigsaw puzzle.

In all probability, the terror-mongers dispatched the terrorists so as to lure India and Pakistan into a trap. They have succeeded in part. The blame game that has already begun between the official and unofficial elites of the two countries is just as alarming as it is childish. It must be stopped before it escalates into a much more dangerous game involving the movement of large-scale infantry and armoured formations towards the border and eventually the arming of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

Both countries need to learn from the mistakes of 2002, which involved the infamous deployment of a million troops along the border, not provide an encore performance. The situation has heated up to the point that outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cancelled several other activities and flew to cool the nationalistic fires that were beginning to rage in the hallways of New Delhi and Islamabad.

To defuse the situation, action by governmental and non-governmental organisations is called for at three levels. First and foremost, a collaborative effort must be undertaken by the governments of both countries to find the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks and to bring him (and his collaborators) to justice.

This will take months of patient detective work. The temptation to carry out surgical strikes must be resisted at all cost. Military ‘shock and awe’ will achieve nothing productive and indeed risks germinating more terrorists.

Second — and this will sound so implausible that some will reject it out of hand — the intelligence agencies of both countries should pool their resources and databases about terrorist groups. By now it is clear as daylight that the state of Pakistan has nothing to gain by carrying out a proxy war in Kashmir (or anywhere else).

The president and prime minister have both publicly denounced terrorism and the president still bears the personal scars of the attack that killed his wife. Yes, cooperation between the ISI and the RAW is a radical suggestion. But the quagmire into which Pakistan has fallen is so deep that nothing short of radical change will pull the country out of it.

Third, to take away all legitimacy from terror, much of which is being waged in the name of Islam, the religious leaders of the Muslim communities in Pakistan (and throughout the world) should condemn terrorism in all its manifestations in no uncertain terms.

If those who desert Islam can be branded as apostates by the ulema, then the terrorists who so brazenly act against Islamic principles by taking the lives of innocents should be declared apostates and given capital punishment. It is now clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that their violent and senseless actions only succeed in inviting even more violent and senseless retaliation against other Muslims.

When it comes to re-indoctrinating the jihadis, Pakistan, with close cultural, political and religious ties to the Saudis, may wish to take a leaf out of Riyadh’s book. The Saudis have set up schools to retrain the large numbers of jihadis who have been netted during various anti-terrorism raids. These schools are intended to bring these misguided people most of whom are in their twenties back into the fold of civil society.

The Saudis have found that the jihadis are often lacking in basic religious knowledge, are social dropouts and have fallen prey to selfish demagogues. Once the jihadis are given sound religious training, provided financial means for re-entering civil society and provided avenues for getting married, most of them forsake terrorist behaviour.

Pakistan’s religious establishment should explore this option seriously. It may be the only way of putting the scourge of terrorism to bed.

The terrorists win if India and Pakistan go to war in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. They lose if the two countries join hands. The march of folly has gone on much too long. It must end now. Email id:



The Mumbai Massacre and Pakistan’s New Nightmares:

An Interview of Pervez Hoodbhoy By Christina Otten for FOCUS Online

13 December 2008

Published in German at: FOCUS Online, 12 December 2008


(Original text of interview in English for FOCUS)


Christina Otten - FOCUS: Tensions between Pakistan and India have been growing after the Mumbai attacks. Are we close to a military escalation?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: In spite of vociferous demands by the Indian public, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has withstood the pressure to conduct cross-border strikes into Pakistan. Correspondingly, in spite of the bitter criticism by Islamic parties, Pakistan’s government has moved against the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), the jihadist organization that is almost certainly behind the attacks. For now, the tension has eased somewhat but another attack could push India over the fence.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: What makes the LeT so different from other militant groups? Is Pakistan really moving against it?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: LeT, one of the largest militant groups in Pakistan, was established over 15 years ago. It had the full support of the Pakistani military and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for over a decade because it focussed upon fighting Indian rule in Muslim Kashmir. Today it is one of the very few extremist groups left that does not attack the Pakistani army and state; in contrast almost all others have turned into fierce enemies. We now hear that a few members of LeT, who were named by India, have been arrested. Time will tell whether this was a serious move, or if this was a ruse to ease the enormous pressure against Pakistan. If serious, then the Army and ISI will have earned the bitter enmity of yet another former ally. They are afraid of a repeat of their experience with Jaish-e-Muhammad, a formerly supported Islamic militant group that now is responsible for extreme brutalities against of Pakistani soldiers captured in FATA, including torture and decapitations. It’s a nightmarish situation for the Pakistan Army.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: How have Pakistanis reacted to the Mumbai massacre?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: The initial reaction was of sympathy. I did not see any celebrations, contrary to those that I saw after 911. But then, as the Indian TV channels started accusing Pakistan and demanding that it be bombed in retaliation, the reaction turned to that of anger and flat denial - Pakistanis did not want to accept that this attack was done by Pakistanis or had been launched from Pakistani soil. Subsequently one saw amazing mental gymnastics. Popular TV anchors, and their guests, invoked far-out conspiracy theories. Years ago, some of the same anchors had confidently claimed that Kathmandu-Delhi Indian Airlines Flight 814 (IC814) had been hijacked by RAW to malign Pakistan. They had also ridiculed the notion that Pakistan was involved in the Kargil invasion. Now, pointing to the RSS hand in the Samjhota Express bombing, they are alternately ascribing the Mumbai attacks to radical Hindus, or to Jews and Americans. It is sad to see intelligent persons losing their marbles.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: Pakistan has always stressed that it will deliver the first nuclear strike if it feels threatened by India? Do you see any signs on the Pakistani sign to carry out its threat?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: About a week before the Mumbai massacre, President Asif Ali Zardari had given the assurance that Pakistan would not use nuclear weapons first. India had announced a no first use policy almost ten years ago. But Zardari is not taken seriously by the Pakistani generals who actually control the Bomb, and the Indian NFU declaration is frankly of no consequence. Cross-border raids by India could well ignite a conventional war. If that happens, all bets are off and it could escalate without warning into a nuclear conflict. For many years US defence strategists, belonging to various think tanks and war colleges, have been simulating conflicts between Pakistan and India. They say that a conventional war will almost certainly lead to a nuclear conclusion. Fear of nuclear weapons has made deterrence work. More accurately, deterrence has worked only thus far. No guarantees can be given for the future.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: Why did the assassins choose India instead of committing attacks against Western allies in Afghanistan?


PH: LeT is based around Lahore, which is on the Pakistan-India border, in a town called Muridke. This has a huge militant training and charity complex. LeT’s membership is mostly Punjabi, which makes it linguistically and culturally quite unsuited for fighting in Afghanistan. You could say that LeT is an India-specific, Kashmir-specific group. Indeed, over the years it has had many military successes in Kashmir against Indian forces. But LeT, like other militant groups in Pakistan, sees a nexus between Indians, Americans, and Israelis. Hence they are all seen as enemies and fair game.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: What did the Mumbai terrorists want?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: No demands were made and all hostages were killed. So the purpose of the attack was never formally declared. On the other hand, the stated goals of LeT and similar organizations based in Pakistan leave little doubt. The attack clearly sought to hurt India’s economy and its newly acquired reputation as an economic powerhouse, and to create a climate of war between India and Pakistan. If Pakistan moves its troops towards the eastern border the pressure on the Pakistani Taliban in FATA, which is close to the western border, would be lessened. Still another reason would be to encourage pogroms against Muslims in India. This would swell the ranks of the extremists, and also have the added benefit of destabilizing both the Pakistani and Indian states. Finally, the attack was a means of releasing hatred against non-Muslims.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: What differences and parallels do you see between the Mumbai attacks and the attack in the in Marriott Hotel in Islamabad?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: They were quite dissimilar in how they were executed. The Mumbai attacks were extremely intricate, used GPS and voice-over-internet protocols for communication purposes, involved extensive military training, and probably required planning over a period of a year. The goal was to kill foreigners, particularly Jews and Americans, although Muslims were also collateral casualties. On the other hand, the Marriot bombing in Islamabad was a relatively simple affair involving a single dump-truck with a suicide bomber, and its victims were principally Muslims. The basic purpose, however, was similar - to destabilize the Pakistani state, take revenge on the US (2 of the 58 killed were US marines), and raise the cost of war in Afghanistan and FATA.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: In the West experts talk about a new dimension of terror in India. Do you also see tight connections between Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaida?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: One is naturally tempted to guess a nexus between LeT and Al-Qaida. Of course, they do share similar goals. But in the world that extremists inhabit, mere similarity is insufficient - it has to be much closer than that because small ideological differences are amplified out of proportion. As yet there is no proof of joint operations or cooperation. So presently this is no more than a plausible hypothesis.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: What role does Kashmir play in the current conflict?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: Since 1987, Kashmir has been in a state of upheaval.. Fraudulent elections conducted by India led to widespread resentment, followed by a horrifically bloody crackdown by Indian security forces. Pakistan’s army saw opportunity in this, and waged a covert war in Kashmir using jihadists to "bleed India with a thousand cuts". The United Jihad Council, which oversees the activities of an estimated 22 Pakistan-based organizations, acts outside of the domain of the Pakistani state but it has had active support from the country’s army and intelligence agencies. The Kargil conflict in 1999 brought matters to a head when General Musharraf initiated a war with the assistance of jihadist forces. This inflicted severe damage on Indian forces but Pakistan was ultimately forced to withdraw. Jihadists subsequently celebrated General Musharraf as a hero, and vilified Nawaz Sharif for a cowardly surrender.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: In January 2002, General Musharraf had declared that no groups on Pakistani territory would be permitted to launch cross-border attacks. Was this promise fulfilled?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: Subsequently there indeed was a decline in cross-border infiltrations, and some lessening of the covert support given by Pakistani agencies. But this was far from zero and they maintained a strong presence. On a personal note: soon after the terrible October 8, 2005 earthquake, I had gone to various areas of Azad Kashmir for relief work. There I found the Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Sipah-i-Sahaba, and other banned jihadist organizations operating openly and freely using military-style six-wheeled vehicles, as well as displaying their weapons. Their relief efforts were far better organized than that of the Pakistan army and, in fact, they were pulling injured soldiers out of the rubble. When I mentioned this fact to General Musharraf a few months later at a Kashmir peace conference, he was very angry at me for discussing a tabooed subject.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: On the one hand, we have radical extremists in Pakistan who want to bring strict Islamic law into force and demonize the West. On the other hand, however, the government presents itself as a friend and ally of the United States. Could you please describe this antagonism and explain where it originates from? What does this tell us about the growth of extremism in Pakistan?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: Radical extremism is the illegitimate offspring of a union between the United States under Ronald Reagan, and Pakistan under General Zia-ul-Haq. Twenty five years ago, the two countries had joined up to harness Islamic fighters for expelling the Soviets from Afghanistan. The US was quite happy to see radical Islam spreading because it served its goal at the time. Simultaneously, Pakistan saw a major social transformation under General Zia. Prayers in government departments were deemed compulsory, floggings were carried out publicly, punishments were meted out to those who did not fast in Ramadan, selection for university academic posts required that the candidate demonstrate knowledge of Islamic teachings, and jihad was declared essential for every Muslim. But today the government is in open conflict with the radicals. It has to deal with a spontaneous groundswell of Islamic zeal. The notion of an Islamic state - as yet in some amorphous and diffuse form - is more popular today than ever before as people look desperately for miracles to rescue a failing state. Even though the government and military in Pakistan are allied formally to the US, the people are strongly against the US.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: What parts of the Pakistani society support al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: Baluchistan and Sind are far less supportive than Punjab or the NWFP. The amazing fact is that parts of Pakistan’s upper class - which is very Westernized but also very anti-Western - also support the Islamists. I find it tragic that there is no uproar in the country when Taliban suicide bombers target mosques, funerals, hospitals, girls schools, and slaughter policemen and soldiers. People have become so anti-American that it has blinded them to these atrocities. Even the Pakistani left is thoroughly confused and mistakes the Taliban as anti-imperialist fighters.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: And where do you stand on this matter? Do you see anything that the Islamists have to offer?


PH: The people of Pakistan need and deserve everything that people everywhere else want. This means food, jobs, houses to live in, a system of justice and governance, and protection of life and property. Equally, people need freedom of worship and thought, education for both males and females, and protection of their freedom as summarized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are everybody’s primary needs. After this - a distinct second - come matters that deal with national sovereignty, foreign policy, various global issues, etc. Frankly, I cannot see Pakistan’s Islamists offering anything positive. They are against population planning, educating females, tolerating other sects or religions, etc. They neither know the outside world, nor want to know it. All they know - and know well - is how to make war. Fortunately, as their rout in the recent elections showed, most Pakistanis do not want to live under their narrow doctrines and belief system.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: President Asif Ali Zardari promised to hunt terrorists and to destroy terror camps in Pakistan? But his affirmations seem to be half-hearted. Can’t he do more or doesn’t he want do more?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: It is not up to him to do more. The real power lies with the Pakistan Army, which is still undecided as to who the real enemy is. The Army has lost nearly two thousand soldiers in battles with extremists. But it still cannot convince itself that they constitute an existentialist threat to Pakistan. One can understand this reluctance. Over the years, officers and soldiers were recruited into the Army on the basis that they were defenders of Islam and would always fight India. Instead they now have to fight forces that claim to be even better defenders of Islam. Worse, they are no longer being called upon to fight India, which is what they were trained for. So there is confusion and demoralization, and practically zero public understanding or support. Therefore, Pakistani soldiers are not fighting well at all in FATA. Many have surrendered without a fight.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: Do you support the government’s war against extremists?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: This is the first time in my life that I feel the Army should be supported, but only to the extent that it fights the extremists without killing innocents. Unfortunately, the Army’s current tactic is to flatten villages suspected of harbouring terrorists. The collateral damage is huge and completely unacceptable.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: Pakistan has armed and financed the Taliban after the US invasion of Afghanistan. The CIA pays Pakistan to arrest al-Qaeda operatives, but Pakistan uses the money to fund the Taliban resurgence in northwest Pakistan. Any changes under the new president?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: It will take time - and perhaps still more suffering - to kick an old habit. Even though the Army is being literally slaughtered by the Taliban, it continues to make a distinction between the "good" and "bad" Taliban.The good ones are, by definition, those who attack only US/Nato or Indian interests in Afghanistan, but do not attack the Pakistan Army. The good ones are seen as essential for having a friendly Afghanistan when, as will surely happen some day, the Americans withdraw. Among the good Taliban are jihadist leaders such as Jalaludin Haqqani. On the other hand, Baitullah Mehsud or Maulana Fazlullah, are considered bad Taliban because they attack the Army and the state. Interestingly, Army inspired propaganda paints the bad Taliban as Indian agents - which is quite ridiculous. This false differentiation is the real reason for the Army’s ambivalence and inability to deal effectively with the Taliban menace.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: Pakistan is a nuclear state. Should we fear that one day the Taliban or al-Qaida could get access to the nuclear arsenal?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: I am more worried about extremists having access to nuclear materials, particularly highly enriched uranium, rather than a completed weapon. Because of secrecy requirements, it is very difficult for outsiders to monitor the output of uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing plants. Interestingly, we are seeing a shift away from nuclear weapons in the West. The unusability of nuclear weapons by national states is being recognized even by mainstream politicians in the US and Europe because nuclear weapons now no longer guarantee the monopoly of power. This makes possible the ultimate de-legitimization of nuclear weapons, and hence winding down of fissile material production globally. This may be our best long-term hope of countering the nuclear terrorist threat, whether by Al-Qaida or other terrorist groups. Meanwhile, in the short term, great care must be given to watching over suspicious nuclear activities.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: What should India do and what is your forecast for the region?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: India should not attack Pakistan. This would be counter-productive in every possible way. Even if it wins a war, it will be a pyrrhic victory. On the other hand, a small attack can be no more than a pin-prick. This would do more harm than good because it will unite the army and the jihadists who, at this juncture in history, are in serious confrontation with each other. Worse, even a small attack could lead to large response, and then escalate out of control. Nuclear armed countries simply cannot afford skirmishes. I think India’s demand for action against jihadist groups is entirely legitimate, but this must be done by Pakistan, which is susceptible to international pressure. To get rid of militants and extremists - whether Muslim or Hindu - is in the best interests of both Pakistan and India.


Christina Otten - FOCUS: Will Pakistani extremists win or can the West still bring about a rebound?


Pervez Hoodbhoy: It’s a grim situation but not irreversible. The invasion of Iraq, and US imperial policies over the last decades, created a hatred for Americans that ultimately translated into support for all who fight them. Most Pakistanis do not approve of the Taliban’s fundamental and primitivist social agenda. But, by virtue of fighting the Americans, popular sentiment is still with them. So, reducing anti-Americanism is the key. One hopes that Barack Obama will be able to undo some of the harm his country did to Pakistan. Let’s see. But basically it is for Pakistanis - not Indians or anybody else - to fight it out. We Pakistanis have to realize that this is a war for our very existence as a civilized nation. Western support for Pakistan must be very judicious and not too overt. Similarly, isolating Pakistan, or inflicting harsh punitive measures, could easily backfire.


The Taliban and allied extremists have a real chance of winning in Pakistan. The state is already crumbling in places and it could disintegrate quite rapidly, leaving the fanatics in charge. One cannot think of a bigger disaster for Pakistan.

P.S. Published by in public interest and for non commercial use.