The 12th anniversary of the November 26, 2008, Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks in Mumbai is an apt occasion to evaluate not only India’s struggle against terrorism but also how other major countries have dealt with this menace.
Nine gunmen traveled from Karachi to Mumbai by boat to unleash mayhem over the course of three days. They attacked multiple locations, killing 164 people and wounding more than 300. Iconic locations such as the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel next to the Gateway of India, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (earlier known as Victoria Terminus) and the Leopold Cafe were hit. The attacks paralyzed the city, triggered mass panic and caused the collapse of India’s booming stock market.
India absorbed the monstrous nature of the Mumbai attacks and resumed direct political dialogue with Pakistan in July 2009. India even agreed to make a major political concession: It delinked the dialogue from the issue of terrorism in the hope that the two countries could have a free, frank and uninterrupted conversation. Pakistan treated this as a political victory at India’s expense. Instead of initiating a process of normalizing ties with India, Pakistan continued with its policy of supporting jihadi groups dedicated to launching terror attacks in neighboring countries.
India’s policy was based on the assumption that Pakistan would realize the internal cost of nurturing jihadi groups on its soil. Like Frankenstein, terrorists have turned on Pakistan itself. In 2013, an explosion killed at least 45 people in a Shia district of Karachi, and the 2014 Peshawar school massacre led to 150 deaths, of which at least 134 were students. These are just two of the many such incidents that have been taking place in Pakistan over the past decade.
Yet Pakistani support for terror as an instrument of state policy has continued. India has thus reverted to its position of putting terrorism at the center of any India-Pakistan dialogue. Pakistan refuses to accept India’s position. Instead, it wants dialogue on Kashmir and uses terror as a tactic to wage war against India for this territory.
Pakistan-sponsored attacks against India have continued unabated. Most recently, on November 20, four suspected terrorists belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad, a jihadist group headquartered in Pakistan, waged a three-hour-long gun battle with the police on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. They had entered India to disrupt local elections in Kashmir. Reportedly, they were planning a spectacular attack to commemorate the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
India-Pakistan relations continue to be in a stalemate on the issue of terrorism. In a cat-and-mouse game, Pakistan promotes terrorist attacks while India prevents them. Since 2019, one thing has changed. After the 2019 Pulwama attack that killed 40 paramilitary personnel, India conducted airstrikes on Pakistani territory. For the first time since the 1971 war, India crossed the line of control, the de facto India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir. The airstrikes demonstrated that India is no longer deterred by Pakistan’s nuclear capability. If Pakistan instigates a major terrorist attack on Indian soil, New Delhi has shown to be willing to take limited military action in retaliation.
An Increasingly Extremist Society
Even as Pakistan continues to promote terrorism across the border, its society has become increasingly extremist. In 2012, the German news agency Deutsche Welle analyzed the rise in extremism in Pakistani society. Many see cultural plurality as un-Islamic. Arabization is on the rise. Numerous jihadist and terrorist organizations operate freely in the country. This trend taking place in a nuclear state is and should be a matter of great international concern.
Pakistan now exports terror not only to India and Afghanistan, but also to other countries. As per the European Foundation for South Asian Studies, there is an “unholy alliance” between Pakistan’s army and terrorism. Islamic extremists from Pakistan or of Pakistani origin have been involved in many terrorist attacks in other countries. In September, the main suspect for a knife attack outside the former Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was of Pakistani origin.
Most recently, street protests have erupted in Pakistan against French President Emmanuel Macron after he claimed that Islam is in crisis following the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, killed by a Chechen refugee disgruntled over Paty’s discussion of the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons during a civic education class. Protesters burned a defaced image of Macron and the French flag outside the French consulate in Karachi. Many sought the expulsion of the French ambassador and demanded that Pakistan break off diplomatic ties with France.
Pakistan has taken great umbrage at Macron’s actions to curb Islamic extremism. Pakistani leaders object to France’s insistence that Muslim leaders agree to a “charter of republican values,” reject political Islam and foreign interference. Shireen Mazari, Pakistan’s human rights minister, tweeted: “Macron is doing to Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews — Muslim children will get ID numbers (other children won’t) just as Jews were forced to wear the yellow star on their clothing for identification.” After French protestations, she withdrew her comments, but the damage was done.
In October, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global terror financing watchdog, put Pakistan on its grey list for its failure to “effectively crackdown on means of financing terror activities.” The FATF found “strategic deficiencies in [Pakistan’s] regimes to counter money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing.”
To improve its international image, Pakistan has taken some judicial action against the masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Hafiz Saeed, one of the founders of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, two notorious jihadist organizations, has been convicted on charges of terror financing. As Pakistan’s leading English newspaper Dawn observed, the conviction came “as Pakistan tries to avoid punitive blacklisting” by FATF. Given Pakistan’s incestuous relationship with the likes of Saeed, he might get off lightly after an appeal once Pakistan has escaped censure from the FATF.
The big international concern is that the Pakistani establishment continues to aid and abet terrorism. There has been no fundamental change in either policy or actions. In fact, Islamabad’s ratcheting up of its rhetoric on Macron is alarming because it is accompanied by “rising religious intolerance at home.”
Despite the fact that six Americans were killed in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the US has been relatively soft on Pakistan. For decades, Islamabad was a Cold War ally. The US and Saudi Arabia funded the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet Union through Pakistan. These led to close ties between the American and Pakistani establishments. Of late, these ties have been weakening and Washington has been inching closer to New Delhi.
In the most recent joint statement, India and the US have called “for concerted action against all terrorist networks, including al-Qaeda, ISIS/Daesh, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.” They have also asked “Pakistan to take immediate, sustained and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks, and to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators and planners of all such attacks, including 26/11 Mumbai, Uri, and Pathankot.”
While this statement might give diplomatic satisfaction to India, it is important to remember that Saeed was able to freely address public rallies in Pakistan despite the US putting a bounty of $10 million on his head. The US could not, or did not, put Pakistan on the mat for failure to act against the Haqqani Network, responsible for inflicting casualties on US soldiers in Afghanistan.
The US has imposed the most draconian sanctions on Iran and has not spared a powerful nuclear state like Russia. Yet it has hesitated to impose serious sanctions on Pakistan, giving, unconvincingly, its nuclear status as one of the excuses. The limited military and economic sanctions the US has imposed on Pakistan are neutralized by Islamabad’s ever-increasing economic and military links with China. In any case, despite the FATF proceedings against Pakistan, the country has obtained yet another bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
The US has turned Nelson’s eye on Pakistan’s promotion of terror because it needs the country’s assistance to retreat from Afghanistan. The war on terror has not quite succeeded. Like the UK and the Soviet Union, the US is worn out after nearly two decades on the ground in Afghanistan. It needs to save face and avoid the impression of total defeat. It is willing to negotiate with the Taliban even as the armed group continues to commit horrific acts of terror against innocent Afghans. A report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction showed a 50% increase in attacks over the past three months alone, with the UN estimating that some 6,000 civilians have died in the violence in the first nine months of 2020.
India’s Unique Vulnerability to Terror
As the US makes peace with the Taliban, India’s problems with Pakistan-sponsored terror are likely to grow. Even Russia has opened a “channel to the Taliban,” a historic sworn enemy. The Taliban leadership is demonstrating diplomatic savvy by negotiating their way back to power. This leadership might appear relatively urbane, but the Taliban rank and file continue to be fanatics. They now believe they have defeated two superpowers thanks to their faith in Islam.
Once the Taliban win power, they will impose their obscurantist ideology. This will embolden extremists in Pakistan. Lest we forget, an Indian plane hijacked by terrorists landed in Kandahar in 1999. India released terrorists to bring back hostages. One of the terrorists was Masood Azhar. He went on to start Jaish-e-Muhammad, responsible for the deaths of hundreds over the years. Azhar is to India what Osama bin Laden was to the US. He got his initial training in Afghanistan, and many more like him are likely to receive similar training once the Taliban are firmly back in the saddle.
While the Taliban might not engage in direct terrorism against the US, India would be fair game. Pakistan would promote Taliban efforts, and China would ignore, if not abet, them. For a decade, China opposed resolutions in the United Nations Security Council to designate Azhar as an international terrorist, leading Michael Kugelman, a noted South Asia analyst, to call him “China’s favorite terrorist.” China has become a loyal ally of Pakistan and lauds Islamabad’s fight against international terrorism even as its junior ally stays deafeningly silent on the treatment of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. As India and China clash, an increase in terror attacks on Indian soil would serve Chinese interests. Pakistan and the Taliban are likely to oblige.
Attacks across Europe and elsewhere demonstrate that India is not alone in facing the scourge of terrorism. As we mark the 12th anniversary of the Mumbai attacks, India’s 1996 proposal for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is more relevant than ever. The world needs to increase security, boost peace and safeguard the lives of innocents.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.