KARACHI - The pattern is all too familiar. Every time India and
Pakistan head towards dialogue and detente, something explosive happens
that pushes peace to the backburner and drags them back to the familiar
old tense relationship, worsened by sabre-rattling war cries from both
The relationship between the two nuclear-armed South Asian
neighbours has been marked by tentative ups and plunging downs,
particularly over the past decade. This decade is also marked by
increasingly vocal voices for peace on both sides of the border who
openly criticise their countries' political and security
The fallout from the Mumbai mayhem is no different, if all the more
ominous for having taken place in the midst of the global ‘war on
terror' with its ‘us versus them' rhetoric that has contributed to
escalated violence around the world and pushed fence-sitters onto one
or other side.
On Wednesday a ten-man squad of Islamist warriors armed with
assault rifles and hand grenades landed in the port city Mumbai and,
after going on shooting spree, seized control of two of its finest
luxury hotels and a Jewish centre. By the time commandos neutralised
the attackers and lifted the sieges Friday, 200 people lay dead
--including 22 foreign hostages.
Pakistan and India are part of the Indian sub-continent. They share a
landmass, mountain ranges, rivers and seas, ancient cultures, history,
languages and religions. Yet they have fought three wars since gaining
independence from the British in 1947, after the bloody partition of
the sub-continent into two countries -- largely Hindu India and Islamic
The fourth major conflict between the two countries was the Kargil
conflict of 1999 that the political leadership on both sides referred
to as a ‘war-like situation'. The nuclear threat that underlined this
situation drew the world's attention to India-Pakistan relations, and
the festering issue of the disputed state of Kashmir, as never before.
A year earlier, India and Pakistan's nuclear tests of May 1998 had
plunged the region into an unprecedented state of tension. The
governments celebrated their nuclear capability, feeding rivalry,
jingoism and nationalism on both sides that the media played up. There
was far less coverage of those who condemned the tests and the
governments' encouragement of reactionary forces that equated religion
Those who protested were swimming against the tide, labelled as
traitors and anti-nationals, and ‘agents' of the other country, like
Islamabad-based physicist A.H. Nayyar who has been active in the
Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy since the
organisation was launched in 1995.
As Nayyar and pro-peace activists addressed a press conference
condemning the nuclearisation of the region, charged-up young men who
supported Pakistan's nuclear tests physically attacked them with
Now, expressing his shock at the "mindless, horrible event" in Mumbai,
he told IPS: "There are people in both countries who don't like efforts
towards rapprochement. They take the first opportunity to start blowing
the bugles of war and instigate hostility."
The nuclear tests were followed by the historic Lahore Declaration of
Feb. 1999, when Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invited his
Indian counterpart A. B. Vajpayee to Lahore.
Two months later, the Kargil conflict dashed all hopes for
rapprochement as it transpired that while the governments talked peace,
infiltrators from Pakistan were busy grabbing positions in Kargil on
the Indian-administered side of the disputed state of Kashmir.
Sharif denied knowledge of the operation, but his army chief
Pervez Musharraf insisted that Sharif had been briefed. It took the
intervention of then U.S. president Bill Clinton to de-escalate the
tension and comple the Pakistani army into making the infiltrators
withdraw by July 1999, pulling the countries back from the brink of a
In October, Musharraf ousted Sharif in a military coup. The present
composite dialogue process began in 2004 during the Musharraf regime,
but India is now dealing with a democratically elected government for
the first time in a decade, note observers. They also point out that it
is for the first time that a Pakistani government appears to be
genuinely attempting to undo the damage done by past policies.
These policies, linked to Washington's need to pull down the
former Soviet Union and drive the Soviet army out of Afghanistan,
nurtured religious extremism and armed militancy. Later, these armed,
indoctrinated forces, supported by the Pakistani establishment, fuelled
the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir and led to the worst
sectarian violence in Pakistan.
The third phase came after ‘9/11' when Pakistan officially rejected these ‘Islamic warriors'.
As the Pakistan government now tries to formulate new security
paradigms while also combating the terror menace at home, it needs
support, say observers. "For the first time, it feels like we are at
war," says a Karachi-based analyst asking not to be named. "Under
Musharraf, it was a game to show the Americans that we are taking
action but actually continuing to nurture some militant elements
"With the threat of global communism gone, and the need for
Middle East energy primary, America suddenly recognises India as an
ally against Islamism, and Pakistan becomes a buffer to be squeezed
relentlessly," commented Vithal Rajan in Hyderabad, India who works
with several civil society organizations. "The Indian government in
relief at winning American friendship has fallen in with this ploy,
further distancing itself from the fledgling democracy of Pakistan, and
leaving no real solution in sight."
Mumbai was still burning when Rajan wrote to civil society activists in
Pakistan and India on Nov. 28 urging them not to "just be reactive like
the popular press" but take a more thoughtful view of the situation.
Angry condemnations "lead us nowhere; political demands (may) make
vote-catching politicians rethink strategies, but these might remain
ineffectual. (We) should create space... to think things out in the long
"...[Lal Krishna] Advani has called this attack in Mumbai by a
few terrorists as ‘a war.' This is dangerous stuff and nonsense. A war
is fought between sovereign countries, not between the police and
criminals. It is in India's interest and in Pakistan's interest to have
stable, progressive governments."
Advani, who is opposition leader in Indian parliament and
represents the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has repeatedly
accused the ruling Congress party, which professes to be secular, of
allowing India to turn into a ‘soft state' in the face of a series of
deadly bombings in Indian cities, this year, that have been attributed
to Islamist groups.
Pakistan's new civilian government has, however, been making attempts
to step out of the familiar well-worn grooves, note observers.
President Asif Ali Zardari, for example, has signalled major policy
shifts by terming the militants in Kashmir as "terrorists", stating
that India is not Pakistan's enemy, and then declaring that Pakistan
had adopted a "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons.
Participating via satellite link in the prestigious ‘Leadership Summit'
conducted by India's prestigious ‘Hindustan Times' newspaper, on Nov.
22, four days before the attack on Mumbai, Zardari quoted his late wife
Benazir Bhutto to say that there is a ‘'little bit of India in every
Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistan in every Indian''. Bhutto was
assassinated by suicide bombers, last year, while on election campaign.
The religious right in Pakistan -- and its supporters within the
establishment -- is clearly unhappy at Zardari's peace overtures
towards India. Militants involved in fighting the state on Pakistan's
north-west border have announced a stepping up of efforts to
assassinate Pakistan's political leadership.
Pakistan and India's fights against extremism "will founder if
fought alone," noted the young Britain-based Pakistani novelist Mohsin
Hamid in a recent op-ed in the Guardian, London, warning that India's
rush to implicate Pakistan is a "dangerous mistake". "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."
Many analysts believe it is too soon to pin the blame on
anyone. "To take on the government of a country of 1.2 billion just
like that is unbelievably stupid," says Nayyar in Islamabad, referring
to the handful of youngsters who held Mumbai hostage for three days.
"If it is the work of a fringe group then it is very alarming that the
states are getting worked up to this extent.
"But if the perpetrators were part of an organised group, then it is
also very alarming. We need to sit down and do our homework all over
again and see how such groups can be contained, or we will all perish."
Beyond India and Pakistan, the global activist group Avaaz.org
is launching a message calling for unity following the attacks in
Mumbai, to be published in newspapers across India and Pakistan and
delivered to political leaders within one week.
"The message is that these tactics have failed and we are more united
than ever. And we are determined to work together to stop violent
extremism, and call on our political and religious leaders to so the
same. If these attacks cause us to turn on each other in hatred and
conflict, the terrorists will have won."