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An Obama inspired change will also help Pakistan

By Maria Ahmad

The simultaneous, multiple attacks on Mumbai (formerly Bombay) on November 26, now known as “India’s 9/11”, killed 188 people staying at the renowned Taj Hotel, at the hands of ten terrorists who laid siege to Mumbai for three days. Ever since, the 62-year old Countries of India and Pakistan have been on the verge of their fourth war during six decades. Within minutes of the attack, the Indian government blamed Pakistani intelligence agencies for orchestrating the attack and “breeding terrorists on its soil”. India claims that the lone survivor, 21-year old, Ajmal Amir Kasab, is of Pakistani origin, and is also a member of the banned outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba, while Pakistan has vehemently denied Kasab’s nationality - at least until statistics and data prove it.            

By the end of British Foreign Secretary of State, David Milliband’s recent weeklong tour of South Asia, both Pakistan and India have done their share of muddled explanations, veiled and direct rebuttals as well as backtracking on hasty statements.

On a tour to ease tensions between India and Pakistan, Milliband described Mumbai as a “searing event” for the Indians and reiterated that both neighbors are responsible for peace in the region. Wisely, even at the climactic peak, intelligentsia on both sides of the border betted on wisdom. War, of any level and scale, would be highly imprudent and risky for the region, as well as the world in many ways.

On the international perspective, Mumbai’s timing is no surprise: The Obama era, American transition, Indian elections and surviving attacker Ajmal Amir Kasab has forced Pakistan, yet again, into a corner to mull over policies, internally and externally.           

The Pakistani Foreign Office prides itself on the cool and collected response to the attacks, but missteps such as dismissing the National Security Advisor, who confirmed Kasab’s Pakistani nationality two days ahead of the scheduled announcement, spoke volumes about the lack of cohesion and fissures within the state structure, not to mention the nightmare of former president, General Pervez Musharraf’s 17th amendment legacy, that relegates more power to the President than to the Prime Minister.            

“It is high time that the Pakistani Parliament takes up the issue of their policies seriously,” says Dr. Tahir Amin, an International Relations professor. “Pakistan hasn’t had time to assimilate to the American policy of War on Terror ever since 9/11, when it was plunged into battle and America needs to understand that we’re missing enormous coordination and challenges at high-levels.”

Indeed, Pakistan is toiling to make the right moves and politically correct choices, even at the cost of its integrity and pride. While Pakistanis sputtered in disbelief and disgust, the Pakistan People’s Party’s government submissively offered to send the Director General of Inter Services Intelligence, General Shuja Pasha, for joint investigation with the Indian Intelligence team. “Why were we defending the Indian aerial surveillance on our territory? Why were we pushing to revive the cricket series? How come we didn’t demand the culprits to be handed over after Samjhota Express?” demands Munawwar Hassan, Secretary General of a leading religious party, Jamat-e-Islami. In Hassan’s referring to the train service initiated to encourage the peace process between the neighbors, one of the Pakistan bound trains was blown up in late February 2007, killing over 65 Pakistanis. Despite demands, no Indian citizen was apprehended. (Indian police told a court in Nashik city in December 2008 that Indian Army Lieutenant Colonel PS Purohit procured the explosives used in the 2007 Samjhota Express train bombing.)         

Irrespective of international pressure to “do more,” many within Pakistan want to see a change in policy for Pakistan itself. “Pakistan needs comprehensive homework on their issues. We stated in the All Parties Conference that no action would be taken against anyone until proven guilty, but we’ve already arrested 124 citizens of Jamatud Dawah on mere speculations of their connection to Lashkar-e-Taiba. We need ‘think tanks’, not stop gap measures,” emphasizes Hassan. “As long as the state doesn’t get its act together, non-state actors will be active.           

Pakistan’s catastrophes become all the more enunciated when the silent spectator, Saudi Arabia, dispatches its intelligence chief to Islamabad with “brotherly” advice to focus on the country’s economy. The hope and faith that the international community counted on after the People’s Party’s ‘democratic win’ of 2008’s elections, is now long over. The crippled infrastructure screams for attention daily as the nation is plunged into darkness for hours on end due to power outages. People queue up for gas many hours and migrants from the bomb-ridden State of Swat sleep under the open sky in freezing weather. Some predict that the army is pacing restlessly in the wings, ready to save the state from complete collapse two months down the line.            

“The only comfort for the democratic government right now is the international community’s commitment to a democratic process in Pakistan,” warns Dr. Ameen.           

During his regime, President Musharraf was often criticized for his overtures to India. Following Mumbai, it seems Musharraf braved the criticism for naught because the neighbors haven’t budged an inch.           

“India has made many efforts to reduce tensions and build ties with Pakistan but each effort is fruitless!” retorts an Indian official in Islamabad.           

What he conveniently forgets to add is that now is as good a time as any for India to play “hard ball.” In angry contrast to the efforts India claims to have initiated, within minutes of the Mumbai attack, India accused Pakistani intelligence agencies of orchestrating the event. They have also continued to step up tensions by gathering its ambassadors in December to build an international consensus for war and issue open threats through its Army Chief.

The political pressure on Pakistan is a crucial vote- winning tactic for the Indian Congress that rivals the Bharti Janatta Party (BJP) in April’s elections. Although the BJP’s electoral success looks bleak in light of its electoral college, Congress isn’t taking any chances.

Lastly, the American bond is imperative too: India yearns to be the frontline American ally in the “War on Terror” in the region and surviving attacker Kasab once again, conveniently for India, questions Pakistan’s sincerity on the War on Terror. Thanks to its state of transition, the largest superpower can hardly retain India should it declare war on Pakistan at this time. Unfortunately for India, it can hardly wage war in any case because Americans insist that Pakistan’s Western border should be safe enough for it to focus on the “War on Terror” in the Northern Areas.

November 26 opened a Pandora’s box: What have Pakistan and India secured? Will everything in South Asia always be attributed to either / or? What about the disputed area of Kashmir? “Kashmir is back to square one. The lobbying, dialogue and the uprising, supported by Indians like Arundhati Roy, had shaped a solution but once again it was lost before it could be realized,” grieves Ershad Mahmood, former Kashmir analyst at the Institute of Policy Studies. Here too, India had hoped for international support, not expecting Britain’s theory of terrorism in the region being a product of Kashmir’s unending struggle. Thus, responds India’s Foreign Minister, “India doesn’t need unsolicited advice on (Indian occupied) Jammu and Kashmir.”

Beyond the corridors and doors of the high offices, common Pakistanis muse in their dark homes. “Leadership, language, etiquette, shrewd calculations; these constitute a sound political leader’s behavior. Knowing that the slip between ‘evidence’ and ‘information’ can be decisive or that one doesn’t defend the enemy’s aerial violations are the basics. But then, this political behavior is learned, not acquired as an assassinated wife’s inheritance.”

Like the rest of the world, Pakistanis await the morning of January 21: Obama’s first morning as President of the USA. Almost reverently, Barack Obama has become the symbol and “audacity” of hope. The “change” awaited with bated breath is not limited to Americans; Pakistanis also, recount stories and rumors of Obama’s life in Third World countries and his “very close friend in Karachi”. The entire world is sensing the transformations. Britain has boldly criticized the Bush policy of “War on Terror” and emphasized dialogue and anthropological solutions to terrorism instead of military bombardment only. As Dr. Amin reminds us emphatically, “Pakistan also should change. She should rethink fundamental, internal issues, composite dialogue and strategic vision – in that order. We have won this diplomatic war by a narrow margin but if we don’t stand soon, we’ll fall for anything, as history affirms time and again.”

Maria Ahmad is Islamabad, Pakistan based Journalist.