A year ago tomorrow, as no one in India needs reminding, Urban Jihad set sail from hostile shores, came aground in Mumbai, flickered live on our TV screens, and purveyed death across the city. Recovering from the monstrous invasion, a wounded and incensed India that had had enough of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism seriously contemplated letting rip against terrorist targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. But following entreaties to hold back in the interests of not diverting attention and military resources away from the larger goal of targeting jihadi forces in Afghanistan, it exercised tremendous restraint.
A year later, look at where Pakistan stands. It has failed to bring the Mumbai terrorist masterminds to book, but the karmic law of jihadi sponsorship has recoiled on it and not a day passes by without a lethal suicide bombing or terrorist attack in its cities. US drone aircraft routinely target militants inside Pakistan, and occasionally claim civilian lives in ‘friendly fire’ incidents. Pakistani nationals’ complicity in terrorism around the world is being unmasked with disturbing frequency. Pakistan stands exposed as the nearest thing to a ‘jihadi suicide-bomber state’ with a fanatical finger on the nuclear button. Within Pakistan, even among the moderate intelligentsia, there is little evidence of an acknowledgement of the grave risk of implosion that the failed state faces. Much less is there evidence of an honest attempt at introspection over Pakistani state complicity, over the decades, in the country’s descent into the hellish world of jihadi terrorism. The tendency instead has been to bizarrely blame the daily dose of recent terror on the Israeli Mossad, the Indian RAW and the American CIA — in fact, just about anyone other than itself.
Such infinite capacity to look away from the unflattering mirror of history and delude oneself isn’t, of course, the sole preserve of Pakistani players. US interlocutors stand guilty of it every time they draw specious connections, as US envoy on Af-Pak affairs Richard Holbrooke does, between mindless jihadism in Pakistan and the Kashmir issue. It’s evidently a perspective that Barack Obama shares, but it is fundamentally flawed. India has for years faced down Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, which the US ignored at its own (subsequent) peril. To suggest that India should talk Kashmir with an unrepentantly terror-exporting Pakistan is to yield unconditionally to the twisted mentality of the suicide bomber.
Obama’s newest effort — to initiate indirect talks with a section of the Taliban in Afghanistan in an effort to end the stalemate — amounts to a similar yielding to Pakistan’s jihadi blackmail tactics. Much of the violence against NATO troops in Afghanistan bears the signature of Pakistani agencies and of the Taliban fighters they support. US officials aren’t unaware of this, and Pakistan’s own experience of negotiating with the ‘good Taliban’ in the Swat Valley earlier this year is a shining example of the folly of such a course. Yet the incredibly naïve search for ‘good Taliban’ persists.
Every US president goes through a ‘learning curve’ on the job, at the end of which the lessons of history are brought home forcefully to them. Bill Clinton too started off with an interventionist agenda on Kashmir, but by the time of the Kargil war of 1999, he’d learnt a lot about Pakistani perfidy. It was widely believed that given Obama’s intellectual calibre and his keen understanding of history, he wouldn’t need to go through this process, but he evidently believes that, somehow, this time it will be different.
For India, all this is more than a little bothersome, but as was revealed following the Mumbai attack last year, there is some merit in exercising restraint rather than rush into war. One of two things will then happen: wisdom will eventually dawn in the White House or the ‘suicide bomber state’ will implode further.