Opinion India Is Pointing in the Right Direction

Mumbai a terror zone, and India bitterly points its finger at Pakistan. The unloved neighbor needs all the help the West can offer. Pakistan is nearly a failed state -- and a US invasion under President Obama can't be ruled out.

By Claus Christian Malzahn

It is still not clear who exactly carried out the terror attacks in Mumbai this week. But the actions speak for themselves. The murderers expressly went after Britons, Americans and Jews. In the world's largest democracy, attacks were carried out by a determined minority against the will of an overwhelming majority. The crimes bear the clear and bloody fingerprints of militant, political Islamism.

An Indian Army soldier runs to take a position outside the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on Friday.

An Indian Army soldier runs to take a position outside the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai on Friday.

The uncomfortable resonance left behind by the series of attacks is that the criminals were almost omnipotent: They could strike where, when and -- almost -- whomever they wanted. The terror didn't just claim its victims in one awful moment; it spread out and lasted for days. There was a similar feeling during the terror attacks on the living quarters of Westerners in Saudi Arabia in 2004 as well as the battle at Pakistan's Red Mosque, in the center of Islamabad. But this time the terror overtook an entire city.

The attacks struck the heart of an Indian civil society that has always functioned fairly well, despite recurring conflicts between the country's Hindu majority and Muslim minority. The terror struck a country that is closely allied, politically and economically, with the West. The terrorists' mission can be neatly summarized: political, economic and cultural destabilization of the whole subcontinent.

The attacks were an attempt to spread religious war from the whole of Afghanistan and regions of Pakistan to their southern neighbor, India. It's obvious the terrorists follow the ideology of al-Qaida, though it's unclear whether the head of that organization gave orders for this mission. Perhaps we'll never know -- it wouldn't be the first time. But we can assume the murderers from Mumbai see themselves as part of an international movement in which Zawahiri and bin Laden hold high ranks.

Now the population of India, shocked to the core by the brutality, is pointing unmistakably in one direction: to the northwest. "Elements with links to Pakistan" are responsible for the massacre, says India's foreign minister. Several terrorists have Pakistani backgrounds, say Indian officials, though the government has so far presented no firm evidence. But a lack of evidence does not mean Pakistan had nothing to do with the well-planned attacks.

On the contrary: The Indian embassy in Kabul was made the target of a bloody attack earlier this summer. Western intelligence services have traced the attackers in that case back to the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI. Pakistani groups in the past have often been responsible for terror attacks in India. Of course, there are also "homegrown" jihadists in India as well. But in Pakistan, above all in its tribal area near the border with Afghanistan, these fighters have the territory they need to plan the spread of their war beyond its local confines.

There have been three major wars between the two countries since 1947, when Britain withdrew and the protectorate was divided into Pakistan and India. There have also been a number of smaller armed conflicts, most recently in 1999. Even when the fighting ceases, a deep mistrust abides. The political mottos in this conflict might be summed up as, "My enemy's enemy is my friend," and "What hurts my neigbor is good for me."

These maxims, born from deep enmity, were familiar in Europe in the 19th century, when every nation thought it was better than its neighbor. But on the Indian subcontinent 21st century Islamist terrorism has to be added as a decisive political factor to these kinds of parochial ideas.

Brainwashing for the Holy War

Nevertheless, Pakistan's foreign minister offered India his help on Friday. He pledged to send the head of the ISI to share information with his Indian counterparts. These are praiseworthy developments, but it will take more than words to prevent attacks like those in Mumbai from happening again.

Even if the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad have cautiously begun to discuss their core differences, like the status of Kashmir, and even if telegrams of sympathy are sent from Islamabad to Mumbai and New Delhi, the benefits will be limited. And if the murky political and military situation in Pakistan is not clarified and solved, then the war on the terror between Kabul, Karachi and Mumbai will almost certainly be lost.

For years a kind of death industry has been taking hold in Pakistan's tribal areas. There are hundreds of Koranic schools which could better be described as cadet schools for Islamists. Boys as young as five are sent here by their impoverished parents. The state provides hardly any free education; the schools that exist are poorly equipped. Children learn the Koran by heart in Arabic, often without understanding a word. After all they speak Pashtun, not Arabic.

The idea is to condition or brainwash them. The goal is jihad. As young men these warriors are given military training which underscores their so-called spiritual training.

Anyone who doubts the existence of this death-machinery can visit the hundreds of schools just a few hours' drive from Quetta, near Afghanistan's border. To get there one has to pass checkpoints and roadblocks erected by the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency. The ISI carefully protects this region, which might be described as an extended barracks for jihad, interspersed with rural villages. Why? No one in Islamabad seems willing to answer that question.

Is Pakistan a Failed State?

The Pakistani government has long ago given up control of this region. The army and the ISI, which takes a lion's share of the national budget, lead their own independent existence. Their links to the Taliban and to Islamic groups in Kashmir and India have grown.

Even if the government in Islamabad showed a will to crack down on these tribal areas, it's doubtful the army and the ISI would follow orders. Even Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf was unable to keep a lid on terrorism, and unlike his successor he had not just political but military power.

All in all, medium-term prospects for the subcontinent are rather gloomy. Pakistan recently had to be taken under the wing of the IMF. The state is as good as bankrupt. Its political leadership is either corrupt or -- when it comes to the military-intelligence service complex -- almost without influence.

And somewhere in Pakistan, nuclear weapons are stored. The Americans have always vouched that the weapons of mass destruction in the bunkers between Karachi and Lahore were secure -- but that was before American helicopters were fired at in Pakastani airspace by, ostensibly, their closest allies in the War on Terror.

From a political point of view Pakistan is nearly a failed state. But no Western statesman will say that out loud, because openly admitting it will not make things any easier.

The next American president seems to understand the reality of power relations in Pakistan. During the campaign, Barack Obama's rhetoric in this regard set him apart with surprising clarity from his opponent John McCain. Whereas the Republican put diplomatic negotiations with the regime in Islamabad up front and centre, Obama was open about bringing military intervention in the tribal areas into the discussion. Strengthening the US presence there seems, in any case, a firm part of Obama's agenda. The planned American withdrawal from Iraq could -- in a worst-case scenario -- be followed by an invasion of Pakistan. This must not be something he wants, at least not in the fullest sense. Even Vietnam was never imagined as a long war.

Naturally Obama will talk with the government in Islamabad. But the fact that he has emphasized military strength shows that he is soberly, if pessimistically, assessing the political power relations between the army and the Pakastani government.

The coming weeks should demonstrate what the Pakastanis are in a position to undertake in the battle against terror. If they want to prevent the Americans from raising the stakes, they must act now. Of course the chances of purging the jihad zone with one, two, or three military actions -- whether from Americans, Pakastanis, or some combination -- are very slim. If a serious battle there is now envisaged, it will be very protracted.

The Enemy of My Enemy

It's difficult to win a war when one side refuses to accept moral, military, or state boundaries while the other is permanently bound by them. Clausewitz himself might groan in despair. Carl von Clausewitz -- the Prussian war theoretician -- wrote that the goal of a war is to disarm the enemy. But how do you begin to disarm an enemy in tribal areas where it is hard to tell the difference between harmless peasants and fighters in disguise?

The jihadis who tried to transform Mumbai into a killing zone have the deaths of Hindus, Jews, Americans, Britons, and also Germans to answer for. Like-minded people are also killing Muslims every day -- in Pakistan the attack on the Marriot hotel hit several groups that were celebrating the end of Ramadan.

These death squads can only be defeated if the political actors in the subcontinent start to see through the borderless game their enemies are playing, and if they share information and act together. This would require a level of trust and goodwill that hasn't existed between India and Pakistan for many years.

The Mumbai attacks seem to have caught the Indian government by surprise. At the moment it may not know where to direct its energies in the war against terrorism. In contrast to Pakistan, though, it retains full control of its military -- which brings its own kind of responsibility.

India's foreign minister has blamed "elements with links to Pakistan" for the terror attacks. A couple of years ago it would have called them "Pakastani elements." In the Great Game against terror in the subcontinent, this is a difference as small as it is important -- and given the depressing outlook for the region, one is thankful for any nuance that offers a glimmer of hope.

Maybe now the regimes can agree to a marriage of convenience. They, do, after all, have the same enemies.


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