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Shahrukh Does Amrika

On Sunday, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed Bollywood actor/superstar Shahrukh Khan on his recently released film, My Name is Khan, his U.S. airport security woes (Stars! They’re just like us!), the Indian film industry, and perceptions of America abroad.

The interview was surprisingly interesting, but I found a few points to be the most thought-provoking. Towards the end of the first segment (around 5:00 onwards), Shahrukh asserts that it is the responsibility of educated Muslims to promote a more tolerant image of Islam. He emphasizes,

I think it’s a duty of every educated, maybe a little liberal Muslim to go out in the world and if he has the opportunity, like I think I have as an actor, I think we need to make sure, that’s yes, this is what it stands for, this is what Jihad means, this is what tolerance means and this is what Islam means.

Shahrukh raises a point we’ve discussed heavily before on this forum – do “moderate” Muslims have a responsibility to spread a more tolerant image of Islam? And, more specifically, do Muslim celebrities bear the burden of carrying that torch?

In My Name is Khan (feel free to weigh in on your opinion of the film since I haven’t yet seen it), Shahrukh plays a Muslim man married to a Hindu woman living in post-9/11 America, who subsequently “has to go on a journey to explain to everybody that, guys, just because ‘My Name is Khan’ doesn’t mean I’m a terrorist.” The debate is significant because it raises several fair points – first, if the loudest voices in the room are on the far end of the spectrum – Islamist radicals – shouldn’t there be attempts to at least raise the volume of the moderates? At the same time, has that moderate voice been cohesively defined in a manner that can counter negative perceptions? Finally, are we doomed to be constantly on the defensive, particularly since many attempts are unraveled the minute a terrorist attack occurs?

Zakaria, a little later in the interview, asked Shahrukh:

You know when George Bush saw Manmohan Singh at some event, the first time he had an opportunity chance to introduce his wife, Laura Bush, to Manmohan Singh, he said to her, honey, this is the prime minister of India. This is a country that has 150 million Muslims and not one member of Al-Qaeda. That was the way he thought of Indian Muslims. Why do you think Indian Muslims are not so radicalized?

Now, I admit to know relatively little on the subject of Muslim identity in India, but I do think Zakaria’s point is interesting. Although Shahrukh responded, “I think Indians by nature like people and they’re compromising and understanding,” I’ll leave further discussion about Zakaria’s question up to you guys (refraining from Pakistani/Indian bashing of course).

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Cartoon from Jang

Last week, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met in New Delhi to end a “diplomatic freeze” between the two countries since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. According to Reuters’ Myra MacDonald, they did “what they were expected to do — laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to ‘keep in touch.'” However, the issue of water-sharing has been cause for contention between India and Pakistan over the years [it is also an internal issue in Pakistan among the provinces]. Below, Tariq Tufail, from Karachi, delves into the issues that stem from the 1960 Indus Water Treaty:

The Pakistan-India foreign secretary-level talks took place as scheduled. But curiously,  apart from the usual rhetoric of “terrorism” from the Indian side and “Kashmir” from the Pakistani side in the run-up to the talks, water became the more prominent issue.

Though the water issue has been raised in the past, and is one of the sustaining factors behind Pakistan’s continued interest in Kashmir, the articulation of water as a core India-Pakistan dispute in such a distinct and clear manner is unprecedented. Within the space of two weeks, water was mentioned as one of the principal disputes between India and Pakistan by our Prime Minister, our foreign minister, our Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and curiously, even Hafeez Sayeed of LeT/JuD. In order to understand the issue better, it is important to first provide a background of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).

The Indus Water Treaty

Broadly speaking, the IWT grants exclusive use of the three eastern tributaries of the Indus River  – the Sutlej, Ravi and Beas Rivers to India and the three western tributaries – Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab Rivers to Pakistan. India is entitled to use all of the 33 million acre feet (MAF) of water from the eastern tributaries, of which it currently uses 30 MAF. Of the three western tributaries, the Jhelum, Chenab and Indus itself, which carries a flow of 143 MAF, India is entitled to store 3.6 MAF and is allowed to irrigate 13,43,477 acres of land. India does not store any water as of now and irrigates 7,92,426 acres. In addition, India is entitled to build “run of the river” hydroelectric projects, which do not store water on the western tributaries. The rise in the country’s usage of the water allocated to India (which used to flow to Pakistan earlier) is stressing the water availability in Pakistan. In addition, reduced snowfall and shifting weather patterns is reducing the water inflow.

Cutting through the usual rhetoric of India “stealing” water, several possibilities have to be analyzed:

  1. Pakistan is heightening the water issue to moderate the Indian negotiating tactic of focusing on terrorism
  2. India is really stealing water and violating the treaty
  3. India is not violating the “letter” of the treaty but the “spirit” of the treaty
  4. India is neither violating the letter or the spirit of the treaty, but due to increased water requirements, Pakistan is laying the ground to re-negotiate the Indus Water Treaty

It will be fruitless to speculate on (1), so let us concentrate on (2), (3) and (4).

At this point in time, the Pakistani government has not proven that India has stolen water. The allegation of Indian water theft has not been substantiated by either telemetry readings submitted by India or by water monitoring by Pakistan and has not been raised during the meetings of water commissioners of India and Pakistan. Moreover, because water sharing between Pakistan’s provinces is a contentious issue, water monitoring in Pakistan is a murky issue. To prevent discord among the provinces, monitoring sensors installed by Siemens are frequently tampered with and some monitoring sensors are regularly lost due to theft and sabotage. Even our Indus water commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah and ex-finance minister, Dr. Mubashar Hasan agree that no provable water theft is being committed by India.

Therefore, the inescapable conclusion is that India is not violating the “letter” of the treaty, even if it may be maximizing its usage as accorded to India by the treaty. This is not enforceable in any court of law, and stirring domestic sentiment over such perceived “violations” reduces our policy options and creates disastrous consequences as the Baglihar episode showed, (for background on the Baglihar dam conflict, see this piece).

So what are the disadvantages of the massive construction spree by India?

  1. The national security elements in Pakistan are concerned that even as India is not reducing the flow of water to Pakistan, it is rapidly acquiring the capability to do so by building dams. This is certainly an area of concern, but the IWT does not prevent India from being able to stop water flow into Pakistan at a future date. It only prevents India from stopping water flow. A positive aspect is that the IWT has stood the test of time, with no violations reported during the 1965, 1971, 1989, Kargil, Parakram and Mumbai standoffs.
  2. Increasing India’s usage of the Indus is affecting Pakistan’s water supply and power projects. That is, the water that was allocated to India, which was previously un-utilized and subsequently flowed to Pakistan and was utilized by our farmers, is becoming increasingly scarce as India builds projects to exploit its share. Even though it causes massive problems in Pakistan, this point cannot be protested, since India is not in violation of the IWT. (For example, complaints about the Sutlej and the Ravi running dry are superfluous since India has exclusive rights to use the water of those rivers.)

So what can be done?

As pointed out beautifully by lawyer Ahmer Bilal Soofi, India cannot be compelled to give “concessions” to Pakistan as long as it complies with the letter of the IWT. Furthermore, any extraneous discussions about water sharing can be stymied by India, since water sharing according to the Indian stance is already settled by IWT. From their perspective, as long as India is not in violation of the treaty, there is nothing to discuss.

Of the remaining courses of action open to Pakistan, re-negotiation of the IWT has a very small chance of success (since both sides will try to get better terms than the current treaty even if India agrees to renegotiate). The right course of action is to massively modernize our irrigation infrastructure (it is estimated that up to 40% of water drawn from our head-works are lost due to seepage in unlined canals, theft and evaporation), stringently follow the inter-provincial water sharing accord of 1991, and gain the trust of the provinces so that new water projects such as Kalabagh can proceed without their objection while seeking unofficial concessions from India to tide over the interim 5-10 year period. However, seeking unofficial concessions might be a hard task, since it has to overcome the prevailing climate of suspicion between the two neighbors, as well as India’s own domestic interests like its own water requirements as well as the impact on public opinion and Indian farmers.

At the end of the day, the wrong course of action would be to stir public sentiment through half truths and lies and to involve non-state and Jihadi actors, which reduces the space for policy flexibility in Pakistan, and further hardens the Indian position.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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The question of Indo-Pak peace has been, at best, at stop-and-go process – for every three steps forward, there have been two steps back. The recently launched Aman ki Asha campaign, a joint peace initiative by the Times of India and Pakistan’s Jang group, represents an effort to add an organized voice to the debate. However, developments like the recent bombing in Pune, (claimed by a Pakistan-based group), not only threaten to derail the peace process, but also undermine civilian attempts at goodwill and better relations. Below, Rakesh Mani, a Teach for India fellow, argues that despite these attempts, the stars are aligned for positive steps in the India-Pakistan peace process:

It’s one of the most remarkable campaigns the subcontinent has seen: a joint peace initiative run by the Times of India, India’s most powerful media empire, and the Jang group, Pakistan’s most influential media group. Their joint Aman ki Asha‘ (Hope for Peace) initiative looks to develop a stronger Track II channel in the diplomatic and cultural relations between India and Pakistan.

The Urdu language Jang newspaper’s involvement is relevant and crucial, although the Jang Group’s English language The News is also involved. However, it is probably the vernacular Jang reader who needs to be made more open to establishing a rapport with India. The case of the linguistic divide is less pronounced in India. Readers of the English press and vernacular press often share similar opinions on relations with Pakistan.

The criticisms about such civilian initiatives are probably fair: the assortment of cricketers, musicians and matinee idols who are lending their names and faces to the cause have little influence in either country. As long as the politicians and mandarins in India’s establishment and the military men and mullahs in Pakistan’s power elite are not involved, what difference does it all really make?

Given this reality, it is fair to assume that such a concerted initiative must have the approval of those who matter in Delhi and Islamabad, and possibly in Washington as well. Clearly the intent is to build a strong peace constituency among the masses in both countries for a pact that’s being made in the highest echelons. Because war, in its adversity, unifies nations while peace divides them and gives rise to arguments about the price.

Negotiations on Kashmir have never gotten anywhere because neither country has been willing to compromise. For years, we have heard the familiar volley of archaic recriminations; with India refusing to budge from the status quo, and Pakistan looking to significantly alter it. Clearly both countries, at some point, will have to make some compromises to build peace. The gradual process of selling that compromise to their respective electorates has now begun in earnest.

Indians and Pakistanis, raised on animosity and mutual suspicion, now have to be programmed to yearn for peace. At any cost.

There have always been romantics and idealists in both countries who spoke fondly of their neighbor and lobbied for peace. But these constituencies were always relegated to peripheral positions by realist viewpoints that stressed strategic interest. And today, after years of opposing interests, we have a situation where the strategic interests of India and Pakistan seem to coincide.

The galaxy of strategic stars in the subcontinent is now aligned for peace. And things are moving quickly.

A few days ago, the governments of India and Pakistan announced that their foreign secretaries will meet for talks at the end of February to resume the formal dialogue on a number of key issues, including Kashmir. In an apparently unrelated gesture, India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that the scores of Indian militants from Kashmir who have crossed into Pakistani territory should be allowed to return to India without punishment.

It is in New Delhi’s interest to stabilize the democratic regime in Pakistan to prevent a nightmare scenario: a million Pakistani refugees, fleeing a theocratic Taliban-dominated country, pounding the gates at Wagah. It’s a real threat, with a precedent. The Indian government hasn’t forgotten the 1971 crisis, when millions of Bengali refugees flooded into West Bengal from erstwhile East Pakistan. Almost forty years ago, the question was economic and humanitarian.

Today, it’s a catch-22: let the Pakistani refugees in, and you run the risk of a phalanx of anti-India militants being camouflaged among them; refuse them entry, and it becomes horrible publicity for a country that fancies itself a responsible, emerging superpower.

Islamabad, on the other hand, feels that the time is ripe to pressure Delhi into a settlement. With Washington leaning on them heavily for support in the war on terror, their approach will be to convince the Americans that they can’t fight the battle on their Western border when there are Indian guns being pointed at their back in the East.

One suspects that Manmohan Singh, having seen the nuclear deal through in his first term, is looking to make a settlement on Kashmir his foreign policy priority for the UPA’s second term in office. If all goes well, each player in the love triangle has their strategic interests fulfilled and becomes a sure shot for the Nobel Peace Prize.

A fine feather in their caps, but also the possibility of a final and lasting peace in a subcontinent that has been saddled with sorrow and disquiet for decades.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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Mujahideen in 1984
Mujahideen Fighters in Afghanistan, 1984.

As the war in Afghanistan continues, so does the purported regional chess game between India and Pakistan. Below, Tariq Tufail, from Karachi, presents his views on Pakistan’s evolving policy in Afghanistan:

A huge shift in the U.S. Afghanistan policy is reportedly taking place.  The London conference and the meeting in Turkey indicate that some degree of reconciliation and an integration of the Taliban into the mainstream in Afghanistan will be attempted in the next 18 months. To support this effort, donors have already pledged about $500 million. When these events unfold, they will have a great effect on Afghanistan and the region, comparable to the Soviet withdrawal, the fall of the Najibullah Government and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

What are the ramifications for Pakistani security and foreign policy? Unfortunately, I think this policy shift comes at an inconvenient time for Pakistan, when the Pakistani public and armed forces have not completely renounced the use of Islamist proxies to achieve our diplomatic objectives. In this context, there is a great danger that Pakistan will commit foreign policy and security blunders.

First, a background:

Pakistan’s perception of its security is India-centric. To this effect, Pakistan has always sought “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Though the definition is vague (and probably dreamed up by our generals who have given us similar disastrous “strategies” in the past), the prevalent theory is that a friendly and pliable Afghan government will provide the landmass and the population in any future conflict with India. Furthermore, a Pro-Pakistan (and by implication anti-India) tilt in Afghanistan will protect Pakistan from:

(i) a two-pronged front against India
(ii) Pashtun nationalism endangering both the Durrand line and our territorial integrity

While the pursuit of “strategic depth” by itself is neither unethical nor dangerous, the method by which we had pursued it until the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has endangered our security and threatened the very existence of Pakistan.

The training of Afghan fighters for the Soviet Jihad, the infrastructure of madrassas, gun culture and drug running, have severely destabilized our tribal areas and FATA. The extremist interpretation of Islam, which provided the ideological foundation for the mujahideen, on the one hand prevented economic and social development, and on the other served as a magnet for undesirables all over the world (it was in this environment that Osama Bin Laden found refuge in Afghanistan). While it was immoral and unethical to foist this culture on the Afghans, it was also inevitable for these same extremist ideologies, gun and drug cultures  to spill on to the Pakistani side of the border, endangering our own population.

In addition to utilizing the various terrorist organizations and militants to create a pliant Afghan government, Pakistan also has had a history of using such groups against India. The hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 and its diversion to Afghanistan in order to free people of (Pakistani) Punjab origin (among them Omar Sheikh Sayeed, implicated in the killing of Daniel Pearl, and Maulana Mazood Azhar, the Amir of Jaish-e-Mohammed, implicated in assasination attempts on Gen. Musharraf) is a significant example. (Before the readers of this article protest that Pakistan had nothing to do with the Taliban, the role of Pakistani armed forces and intelligence agents in the training and nurturing of Taliban is undeniable and one can refer to the Kunduz “Airlift of Evil” also covered in “Descent into Chaos” by Ahmed Rashid.)

Fast forwarding to the future:

It is inevitable that Pakistan will play a central role in the reconciliation between the Taliban and ISAF in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s leverage arises from:

(i) the possible sheltering of the top leadership of the Taliban (including Mullah Omar, and members of the “Quetta Shura“),  as well as our influence with other figures like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatiyar,
(ii) the role of Pakistani armed forces in preventing Taliban movement from Afghanistan into Pakistan to carry out cross-border attacks and,
(iii) Our indispensability for logistic routes and supply of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The way we use this leverage will determine whether our security will be strengthened in the long term or whether we slip into another spiral of instability, several orders of magnitude worse than what we have today.

Is there a danger in reverting to Pre-9/11 status and why is it a bad idea?

COAS Kayani has indicated that Pakistan’s primary security threat is India and “strategic depth” is still being sought in Afghanistan. In addition, there is a widespread school of thought in Pakistan that the current violence and instability in the country is the result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Therefore, taking these factors into account, it is clear that the establishment finds it very attractive to revert to a pre-9/11 status – where the Taliban is supported and nurtured by the ISI and armed forces, a pliant Taliban-supported government is installed in Afghanistan with the associated medieval interpretation of Islam, and the various Afghan forces are used for leverage against India in Kashmir. In fact, this possibility has rattled India, which until a few weeks back had refused talks with Pakistan until concrete progress was made in the Mumbai case, but now is pushing for dialogue.

The prevalent sentiment that a Pre-9/11 scenario will put Pakistan on the driver’s seat in Afghanistan, India and the rest of the world, was further enforced by our foreign minister, who declared, “India had blinked on talks” and “Pakistan has held its ground.” Pakistan’s foreign minister even reneged on the progress made so far on Track-II diplomacy with India on Kashmir under the Musharraf regime. In addition, Jamaat-ud-Dawah and other “Punjabi Taliban” groups who were laying low after Mumbai, surfaced and held a rally in Muzaffarabad on Feb 5, promising, among other things, to “spread Jihad in other parts of India beyond Kashmir.” All this before talks had even begun with India. In one sense, they can be viewed as pre-talks sabre rattling, and in another sense, it can be viewed as the establishment’s desire to return to a Pre-9/11, Pre-Mumbai status quo, which may be advantageous in the short-term.

However, this line of thinking is a huge fallacy due to two reasons:
1. Proxy warfare didn’t work in Kashmir

Pakistan has to wake up to the fact that Kashmir’s “jihad” has been a spectacular failure. After sparking many wars, sending in many Jihadis, sponsoring numerous resolutions in various international fora, we are nowhere near wrestling control of Kashmir. Direct military action supported by the Mujahideen is unlikely to work. The Kargil war was a spectacular defeat–despite recent attempts to spin it as a success–Nawaz Sharif to his credit made a face-saving exit after the sudden trip to the U.S. to meet President Clinton. If anything Kargil has indicated that future wars over Kashmir will invite international wrath as well as destabilize our politics.

India has held democratic elections and thinned out their military presence in Kashmir and the number of violent incidents have gone down year after year since 2002. Even when Pakistan’s leverage on the Mujahideen was the strongest, (in the 90’s),  and India’s economy was simultaneously the weakest with a balance of payment crisis, India demonstrated that it could hold on to Kashmir. Instead of  harming India, armed jihad against India has destabilized the Pakistani population, killed and maimed Kashmiris, reduced our international standing, de-legitimized the Kashmir cause and is unlikely to yield any result in the changed international attitude towards terrorism. Moreover, China‘s wariness about the Mujahideen given the problem it faces in Xinjiang (recall that China did not support Pakistan during Kargil), the increasing economic gap between India and Pakistan (which will soon translate into a gap in defense and diplomatic capabilities) and the concomitant hardening of Indian public opinion as they flex their national strength further reduce any possibility of success.

2. With great power comes great responsibility

Secondly, if Pakistan is co-opted to hammer out a solution in Afghanistan by using our influence on the Taliban, the international community will shift responsibility to us . If another 9/11-like attack occurs by elements sheltered by the Taliban,  Pakistan will subsequently be blamed or asked to “do more”. Given the ideological leanings of the Taliban, as well as their involvement in the gun culture and violence, it is inevitable that Afghanistan will once again become a magnet for undesirable elements. Who in their right mind would want to be responsible for the actions of such elements?

Policing the behavior of Taliban, while simultaneously facing the threat of economic and military retaliation from the West for their bad behavior is an unenviable proposition.

So unpalatable as it might be, we should recognize the changed international scenario, the harm that we are causing to our population and go for a radical rethink of our Afghan policy and strategy. 

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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AFP/Getty: The Taj Hotel on fire on Nov 26 2008

As the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks fast approaches, we have been inundated with op-eds, analysis, and statements – mostly centered on the impact of 26/11 on Indo-Pak relations and the status of Lashkar-e-Taiba today. The attacks on November 26, 2008, when 10 gunmen armed with assault rifles and explosives besieged the city of Mumbai for 60 hours, killing 170 people and wounding 300 others, may not have been India’s deadliest incident, but it did change “the world’s understanding of terrorism in India as real-time television footage streamed into American and European living rooms,” noted Georgetown University’s Christine Fair. In an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, she added, “It catalyzed discussions in Washington and Delhi about Lashkar-e-Taiba and the danger that group and its fellow travelers pose not just to India but to other countries.”

During his state visit to Washington, Indian PM Manmohan Singh maintained past rhetoric when he asserted that Islamabad had not done enough against the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks. He told reporters, “We have been the victims of Pakistan-aided, -abetted and-inspired terrorism for nearly 25 years. We would like the United States to use all its influence with Pakistan to desist from that path. Pakistan has nothing to fear from India. It’s a tragedy that Pakistan has come to the point of using terror as an instrument of state policy.”

The recent arrests of two men in Chicago with alleged ties to Lashkar only further confirm suspicions of the militant group’s growing reach and influence, and how it has increasingly become a transnational threat. According to Reuters, “David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana were arrested last month and accused of plotting an attack on Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which ran cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.” According to court documents, the two men allegedly “discussed their plans with members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al-Qaeda linked Pakistan-based militant Ilyas Kashmiri,” labeled the fourth most wanted terrorist by Pakistan’s Interior Ministry. Reuters added, “Lashkar also talked to them  [Headley and Rana] about possible attacks in India and suggested these should be given priority over the alleged plot in Denmark.”

Last Thursday, HBO premiered a very timely and significant film entitled, Terror in Mumbai. Narrated by Newsweek and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, The documentary chronicles the time period the ten LeT gunmen attacked Mumbai, using interviews with police, survivors, tapped phone calls between the men and their commanders in Pakistan, and footage of the captured gunmen, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab‘s confession. The film offers incredible insight into the group, the psychology of these young gunmen, and their relationship with senior figures within the organization. Here are a few of my own observations:

The Mumbai gunmen were young boys from rural Pakistan with very little exposure to the outside world. Perhaps the most chilling clips of Terror in Mumbai featured the the tapped conversations between the gunmen and their “controller,”a man by the name of Brother Wasi, allegedly based in Pakistan. According to the film, Indian undercover agents had reportedly fed 35 SIM cards to the LeT. After the beginning of the attacks on Mumbai’s Leopold’s Cafe and CST Railway Station, police began combing cell phone frequencies, and learned that three of the aforementioned SIM cards had been activated. During a very telling clip, the controller was speaking to the gunmen, urging them to set fire to the Taj Hotel. Overwhelmed by the opulence of their surroundings, the gunman said over the phone, “There are computers here with high-tech screens! It’s amazing. The windows are huge! It’s got two kitchens, a bath, and a little shop.” The controller reminded him, “Start the fire, my brother. Start a proper fire. That’s the important thing.”

The psychology of these young gunmen is fascinating, particularly since they had reportedly been indoctrinated over the course of three months, when they undertook their “training.” During this time, they went from being impressionable young boys to hardened militants. Although this is a relatively short amount of time, Reuel Marc Gerecht from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told Zakaria on his CNN GPS show, “Once you’ve sort of got the imbibed the idea of jihadism, once you’ve imbibed the idea that you can…more or less exile people from a moral universe that you live in, it’s not that difficult… to get young men to kill.” In the film, one witness at the CST Railway Station noted the gunmen “showed no fear or horror. They were like children firing toy guns…killing whoever they chose.”

In a clip where Kasab was being interrogated, he revealed that recruits during their training were “forbidden to speak to one another,” thereby furthering their isolation and strengthening the hold of commanders over these young men. At the end of their training, their commanders told them, “Guys, the time has come for your test…now we’ll know who’s for real.” When asked if he felt pity for the people they gunned down, Kasab hesitated before answering, “I did but he [the controller] said you have to do these things, if you’re going to be a big man and go to Heaven.”

Terrorism has increasingly become transnational and remote. One of the most striking parts of Terror in Mumbai was the ability of a single controller to keep not only a firm grasp on the situation, but also on the gunmen. Brother Wasi was in constant contact with the young men, who continuously updated him on their whereabouts and the overall situation. Moreover, Wasi was closely monitoring news channels’ coverage of the Mumbai attacks, allowing him further insight into the on the ground reality, or at least how media outlets were portraying them. This access allowed Brother Wasi to subsequently direct the gunmen to methods of garnering further media attention. Speaking to a gunman in the Taj Hotel, Brother Wasi said, “My brother, yours is the most important target…the media is covering it more than any other.” On his CNN show GPS, Zakaria further commented, “Brother Wasi, the remote controller of the terrorists, understands that in this day in age unless it is seen on TV around the world it has not happened.”

Now almost one year later, Terror in Mumbai is a chilling reminder of the attacks as well as the organization of the Lashkar e Taiba. Since the attacks, the Indian government has presented Pakistan with seven dossiers of evidence. However, they have all been met with Interior Minister Rehman Malik‘s demands for more information. As a result, relations between New Delhi and Islamabad remain strained. Given the current status quo and the widening trust deficit, what will it take to change the stagnant relations between India and Pakistan? In terms of the post-Mumbai investigations, which side will have to give to ensure progress?

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On Sunday, Pakistan and India’s foreign ministers reportedly met for 100 minutes on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York City. According to Reuters, it was “a fresh attempt” to improve bilateral ties between the two nations since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008. However, Pakistan’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi and India’s S.M. Krishna told reporters later that they “did not fix a date” for the resumption of full-fledged peace negotiations, otherwise known as composite talks.

Both sides insisted the meeting was “positive, frank and useful,” but Krishna noted that for a meaningful dialogue to continue, “it is essential to ensure an environment free of violence, terrorism and the threat to use violence.” He added to reporters, “We remain concerned about the threat which groups and individuals in Pakistan continue to pose to us.” And, although he acknowledged the legal action undertaken by Pakistan against suspects in the Mumbai attacks, “a crime of the magnitude that was committed in Mumbai could not have been done by seven or eight individuals.”

Dawn quoted Krishna, who also announced that India had rejected Pakistan’s proposal for back channel diplomacy, noting, “When we have front channel, there’s no need for back channel.” Given that Pakistan had already announced that former Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan would be appointed as special envoy in the back channel talks, Krishna’s announcement was slightly embarrassing. The development, however, does raise some interesting questions about back channel diplomacy and its advantages for Indo-Pak ties.

Back channel diplomacy refers to negotiations that take place in secret between parties in dispute or with a neutral third party present. In Pakistan, such talks occurred back in 2003, when a ceasefire pertaining to the Line of Control was negotiated, as well as during Musharraf‘s presidency in 2007. In the March 2, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, Steve Coll delved into the talks during Musharraf’s era, noting the top diplomats involved – Tariq Aziz from Pakistan and Satinder Lambah from India – were tasked with developing a “non paper” on Kashmir, “a text without names or signatures which can serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal.” Khurshid Kasuri, the then-foreign minister, noted the back channel talks were so advanced by 2007 that they’d “come to semicolons.” An Indian official told Coll, “It was huge – I think it would have changed the basic nature of the problem…You would have then had the freedom to remake Indo-Pakistani relations.”

The agreement, which was close to being signed [Coll noted that one quarrel over the Sir Creek waterway would be formally settled during a visit by PM Manmohan Singh to Pakistan] was shelved due to political turmoil in Pakistan, i.e. Musharraf’s firing of the Supreme Court justices and the subsequent declaration of the state of emergency. Coll wrote, “In New Delhi, the word in national security circles had been that ‘any day now we’re going to have an agreement on Kashmir…But Musharraf lost his constituencies.”

Since Zardari’s PPP government came to power, there has been talk of reviving the back channel talks of the past and concluding work on this reported “non paper.”  From a U.S. standpoint, a breakthrough in Indo-Pak talks would be conducive to shifting Pakistan’s attention to its western border, not to mention that progress could potentially reduce rivalry between the two countries in Afghanistan, [see Myra MacDonald’s Reuters blog: Now or Never? for more]. Such an approach has been embraced by the current Pakistani administration, who advocate for front and back channels to “work in tandem.”

There are many advantages of back channel diplomacy. Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords and director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, told me that back channel talks are “essential to get rid of the undergrowth and to build up vested interest groups of non-official actors.  Track I  [diplomacy] tends to be stuck in history and detail as the mandarins fight old battles over and over again.” Ultimately, in atmospheres that are as charged as India and Pakistan, this type of back channel diplomacy bypasses the need to toe party lines and spout rhetoric. Coll, in his New Yorker piece, even noted the aforementioned “non paper” was a factor in tempering India’s response after the Mumbai attacks.

Despite these advantages, back channel talks can only be successful if trust exists between the two nations, and if both sides want to come to the table. Given the environment in India following the Mumbai attacks, there is a deep mistrust in New Delhi of Pakistan’s ability to control militancy within and outside its borders. And, despite Islamabad’s eagerness to enter into negotiations, the issue of Balochistan and India’s alleged involvement in the restive province also hinders the potential for successful peace talks. Moreover, Pakistan’s very publicized call for back channel diplomacy seems almost counter-intuitive, since the benefit of such talks is that they bypass constituency pressures.

Should Indo-Pak back channel talks resume? Given the current status quo in Indo-Pak relations, this alternate form of diplomacy could be instrumental in jump starting the peace process. But due to the above mentioned factors, the nature of the talks would be different from the ones that took place in 2007.  A neutral third party would change the previous dynamic, but could help broker negotiations, acting as a bridge in bringing the two state actors to an even table.

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No one puts Jaswant in the corner.
No one puts Jaswant in the corner.

Indian politician Jaswant Singh‘s recently released book, Jinnah: India – Partition Independence has garnered much media attention and criticism, ultimately leading to his expulsion from his political party last week. This past week, Singh challenged the ban, filing a case in the Indian Supreme Court and telling reporters, “The day we start banning books, we are banning thinking.” Below, Rakesh Mani, a 2009 Teach for India fellow, discusses the controversy, delving into both the Indian and Pakistani reactions and the overarching ramifications for the greater debate on Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah:

For the third time in ten years, Jaswant Singh finds himself in the proverbial eye of the storm. This time he’s created a furor with a new book, Jinnah: India – Partition Independence that discusses the legacy of Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Singh, a former foreign minister of India and a prolific writer, challenges the widely-held Indian belief that it was Jinnah’s insistence on a separate Muslim homeland that forced a violent breakup of British India over sixty years ago. Instead, he argues that it was Jawaharlal Nehru’s centralized polity that was responsible.

A founding member of India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Singh’s stance seems ironic considering that the BJP have for decades painted Jinnah as India’s greatest villain. Both India’s political spectrum and its mainstream population have always blamed Jinnah for Partition – that violent, bloody vivisection through which Pakistanis felt they gained a country, and Indians struggled to accept that they lost a third of theirs.

Reactions from the BJP have verged on intolerance of intellectual inquiry. Singh was expelled from the party’s ranks and the BJP-ruled government in the state of Gujarat banned his book for allegedly ‘defamatory references’ to Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister and a Gujarati political icon. Even the Congress Party has censored him for his views, for once united in opinion with their political rivals.

Ironically, Singh’s ideological tussle with the BJP is somewhat similar to Jinnah’s own battle with the Congress Party of yore. Both were active proponents of party ideology, and both disengaged after intellectual disagreements. The only difference is that while Singh has shifted ground from supporting a nationalist right-wing party to intellectual liberalism, Jinnah moved from pursuing secular, liberal policies to rallying the masses with hard, communal appeals.

In Pakistan, where Singh said he expected harsh criticism, reactions seem to be mixed. Among Pakistanis, the book’s controversial claims on Jinnah’s political leanings are nothing new. This is a debate that has been raging for many years in Pakistan, as governments over the years have consistently made selective use of Jinnah’s ideals to suit their political needs. But Pakistanis are using the opportunity to confirm their negative views of India’s Hindutva parties.

Jaswant Singh also seems to have caused India’s leading political parties much grief. His comparisons of Jinnah’s policies with those of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s charismatic first Prime Minister, have suddenly placed the Congress and the BJP on the same ideological plane.

The BJP is furious that one of their own could have the audacity to acquit Jinnah of treason, while the Congress is livid that the author has denigrated Nehru, that doyen of the Congress Party. And so Indians find themselves in the unusual position of seeing the two arch-rivals of Indian politics standing united in their criticism of Jaswant Singh.

But the real trouble is that the book upsets the clearly established communal bifurcations which the establishments of India and Pakistan have worked so hard to make de rigeur over the last several decades.

But how has all this state-sponsored brainwashing worked?

In Islamic Pakistan, Muslims are busy plotting against and killing their religious compatriots. And in Hindu-majority India, the secularism record is not much better at all. While the Indian elite stand alone in a self-congratulatory mode, more than three-fourths of the country remains marginalized. Just a few days ago, a government-sponsored study estimated that 40% of India is still living in extreme poverty.

In this context, any fresh look at history that challenges old prejudices should be welcomed. Especially in the case of Jinnah, whose elevation to saintly status in Pakistan has made it impossible to evaluate his political and social persona in that country. One hopes that Jaswant Singh’s academic effort will succeed in forcing both India and Pakistan to rationalize their equally distorted views of Jinnah – a man whose true character and disposition has become hazy after years of hagiography and demonization. Now that Singh has told it like it is to the Indians, perhaps Pakistanis too will find it easier to explore a truer, more realistic Jinnah for their national reference and identity.

This will be important because it has repercussions not just for regional peace, but also for the most fundamental questions about Pakistan’s own identity. Identity in today’s Pakistan is shaped largely by the negation of a Hindu-Indian identity and the convenient classification of India as the enemy. Singh’s book will hopefully remind Pakistanis that Jinnah was no enemy of India. Jaswant Singh’s book is a long overdue academic exercise, and a timely one at that. And any serious political party that hopes to run the government should allow for that.

But in expelling Jaswant Singh for his views, the BJP is expelling both freedom and thought, confirming that its entire ideology thrives on resentment.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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