Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Pakinstani's note on the bombing in Kabul

A Pakistani friend of mine, call him "Sami", has written me a note about the issued entailed in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. I thought it was worth posting here. RLC

For most Indian and Western observers yesterday's suicidal terror attack on the Indian embassy in Afghanistan didn't require any evidence to convince them that an anxious, India-obsessed "strategic elite" based in Islamabad was to blame for the carnage. Unlike other random terrorist attacks that occur on a daily basis in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, indiscriminately claiming civilian and military lives (as well as the recent attack on the Danish embassy in the supposedly secure environs of Islamabad's diplomatic quarter), there is no reluctance in this case to directly accuse the Pakistani security establishment.

Pakistan's international reputation as a country that at one time allied itself with the Taliban and supported the infiltration of irregular fighters into Indian Kashmir is such that it's government bears a permanent stigma and is sure to be suspected of being involved in any terrorist incident that occurs beyond its borders in Afghanistan or India. This happens despite the fact when the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or some other domestic Pakistani militant outfit usually claims credit for an attack. Diplomatic murmurs and media undertones hint at some level of official Pakistani involvement - rogue or otherwise - can still be heard. But since yesterday's particular target happened to be Pakistan's regional arch-rival, India, many commentators were (perhaps too) quick to assume Islamabad was sending a not so subtle message of displeasure to New Delhi regarding the latter's extremely cozy relationship with the (anti-Pakistan) Karzai regime in Afghanistan. Of course there would certainly seem to be obvious motivations for Pakistani military hardliners to be hostile toward the growing Indian interest and involvement in Afghanistan.

For one thing, New Delhi's own covert financial and materiel support to the Balochi separatist insurgency via its consulates in southern Afghanistan has been a major destabilizing factor that the Pakistani military has had to contend with over the past four years. Islamabad's official complaints against New Delhi have thus far gone unheeded and only convinced Pakistanis of the dangers that lie ahead if India maintains its current alliance with a hostile client regime in Kabul. Already, in the absence of direct conflict along Line of Control (LOC) in disputed Kashmir, Afghanistan is being seen as the primary battleground for an ensuing Indo-Pakistani proxy war, in which the Indians seem to be backing Baloch guerrilla groups against Islamabad, while the Pakistanis appear to tolerate, even encourage Taliban fighters to undermine the Karzai government - by attacking NATO troops who happen to be caught in the middle of an Indo-Pakistani Cold War.

While there is an undeniable appeal to this sort of logic for many, from the official Pakistani point of view, it would have been extremely counter-productive to indirectly antagonize India in this way and further undermine what little confidence exists between Pakistan and its deeply distrustful Western allies, particularly the United States. The consequences of yesterday's terrorist attack are already evident with the sympathy New Delhi has been able to garner, perceivably at Pakistan's expense. If this was in fact yet another reckless act of Pakistani state-sponsored terror, as the country's detractors claim, it has backfired most disastrously for Islamabad.

On the other hand, we could choose to make an exception in this case, by looking beyond the usual Pakistani scapegoat for culpability, and examine the past behavior of the Pakistan-based militant groups such as Laskhar -e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad who have in recent years attempted to provoke direct India-Pakistan conflict to further their own narrow agendas. The most notable instance in which this terrorist strategy nearly succeeded was in the aftermath of the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that led to military mobilization by both sides along the border and came very close to resulting in the world's first nuclear exchange.

The Pakistani military - whatever disagreeable factions it may consist of - does not, as a unified institution in anyway prefer to push itself further away from the West and thereby reward Indian interests. It can be counted on to make the pragmatic choices that need to be made in the interests of defending the Pakistani homeland as well its own self-preservation. However, the destructive logic of Pakistan's many jihadi terror groups is not known to take the long-term geopolitical considerations of state-actors into account. The winding down of jihadi terrorism in Kashmir means the withdrawal of earlier state support obviously means their terrorist infrastructure will be put out of business.

Accordingly, these pro-Kashmir jihadi groups reject as "selling out" any concessions Pakistan might make to India on the Kashmir issue, in the interest of defusing nuclear tensions in the subcontinent. For those who haven't been following the diplomatic zombie-dance known as the "India-Pakistan peace process" there have recently been some relatively optimistic developments and declarations regarding the future of Kashmir and India-Pakistan relations. As little as two weeks ago, Asif Zardari, currently the key power-broker in the Pakistani political scene stated his party's policy on Kashmir would be to work with Manmohan Singh, the current Indian PM, to achieve some sort of condominium arrangement between India and Pakistan while at the same time proceeding to dismantle the jihadi terror networks that continue to jeopardize the peace process.

The difficulties of negotiating Pakistan's schizophrenic relationship as both past sponsor and current target of terrorist entities of its own making was evident yesterday, not just in the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, but also in Islamabad and Karachi as the anniversary of the Pakistani military's Lal Masjid raid was commemorated with revenge suicide bombings.

Still, yesterday's denunciations against Pakistan for what happened in Kabul hardly mentioned these other murderous terrorist acts. Perhaps this is so because demonizing a country seems much easier that actually trying to understand a country confronting the demons destroying it from within.

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