India Presses Pakistan on Terrorism but Finds Its Own Options Limited
By SOMINI SENGUPTA | December 11, 2008
NEW DELHI — Even as Indian officials on Thursday lambasted Pakistan as the “epicenter” of terrorism and dismissed its crackdown on extremist groups as inadequate in the wake of last month’s attacks in Mumbai, they all but ruled out the prospect of a military confrontation.
Rather, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told members of Parliament that it would take time for India to turn off the tap of support for militant groups operating across the border, and that war was “no solution.”
“We shall have to patiently confront it,” he said. “We have no intention to be provoked.”
His words signaled India’s delicate and somewhat circumscribed options. If it were to carry out even limited military strikes against Pakistan, it would be likely to lose the support of its allies, namely the United States, which fears that Pakistan would then divert troops from its western border with Afghanistan to its eastern one with India.
Second, India confronts a weak civilian government in Pakistan, which, as Indian officials have long acknowledged privately, has little muscle to counter the powerful military and spy agency.
India’s options include suspending peace talks and what military analysts call limited punitive strikes on terrorist training camps.
Mr. Mukherjee said Thursday that he had no “quarrel” with the administration of President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan but pressed him to do more to dismantle support for militants. Initially after the Mumbai attacks, Mr. Zardari had described the suspects as “nonstate actors” over whom the Pakistani government had no control. On Thursday, that statement met with a stinging retort from Mr. Mukherjee.
“Are they nonstate actors coming from heaven, or are they coming from a different planet?” Mr. Mukherjee asked. “Nonstate actors are operating from a particular country. What we are most respectfully submitting, suggesting to the government of Pakistan: Please act. Mere expression of intention is not adequate.”
India’s coalition government, led by the Congress Party, is keenly aware of a wave of public outrage over the administration’s failure to heed intelligence warnings or stop the attackers more quickly. On Thursday, it unveiled an overhaul of the national security system. The government said it would set up a national investigative agency to coordinate with various state and local law enforcement agencies, increase coastal security and modernize the police forces.
“Given the nature of the threat, we can’t go back to business as usual,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in a speech to Parliament. He said it would require “hard decisions to prepare the country and people to face the challenge of terrorism.”
The gunmen who carried out the three-day siege of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, killed 171 people. Nine of the gunmen were killed and a 10th was arrested. The Mumbai police said all of the attackers were Pakistani citizens who traveled across the Arabian Sea to Mumbai, formerly Bombay. They are believed to have belonged to a Pakistan-based group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is officially banned in Pakistan.
This week, in response to appeals by India and the United States, the United Nations Security Council declared that a charity called Jamaat-ud-Dawa was a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba and subject to United Nations sanctions, including the freezing of its assets and a travel ban on four of its leaders. Those leaders include Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the head of the charity, and Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who India said had planned the Mumbai attacks and whose arrest the Pakistani government announced last Sunday.
Indian officials dismissed the arrests as inadequate. They pointed out that Pakistan had placed many of the same men under house arrest after the attacks on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, which India said was the work of Pakistan-based groups, but quietly released them later.
“We have noted the reported steps taken by Pakistan, but clearly much more needs to be done,” India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, told Parliament on Thursday evening. He called for the dismantling of “the infrastructure of terrorism” across the border and then issued a warning to India’s allies abroad. “The political will of the international community,” he said, “must be translated into concrete and sustained action on the ground.”
India’s wait-and-watch approach seems to be primarily directed at the United States, political analysts here say, and particularly at President-elect Barack Obama, who India hopes will exert a stronger hand against Pakistan. “India will have to wait until the logic of this is going to work out and the United States will have to act,” said K. Subrahmanyam, a strategic affairs analyst in New Delhi. “What we are waiting for is when Obama takes over, there will be a showdown between Pakistan and the United States, unless Pakistan is prepared to mend its ways.”
The United States has sought to temper India’s reaction and has pushed Pakistan to do more. The deputy secretary of state, John D. Negroponte, was in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, on Thursday, a week after visits by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“There is a lot of pressure to do something meaningful and see Pakistan take long-term irreversible steps, but the Indian government has up to this point been very cautious,” said Xenia Dormandy, a former Bush administration official who now runs the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
If Pakistan does not go further, she added, India would be likely to act with a heavier hand. “Whether it is as forward leaning as bombing camps in Jammu and Kashmir, I don’t know,” she said. “I think you will see India take some stronger steps in the next two, three weeks.”
Adding to the difficulty of dealing with Pakistan, Indian and foreign analysts point out, is that the civilian government itself confronts a powerful army and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the spy agency. Indeed, immediately after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan’s civilian administration announced that it would send its spy chief to India; within hours, that offer was withdrawn.
“Who do you deal with, who do you talk to?” a Western diplomat in India said. “If you get the government to do something about it and if the real organization is the ISI — and I say if — then any action by the government is going to be of limited use, really. It is a problem. It is one everybody is thinking about.”