Dialogue  October-December, 2009 , Volume 11 No. 2


India’s stakes in the ‘war on terror’


D. C. Pathak*



Terrorism is classically defined as ‘the use of covert violence for a perceived political cause’. If there were no such cause the so- called ‘terrorists’ would be indistinguishable from a bunch of criminals. The ‘cause’ produces a motivation and a commitment that may be rooted in ideology, sense of empowerment or even ‘faith’. India has had the experience of terrorism perpetrated by the insurgent groups in the North- East over several decades and also in Punjab where the Khalistan movement was whipped up in the Eighties and sustained largely by our adversary across the Western borders. Sri Lanka- based LTTE was another terrorist group, which  directed  its wrath against India and used a ‘human bomb’ to kill a former Prime Minister - Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991. India presently faces two serious threats of   terrorism- one inflicted by Pakistan since the early Nineties-taking advantage of the situation created by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the other coming from the Naxalites who have acquired a stranglehold in nearly 120 districts spread across a dozen States but whose campaign, the Maoist movement, fortunately has so far been totally indigenous. The Maoists are largely driven by ideology whereas the Mujahideen- instruments of the Pak- instigated cross- border terrorism, carry the faith- based motivation of Jehad. All this shows how important it is for the security establishment of India to study each threat in all its nuances so that our policy responses reflect a complete understanding of the problem.

   The new world we live in is not the world that began with the termination of the World War but the era that began with the end of the Cold War following the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Nineties. In the post- Cold War world, two trend-setters arose- both around the same time. One decidedly a positive thing, was the advent of economic globalization anchored no doubt on the success of the Information Technology revolution that created border- less markets and made it possible for business transactions across geographical frontiers to be completed instantaneously on the internet. The demise of International Communism ended the tense divide of the world into two combative ideologies and while the emergence of a unipolar order certainly gave a fillip to globalization this came with the predictable rider that the US would now drive all major economic and political currents.

   The second trend-setter was a negative one, remarkably making its appearance around the same cut- off years that had witnessed the swift dismemberment of the USSR. This was the rise of the new faith- based  terror with global dimensions that emanated from Afghanistan and led to 9/11.The US- led ‘war on terror’ that followed, rapidly assumed the proportions of a global conflict between the West and the so- called Islamic world with notions of a ‘clash of civilizations’ being voiced by some prominent academics of the US led by Samuel P. Huntington. The US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 enlarged the battle- field but the ‘war on terror’ remained centred on Afghanistan from where it had begun in the aftermath of the success of the anti- Soviet armed campaign. This tiny country lived up to its reputation as ‘the geographical pivot of history’ as it saw the irony of first becoming instrumental in the destruction of one super-power and then acting as the seat of the Islamic radical forces represented by the Al Quaeda – Taliban combine  took on the other super-power in a mighty confrontation. To understand the ‘war on terror’ it is necessary to know how this happened.

     The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 had followed the intense conflict between the pro-Soviet Northern Alliance on one hand and the Islamists promoted by the US-led West and led by its frontline ally- Pakistan, on the other. This was an extension of the Cold War phenomenon earlier witnessed in Muslim countries like Egypt in the times of President Nasser and Indonesia during the rule of President Sukarno where the militant Islamic forces led by the Muslim Brotherhood and its acolyte the Jamaat-e-Islami- established by Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi at Lahore in 1941, took on the pro-Left and secular regimes much to the delight of the West. These organizations were adept at running underground operations. It is  known that after Syed Qutb was hanged by Nasser, his colleague Syed Ramadan- who had been sentenced to death in absentia, was helped by Maudoodi in settling down at Geneva and starting an Islamic Centre there.

      At the time of Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Gen. Ziaul Haq, the military ruler of Pakistan, was trying to establish Nizam-e-Mustafa in his country with the help of Islamic fundamentalists led by the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan. It is no surprise that the Jamaat was at the forefront of the anti- Soviet armed campaign with its protégé- Jalaluddin  Haqqani of Hizb-e- Islami playing an important role in the Afghan battle. What is important is that the anti-Soviet combat was conducted on the war cry of ‘Jehad’ and was intensified with the induction of Lashkar-e-Toiba- product of the Saudi- funded Markaz Dawah ul Irshad. The Markaz was a huge training campus run from Muridke near Lahore. The trainees here were mostly from the sect of Ahle Hadis drawn from Afghanistan and elsewhere. Ahle Hadis are the followers of the Hanbali School of Islamic jurisprudence- a puritanic line of the extreme to which the Saudi rulers belong. It is significant that Gen. Ziaul Haq was a great admirer of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), traditionally presided over by the King of Saudi Arabia. In his keynote address at the Fourth Islamic Summit of the OIC at Casablanca in 1984, Gen. Ziaul Haq who was then the Secretary General of the organization, advocated the consolidation of Millat e- Islamia extending from Algeria in the West to Indonesia in the East.

     The point here is that what was happening in Afghanistan was an extraordinary play of international polity in the 20th century in which a military counter- offensive was run by the US- led West on a faith- based call of ‘Jehad’ obviously in pursuance of the dictum that ‘everything is fair in war’. Moreover, the format of the campaign was that of a stealth war closely overseen by the ISI- CIA combine. When the Soviet army withdrew and the ‘Jehad’ was declared as a success, the Americans also shifted their attention away from Afghanistan leaving it to Pakistan to handle the post-Soviet scenario there. What was done by the US in Afghanistan was to carry out a proxy- war operation in line with the backing the US- led West had earlier given through the Cold War years, to the friendly Islamic forces that had confronted the leftist- looking Muslim regimes in Central Asia, South East Asia and the Arab world. Afghanistan saw the mix of religion and politics at a level that was truly global. The consequences of this being allowed as a strategy for winning a war, were to bring heavy costs to the West in general and the US in particular.

   What was overlooked by the latter was a historical reality that Afghanistan had been an epicenter of the first organized movements of ‘Jehad’ in the modern period launched by the radical Islamic forces led by the Ulema of the Wahabi ideology, in the middle of the 19th century in several parts of the Islamic world, to clear the Muslim land of  the Western encroachment. On the Indian subcontinent this ‘Jehad’ led by the followers of Shah Walyullah Khan was unleashed from what is now Swat in the NWFP and though it did not succeed, the movement left the entire Afghanistan – NWFP belt highly radicalized and intrinsically anti-West in its outlook. Significantly, it is the protagonists of this failed ‘Jehad’ who established the Darul Uloom, Deoband in 1867 to devote themselves to the work of promoting their Islamic ideology. This seminary has retained a basic aversion to the West to this day.

     The rise of the Islamic radicals in Afghanistan in the post- Soviet period was facilitated by Pakistan directly. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan left behind a scene of turbulence and internal conflicts that was bound to happen in a country where the pull of religion mixed very well with the tribal supremacy of the gun. Also, the Northern Alliance propelled by Gen, Masud who had enjoyed the blessings of the Soviet Russia, was still a formidable force. The interminable unrest and confusion prompted Benazir Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, to send in the Taliban- products of the Deobandi  madrasas- to Afghanistan in 1993, to prevail upon the factions there and restore political order. This was a well planned strategy of again using a fundamentalist force- trained and supervised by the country’s internal security agency- the Intelligence Bureau of Pakistan, to achieve the objective of securing ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. Pakistan always considered this to be of prime importance for safeguarding its own national interests in the region particularly in relation to India.

      The Taliban as already mentioned, represented the radical stream in Islam which advocated return to the ‘puritanic’ early period of the four Companions of the Prophet,  a ruthless conformity with the do’s and don’ts of the religion and elimination of all un- Islamic practices that had crept into the faith under the influence of other belief systems. Now for Pakistan the radical character of the Taliban that imparted it an ideological hostility towards the West, did not come in the way of its own national agenda but the rise of the Taliban into power in Afghanistan in 1996 was to mark the process of this radical regime baring its fangs against the US and against any form of Westernization. It is interesting that while Pakistan and Saudi Arabia lost no time in giving recognition to the Taliban government, the onus of opposing it fell on the US. This was the time when Taliban forged a firm alliance with the Al- Quaeda of Osama bin- Laden that represented the Arab radical stream and hated the Saudi Arabian rulers for their being  hand in gloves  with the US. The ouster of the Taliban regime was to lay down the run- up to 9/11.

     9/11 marked the rise of a new kind of global terror which regards the US and the West as its prime enemy, takes out its wrath against those Muslim regimes that cooperate with the US and derives its strength from a new level of motivation for ‘Jehad’ that readied the combatant to embrace death willingly. The attack on the World Trade Centre succeeded only because those 19 Arab youth- many of whom came from an elitist background, were convinced that they were in a win- win situation even while ending their lives by ramming the aircrafts into the towers. The American strategists found it hard to understand this aspect of ‘Jehad’- judging from the central point raised by Walter Anders of Alabama university in his book-‘The political economy of terrorism’ (2006), in which the writer wonders how a rational human being can plan and execute an action that calls for his own demise. Anyway, 9/11 led to the US announcing the formation of a world coalition under its own leadership to launch the ‘war on terror’. India and Pakistan, quickly following in that order, joined this coalition. This posed a challenge of foreign policy formulation to India for two specific reasons.

     One was the dilemma of being a fellow traveler with Pakistan on a global mission against terror when India had been , for long years, at the receiving end of a full fledged proxy war planned and conducted by the Pak ISI taking advantage of the victory of ‘Jehad’ on the Afghan front. As early as in 1993- 94, Indian intelligence had unraveled the blue- print of the new proxy war that Pakistan had let loose on India , deriving strength from the post- Soviet situation in Afghanistan. This was the time when the ‘Khalistan’ movement instigated from across the border had run into an inevitable decline. The three components of the Pak- ISI sponsored covert offensive were: replicating the experience of Afghan ‘Jehad’ on the Kashmir front by diverting foreign Mujahideen to the Valley; extending cross- border terrorism beyond J & K to target establishments in other parts of India with the intention of causing instability in this country; and using the soft borders of India with Nepal and Bangladesh to infiltrate terrorists for executing attacks in India. Economic targets, religious centers and crowded markets were chosen for such attacks in a bid to spread terror, cause communal conflicts and economically weaken India. 26/11 was the culmination of a long string of terrorist actions on Indian  territory  that started with the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. In all these years preceding the Mumbai carnage, more than 200 modules of terrorists had been uncovered and nearly 6,000 Kgs of RDX recovered by our security agencies.

     India was thus, at the receiving end of Pak- sponsored terrorism for a long time before the threat of Taliban- Al Quaeda axis arose in the sub- continent. The terrorist attacks on India were carried out by forces that  were  built by former Pakistan President Gen. Ziaul Haq and which were in the forefront of the armed campaign against the Soviet army in Afghanistan, under the operational control of the ISI- CIA combine. At the core of these forces were the cadres of Hizbul Mujahideen- the militant front of the Jamaat-e- Islami Pakistan and the Lashkar e- Toiba comprising the more fundamentalist elements belonging to the pro- Saudi Ahle Hadis sect. It bears repitition that these instruments of the Pak- sponsored covert offensive against India have never attracted notice for targeting any Western establishment all through the ‘war on terror’. The US –led world coalition against the global terror is solely directed against the Al Quaeda- Taliban axis which regards the US representing the West, as its prime enemy and which was behind 9/11. The animosity between the two is historical, political and ideological. What is important from the Indian perspective is the fact that even as General Parvez  Musharraf became an ally of the US, along with India, in the ‘war on terror’, the Pak agencies kept up their covert offensive against India with the help of those militant outfits that had caused no problem to the US. While this made it easier for the Bush regime to take the denials of Pakistan in relation to the attacks on India on face value, it made it more difficult for India to define its stakes in the ‘war on terror’.

      The second challenge of foreign policy formulation that the ‘war on terror’ has raised for India is to assess and handle the triangular equation of relationships between he US, Pakistan and India in a situation where an Indo- US differential continues to exist in relation to Pakistan. It is known that the US strategy on the ‘war on terror’ has rested on the twin policy of working for the removal of ‘democracy deficit’ in the concerned countries- Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to get the ‘moderate Islamists’ supposedly ruling these countries to confront and put down the radicals at home. In this backdrop,  President Obama’s recent hour- long speech at Cairo, in which he reached out to the Muslim world and defined his approach on the ‘war on terror’ becomes extremely relevant. Obama succeeded in presenting the case before the thinking Muslims that he would pursue the ‘war on terror’ but with a difference, when seen against all that happened through the era of George W. Bush. He emphasized that ‘America will never be at war with Islam’ and tried to refine the American stand in a bid to make the ‘war on terror’ a deliverable project and , at the same time, minimize its adverse side effects at home. He spoke of the US aim of withdrawing its troops from Iraq within a timeframe even as he affirmed his resolve to go after the terrorists who were attacking Americans from their bases in the Afghanistan- NWFP belt. He then went on to give a straightforward call for an end to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a part of the process of establishing a Palestinian State.

     The Cairo address of Obama, taken in its totality, indicates a desire to limit the war zone by defining the military engagement of the US in terms of area and intensity. The challenges of the domestic situation coupled with the inclination of the new US President to look inwards, may lead him to lean more on his advisors as far as the conduct of the ‘war on terror’ is concerned. Already the policy enunciated in the Powell- Musharraf days of regarding the Pak army as the best bet for America seems to be continuing. Obama’s address at Cairo hardly touched on the issue of democracy- its entire focus was on funding Pakistan to ensure that its army kept up the combat against the Taliban on the Pak side of the Pak- Afghan border. He talked of the annual funding of Pakistan to the tune of $ 1.5 b. per year over the next five years almost sounding as if an outsourced war was being financed. The US, like the rest of the world, knows that the so- called civilian government in Pakistan is in no position to advise the army there. Indian strategy has to take this into account.

    The recent meeting of Dr. Manmohan Singh with the Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at Yekatenburg in Russia in June has thrown fresh light on why the Indo- Pak relations remain stuck in a quagmire today and why is there a likelihood of this situation continuing unaltered till the civilian leadership of Pakistan reinvents itself. India’s Prime Minister hit the nail on the head when he asked Zardari as to how had Pakistan, while pursuing the Taliban and Al Quaeda, not brought those perpetrating terror on India, to justice. President Zardari’s response was that he was fighting a ‘grim’ battle- a remark that hides more than it reveals. Considering that the Pak army has been claiming success against the Taliban, the difficulties for Zardari arise from the facts that he is, on one hand,  a sworn enemy for the Taliban which considers him a US protege and  has an uneasy relationship with his own army, on the other. Zardari has issued many appeals in the recent past to the world community to help out the fledgling democracy in Pakistan and has now also stated- contrary to what the Pak army had always maintained- that Pakistan faced a threat from the Taliban and not from India.

      India’s view of Indo- Pak relations has to reckon with the reality that the Pak army sits pretty on its de- facto status as the repository of State power and polity. It is entirely free to decide how far will it go in the matter of carrying out the US mandate on the ‘war on terror’ and how will it play its cards in relation to India. In the interplay between the Indo- US and US- Pak relations Pakistan enjoys a space which it has exploited successfully to get away with flat denials on serious terrorist attacks like 26/11 organized by its agencies on India, in lieu of its cooperation with the US in the ‘war on terror’. Pakistan has used cross- border terrorism to pressurize India to yield on Kashmir and  predictably stepped up its operations in the valley in the run- up to the visit of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India. The US while claiming to be not interfering on Kashmir, continues to find a way of telling India that Pakistan had a case there. President Obama has once again called for talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir slipping in the usual sop that the US did not want to mediate on the dispute. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has appointed a Muslim of Kashmiri origin to advise her- signaling her special interest in this issue.

      The Indo- Pak peace process designed to put the triangular relations of India, Pakistan and the US on an even keel did not bring any relief to India. Even after India, side- stepping the long standing security assessment about the nature of cross- border terrorism, sympathized with Pakistan ‘for being at the receiving end of terrorism’, the  Pak- instigated attacks on India from across the border did not stop as was amply proved by 26/11. Pakistan obviously had no use for India’s generous stance of putting both the countries on the same side of the fence. India perhaps wanted to be nice to  President Musharraf after the General had faced a couple of unsuccessful attacks at the hands of the Taliban in Pakistan for having become an ally of the US but the Musharraf regime never gave up the proxy war against India. It is not clear how the odd decision of India agreeing to have a joint mechanism to share intelligence with Pakistan to deal with terrorism, came about. Whether it resulted from an ignorance of the content of the proxy war that Pakistan had continued against India or from an over-zealous diplomacy that over- ruled our security assessment, the step looked out of place and only encouraged the adversary to palm off the responsibility for 26/11 to some unidentified ‘non State’ players.

      From all that has gone on so far, it would be prudent for India to be prepared to witness more of the same as far as the interface of Indo- US and US- Pak equations is concerned. India, while acknowledging that a problem does exist between India and Pakistan regarding Kashmir, should press the US to get, in the first instance, a clear affirmation from Pakistan that it does not uphold the idea of resort to violence for solving any political dispute. It should also make a categorical declaration that the J & K is an integral secular state and any resolution of the political dispute about it has to be on a non- communal basis. India, of course, should maintain that its relations with Pakistan can not be the same again unless punitive action for the Mumbai carnage is pursued to its logical conclusion in Pakistan. India is ready to carry the Indo-US nuclear deal forward by establishing nuclear power plants in collaboration with the US and other countries. However, if the US has stakes in building Indo- US relations on a strategic footing it should get serious about getting Pakistan to abandon its covert plans against india. Since this may or may not happen, India has to remain prepared to deal with cross- border terrorism on her own strength. India has to keep her role in the ‘war on terror’ fully aligned with her national interests.

     Taliban’s rise in Pakistan is a matter of concern for India not so much because of a fear of spill over of its violence on our territory but mainly because a throw -back  on  a life of extreme fundamentalism and exclusivism can not do any good to any society. While supporting the ‘war on terror’, India has to maintain an attitude of zero tolerance towards the India- specific threat of terrorism planned and executed by the Pak army and the ISI. If the US favours ‘geo- political pluralism’ as a part of its strategy of handling the ‘war on terror’, it must come out clearly against Pakistan using terrorism as an instrument of State policy towards India. On our part we have not only to strengthen our security infrastructure and systems but what is equally important, we have to ensure that the cross- border terrorism facing us does not affect our domestic polity. The proxy war unleashed by Pakistan on India had a definite communal motivation. Terrorism, particularly in the Indian context where it has a cross- border origin, has to be viewed as the doing of individuals and not a particular community. The security agencies must, therefore, handle counter- terrorism operations in such a way that no innocent person is touched. The number of individuals falling in the enemy’s trap may be big or small, but none of this should be allowed to enmesh the issue of terrorism in communal questions. The pursuit of terrorists has to be vigorous and non- partisan.


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati