South Asian

Mumbai attacks: South Asian community can help

By Rana Fawad Posted: December 04, 2008

WASHINGTON: The Mumbai attacks have the potential of derailing the ongoing Indo-Pak confidence building measures and consequently destabilizing Pak-Afghan border, whereas the South Asian community in the US could help bridge the gap between the two archrivals.

These possibilities were enumerated by the Brookings Institution’s senior fellows including Bruce Riedel, Dr. Stephen Cohen, and Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown during a discussion on ‘Mumbai Terrorist Attacks: A Challenge for India and the World’ on Wednesday. Daniel Benjamin, senior fellow and director at the Institution, was the moderator on this occasion.

Bruce Riedel, who is Senior Fellow for Political Transitions in the Middle East and South Asia at the Saban Center in the Brookings Institution, “has served as a senior advisor at the National Security Council to the last three presidents of the United States. He retired in 2006 after nearly 30 years in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).”

He has also authored a book The Search for al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future.

Another speaker, Dr. Stephen Cohen, “has been Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution since 1998. In 2004, he was named as one of the five hundred most influential people in the field of foreign policy by the World Affairs Councils of America.”

Dr. Cohen has 10 books (including The Idea of Pakistan) to his credit as author, co-author, or editor.

The third discussant, Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown, is “a security studies professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Policy.” She “is also a Non-resident Research Fellow with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.”

Analyzing the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Bruce Riedel remarked that the attacks were carried out in a professional manner and were meant to get international attention apart from inflicting economic damage.

He said though one should be careful in judging who did it due to insufficient information at this point, a Pakistan-based organization Lashkr-e-Tayiba (LeT) seems to be the prime suspect. He added that the LeT was banned by Musharraf in 2002 “but continues to operate under a number of cover names including Jamaat ud Dawah.”

He told the audience that the LeT’s “operatives have worked closely with al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and there are reports of LeT volunteers fighting in Iraq.”

He also remarked that the attacks remind the world that the ideology and narrative of al Qaeda are still potent.

Commenting on the situation, Dr. Stephen Cohen was of the view that the United States along with China, Saudi Arabia, and Europe should influence Pakistan. He also commented that India can play an important role in helping Pakistan.

Referring to the Indo-Pak relationship, Dr. Cohen remarked that in his view three puzzles make things complicated in that region.

He said Pakistan military’s reluctance to give up support to the radical groups is one of those enigmas. He suggested that the Pakistan army uses this support as a strategic tool in dealing with India.

Second puzzles, he enumerated, relates to the struggle of power in Pakistan between politicians and the country’s military. Dr. quipped that in this situation they can’t govern Pakistan but they won’t let anybody else govern either.

As for the third puzzle, Dr. Cohen thinks India has a very ambiguous policy towards Pakistan. He commented that some Indians think they should have normal relations with Pakistan whereas some take a very hard line and believe in breaking Pakistan.

Dissecting the US policy under the Bush administration, Dr. Cohen mentioned that this administration made a strategic partnership with India a high priority that emboldened Pakistan’s suspicions.

Dr. Cohen also criticized the US policy in Pakistan and said that the Bush administration’s decision to contract Pakistan’s policy to Musharraf was wrong. He added that after Musharraf failed we tried to sub-contract that policy to Benazir Bhutto that proved to be a death knell for her.

He said actually hope was the US policy in that region and referred to George Shultz’s remark that hope is not a policy.

Dr. Cohen warned that if Pakistan keeps unraveling the world will face a serious threat of securing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons five to six years down the lane.  Responding to a question, he said other than Kashmir India could resolve other smaller issues including Sir Creek, Siachen, etc., with Pakistan.

Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown suggested that the US should not allow the situation between Pakistan and India to go out of control because it will “result in the redeployment of the Pakistani military away from its border with Afghanistan towards its eastern border.”

She commented that although the Taliban insurgency is self-sustaining at this point and has developed substantial internal base, any let up in continuing pressure on the Taliban and other jihadi networks along the Pak-Afghan border will strengthen their insurgency.

She said the escalation would also lead to a proxy war between the archrivals and Afghanistan has seen this playing out on its soil. “During the 1980s, while Pakistan and the United States supported the mujahedeen, India backed the pro-Soviet regime of President Mohammad Najibullah. During the 1990s, while Pakistan supported the Taliban, India provided assistance to the Northern Alliance.”

She pointed out that after the Taliban were dethroned in 2001, President of Afghanistan Karazai’s close ties with India were unwelcome for Pakistan. “Indian consulates in Afghanistan are regarded by Pakistan as spying outfits and sources of aid to the separatist movement in Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan while Indian aid in dam construction in the Afghan province of Kunar is interpreted by Islamabad as a way to divert water resources from Pakistan,” she added.