When the President of a sovereign nation-State claims that ‘non-State actors’ operating from its soil perpetrated a horrendous carnage in a neighbouring country, the world has reason to be alarmed. This is what Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari said of the Mumbai terror attacks. And it took external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee to call a spade a shovel when he asked whether these “non-State actors” had come from heaven or another planet. With this rare show of belligerence,
Mr Mukherjee put paid to any attempts by Pakistan at obfuscation.
Far from being non-State actors, it is now clear that all the attackers were Pakistanis operating in connivance with the establishment. That Mr Zardari should try to take refuge under the euphemism amounts to an admission that Pakistani territory is open to anyone who wants to embark on a misadventure. A dangerous admission from a nuclear-armed state. What Mr Zardari does not explain, and cannot or will not, is how a non-State actor can function in a vacuum. Surely, the attacks could not have happened without support. Is he admitting that he has no control over these people and if so, who does New Delhi talk to?
Mr Mukherjee has also rightly questioned this concept of house arrest for them. Until proven otherwise, a crime suspect in any other country is taken into judicial or police custody. House arrest does not amount to dismantling terror infrastructure. As we have seen in the past, these ‘non-State actors’ simply change the signboard and carry on with business as usual even when under house arrest. So, Islamabad must now appreciate that it is fooling no one with its less-than-clever jargon. On her recent visit, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice stated in unambiguous terms that Pakistan has the responsibility to rein in those engaged in terrorism from its soil, whether they are state or non-State actors. Mr Mukherjee’s tough talk suggests that this time around, Pakistan is not going to get away with the usual smoke and mirrors game.