Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has rejected India’s demand to hand over fugitives that include the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed. He also “doubts” whether a perpetrator of the Mumbai attack currently in custody is a Pakistani national. This should neither shock nor surprise us. It would have been naive to expect the Pakistani political establishment — even after changing its clothes from uniform to mufti — to suddenly change a decades-old policy of blinking innocently to charges of harbouring terrorists on Pakistani soil. But apart from venting moral outrage, how does India now proceed to not only deliver justice for what happened in Mumbai last week but also to ensure that terrorists are permanently uprooted from Pakistani soil?
Yes, we are aware that Pakistan also faces the scourge of terror. But sharing the tag of victimhood is not good enough to make us feel secure. Islamabad is unable to take out terror camps within its own territory. That’s because the Pakistani Army — the real caller of shots — still wants to cherry pick its jihadis (‘useful terrorists’, ‘out-of-control terrorists’). In any case, we have ‘trust’ issues with Pakistan that make any joint investigation as offered by Islamabad more than a bit of a joke. Considering that we don’t agree on the necessity to destroy the LeT or even define ‘terrorists’ according to the same dictionary, a joint investigation will be akin to teaming up with a pointless middleman between two enemies.
Much is being made of India needing to lean on the United States to push the Pakistanis into taking overt action against terror camps. With a Pakistan-Afghanistan border already a theatre of war, the US is understandably keen on not diverting firepower to an eastern front. Which leaves India to primarily take control of its own future security.
Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee has rightly stated that ‘military action’ will be the last option. The problem is that there are very few other options in the current set-up to ‘check-list’. Some analysts believe that one of the prime motives of the Mumbai blasts was to ensure that India ratchets up its troop presence along the Pakistani border. After the December 13, 2001, attack on the Indian Parliament, a troop build-up did indeed divert attention from a successful, ongoing offensive against al-Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. That ‘enforced multi-tasking’ ultimately led to the survival of al-Qaeda. But India cannot simply do nothing. Surgical strikes against terror camps inside Pakistan must be carefully considered taking into consideration whether that would make things better or worse for India’s security and now a non-negotiable war against terror.
Let the Indian government, in the meantime, come out with a White Paper that puts across all evidence of ‘Pakistani involvement’ in the terror attacks. That will also serve the purpose of getting international support when push comes to shove. Also, let Pakistan be given a time-frame — say, six months — for it to take action against terrorist groups like the LeT and for that action to be seen. This could be the first option before the ‘last option’ is taken by a nation that needs to act even if no one else is willing or able to.