A decoy mission

Published on Nov 25, 2011 07:11 PM IST

Instead of a study on subcontinental terrorism, we get a rough guide to the history of the region

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Shishir Gupta, Hindustan Times | By

The subcontinent's 'nuclear flash-point theory' has an all-encompassing dimension. It reminds the world that the Kashmir issue could result in nuclear war between India and Pakistan and is stated in the belief that the ultimate fantasy of South Asia jihadists is to spark off a conflict between two rivals through a well-timed terror strike. These freelance jihadists also absolve the hyper-active State actors across the Radcliffe Line of any guilt or remorse. Marketed by Islamabad and bought by Washington and other western capitals, the flash-point theory is spun out every time India is a victim of a terror strike and is used to cool tempers on both sides of Line of Control (LoC) by jet-setting diplomats and generals. Recent examples of this theory in play has been the December 13, 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists and the November 26, 2008 Mumbai massacre by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists with total support of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate.

Dilip Hiro's Jihad On Two Fronts: South Asia's Unfolding Drama has been described as a study of the intricate relationship between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India on the basis of the alarming scenario of India and Pakistan annihilating each other with crude nuclear missiles in case the jihadists succeeded. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But one can't blame Hiro for this perspective as Islamabad shouts war from the rooftops as soon as a major attack takes place on the Indian hinterland. If the sole objective of jihadists was to escalate tensions between India and Pakistan, then scores would not be dying on both sides of the Durand Line.

Apart from being instruments of State policy, Pakistan-based jihadist groups, fed on puritan Al-Hadith, Salafi or Wahabbi Islamic concepts, have also targeted India for being liberal, or for not being able to stop communal carnages. India's indigenous jihadists, on the other hand, struck in response to the political leadership's inability to stop the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the 2002 post-Godhra Gujarat riots. The other nuance is that Indian Muslims, barring a miniscule proportion of the community, have nothing to do with the political objectives of those living across the Bannihal Tunnel or across the Radcliffe Line.

The title of the book is rather misplaced as one thought that Hiro was prima facie referring to Pakistan-based groups opening two fronts through the LeT and the JeM in India and in Afghanistan through the Taliban and al-Qaida. The book actually is a rough guide to the history of the subcontinent with detailed recall of events in Pakistan and Afghanistan since the British left the region. There is little evidence of any detailed study of events on the ground except for tourist trip to New Delhi's Nizamuddin dargarh and Kabul and the author's memories of his once hometown in Pakistan's Sindh province.

The chapter on Kashmir as well as the plight of Indian Muslims is based on stereotypes through limited exposure. Hiro's perception of the Hamid Karzai government echoes writings in the western press, particularly when Washington was looking for a regime change and befriending other Pashtuns in the hope of displacing the current regime.

Written in an easy style, the book is fast food for those who used to live in the subcontinent once upon a time and sometimes still remember it. Although not too fondly.

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