Terrorism & South Asian Peace

(This post is also archived at gorkhapatra.org.np)

Osama bin Laden’s demise in Attottabad, Pakistan by U.S. Special Forces through covert military operations on May 1, 2011 has indeed caused reverberations worldwide. The most visible impact seems to be growing demand among U.S. lawmakers about reexamination of American policy to Pakistan. South Asia has become a hotbed of Islamic terrorism since the Soviet defeat and withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Paradoxically, the U.S. policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan during latter’s occupation by then Soviet Union has been more responsible for fostering Islamic terrorism in South Asia. In 1980s the American administration would not have embraced the so-called Muslim freedom fighters in Afghanistan assisting them with money and material to humiliate the Russians, had they known that the same band of Muslim fighters would resort to terrorism to hit against them later.

The jubilation in the American cities following confirmation of Osama’s death is understandable. Undisputedly, the American have borne the brunt of the problem arising from Islamic terrorism. Obviously the majority of the dead among the September 11, 2001 victims were the U.S. citizens. However, a sense of disappointment prevails in South Asia in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death mainly because of two reasons.

The first is the increasing fear among the South Asians that they may be subjected to more frequent attacks from the remnants of al Queda to avenge their leader’s killing in Pakistan. Secondly, the unfinished war against terror may face a setback should collaboration on counterterrorism efforts between the U.S. and Pakistan gets weakened following further strain on their bilateral ties.

It is a fact that Osama bin Laden and his sympathizers in committing atrocities against the Western interests were forced to concentrate their activities in Afghan-Pak territories after American intervention in Afghanistan since December 2001. The notorious but charismatic bin laden’s disappearance for good will have huge symbolic impact on Al Qaeda, which is world’s most-feared terrorist organization.

It has been intensely debated whether Osama’s killing in Pakistan will adversely impact on already damaged U.S.-Pakistan ties. The relations between the two countries started to become cold after the U.S.’s targeted killing of terrorists hiding in the tribal areas in Pakistan. These areas have been the most preferred sanctuaries for al Qaeda and other Afghani and Pakistani Taliban fighters, who have been hitting against the Americans targets to put pressure on them to exit Afghanistan prematurely.

It is relevant to evaluate how Indo-Pak relations will be affected in Bin Laden’s aftermath. Therefore, an attempt is being made to find out the immediate ramification of Osama’s death on prospects of peace in South Asia. Peace in the said region has remained illusory for almost six decades. There is no controversy that peace in this turbulent region very much depends on relationship between India and Pakistan. These two neighbors have been locked in wars even since their birth in 1947. Very dangerously they came very close to nuclear exchange in 1999 during their war in Kargil.

A few statements coming from Indian establishment expose the depth of mistrust and suspicion that symbolize Indo-Pak relations. In the wake of Osama’s killing in Pakistan some valid questions have been raised. Will Pakistan be able to afford to be hypocritical in continuing to provide refuge to some militants and simultaneously seen to be cooperating in counterinsurgency measures? Pakistan’s central role in American-led effort to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda is coming under growing scrutiny.

Against the backdrop of revelation of bin laden’s sanctuary in Pakistan and amidst rising animosity between the two neighbors, India’s Union Minister of Home Affairs, P. Chidambaram looks more distrustful. He said, “We take note with grave concern that the fire fight in which Osama was killed took place in Abbottabad deep inside Pakistan. This fact underlines our concerns that terrorists belonging to different organizations find sanctuary in Pakistan.”

India has grumbled time and again and more loudly after November, 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan has yet to bring the perpetrators of that crime to book. 166 innocent lives were lost then. The fact that  Osama was sheltered in Abbottabad has vindicated India’s allegations. Pakistan’s official denial of harboring any terrorists is no less obfuscatory. In 2010 Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik was quoted, “I categorically deny the presence of Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, and even Mullah Omar in any part of Pakistan.”

New Delhi will certainly follow what transpires between Islamabad and Washington in the opinion of Prof. Sumit Ganguly, who though alarmingly speculates that if the U.S. continues to dissemble about Pakistan’s evasive approach to counterterrorism, Indo-U.S. relations could also reach a stalemate. Whether such ominous prediction will be realized or not can hardly be said definitively now.

None disputes that the continuing U.S.-Pakistan codependence in the fight against terrorism and militancy in South Asia is indispensable. The U.S. has to exit Afghanistan in an orderly fashion and Pakistan has to contain its domestic insurgencies. Pakistan needs U.S. aid to deal with the terrorists despite some U.S. Congressmen’s voices to suspend the same. In meeting these objectives both U.S. and Pakistan have to cooperate with each other. This strategic convergence will be crucial to enduring relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Since 2004 India and Pakistan have started the bilateral dialogue process to resolve their differences. However, it remains shattered since 2008 when Pakistani terrorists were allegedly involved in killing innocent citizens in Mumbai Taj Hotel incident.

No effective fight against Islamic terrorism in South Asia is possible without Indo-Pak cooperation. Islamic terrorism erroneously based on liberation of Islam from the Western repression has undermined peace in South Asia. The inevitability of Indo-Pak collaboration to stamp out terrorism from the region may also induce them to eschew mistrust and resume their stalled peace process. The role of the U.S. administration will be vital in encouraging both India and Pakistan on whom it has leverage to reenergize their endeavors for achieving peace in South Asia.

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