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Monday, December 22, 2008

Haroon Siddiqui: Past haunts the present in troubled subcontinent

The past haunts the present in other embarrassing ways. Among the militants arrested last week was the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attack, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, a former Mujahid in Afghanistan. Yesterday's hero, today's terrorist.

America does not want to be reminded of any of this. This necessitates layers of deception.

It is said that the ISI has become a force unto itself, not totally under the control of the army. Or that it is under the army's control but its rogue elements are not (like those rogue elements at Abu Ghraib). Or that the Taliban and other groups have outgrown ISI sponsorship and are independent.

So when President Asif Ali Zardari promises to crack down on the militants, he is putting on a show of his own. He cannot deliver. Two incidents show this is so.

On the night of July 26-27, his government announced that it was placing the ISI under civilian control, "with immediate effect." The army intervened instantly and by 3 a.m. the order was reversed.

Post-Mumbai, he said he'd dispatch the director of the ISI to India to help with the probe. Within hours, the army had pushed him back.

Similarly, his conciliatory gestures toward India are taken with a grain of salt. He has adopted a softer stance on Kashmir. He has suggested a no first-use accord on nuclear weapons, something the army opposes. In September, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, he promised Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to expand bilateral trade.

But the Lashkar and Jaish champion a popular cause in Kashmir. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa delivers food, medicine, tents and social services better than the government.

The more Zardari talks of cracking down on these groups, the more he appears to be a puppet of the U.S. and India. He is already seen as such. While his government says Pakistan's sovereignty is sacrosanct, American drones roam inside Pakistan hitting suspected Taliban-Al-Qaeda targets and killing civilians, fuelling public anger. Zardari has either acquiesced to the covert operations or he is impotent.


Afghanistan's problems over the last 25 years have spilled into Pakistan. If Afghanistan is yet to recover from being a failed state, Pakistan is in danger of becoming one.

Pakistan's problems are beginning to spill into India.

Add to that the relevant internal problems of India (an alienated Muslim minority of 150 million), of Pakistan (weak democracy, strong army, growing Islamic radicalism), and of Afghanistan (tribalism, warlords, drugs, corruption).

Add also the bilateral tensions – Kashmir and the porous Afghan-Pakistan border that the Pushtuns/Taliban criss-cross at will.

There is, obviously, no silver bullet...


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