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Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision

Author: V. Sudarshan
Publication: Outlook
Date: August 28, 2006
URL: http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20060828&fname=Cover+Story+%28F%29&sid=7

Introduction: Sadly, the US and UK still gloss over terrorist attacks in India

Contrary to popular belief, the Indian government has reliably learnt from Western interlocutors that Pakistan didn't tip off British intelligence agencies about the plot to simultaneously blow up planes over the Atlantic.

In fact, it was the other way around: Britain had been monitoring the terrorist module for months, listening to conversations and exchange of messages among its members. On the basis of this intelligence, Britain asked Pakistan to arrest the seven suspects-five Pakistanis and two British nationals. "Britain provided the lead and Pakistan only acted on the lead," a senior government source told Outlook. Pakistan was consequently making a virtue out of necessity when it claimed credit for helping bust the plot to blow up planes.

Government officials say last week's London incident is a reconfirmation, if any was needed, that "the crucible of terrorism is still Pakistan". But they doubt whether the linking of the terror plot to British citizens of Pakistani origin will dissuade the West from pursuing a segmented approach to the war on terror-turning a blind eye to terror attacks against India and insisting on a crackdown on only those groups targeting US, British or European interests.

For long, Indian officials have argued that Al Qaeda, Taliban, and the militant groups operating in Kashmir-the LeT, the Hizbul Mujahideen or the JeM-are part of the same terror network, albeit operating under banners of different organisations.


officials claim that the US and the UK mask the terrifying reality that Pakistan presents, glossing over terrorism emanating from there that doesn't target them. "This is the same instinct that led them to distinguish between 'good' Taliban and 'bad' Taliban. That myopia continues, and is deliberate," says a senior source.

Three questions arise: Is the West asking Pakistan to also act against terror groups targeting India? If yes, what emboldens Musharraf to disregard this advice? Is it just diplomatic doublespeak?

It isn't that the West is unaware of what is transpiring in Pakistan, insist officials. They draw attention to a speech delivered by British PM Tony Blair on August 1 to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. Calling for a renaissance in the West's foreign policy, Blair had said, "Of course, the fanatics, attached to a completely wrong and reactionary view of Islam, had been engaging in terrorism for years before September 11. In Chechnya, India and Pakistan, in Algeria, in many other Muslim nations, atrocities were occurring. But we didn't feel the impact. So we were not bending our eye or our will to it as we should have. We had barely heard of the Taliban. We were rather inclined to the view that where there was terrorism, perhaps it was partly the fault of the governments of the countries concerned. We were in error. In fact, these acts of terrorism were not isolated incidents. They were part of a growing movement." This is an elaboration of a theme Blair had enunciated in March this year. Then he had said, "In Chechnya and Kashmir, political causes that could have been resolved became brutally incapable of resolution under the pressure of terrorism."

Notwithstanding Blair-speak, there have been instances of the West being deliberately insensitive to India's plight. Take US assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher's comments after the Mumbai blasts. He suggested that the US had not seen any evidence of Pakistan's involvement in the blasts. "I think we need to be led by the evidence before we start drawing conclusions and make policy pronouncements on it (Mumbai blasts). So that will be our attitude, and I think that should be the attitude of others as well," Boucher reportedly said.

His statement sparked diplomatic sniping.

Responding to the scepticism expressed by the senior US official, government spokesman Navtej Sarna said, "The US was part of the St Petersburg (G-8) statement. If you see any inherent contradiction in any statements coming out of that (US) government, you have to address that government."

Some days later, a normally reticent and media-wary national security advisor M.K. Narayanan tore into the sentiments Boucher had expressed. "It was one of the most unfortunate statements that could happen after the Mumbai blasts," Narayanan fumed on a TV programme, Devil's Advocate, on July 30. He added, "I think what we have at this point is definitely stronger than what America had when 9/11 took place or immediately thereafter.... The question is, are you willing to believe it? If you are willing to believe it, I think we will provide the same kind of story." Narayanan went on to say that Boucher had made the statement before consulting New Delhi about the evidence it had.

Although there has been a marked change in the West's ostrich-like attitude regarding India's concerns, officials say that there is, even in the most recent conversations, a steadfast refusal by Western interlocutors to acknowledge that Musharraf has to be pushed to root out the terror network that still flourishes in Pakistan, without making any distinction between the Lashkar-e-Jahangvi, the LeT or Al Qaeda. New Delhi comes away from these meetings with the distinct and disturbing impression that neither the US nor the UK want to prod Musharraf to the point where he can make a real difference in India's fight against terror.

For the moment, it seems the existing policy of the West towards Musharraf will continue. It stems, senior officials say, from a feeling in Washington and London that

* Musharraf is, in the circumstances prevailing in Pakistan, their only hope there;

* In the war against terror Musharraf does deliver, even if it is partial and only under compulsion;

* The West sees Pakistan's future as being more secure with Musharraf as both president and chief of the armed forces;

* Both Washington and London have a large troop presence in Afghanistan. British troops have moved into Afghanistan's tribal badlands that border Pakistan. The Pakistan army's cooperation has, therefore, become a critical factor.

* Considering the unrest in the region-from Lebanon to Iraq to Palestine to Afghanistan to the looming crisis in Iran-the West feels there's no sense in complicating their relationship with Pakistan any more than it already is.

Officials say that not once has Pakistan passed on any information or intelligence or any tip-off alerting New Delhi to any threat against India. All indicators-the level of infiltration, electronic chatter from handlers across the LoC, violence in the Valley-suggest that Pakistan has either turned a deliberate blind eye to anti-India/Kashmir-related activities or is tacitly encouraging it. These activities had reduced during the days after Musharraf's visit to Delhi last April. Then it had seemed as if a switch had been turned off.

Senior Indian security planners are also worried that there has been irresponsible analyses in the country that Indian Muslims are getting increasingly snared in the web of terrorism. This worry cannot be understated: it is just a couple of steps short of tarnishing the entire community, creating a veritable circle of alienation and anger.

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