No words can fully capture the horror and revulsion caused globally by the Mumbai terror attacks, which killed 180 people, in a meticulously planned military-style operation executed with ruthless precision. The Indian and Pakistani public is deeply shocked at this butchery of innocent civilians, which cannot be justified as retribution for the gravest of injustices, and wasn't so rationalised.
Yet, the revulsion hasn't produced spontaneous people-to-people mutual solidarity, nor a civil-society discussion on how we can jointly fight terrorism, which menaces both countries. Rather, there's a retreat into the shell of nationalism. A competitive blame-game has broken out to accuse "the other side" of jingoism, while practising it oneself in some measure or other.
This has jeopardised the gains of the official peace process and even affected citizen-to-citizen reconciliation, which made considerable progress over one-and-a-half decade against heavy odds. Why has this happened? Simply put, the first shot was fired from India. Less than an hour after the attacks began, Indian TV channels blamed Pakistani jihadi groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. There were premature leaks from the police. And after the arrest of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman alias Qasab, there was just no stopping hysterical anchors and reporters from speculating on the terrorists' motives and links, and levelling all manner of charges.
Soon, Pakistan's channels launched a retaliatory "defence of the nation" against "Indian provocations." The climate has since got progressively vitiated. Exaggeration was built into the very manner in which the attacks were described on Indian channels, as "India's 9/11" and an act of war. Pakistan was depicted as an undifferentiated, homogeneous entity. Past resentments were stoked--as if nothing changed after 2004. Speculation by unnamed intelligence officials was presented as manifest truth.
The "9/11" analogy was wrong for its context, scale and impact. 9/11's casualties were 16 times higher than Mumbai's. They exposed the vulnerability of the US homeland--for the first time in 60 years. Indians have long recognised their vulnerability. 9/11 changed the way the US looks at the world, especially the "Islamic threat." Mumbai won't radically alter India's outlook. The analogy also dangerously justifies the United States' "Global War on Terror" response. But GWoT has been a disaster. It has caused a million civilian deaths, fomented Islamophobia, encouraged terrorism, and spread insecurity. The American people have paid a heavy price through ethnic profiling, intrusive surveillance and the draconian Patriot Act.
Similarly, it's deplorably misleading to bracket Pakistan's civilian government with the Army and the ISI and terrorist groups as if they formed a continuum. Indian commentators should know the government arose from popular struggles against the Army's domination. It strains credulity to hold that the government would undermine the peace process and risk a costly conflict when Pakistan is in dire economic straits and faces a growing collapse of governance.
The Pakistani Army is beyond civilian control. But it's unlikely that it colluded in the Mumbai operation. That would attract Washington's hostility just when it's is planning to escalate the Afghanistan war. However, far too many Pakistani journalists and commentators have reacted by overrating to Indian TV channels' importance while minimising sober views within Indian society and government. They have thus reproduced the pattern--rushing to judgment and "defending the nation"--for which they rightly criticise India's media. This is partly because Indian channels are much more widely watched in Pakistan than the other way around, and have a disproportionate impact.
I write this as a media practitioner, a firm believer in India-Pakistan peace, and as a long-standing critic of my own government's policies on Kashmir, nuclear weapons, human rights and counter-terrorism, who has never spared communalism, jingoism and religion-based national chauvinism.
This pattern replication means ignoring ground realities and the vital fact that most Indians haven't succumbed to the jingoistic, anti-Pakistan, Hindutva interpretation of the attacks and are repelled by Narendra Modi's and L K Advani's posturing. They don't regard Mumbai as a "Hindu-Muslim issue."
Unlike in the past, Indian Muslims haven't been harassed for the Mumbai attacks. Not only have the vast majority of Muslim organisations condemned them, including the targeting of Jews, many participated in citizens' marches for cohesion and secular solidarity. Imams have asked people to wear black ribbons as a mark of protest. No Mumbai graveyard is ready to bury the attackers who were killed. India has never witnessed such spontaneous cross-religious unity against terrorism. Most Pakistani leaders and commentators seem to be in total denial of what's becoming a compelling case for holding that those who attacked Mumbai were mainly Pakistani nationals connected to and controlled by an extremist group, who received combat and maritime training from professionals, of the kind usually associated with the ISI and former Army officers.
The second part of this assessment is not only confirmed by US intelligence officials, recently quoted in The New York Times, but has been well-documented and attested by Pakistani analysts such as Ahmed Rashid, Shuja Nawaz, Ayesha Siddiqa and Hussain Haqqani.
Strong clues for the first part come from growing circumstantial evidence--including the attackers' Global Positioning System and satellite-phone records, email tracks, ordnance factory markings on armaments, and fingerprints on boats and other materials. This suggests that they came by sea from Karachi with sophisticated arms. This is corroborated by what's revealed from the interrogation of Ajmal and intercepts of mobile-phone conversations. Much of the circumstantial evidence is admissible in law. The fact that the attackers carried out their pre-assigned tasks with clockwork precision, that they targeted at least nine Mumbai sites, killed Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, and battled 500 commandos for hours, speaks of a frightening level of combat training and fanatical dedication.
Going by the available expertise on terrorism, there aren't many groups in Pakistan, barring Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which possess these characteristics, can impart rigorous training to young men, and command them to kill themselves. Yet, Indian intelligence and police agencies must painstakingly collect clinching, irrefutable evidence and establish the attackers' identities and connections before making any more public statements.
Inferences from loose facts, and speculation, however informed or intelligent, just won't do. What is needed is hard, incontrovertible evidence, which can withstand critical scrutiny, and on the basis of which the attackers and their co-conspirators can be convicted. Luckily, for the first time, an attacker has been caught alive, who can provide invaluable information. Ajmal must be put on trial.
Leads pointing to LeT's involvement must be fully established if the international community is to be convinced and Pakistan's cooperation is to be secured. LeT was created and trained by the ISI. But it cannot be assumed that the ISI still fully controls it. That possibility must be impartially investigated. If it's true, the ISI must be reined in and punished.
Perhaps the best way of scrutinising, and acting on, the evidence, once it's fully collected and carefully analysed, would be to involve the United Nations Security Council by citing Resolution 1373, which requires all states to "refrain from providing support to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts", give "early warning to other states" and "deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts"--all on pain of punitive measures. This multilateral approach will avert overbearing US interference. But to adopt it, we must get out of denial and mutual recrimination.