Post-Mumbai: Will India’s soft-power diplomacy work? (News Analysis)

December 13th, 2008 - 11:37 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaNew Delhi, Dec 13 (IANS) Did someone expect a ’stronger’ response from India after the Nov 26-28 terrorist attack on Mumbai?The international media wasted no time in calling it India’s Sep 11, drawing parallels between the Mumbai siege and the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. US president-elect Barack Obama said India had the “right to defend itself”. Republican Senator John Mccain said in Lahore that India would launch an aerial strike “if Pakistan fails to act against terrorists”.

But, still, the official Indian response was less rhetorical. Those who witnessed the aggressive diplomacy and military mobilisation after the parliament attack of Dec 13, 2001, might have been amused over the way India dealt with Pakistan post-Mumbai.

As The Economist weekly put it, India showed “laudable restraint” and was wary of not attacking the weak civilian government in Pakistan. It, however, painstakingly focussed on the terror cells operating in that country and the support they receive from the Pakistani army and other agencies.

“The Indian government has already alluded to ISI’s (Inter Service Intelligence) support for terror elements operating out of Pakistan. It has built up pressure by postponing composite talks and sharing intelligence with other international spy agencies. This has been carefully done keeping in mind Pakistan’s reluctance to accept any evidence from India,” Ashok K. Behuria, a research fellow and Pakistan expert at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), told IANS.

According to Behuria, India’s reluctance to bring in enough pressure on the weak civilian government was perhaps “guided by the reasoning that the government has absolutely no control over the security apparatus”.

“They (India) do not want to create a situation which will bring the (Pakistani) army back on to the centre stage,” he added.

It is worth noting that even after the months-long troops mobilisation (called Operation Parakram) following the parliament attack, India gained nothing great, neither diplomatically nor militarily. Though the Musharraf government banned the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in January 2002, the terror outfit continued to enjoy the support of Pakistan’s notorious spy agency.

When the governments in the Middle East and East Asia took strong measures to crack down on the terror groups operating in their territories, LeT “flourished” in Pakistan with the help of ISI and a huge fund-raising organisation, Jamat-ud-Dawa, the New York Times reported recently, quoting unnamed American intelligence officials.

The Mumbai terror attacks took place against this background. Any policy level decision from India should have taken at least two things into consideration - the widening chasm between the army and the civilian government in Pakistan and a growing LeT that enjoys the support of the security establishment.

Any use of the hard power would have brought the Pakistani army back on to the centre stage. Carefully avoiding that, India adopted a realistic approach to win international support to force Pakistan to act against the militants.

“I am making it quite clear that it (war) is not a solution,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told parliament Thursday, adding “controllers of Mumbai attacks were in Pakistan. Islamabad should act against them.”

The post-Mumbai situation is providing an opportunity to New Delhi to test its soft power at the international level. It is a major crisis the country is facing after cementing its strategic tie-up with the US through the civilian nuclear deal.

Could New Delhi use this “strategic advantage” effectively to force Pakistan act?

Pakistan has reportedly cracked down on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s office in Muzaffarabad and placed restrictions on the movement of many militant leaders, including Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), LeT’s founder leader Hafiz Muhammed Saeed and its operational level head Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi.

Given the futility of similar detentions of militant leaders following the parliament attack and the 2006 Mumbai train bombing, India has reasons to remain sceptical. Mukherjee made the position clear while asking Pakistan to act. “Mere expression of intention is not adequate.”

India wants Pakistan to destroy the terror cells operating in its territory. That is where the soft-power diplomacy faces its real test. Is it realistic to expect the Pakistani army, which gives overt support to anti-India militants, to take military action against them? Could the civilian government that has little muscle go against the wishes of the military?

These questions remain to be answered. But India’s delicate engagement has made advances on two fronts - it denied the Pakistani army that is bogged down in a dirty war in the Afghan border an opportunity to come back to the eastern border and it brought the civilian government directly under severe international pressure.

Now Pakistan has to find a way out. If not, as Mukherjee said, it will not be “business as usual” for that country.

(John Stanly can be contacted at stanly.j@ians.in)

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