Indian army soldiers take positions near the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai, India on Nov. 27, 2008. Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, hospitals and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India's financial capital.
"Keep the Pressure on Pakistan"
March 4, 2009
Author: Appu Soman, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, 2007–2009
President-elect Barack Obama has promised the active engagement of his administration to tackle the problem of terrorism in South Asia. The 26 November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai once again highlighted the threat terrorism originating in Pakistan poses to international security. The current wave of terrorism in South Asia began nearly two decades ago. The failure of successive administrations in Washington to take a firm stand against this terrorism has allowed the problem to fester to the point where it is now the most critical American security concern.
Terrorism in Kashmir started right after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, when Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) began to use camps set up to train the Afghan Mujahideen to train Kashmiri militants. After Pakistan failed to honor pledges to eliminate terrorist support bases from its territory, the George Herbert Walker Bush administration placed Pakistan in the terrorism watch list in January 1993.
In March 1993, terrorists backed by the ISI landed in Mumbai by sea from Pakistan in an operation similar to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai and carried out coordinated serial bomb attacks in the city. In July 1993, despite the absence of serious action by Pakistan to curb terrorist outfits fighting India, the Clinton administration took Pakistan off the terrorism watch list. Terrorist attacks in Kashmir increased exponentially after that. The Taliban gained control of Afghanistan with Pakistan's backing, allowing the al Qaeda to establish itself in that country. The Clinton administration still refused to reverse its benign neglect of Pakistan-based terrorism.
Emboldened by the Clinton administration's stance, Pakistan continued to encourage terrorism against India. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, created by the ISI in the 1980s, became a major terrorist network. In 2001 and 2002, the Lashkar's operatives carried out major terrorist attacks in India that almost led to war between India and Pakistan. American mediation extracted an undertaking from Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, to eliminate terrorist bases in Pakistan permanently. Pakistan, however, reneged on its promise. Rather than pressing Musharraf to fulfill his pledge, the Bush administration persuaded the government of India that it was beyond the capacity of the Pakistani government to completely eliminate the terror network on its soil.
Pakistan, once again let off, took some steps to curb terrorists infiltrating into Kashmir. But the Lashkar's network spread to the rest of India. From 2003, serial bomb attacks traced to the Lashkar have taken place in several Indian cities and Hindu temples. Other smaller but equally vicious terrorist outfits continue to operate in Pakistan, without much hindrance from its authorities.
After the 26 November attacks in Mumbai, Washington once again pressed the Pakistani government to take credible action against the terrorist networks. American investigators have turned up evidence clearly linking elements in Pakistan to the Mumbai attacks. The American diplomatic pressure on Pakistan this time appears to have been stronger than anytime after 1993. In its last days in office, the Bush administration turned the clock back to January 1993, except for placing Pakistan formally in the terrorism watch list. Even that was not enough to produce substantive results.
The South Asia problem that President Barack Obama inherited on 20 January 2009 is similar to what President Bill Clinton inherited 16 years ago. However, the situation is a lot more serious now. Islamic militancy has acquired a significant foothold in Pakistan, with the Taliban gaining control over large chunks of the Northwest Frontier Province. As intractable as the problem appears to be, it can be tackled if the Pakistani army decides to do so. But Pakistan's elected government does not control the army or the country's intelligence agencies. The Pakistani people are not concerned enough with the steady spread of Islamic militancy in their country to demand that their government regain its control over Pakistani territory and eliminate the terrorist infrastructure on its soil. The Lashkar, meanwhile, has extended its tentacles outside the subcontinent.
For the United States, Afghanistan has already become its primary theater of war, where its forces are fighting an enemy closely allied with the terrorist networks operating against India. This enemy and its allies have to be eliminated, not bought off with concessions. As Obama contemplates his South Asia policy, he might wonder how different the region, the world, and American security might have looked if the Clinton administration had not let Pakistan off the hook in 1993.
Appu Soman is a fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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