Belmont Club

Our view of the world

If you really, really try it’s possible to turn even a tragedy into a comedy. The Australian’s lead paragraph on the recent attacks in Mumbai is so breezily politically correct that it’s almost like a retro commercial.

An Adelaide woman in India for her wedding is lucky to be alive after teenage gunmen ran amok, shooting a man, just metres from the restaurant where she was holed up. Fashion designer Kloe Papazahariakis – in Mumbai to wed Bollywood star Puneet Vasishtha – was with a group of about 100 people trapped in a restaurant, metres from a hospital that was bombed during a wave of attacks across the city that have killed at least 82 people. Ms Papazahariakis was having dinner with friend when she got a phone call saying there had been a shooting at the popular restaurant Leopold’s.

So there you have it folks, watch out for teenage gunmen running amok the next time you visit India. Popular culture’s a great thing and educational too. I once asked my son to name four famous painters and he swiftly responded with “Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael.” And you know, he was right. All together now.

[youtube r_RHuX8x-Ig]

But on a more serious note, the Indian Prime Minister has blamed terrorists based in Pakistan, not “teenage gunmen” for the attacks. The BBC reports that Manmohan Singh:

has vowed to take “whatever measures are necessary” to track down those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. He said the perpetrators were based “outside the country” and India would not tolerate “neighbours” who provide a haven to militants targeting it. … India has complained in the past that attacks on its soil have been carried out by groups based in Pakistan, although relations between the two countries have improved in recent years and Pakistani leaders were swift to condemn the latest attacks.

The attackers are exploiting the fact that both India and the US need Pakistan’s cooperation to fight terrorism based within its borders. With Obama planning to send 20,000 more men to Afghanistan, Islamabad’s cooperation shipping military supplies through its ports is more important than ever. And because India is unlikely to seek war with Pakistan, New Delhi also needs Islamabad’s help in suppressing terrorists. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Obama outlined his Afghan/Pakistan policy:

I will join with our allies in insisting — not simply requesting — that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups. At the same time, I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look toward the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe that its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban.

In other words, Obama had hoped India would mollify Pakistan by making concessions in the East so that Islamabad would agree to crack down on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the West — even provide money to boost the economies of the NWFP. Now that the “teenage gunmen” have made Indian concessions to Pakistan politically impossible we can expect those overtures to be suspended, but they will resume the moment public anger subsides. Over time, this sort of policy will come to resemble that existing between Palestine and Israel, with India playing the role of Israel. Diplomats will keep hoping that if India makes enough concessions to Pakistan then the “moderates” will gain the upper hand, crack down on the “extremists” and conclude a grand diplomatic bargain. The absence of a viable alternative means that the diplomats will keep trying this formula, however often it fails, because they have nothing else up their sleeves. Those “teenage gunmen” have got New Delhi and Washington over a barrel and know it. The events in Mumbai are unlikely to change the situation in the region. On the contrary, they suggest that such attacks will become depressingly common, much as the rockets raining down on Israel have ceased to become news.

Update

Stratfor reaches as somewhat different assessment from the same premises. In its view India will be forced to act either plunging Pakistan into a crisis or forcing a domestic one upon New Delhi. It writes:

That, in turn, will plunge India and Pakistan into the worst crisis they have had since 2002. If the Pakistanis are understood to be responsible for the attack, then the Indians must hold them responsible, and that means they will have to take action in retaliation — otherwise, the Indian government’s domestic credibility will plunge. The shape of the crisis, then, will consist of demands that the Pakistanis take immediate steps to suppress Islamist radicals across the board, but particularly in Kashmir. New Delhi will demand that this action be immediate and public. This demand will come parallel to U.S. demands for the same actions, and threats by incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to force greater cooperation from Pakistan.

If that happens, Pakistan will find itself in a nutcracker. On the one side, the Indians will be threatening action — deliberately vague but menacing — along with the Americans. This will be even more intense if it turns out, as currently seems likely, that Americans and Europeans were being held hostage (or worse) in the two hotels that were attacked. If the attacks are traced to Pakistan, American demands will escalate well in advance of inauguration day.

There are two problems with this line of argument. The first is the Pakistani capability to do anything about Islamic terrorism within its borders and the second is Pakistani intent. Radical Islamism is a domestic political force in Pakistan. Expecting Islamabad to crack down on the LeT or the Taliban is like hoping the Democrats will crack down on Barney Frank or Bill Ayers. It’s politically hard to do and in the end, they may not be able to even if they wanted to. What’s most likely is that the Pakistanis will go through the motions and the “teenage gunmen” will lie low for a while, and they may not even do that — until next time. There will be a next time.