The Limits of Indiscriminate Violence

16 May 2006

  Praful Bidwai

The Limits of Indiscriminate Violence
Praful Bidwai
The News International, 6 May 2006

The beheading in Afghanistan of Indian engineer Kasula Suryanarayana by the Taliban marks a new low in the already precarious situation of that country. It is a pointer to the success that the Taliban have had in regrouping in several of Afghanistan's provinces, especially in Kandahar, Zabul, Kunar, Uruzgan, Paktika, Paktia and Helmand-not to speak of the tribal agency areas in Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

The incident also raises uncomfortable questions about collusion between the various forces comprising what President Hamid Karzai describes as the "Enemies of Afghanistan". It is noteworthy that Suryanarayana was killed despite Karzai's recent invitation to the Taliban to further the process of political reconciliation by joining and cooperating with his government. Suryanarayana's killing is a sign of greater recalcitrance and self-confidence on the part of the Taliban.

This is not the first time that a non-combatant Indian civilian has been wantonly killed by the Taliban. Nor will it be the last. Some 2,000 Indians work in Afghanistan in various capacities in road-building and other infrastructure projects. They are all vulnerable to mindless acts of abduction and killing. Unlike many Indians working in Iraq, most Indians in Afghanistan are not adequately covered by insurance. Nor are they protected by security agencies. They are easy or "soft" targets.

Even more distressing is the massacre last Sunday of 34 Hindus in the hill districts of Doda and Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir-an act of exceptional barbarity. This once again shows that no religious community in that troubled part of India can hope to escape the armed depredations of fanatical militants.

Kashmiri Muslims have borne the brunt of such attacks since 1989-carried out, ironically, by those who profess faith in Islam and Islamicism. Sikhs and Hindus have not been spared either, although they account for less than a fifth of all such indiscriminate murders. The latest killings, like the recent terrorist attacks on Hindu temples in Jammu, are meant to create communal divides where none existed. This makes them especially pernicious.

It cannot be an accident that the targeted killings of Hindus in the Jammu region took place three days before a meeting last Wednesday (May 3) between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of the All Parties Huriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, which was itself meant to be a prelude to a second Round-Table Conference on Kashmir to be held later this month.

Evidently, the killers want to sabotage the peace process-in particular, the possibility of a serious dialogue on Kashmir. They have grown especially desperate after the recent successful round of by-elections in Kashmir, with a high turnout.

In India, there is speculation that the perpetrators of the Jammu massacre belong to groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, many of whose members are hostile to President Musharraf and, in general, the India-Pakistan dialogue process itself. As for the Suryanarayana case, however, many intelligence experts believe that the Taliban probably acted in league with hardline elements in Pakistani covert agencies who oppose any Indian role in Afghanistan.

It is hard to verify this assessment in a conclusive manner. South Asia's intelligence experts are not quite independent of their respective governments, and they are often wrong. But it nevertheless stands to reason that hardliners in secret agencies would collude with all forces which seek to scare Indian civilians away from Afghanistan. They don't regard India's historic ties with Afghanistan as real or legitimate.

Many hardliners probably believe-like many in Pakistan's civilian establishment do too-that India is messing around or making trouble in a country that lies in the Pakistani "sphere of influence" and gives it the "strategic depth" it otherwise lacks.

(This is so despite the view of independent Afghanistan experts such as Barnett Rubin that India's assistance package for Afghanistan is fairly substantial, and better targeted and far less donor-driven than a good deal of international aid. "Strategic depth" is also a dubious doctrine, as this Column has argued more than once. But let that pass.)

The foregoing raises two important questions about the India-Pakistan peace process. Can it endure and yield solid results if Pakistan's agencies directly or indirectly target Indian civilians and generally adopt a hostile stance towards Indians in a "third country" like Afghanistan (and vice versa)? And how compatible is a hardline approach pertaining to the Afghan context, with a "soft" approach to finding a negotiated solution to the Kashmir problem?

The first answer should be obvious. Not only is it egregiously wrong, illegitimate and unacceptable for any government agency to target innocent civilians and violate the fundamental principle of non-combatant immunity. It's ludicrous to act in bad faith towards your dialogue partner and still expect good results from bilateral talks. On a mature view, Afghanistan, like Iran, offers an arena for India-Pakistan cooperation, not adversity. The rich opportunities it presents have not been tapped.

The second issue is even more important. According to several indicators, the Hurriyat leaders have prepared a brief with at least three proposals for Manmohan Singh, which apparently enjoy Islamabad's endorsement or approval. They include the "Andorra model" of a "United States of Kashmir", suzerainty and self-rule for the Kashmiris without altering the sovereignty of either country, and demilitarisation on either side of the Line of Control.

Besides, there are "internal" issues like release of political prisoners, repeal of repressive laws, and human rights violations. These came up for discussion with Singh last Wednesday and will be pursued in future talks in a "structured format".

Such discussions will indisputably take the dialogue forward. The Jammu killings are calculated to derail it. And further attacks on Indians in Afghanistan are likely to vitiate the climate for a dialogue.

That's why it is not enough that Pakistani and Indian governments, and citizens' groups, unequivocally condemn the recent violence. They must go further and resolve that fanatics like LeT cannot be allowed to sabotage the peace process and hold either or both governments to ransom.

Pakistan, in particular, must reconcile its Afghanistan and Indian policies and abide scrupulously by its commitment not to support any militant separatist and terrorist groups. India must resist the growing pressure being mounted on Manmohan Singh to postpone his impending visit to Pakistan. India should take measures in good faith to improve the state of human rights in Kashmir.

Pakistan has a great deal at stake here, perhaps more than does India. It has paid a heavy price for supporting various insurgencies and militant extremisms in the past. A just-published study by "Foreign Policy"-Fund for Peace (US) says that Pakistan is slipping precipitately into the status of a "failed state". It's now included in the list of 10 most prominent "failed states", along with Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, etc.

Over the past year, Pakistan's (negative) rank has dropped from 34 to 9. The accuracy of this assessment is open to question. It is admittedly based on criteria which can be criticised, refined and further developed. But it indisputably contains more than a grain of truth given the situation in Baluchistan and along the Durand Line.

Pakistan has every reason to be concerned at this, and must correct course, not least by defusing its tensions with India.

Copyright 2006 The News International


About the authors

Praful Bidwai

Our dear friend Praful died unexpectedly in Amsterdam last night, 23 June. We are in shock.
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Praful Bidwai is a political columnist, social science researcher, and activist on issues of human rights, the environment, global justice and peace. A new book by him, on the crisis of the Indian Left parties, is due out soon. 

A former Senior Editor of The Times of India, Bidwai is one of South Asia’s most widely published columnists, whose articles appear in more than 20 newspapers and magazines. He is also frequently published by The Guardian, Le Monde Diplomatique and Il Manifesto.

Bidwai is a founder-member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (India). His last book, The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future, was co-published by TNI in 2012.

He was a Senior Fellow, Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. Bidwai is the co-author, with Achin Vanaik, of South Asia on a Short Fuse: Nuclear Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999, a radical critique of the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan and of reliance on nuclear weapons for security.