Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

India fears repeat of ‘revolving door’ crackdown

House arrest of jihadis seen as tactic to buy time till pressure blows over…

10 December 2008
The Hindu

India fears repeat of ‘revolving door’ crackdown

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: As the Pakistani ‘crackdown’ on jihadi groups enters its third day, Indian officials greeted the news of the house arrest of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar with scepticism, noting that previous bouts of detention had done little to deter the extremist leader from planning and organising violent attacks against India.

Mr. Azhar, who was released by the Indian government in 2000 following the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar, was first placed under house arrest by the Pakistani authorities in January 2002 in the wake of the December 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament. “He may not have stirred out of his house in Bahawalpur after that,” a former intelligence official who closely followed the matter at the time told The Hindu, “but he was constantly in touch with his people. The front door was shut but the back door was open all the time.”

The farce of his arrest came to an end later that year when a Lahore court found that the authorities had not provided valid grounds for his continued detention. In a stroke of unintended, or perhaps intended, irony, the JeM chief walked free one day before the first anniversary of the Parliament attack. A month earlier, the Lashkar-e-Taiba head, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, had also been set free.

Indian officials say that this time around, they are determined not to allow Pakistan to use temporary detentions as an easy way of buying time till the international pressure which has built up following last month’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai dissipates.

The challenge facing New Delhi is to keep Pakistan and the international community guessing about what its next steps will be and to allow as much ambiguity as is needed to keep the U.S. and other friendly powers involved in putting pressure on Islamabad. But if the Indian authorities allow their rhetoric to get out of hand, they could well find themselves at the receiving end of international pressure as Washington frets about compromising its anti-Taliban operations on the western side of Pakistan.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the past 48 hours have seen spectacular and even unprecedented attacks on the supply lines of the U.S.-led military coalition, with the Taliban destroying as many as 160 transport platforms in and around Peshawar.

At the end of the day, Indian officials remain wary of the extent to which the Bush administration — or indeed the incoming Obama administration — would be prepared to take the fight against terrorism to the Pakistani military and its Inter-Services Intelligence. As part of the process of managing the post-Musharraf transition, Washington had expressed a high degree of confidence in the anti-jihadi credentials of Pakistan’s Army chief, Ashfaq Kayani, and the man he picked as head of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha in place of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj. “I don’t think they are going to admit they made a mistake now,” an official said.

When Indian officials informally aired their understanding that the LeT had mounted the Mumbai attacks with the knowledge of the ISI, they found their U.S. counterparts in a state of denial. After all, it was barely weeks since Lt. Gen Shuja Pasha had visited Washington to help coordinate the ongoing coalition efforts against the Taliban in the FATA region of Pakistan. According to David Ignatius, the well-informed columnist of the Washington Post, every one seemed to come away from that meeting smiling. After all, thanks to a secret understanding put in place by Generals Kayani and Shuja Pasha, the U.S. Army was scoring rare successes in its operations such as the killing of Khalid Habib, al-Qaeda’s deputy chief of operations.

Just as India believes the ISI has an interest in preserving its long-term interest in jihadi groups even if their activities sometimes get out of hand, Indian officials say the Pentagon has an interest in preserving the structure and role of the ISI despite the latter going off and doing its own thing from time to time.

What the civil society and fledgling democracy of Pakistan need is for the ISI and military to be forced to break their connections with jihadi politics and terrorism once and for all. Recent statements by President Asif Ali Zardari suggest Pakistan’s civilian leaders know full well the link between the attacks in Mumbai and the agenda of those who do not want democracy in Pakistan to flourish. Indian officials say they are aware of the negative consequences any escalation will have on the domestic balance of forces across the border. By merely talking about the possibility of an Indian attack, the Pakistani military has managed to get public opinion within the country to rally around its leading role. But what India fears is that once the world moves on to other issues, the arrests that Pakistan has made will go the same way as the earlier detention orders.

7 comments on “India fears repeat of ‘revolving door’ crackdown

  1. Anonymous
    December 22, 2008

    The Army and ISI fundamentalists run Pakistan. Their goal is to weaken India by bleeding it, eventually to break it and then Islam-ize it. Therefore, they will never stop terrorizing India, particularly with the Nukes as a deterrence. They used to say of the Prussian Army that, “It was an Army with a State.” Reversing the traditional relationship between the State & its armed forces. I think the same could be said of Pakistan

  2. Anonymous
    December 18, 2008

    I am Anna-ny-mouse (as opposed to the first response to this article)It appears that these events are orchestrated by forces more powerful that just the ISI.The 9/11 events gave an excuse for invading Iraq. It also appears that the US has already begun to Invade Pakistan more then they had before.Those who talk of invading Pakistan are mistaken for the following reasons:1. If India defeats Pakistan, then you have to stay and control the whole country. The US tried that with Iraq (population about 25 million before the invasion) and has not been successful. As a matter of fact, they have gone broke. So, defeating Pakistan and staying is not an option.2. Defeating Pakistan and leaving is even worse. See what happened to Afghanistan. You can expect even bigger threats if you leave a country that has mastered the A-Bomb.3. Obviously starting a war with Pakistan and loosing….need I say more about this?The Brahmin Jathi Party (BJP) of India would like to do propaganda for war against Pakistan, mainly to incite Hindu-muslim riots in India. If they actually wanted to invade Pakistan, they could have done it while in Power. However, at that time, China would not have let India win. China will probably still finance Pakistan in the event of an India-Pakistan war.The only reasonable solution seems to be to a. Get all foreign powers out of the region.b. Get a peace treaty with Pakistanc. Get trade going with Pakistan for mutual benefit.In the real world, there are no other options

  3. Anonymous
    December 15, 2008

    Why is India afraid of invoking resolution 1373 at the UNSC? Does it think Pakistan will do the same for Kashmir? Then it’s like having lost the match even before it has started.

  4. MeenakshiSundaram
    December 14, 2008

    i don get a point wenever such events occur; indians claim we have ample evidence about pakistan links and they never disclose that evidence. why its so? does really they possess the evidence r they book up in words

  5. Anonymous
    December 14, 2008

    The standard process of the typical Pakistani response (happened in Kargil too): 1. It wasn't us.2. It was your fault.3. You can't prove it was us.4. Assuming that it was us (we're not saying that it was), it still wasn't our fault.5. OK, so maybe it was us, but we're really the good guys.6. It was us; but we need help, not condemnation.7. We have nukes; help us, give us more money, or we'll %$#&*% destroy everything.Repeat the cycle when some other terrorist 'incident' happens.

  6. Ravi Kiran
    December 13, 2008

    The strategic culture of US is well explained in this space by now . But your argument that pakistan could only correct itself and India should do nothing aggressive but raise international pressure is extremely defensive .The powerful army and their very clear cut agenda cannot be overrun by leaders like Zardari . Your suggestion to help pakistan’s fledgling democracy and suggestions not to do anything aggressive is going to cost this country a quality number of lives .Well i dont realise that how the indian defense establishment is even talking of a calculated aggression against a Nuclear Pakistan there is no reason why we can’t do a more aggressive subversion by targeting the high profile targets like Dawood and azhar and sayeed .The most important thing is to get our own house in order . The terrorist aggression in Kashmir has been effectively countered and terrorists are seeing oppurtunity in the other parts of the country .we have to build a central organization and an organization which integrates intelligence , investigation and action . This will pinpoint the blame and men will raise upto the responsibility . But for now if i am RAW chief i will find ways to eliminate those “free moving” terrorist commanders . Israel’s way is what India should adopt . penetrate and Kill and dont talk of war we dont need it at this point .

  7. Anonymous
    December 11, 2008

    Pakis at best “house arrest” someone for a while then release them. Nothing would have be accomplished. People still vote for crap trap scatter brain , terrorist enablers congress.Bet congress still does not want POTA? Pathetic!

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This entry was posted on December 10, 2008 by in Indian Foreign Policy, Pakistan, Terrorism.



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