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INDIA-PAKISTAN: Osama’s Death Changes Little

Analysis by Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, May 3 2011 (IPS) - Osama bin Laden’s killing by U.S. troops, in a safe house adjacent to a Pakistani military academy in Abbottabad, may vindicate India’s charges that its neighbour is a haven for jihadist groups, but it will do little to change that reality.

“We take note with grave concern that part of the statement in which President [Barack] Obama said the firefight in which Osama Bin Laden was killed, took place in Abbottabad ‘deep inside Pakistan’. This fact underlines our concern that terrorists belonging to different organisations find sanctuary in Pakistan,” said P. Chidambaram, India’s home minister Monday.

Later, speaking to the media, Chidambaram said India was not worried so much about bin Laden’s international al-Qaeda organisation, as about local groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), the Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM) and the Hizbul Mujahideen which are believed to be responsible for a series of deadly terror strikes against India over the last decade.

An attack by a ‘fedayeen’ squad of Pakistani militants on the western port city of Mumbai in November 2008 left 170 people dead and brought roller-coaster relations between the two countries to a new low. The Pakistan government steadfastly denied any involvement.

Chidambaram said the Pakistani establishment can “go on pretending that it knows nothing, but with some efforts the handlers of the terrorists responsible for the Nov. 26 attacks in Mumbai can be apprehended and brought to justice.”

“Chidambaram’s reaction shows that India strongly suspects that Pakistan’s army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) were involved in the Mumbai attack,” said Prof. Happymon Jacob, of the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament at the School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Jacob said it could be no surprise that bin Laden was finally killed in what appears to be an ISI safe house. “During the invasion of Afghanistan 10 years ago, the U.S. allowed thousands of top Taliban leaders and militants to be airlifted by the Pakistani military out of the besieged city of Kunduz to safe havens in Pakistan.”

India protested diplomatically against the airlift at the time, and fear was expressed that the militants whisked out of Kunduz would be redeployed against India – particularly in the disputed Indian state of Kashmir.

Indian officials have long alleged that the Pakistani military and ISI fund and maintain militant groups as strategic assets to be used in the dispute over possession of Kashmir.

On Dec. 13, 2001 India’s Parliament building was attacked by a fedayeen squad that drove into the premises in a bomb-laden car and started a firefight in which 13 people died. The Pakistan government denied involvement.

“The reality is that India is in no position to exert pressure on Pakistan,” said Rajeswari Rajagopal, strategic analyst with the think-tank Observer Research Foundation. “India can now tell the Americans that it has all along been warning that Pakistan harbours terrorist groups, but this will not result in the arrest in that country of anyone from India’s list of most wanted terrorists.”

At the top of India’s list is Dawood Ibrahim, who is wanted for the 1993 bombings in Mumbai which caused upwards of 250 fatalities and 700 injuries. Ibrahim runs a crime and terror network from a luxury home in Karachi. Another is Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the LeT – which is alleged to have carried out the Nov. 26 attack on Mumbai in 2008.

Also on the list is Masood Azhar who was among the terrorists taken out of jail in India and exchanged for a planeload of Indians and foreigners hijacked from Kathmandu, Nepal to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in December 1999. Azhar went on to become the founder of the JeM -which is alleged to be involved in the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001.

“What emerges out of all this is that the Indian government understands that it will need a multi- layered approach in dealing with Pakistan, whether it is people-to-people interaction or separate contacts with the military and elected representatives,” Jacob said.

“The recent attempts at cricket diplomacy were a good example of building contacts through alternate channels,” said Jacob, referring to the cricket World Cup semi-final played between the two countries at Mohali in Indian Punjab on Mar. 30 as both countries leaders watched from the stands.

Jacob said the killing of bin Laden in a U.S. army raid deep within Pakistan can be seen as a sign that the Indian government’s attempts to impress upon Washington the need to be circumspect with its ally in the war-on-terror may finally be paying off.

“Afghanistan is the wildcard here. Any arrangement that the U.S. may have in withdrawing troops from that country must necessarily involve Pakistan,” Jacob said.

“With Osama dead, Washington can look for an early exit from Afghanistan, and that could mean a return to the dark ages and an arrangement whereby Pakistan will – as before the invasion of Afghanistan – wield influence in that country through the Taliban,” said Rajagopal.

For India, she said, the real worry in the event of a U.S. withdrawal would be greater Chinese involvement in Afghanistan’s affairs. “China will be interested for two reasons – resources and a better handle on its Uighur problem in the Xinjiabg province,” Rajagopal told IPS.

Rajagopal said India’s multiple-approach strategy towards Pakistan can already be seen in the “divergence or even contradictory policies” adopted by the country’s home ministry (MHA) and the ministry of external affairs (MEA).

“While the MEA is trying to reach out to the Pakistani leadership – both civilian and military, the MHA has the responsibility of safeguarding the homeland and Chidambaram’s tough statements need be seen in that context,” Rajagopal said. “Engaging Pakistan is a key factor in India’s diplomacy. Contradictions are only expectable, and it will be imprudent to imagine that anything will come out of cricket diplomacy or other such engagements.”

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