by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH
In the past month or two, peace talks have been going on between the new, democratically elected (!) government of Pakistan and the Congress Party government of India (democratically elected, of course). The peace talks would eventually have to get to the status of the disputed region of Kashmir, of course. They would ultimately be considered successful only if a final settlement was reached of that dispute which was set up by the British when they left the Indian Raj split in two in 1947 (three, actually, for the original Pakistan had an East portion, now Bangladesh, and a West portion, now Pakistan). Initiated by the new Pakistani President, a businessman, they have focused at a much lower level, concerning such matters as visa-free travel (at present there are not even scheduled flights between the two nations' capitals), the opening up of trade between the two countries on a broad scale (essential for the Pakistani economy, now heavily dependent on the International Monetary Fund for its survival), and a joint "no nuclear first strike" treaty.
Who would benefit from the success of these talks? First, many businessmen in both countries. (That is not unusual, even for countries considered to be mortal enemies. Before the 2000 Taba peace talks between Israel and Palestine broke down in 2000, Israeli and Jordanian businessmen had concluded deals to benefit all three countries and were ready to move within two weeks of the signing of the proposed agreements.)
Second, of course, the masses of the people on both sides, if from nothing else that arms expenditures on both sides could be significantly reduced. Third, the Muslim population of India (India being the second largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia) which could then freely exchange visits with family members descended from those who moved (fled) to Pakistan at the time of partition, and vice-versa.
Fourth, of course, the people of Kashmir who live in proximity to the truce line, Hindu and Muslim alike, who could live without fear for the first time since partition.
Fifth, a gradually increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan, which makes the Pakistanis understandably very nervous, might be tamped down with US involvement, as part of any India-Pakistan deal. Finally, both governments, once having sold a peace settlement to their own parliaments, assuming that it would be fair one, would benefit hugely both domestically and abroad.
The United States would also benefit. First, from the reduction in tensions in the region in general. Second, it would possibly have a Pakistani ally in the conflict with the Taliban (which in my view also has to eventually be settled peacefully) which itself is not conflicted. Third, the new administration might be able to amend the Bush Administration nuclear agreement with India such that it would not put the US down so much on the side of possible further nuclear weapons development by the Indians.
It is into this atmosphere of possible long-range and wide-ranging peace talks that the attacks were launched. And so what happens to those talks? Well, for the time-being at least they would appear to be suspended. And they might be completely scuttled. Who would benefit from that happening? A number of actors, on both sides of the border.
To understand who benefits and why it is important to understand that the parliamentary government of Pakistan has everything to lose and nothing to gain if the peace talks are abandoned by the Indians. Thus they are to be believed when they say that they had nothing to do with the attacks, that they are outraged and horrified by them, and that they are offering senior level intelligence aid in hunting down the perpetrators who launched the raids from Pakistan territory.
So, first, who benefits from the attacks are those political, military and intelligence agency elements and the segment of the Pakistan power elite that they serve, who supported and very likely still support the deposed dictator General Musharraf (former friend of the Bush Administration). If the talks are suspended, if the economic situation in Pakistan becomes even more precarious, even if such developments were originally caused by their own policies (sound familiar?), they could see a route back into power, blaming it all on the Indians and "government weakness," of course. Second, the fiercely anti-Pakistan Hindu nationalists in India, thrown out in the last election two years ago, stand to benefit. Third, those elements of "Pakistani militancy" which have a place in the sun only because of the continuing disputes over Kashmir would clearly benefit. Indeed, an organization called Lashkar-e-Taiba which exists directly to challenge the Indian government in Kashmir is widely acknowledged to have been at the center of the very well-organized attacks. Lashkar is thought to have ties to al-Qaida.
Finally, according to the reporting of James Fanelli of the New York Post there is a fascinating wild-card here. It is an organized crime syndicate led by an Indian mobster named Dawood Irbrahim Kaskar (who likely does not go in for psychotherapy). Originally from Mumbai, he is thought to be living in Karachi, Pakistan, and ranks third on the Forbes international criminal most-wanted list. He is believed to have ties to the infamous Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. That may account for the fact that he has been sought by Interpol for ten years and never caught. Kaskar owned the vessel from which the attacks were originally launched. Oh, yes. Kaskar's main criminal businesses? Drug smuggling and illegal arms sales. Both of these would be severely crimped by any comprehensive regional settlement including that of the Afghanistan problem that could easily follow on from a comprehensive India-Pakistan settlement.
Amazing, isn't it, how when in certain parts of the world peace talks finally get underway, various elements whose interests, political, economic and otherwise would be harmed by their successful conclusion, conspire (and yes, I am not at all bashful about using that word) to do their best to scuttle them.
This article is based, in part, on J. Perlez, "Ringed by Foes, Pakistanis Fear the U.S., Too," and "New Risk in Danger Zone," and K. Bradsher, "Armed Teams Sowed Chaos with Precision," all from The New York Times, respectively Nov. 23 [before the attacks], Nov. 28 and Nov. 29, 2008; J. Fanelli (email@example.com) "Mumbai terrorist bares all on plot," NY Post, Nov. 30, 2008; and "Terrorist Strike Mumbai," The Progress Report, Dec. 1, 2008.
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