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'What can India do if there's another 26/11? Nothing!'

By Aziz Haniffa
September 22, 2009 10:20 IST
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Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of Pakistan's Daily Times and Friday Times newspapers and one of that country's most influential journalists, has said that even if there is another Mumbai-type terrorist attack that emanates from his soil, there is absolutely nothing India can do, and warned that if India launches a military strike, there would be all-out war that would de-stabilise the entire region and have an adverse impact on India's quest to be a global power.

In an interaction with leading think-tanks and scholars, who focus on the subcontinent, and heads of South Asia programmes hosted by the Asia Programme of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Sethi said there was no guarantee that there could not be another Mumbai "because many of these former non-State actors, which became State actors, are now back to their non-State actor role -- some of them fairly autonomous."

Arguing that India's demand that the composite dialogue cannot be resumed unless and until there is a crackdown on some of these elements as 'unreasonable', he said: "It took 30 years to make these non-State actors effective and they are not going to be disbanded and demilitarised overnight. It will take a long time. And it will take a transition period in which Indo-Pakistan relations have to get into conflict-resolution mode."

Sethi, whose reporting has frequently put him at odds with successive governments as well as with extremist religious and militant groups, and who was recently awarded the 2009 Golden Pen of Freedom -- the annual freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers -- said: "The tragedy is that while we prepared to accept India's position before the election, it is very inexplicable why India is persisting with this position right now."

"It is hurtful to the cause of democracy in Pakistan, it is hurtful to the cause of Indo-Pak relations, it is hurtful to the cause of finding solutions in Afghanistan because India and Pakistan are fighting their proxy wars all over the place and because India already has a huge footprint in North Afghanistan and the Indian consulates are doing their bit there," he said.

Sethi said, "Therefore, this is something that India and Pakistan have to come to grips with and America has to weigh in discreetly if necessary to get a dialogue moving again and to get some conflict resolution done."

"The Indian and Pakistani proxy wars are spoiling the terrain completely," he reiterated, "and there is a mindset in Pakistan, especially in the Pakistan Army that finds this unacceptable."

He said consequently, "When we say we want the composite dialogue with India to continue -- to get on with and want the back-channel activated -- we don't want any conditions put on the composite dialogue."

Sethi said, "We find it inexplicable that a Congress government that is flushed with victory, still finds it difficult to get on with it, still is having to defend its commitments made in Sharm-el-Sheikh and that the Indian media is not part of the solution, it is still part of the problem just as the Pakistani media was part of the problem some time ago. Indian nationalism is still coming in the way."

He asserted, "If America wants Pakistan to cooperate and find solutions within Pakistan on terrorism, on domestic violence, on the economy, then we need peace on our borders. We can't have peace on our borders if the first thought that comes to India is, if there is another Mumbai."

"If there's another Mumbai, what then," he asked and said, there is no way India can launch military strikes.

"What could they do? The nuclear deterrent is alive and kicking, it's in place."

Sethi said, "Therefore, if another Mumbai happens, what does India do? Nothing. India can't do anything."

"If India does something, we are in very deep trouble. Therefore, we have to find a solution that makes that (another) Mumbai doesn't happen, and if it does -- because there's lots of non-state actors are there who are not listening to the Pakistani military and even less so to the Pakistani opposition and Pakistani government, what if another Mumbai happens? What will India do -- will this dialogue be derailed forever? Will the terrorists succeed in driving that wedge? Will the terrorists stop the road from Delhi to Islamabad and the road from Islamabad to Kabul?"

Sethi said, "It is in India's interest to build peace with Pakistan, because if India doesn't build peace with Pakistan, then we will fall into the Mumbai trap. Then India would have to take action, there will be war."

"If there is war, the war on terror will get lost and the terrorists will become part of Pakistan's arsenal against India," he warned.

Sethi recalled, "We saw a glimpse of that when Mumbai happened. The first thing the Taliban did was that they said we are going to stop fighting the Pakistani army and we are going to come to the border and fight with the Pakistani army against India in the event of an Indian strike."

"That is the danger of India not defining its interests in a particular way," he said.

Sethi argued that "if there is a war between India and Pakistan, India's economy and that whole notion of a resurgent India that is going to be the new emergent power, that's all going to get lost. We are talking nuclear weapons here and there's no way the Pakistani army is going to allow India to walk in or even to be humiliated."

"The entire political galaxy of Pakistan, including the people of Pakistan are going to line up solidly behind the Pakistani army on this one," he said.

And, Sethi added, "We are not talking of an army of a 100,000 people. We are talking of an army and a mindset in Pakistan -- a 60-year-old mindset in Pakistan, a national security State was that built on the basis of an enemy without, on the border. And, that's not going to change so quickly."

"So, if there is conflict with India, it will be an all-out conflict. I say that with full responsibility. I don't wish to say it, but I have seen it at very close quarters," he said.

"How the entire media, the entire opposition and even the Taliban suddenly folded right behind the Pakistani army on the mere mention of a threat of war with India."

Sethi, continued to hammer away saying that consequently, "It is in India's interest also to resolve some of these disputes, build trust with Pakistan. Give the new civilian dispensation the space and the opportunity to turn some of these things back."

"Therefore, this government needs space. We need to give Pakistan the space in which its interests can be protected with out crumbling from within," he said.

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC