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The Pakistan Connection
It is almost a truism to say that when a terrorist attack takes place in a Third World country, Western powers and the Western media dismiss it as an example of the internal tensions that beset that country. But when a similar or even, a lesser attack takes place in a Western country, it becomes an event of global significance. The international news channels are full of nothing else. There is talk of international conspiracies. And the world community is asked to sit up and take note of the rogue states that are now threatening the peaceful existence of white people.
I hesitate to make this point again and again because it can be misinterpreted to suggest a certain insensitivity towards the victims of terrorism in Western countries. The truth is that I was as agitated as any American over the 9/11 attacks and wrote what must be one of my most emotional columns after that tragedy, echoing the global feeling that, as the world united against the terrorists, we were all New Yorkers that day.
The London bombings have been even more emotionally wrenching for me. I was born in London, I went to school there and it remains one of my most favourite cities in the world. Even though I was many miles away when the bombers struck, I reacted as though my home had been violated and the attack had reached me personally.
But as bad as I felt about those incidents, there is still no getting around the fact that when it comes to terrorism, the West follows a double standard. There is one rule for the Third World. And one rule for the developed world.
We still don't have a final figure for fatalities in the London bombings but even the most pessimistic estimates suggest that the eventual death count will not reach even one-third of the number of innocent people who died in the 1993 Bombay serial blasts. While I share in the general mourning for the Londoners who were killed by cowardly terrorists on 7 July, my question is: how many Westerners mourned the Bombayites who were blown up by terrorists?
At that stage, the Western world reacted as though the violence was a consequence of India's own domestic problems. When we protested that this was not so, nobody was willing to listen. We produced evidence that the bombers had been part of Dawood Ibrahim's gang of international criminals. We proved that the plastic explosive had been shipped in from West Asia. And we provided testimony from those bombers whom we were able to apprehend. They all said the same thing — that they had been trained in camps in Pakistan.
Nobody took us seriously. Nobody believed that there was an international terrorist conspiracy. Nobody paid any attention to Dawood Ibrahim. And as for the Pakistani connection, well, they said, that was just India being paranoid and blaming everything on Pakistan as usual.
Fast forward to a decade later. In the aftermath of 9/11, almost all of the things that we said about the Bombay blasts were repeated by the FBI. It was an international conspiracy, we were told. The bombers came from West Asia. They were sponsored by Osama bin Laden, who hid out in Afghanistan under the protection of Pakistan's ISI. And when a list of global terrorists was circulated to police forces all over the world, the Americans were now quite willing to put Dawood Ibrahim on it.
Consider also the response to the London bombings. It now seems clear that though there may have been a shadowy West Asian mastermind, the vast majority of the men who planted the bombs were of Pakistani origin. Some of them may have been born in the UK, but they had been back to Pakistan and perhaps had been trained in the deadly craft of destruction by Pakistani experts. Now, British teams are combing Pakistan to find evidence of the terror networks. They have finally worked out that the modus operandi of theBombay blasts was remarkably similar to the London incidents: a series of bombs timed to go off within minutes of each other. They now concede that there is a connection in the style of the bombings.
All this should make the West stop and rethink its policies towards terrorism — and towards Pakistan. It has long been an article of faith among Western politicians that while there may be the odd extremist organisation in Pakistan, the government is clean as a whistle and that General Musharraf himself is a kindly, philanthropic figure, fighting the good fight on behalf of his Western mentors.
In fact, as India has been warning for nearly two decades, this view of the Pakistani establishment is not only dangerously naïve, it can also have fatal consequences for helpless civilians in the West and in India.
India has repeatedly made the following points:
In the 1980s, the CIA spent billions of dollars helping the ISI set up camps to arm and train Islamic jehadis who were sent into Afghanistan to fight the Russians. At that stage, Osama bin Laden was an US ally, whom Washington regarded as a freedom fighter. (Though why a Saudi should want to fight for Afghan freedom was never made clear.) Once the Afghan jehad was over and America withdrew, Washington was extremely naïve if it believed that it could just walk away from these terror camps. The jehadis needed new targets. And the ISI knew how to train them — and where to send them.
We argued that the Kashmir insurgency began in 1989 just as the Afghan operation ended. The international jehadis (Saudis, Yemenis, Sudanese etc) who had come to fight in Afghanistan were now being diverted to Kashmir. The next step would be for them to target civilians in the rest of India. And eventually, the terror would reach the West. Nobody listened to us. Instead they bought the Pakistani propaganda about a Kashmiri freedom struggle.
After the Bombay blasts, we appealed again to the international community and warned that the terror was spreading. We said that ISI had now become a state within a state and posed a danger to world peace. Nobody listened to us again.
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on behalf of their ISI mentors, destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas and forced Hindus to wear a yellow band, we tried to draw the West's attention to this appalling situation. Nobody cared; not even when IC-814 was hijacked to Kandahar as part of an ISI operation and three dangerous terrorists were released from Indian prisons and promptly found shelter in Pakistan.
One of those terrorists, Maulana Masood Azhar, openly addressed meetings stirring up anti-Indian and anti-American feeling. The second, Omar Sheikh, killed the American journalist Daniel Pearl when, as a new book reveals, he came too close to unraveling ISI's links with the terror networks. The third, Latram, came back to Kashmir to murder more civilians. The Pakistani authorities did what they could to help all three — just as they continue to provide shelter to Dawood Ibrahim (and Osama bin Laden?).
Two years ago, Benazir Bhutto told the HT Leadership Initiative in Delhi that retired Generals and ISI bosses had made millions out of the Afghan operation. They now ran private armies and terrorist camps. They were out of the reach of the Pakistan government. The West paid no attention to this shocking revelation by a former Pakistani Prime Minister.
Now, after the London bombings, Pakistan is suddenly the focus of global attention. General Musharraf has promised to crack down on terrorists, his nose growing longer by the minute. Washington has asked Pakistan to close down the terrorist camps. And there is a growing recognition that the real threat to world peace does not come from Iraq or Iran. It comes from Pakistan.
I am glad that the message has finally got through. My only regret is that if the West had listened to us in the immediate aftermath of the Bombay serial blasts, then thousands of lives could have been saved, both in India and in the West.
It is a shame that it took the cold-blooded murder of innocent Londoners to force the Western world to finally wake up and look reality in the eye.
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