Watch Indian television and Pakistan is decidedly the culprit of the atrocious 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Star News projects cartoon images of Muslim terrorists receiving training in Pakistan. Since 9/11 Bollywood has been successfully perpetuating the image of Muslims as terror-mongers and Star News clips reinforce the stereotype. Other channels, such as NDTV, however, are less jingoistic and their very balanced Group Editor, Barkha Dutt, is doing her best to assuage knee-jerk reactions against both Muslims within India (about 14% of India’s population) and calls for war on Pakistan. But even on her show, guest panellist Simi Garewal, who is a media personality in her own right and hosts a talk show that has previously enjoyed popularity in Pakistan, sounds worse than Donald Rumsfeld when she says, “We need to carpet bomb Pakistan. Shock and awe. That is why America has not had an attack since 2001. That is what we need to do.”
Pakistani television channels, initially sympathetic, soon turned reactionary and hostile. Some of the more hawkish anchors are telecasting scenes from the Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002, when thousands were killed in communal violence. But other, more balanced anchors are asking more relevant questions. Given the evidence that we have thus far, is Pakistan really to blame?
The fact that the Indian government is accusing Pakistan is taken with a grain of salt as this is not the first time the Indian government has blamed Pakistan, only to find later that Pakistan had nothing to do with the violence it was being accused of. Interestingly, four times previously the Indian government falsely accused Lashkare Taiba directly as the organization sponsoring violent incidents in India, and Pakistan indirectly for harbouring the militant group, although Pakistan officially banned the outfit in 2002.
In each of the incidents, namely, the Chattisinghpura massacre, the attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001, the Malagaon blasts and the Samjhota Express incident, investigations were either refused or revealed that neither Lashkare Taiba nor Pakistan but groups from within India were responsible. In the Chattisinghpura incident, for example, on 20 March 2000, one day before President Bill Clinton was due to arrive in India, 35 Sikhs were killed in the village of Chattisinghpura. It was said that about 15 uniformed men belonging to Lashkare Taiba and trained in Pakistan were responsible. Five days later, five men were killed by paramilitary forces in a village called Pathribal, claiming that the “foreign militants” responsible for the Sikh massacre had been found and duly eliminated. When local village people protested, investigations began. When the final results of the investigation were made public, it was found that local police was responsible for the massacre of the Sikhs.
The Samjhota Express incident is more disconcerting, and one that Pakistanis remember bitterly. On 18 February 2007, two bombs went off near the Indian city of Panipat on the Samjhota Express twice-weekly train between Lahore and Delhi, initiated as its name suggests (Samjhota means Agreement in both Hindi and Urdu) to enhance cordial relations between the two countries. The terrorist attack, which killed 68 (mostly Pakistanis) and injured many others was blamed once again on Lashkare Taiba. Indian authorities claimed that the alleged perpetrator was named Rana Shaukat Ali and a photograph of the terrorist was provided. Four months later, investigations revealed that neither Rana nor Lashkare Taiba but a serving lieutenant colonel of the Indian army, Lt. Col. Purohit was responsible for the attack. Purohit, it was found, had links with Hindu militant groups and provided training to extremists.
For Pakistan, the most troubling aspect of the 26 November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai is the fact that the three brave men who had been tasked with finalizing the findings of both the Samjhota Express incident and the Malegaon blasts linking Lt. Col. Purohit conclusively to the terrorist attacks were all killed. Mr. Hemant Karkare, in charge of the investigation, was one of the first people shot by the terrorists, followed by DIG Ashok Kale and encounter specialist Vijay Salazar.
If this is a coincidence, it is definitely a godsend for the extremist Hindu groups and the right-wing BJP, waiting to unseat the Congress government in the upcoming elections. But many in Pakistan suspect something more sinister may be involved.
It is alleged that the perpetrators of the 26/11 violence entered Mumbai by sea and arrived by trawlers from Karachi. Karachi is 500 nautical miles from Mumbai; not an easy distance to cover in a trawler. Even if one were to assume that this was the case, India has twenty-one separate radar systems that monitor the coastal line between Karachi and Mumbai. More importantly, Sir Creek is the un-demarcated boundary along the Arabian Sea and the Rann of Kutch, straddling Pakistan’s Sindh province and the Indian state of Gujarat. This is both an international border and a source of dispute between India and Pakistan. The 1965 war between the two nations began at the Rann of Kutch.
In August 1999, a Pakistani surveillance aircraft was shot down by the Indian Air Force in the Rann of Katch. The area is heavily patrolled. How the trawler made it all the way to Mumbai without being detected is a mystery, especially since fishermen on both sides of the border, both Indian and Pakistani, regularly find themselves apprehended as they mistakenly cross over into hostile territory. Every year, both countries arrest hundreds of fishermen for illegal intrusion. Fishermen complain that they don’t know whose side they are on because of the dispute. Every time Pakistan and India decide to re-start their peace process, one of the first measures taken is the release of the poor fishermen, who are caught and detained, through no fault of their own, their boats confiscated upon arrest.
But somehow the trawler dodged all patrols and made it all the way to Mumbai. Regular procedure for boats and ships docking at Mumbai entails thorough checks, but it appears that the terrorist trawler was able to evade that as well.
Too many questions remain. Too few answers are being given. India and Pakistan have an equal interest in finding out who is behind this terrible mayhem that has clutched Mumbai. The investigation must be thorough and conducted without prematurely blaming any organization or country. India and Pakistan must root out all those who would like to see terror grip the region and derail peace processes, regardless of whether they are Hindu or Muslim.
Ayesha Ijaz Khan is a London-based lawyer and political commentator and can be contacted via her website www.ayeshaijazkhan.com