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Home > India > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

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Mullah Omar's designs on India

December 19, 2008

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Did you hear what Sitaram Yechury told the Rajya Sabha during the debate on the tragedy in Mumbai?

'With the Indo-US nuclear deal, with the strategic partnership that you are building with the United States of America, are you prepared to face the threats of Taliban [Images] and Al Qaeda [Images] reaching our shores, not that Indian Muslims will be converted but the attacks will come from outside India because you are seen as a strategic ally of the USA? Has this even entered our radar of thinking that because of this nuclear deal and the strategic relationship we are exposing ourselves to new types of terrorist threats, which did not exist in India earlier?'

First, I hope Comrade Yechury was merely letting his dislike of the United States come through. If he was sincere in what he said, doesn't that amount to handing a veto over Indian foreign policy to the likes of the Taliban?

Comrade Karat was quick to disown the Kerala [Images] chief minister's remarks about Major Unnikrishnan's family. May we expect a clarification soon, or was Comrade Yechury actually expounding the CPI-M's official policy?

Second, Sitaram Yechury was just plain wrong. This is scarcely the first time that India has emerged on the Taliban's or Al Qaeda's hit-list.

On October 26, 2001 the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera broadcast a message from Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. The relevant passage read: 'This world has long been troubled, and full of wars and... these troubles will continue and these wars intensify. This is not caused by terrorism, but by the four countries which bear the responsibility for terrorism: America, India, Russia [Images] and Israel... This is why Muslims worldwide hate these states and want revenge.'

Mullah Omar was speaking almost seven years before the United States Senate approved of the Indo-American nuclear deal. His dislike for India stems from his belief that India must revert to Muslim rule.

That is not an isolated view. In the wake of the Mumbai tragedy, an article appeared in Time magazine under Aryn Baker's byline. It carried the following: 'We (Muslims) were the legal rulers of India, and in 1857 the British took that away from us,' says Tarik Jan, a gentle-mannered scholar at Islamabad's [Images] Institute of Policy Studies. 'In 1947 they should have given that back to the Muslims.'

If that is what 'gentle-mannered scholars' believe in Pakistan would you care to imagine what 'militants' think?

There is no reasoning with such men, no amount of 'promoting people to people ties' is going to convince the likes of Mullah Omar to back off. It is quite possible that he sees himself following in the footsteps of certain earlier residents of what is now Afghanistan, men such as Mahmud of Ghazni and Mohammed Ghori.

Sitaram Yechury spoke in the Rajya Sabha of a 'total lack of appreciation.' One might argue that the blindness, deliberate or otherwise, is squarely that of the Left. One point, however, on which I might agree with the Marxist leader is that there is -- or could be -- a larger strategic aim behind the Mumbai tragedy. Previous attacks proved that Mumbai cannot be brought to a halt by terrorism. (Assuming the official statistics are correct, 173 people were killed in the November 2008 attack, fewer than the 209 who lost their lives in the Mumbai trains blasts of July 11, 2006.) So what was the terrorist objective?

Mullah Omar has made his dislike of India amply clear. But take a look at the map of Asia, and you will find that there is a rather large chunk of territory between India and any Afghan warlord with visions of conquest, namely Pakistan.

Was the deliberate public savagery of the Mumbai tragedy intended to push India to war with Pakistan? Many in Delhi [Images] believe that this was indeed the case. But why would the Taliban and Al Qaeda want to do so?

The answer may lie in the rise to power of Barack Obama [Images]. He is famous for his opposition to the war in Iraq; less publicised is the fact that Obama has been a consistent proponent of fighting more vigorously in Afghanistan. Both during the election campaign and after it, Obama supported the call for sending 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. More, he has refused to put a ceiling on the number of men or the time they will be there.

Where do the Taliban and Al Qaeda turn for sanctuary if they are pressed in landlocked Afghanistan? The Russian-dominated areas in Central Asia will provide little help. (Russia, please recall, is one of the four foes identified by Mullah Omar.) The Shia rulers of Iran to the west have no love lost for the Sunni fanatics led by Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. That leaves only Pakistan.

There is no dearth of terrorist outfits in Pakistan who would support the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, and the rest of that crew. But the Pakistan Army [Images] itself -- possibly even elements of the Pakistan public -- would rather not face American wrath.

But there is nothing that unites Pakistan more quickly or more vehemently than the threat of 'Hindu' India. As the war clouds loom the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and that alphabet soup of terrorist groups get the opportunity to become heroes in Pakistan, the sword-bearers of militant Islam against Hindu India as they would love to be seen. (And as some of them genuinely think of themselves.)

There are sure to be several in the Pakistan Army that would support a bid to overthrow the civilians and instal a fundamentalist government in Islamabad. War with India -- or even a credible threat of war -- would offer the perfect cover.

And control of Islamabad would give the Taliban and Al Qaeda the ultimate prize -- Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

But you need India to go to war with Pakistan for all this to fall into place. This is where the Mumbai tragedy comes in, or rather the public outrage that followed the wanton attacks. The Taliban and Al Qaeda might well have calculated that a weak government in Delhi could not resist public pressure, that it would be forced to order surgical strikes on terrorist camps either in Pakistan occupied Kashmir or in Pakistan proper, and that this would result in outright war.

Once upon a time Pakistani strategists defended their support for the Taliban by saying that Afghanistan provided 'strategic depth' in case of a war with India. Mullah Omar has turned that theory on its head; to him Pakistan represents 'strategic depth' in his war with the United States, then a staging camp for the conquest of India.

We in India remember Mahmud of Ghazni best today as the man who sacked Somnath. But there were several steps he took over many years on the road from Ghazni to Gujarat -- first securing his base in Lahore [Images] and Multan before moving on to what is now India. I am sure that Mullah Omar has not forgotten his history.

Mullah Omar is generally referred to as the leader of the Taliban. He has a grander vision of himself, acknowledged even by Osama bin Laden as the 'Amir-ul-Momineen,' the 'Leader of the Faithful', the title once claimed by the Caliphs, superior even to Mahmud of Ghazni who was a mere sultan. To a man of such overweening ambition, wouldn't the attacks in Mumbai be well worth the throw of the dice?

T V R Shenoy



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