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26/11: A view from Pakistan

Last updated on: November 23, 2011 14:30 IST

Amidst the ongoing blame game between India and Pakistan, Masood Hasan, a Lahore-based columnist, explores the complex range of Pakistani reactions to 26/11 -- from denial to defensiveness to even apathy, and the ramifications of this tenebrous environment.

To me, Mumbai is very special because it is no ordinary city. Its sheer energy, rhythm, drive, glamour and joy of living infect you. It is a city where anything is possible, whatever the odds. Between its shanty townships and swinging nightlife lies the essence of 'Incredible India' -- a city mired in poverty yet soaring across the world. On many visits to Mumbai, almost to a man -- or woman -- Indians never mentioned the 'K' word -- Kashmir. They talked of steaming ahead. And almost everyone talked vaguely about 'being one' -- with Pakistan -- in tones bordering on nostalgia.

Here, in Pakistan, the 'K' word is like a well-intoned mantra, and the Indian nostalgia for 'being one' finds no supporters. It is partially why every peace or normalisation initiative gets bogged down. There are other factors too, namely the Pakistan Army's ingrained but seldom admitted paranoia of becoming irrelevant in the event of a peace deal. Ditto with the nutty hawks and right wingers, who dream of hoisting the green and white flag over the Red Fort in New Delhi.

Then there are the 'jihadis' with their crazed agenda. It is a bubbling, frothing cauldron and no one knows what's cooking inside. Thus, even a whiff of relation normalisation is immediately followed by a feeling of euphoria and just as immediately -- and sadly -- by disappointment.

Mumbai is no stranger to terrorism. Between 1993 and 2011, almost 750 people in the city have lost their lives to terrorist attacks, and thousands have been injured. When 26/11 happened, there was widespread shock in Pakistan. But as evidence clearly indicated our involvement, voluntary or otherwise, there was denial. This was followed by indignation.

The attackers were all from Pakistan yet this fact did not dampen the enthusiasm of Pakistani officials to deny all responsibility. The carnage that was beamed non-stop, world-wide, instead induced the ostrich syndrome in us. We sought shelter behind notions like attributing to the attackers the status of mercenaries acting in their personal capacity -- non-state personnel, or at the bidding of shady outfits, some here and some across the border in India.

Even Zionism, Pakistan's favourite whipping-state, was thrown into the cauldron of blame, as was the United States. I think Canada was lucky to escape the conspiracy-mongers' flights of fancy. General denial and British 'nefarious' designs were aired when at least one UK newspaper reported live almost immediately from a village in Punjab, establishing Ajmal Kasab's Pakistani identity.

There was much fuss over the Indian-compiled report on 26/11 that had been delivered to the Pakistan government. As India waited with increasing frustration, Pakistan officialdom sat on the fence looking for thumbs to twiddle. Weeks later, the interior ministry went as far as to claim that it was still 'examining' the document.

The Indian government was convinced that the delay was deliberate to 'buy' time. Most assumed that the 26/11 dossier was the size of Everest. It wasn't. It could have been read in minutes and answered within a week at the most. But no one was that interested. It was more important to develop a 'posture' than an answer. The farce continued.

The truth was and is that the act was committed by Pakistani militants trained in Pakistan. Senior military persons maintained then and now that this act did not have the support of the ISI or any other organ of the Pakistani government. These terrorists evidently belonged to the banned outfit called Lashkar-e-Tayiba and were responsible along with the ISI in fomenting trouble in Indian Kashmir. It and many of the banned outfits roam freely here.

Possibly the first senior official of the Pakistani government to directly get in touch with the Indian government then was the National Security Advisor Major General (retd) Mahmud Ali Durrani, who offered to send Pakistani investigators to Mumbai to work alongside the Indian investigating team -- a thought echoed much later by Prime Minister Gilani.

The Indians, especially the media, had already gone berserk. The Indians accused the ISI of being involved, basing their reasoning on the origins of the attackers, their route, meticulous planning, intercepted calls and so on. They also maintained that such a complex operation could not have been undertaken without the support of the government of Pakistan and the ISI.

Pakistani officials in retaliation maintained that if a dozen Saudi citizens could pull off the 9/11 disaster then surely the LeT, a well-trained and battle-hardened group, could do it on their own without the ISI masterminding them.

Logical in a twisted way, perhaps. Convincing, no.

With India accusing Pakistan, the latter changed positions from silence to denial to going on the defensive. An offer to help and the prime minister's promise to send the ISI chief to India (didn't win the PM any brownie points with the army and eventually he did not go) did not result in the crisis abating. Even if the ISI was not involved, there is no doubt that it brought the strained relations between the two neighbours to the lowest level and set back any slender chances of peace.

Instead, war at one point, was imminent. The NSA who revealed to a Pakistani TV channel that Kasab was very much a Pakistani, was sacked. Later, on January 7, 2009, the Minister for Information, Sherry Rehman also said the same thing, but escaped a sacking -- though she later quit. A month later, Pakistan's Minister of Interior, Rehman Malik, not the most discreet man in Pakistan, admitted Kasab's identity and said "parts of the attack were planned in Pakistan." Arrests here and abroad of many Pakistanis and foreigners linked to Mumbai continued, the LeT was charged formally. But nothing further is known of that move, buried as it is in tons of reports and speculations.

In India, the finger has pointed at various outfits -- the Indian Mujahadeen, the Mumbai underworld, Kashmir militants, Islamist groups and Students of Islamic Movement of India, the last of which allegedly planned the attacks with the LeT. There is a mind-boggling amount of data and nothing is still clear. With the imminent hanging of Kasab, the sole survivor after the rejection of his February 2011 clemency plea, this chapter too will close. Kasab's charge that the attacks were conducted with the support of Pakistan's ISI will never be proved.

Average Pakistanis were shocked and saddened at the carnage and killing of innocent people -- but not all. Today most Pakistanis no longer seem to have any interest in the case. From the front pages to the back, then inside and now small snippets tucked away, it has lost out in the aftermath of other terrible events that steadily continue to rock us. It will revive briefly if and when Kasab is hanged. Then like him, it too will cease to be.

As for the rest of us, we live on uneasily with so many known and unknown outfits freely going about their black business -- the current flavour of the month is the Haqqani Group with the US braying for its blood. In such murky times, the truth becomes an easy target and for government spokespersons to take cover and assign blame where it cannot be verified, simply becomes manageable.

Only more people-to-people contact will begin to overcome the history of mistrust between Pakistan and India. When both governments ban that silly ceremony at the Waghah border, it will mean more than we can think.

But when will this happen?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Masood Hasan is a Lahore-based columnist, who has written for several English dailies over a long period. He is the author of the book The Doggone Years. He writes on social issues, politics, the human condition and cricket. 

Courtesy: Gateway House

Masood Hasan