Empathy, Grief in Pakistan at Mumbai Mayhem

KARACHI – The terrorist attacks unleashed in the Indian port city and financial hub of Mumbai continue to reverberate through Pakistan at a personal level and on the media.

The crisis, that began Wednesday night and lasted through Friday, dominates conversation, newspaper headlines, television coverage and Internet chatter on indigenous websites and e-mail lists run by Pakistanis at home and abroad.

As a frontline state in United States’ global "war on terror" Pakistan is only too well acquainted with the effects of terrorism, with such attacks in the country having more than doubled and the number of deaths quadrupling from 2006 to 2007, according to a report released in May by the US State Department.

However, even the most high profile attack in Pakistan which destroyed the Marriott Hotel in the capital Islamabad on Sep. 20, that some analysts termed Pakistan’s "9/11," pales in comparison to the events in Mumbai that have claimed over 155 lives already, that many are now calling India’s "9/11."

A group of at least 25 men armed with assault rifles and handgrenades attacked 10 sites in Mumbai and then barricaded themselves inside two of the city’s finest luxury hotels, the heritage Taj Mahal and the Oberoi Trident, as well as a building housing a Jewish center.

By the time commando squads flushed out the buildings, 155 people lay dead, among them eight foreigners. The final death toll may well reach 200, according to officials.

There has been widespread condemnation in Pakistan against the violence in Mumbai, from ordinary people and non-government organizations as well as from the Pakistan government which has offered "complete cooperation" and support to India to fight the menace.

The Mumbai attacks, hitting in the midst of the fifth round of the ongoing composite dialogue between India and Pakistan, are likely to have wide-ranging repercussions for India and Pakistan relations and for the international community at large.

Analysts note that such attacks tend to take place whenever the South Asian neighbors are engaged in talks and peace initiatives. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had barely started his four-day visit to New Delhi to review the dialogue process when the attacks took place.

Pakistan and India tend to blame each other for terrorist activities within their borders, although over the past year they have been less quick to point fingers. This time too, New Delhi did not immediately blame Pakistan, but later claimed to have arrested a militant with Pakistani links. The Pakistan government has strongly denied involvement.

Commentators in Pakistan point to the huge intelligence failure in India to detect the amassing of arms and training that have enabled such a large number of militants to hold Mumbai hostage for over two days now. They also criticize New Delhi’s apparent reluctance to look within India’s own borders at its various indigenous insurgencies.

"All of India’s intelligence agencies have failed," comments Farrukh Saleem, who heads the Center for Research and Security Studies, an independent think tank in Islamabad, "The most critical element in their collective failure is their overwhelming focus on Pakistan-based militant groups."

He believes that the intensity of this focus has allowed India’s homegrown militant entities "to spread like wildfire" that, according to South Asia Terrorism Portal, afflicts at least 231 of India’s 608 districts.

These insurgent and terrorist movements include three distinct types, "left-wing extremist, separatist and religious," wrote Saleem in a front page analysis in daily The News on Nov. 28. "In 2006, a total of 2,765 Indians died in terrorism-related violence (that same year, 1,471 Pakistanis died similarly)."

Another analyst, who declining to be named, suggests that South Asian countries band together for joint military operations in the areas known to be breeding grounds for militancy against the guerrilla groups operating in different areas in the region.

In New Delhi, Qureshi stressed that India and Pakistan are both victims of terrorism. He said there was a need to strengthen the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism and "revisit our strategies for peace and security of the region."

"Terrorism is a global phenomenon. We in Pakistan deal with it on a daily basis," Qureshi said. "We will have to join all our resources to fight the menace."

In an unprecedented gesture, Islamabad agreed to send its intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, the new director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to India at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s request.

Pakistan’s civilian government in another groundbreaking move has recently disbanded the political wing of the ISI, often blamed for fomenting political trouble in the country and abroad.

"I feel a great fear that (the Mumbai violence) will adversely affect Pakistan and India relations," prominent Karachi-based feminist poet and writer Attiya Daud told IPS. "I can’t say whether Pakistan is involved or not, but whoever is involved, it is not the ordinary people of Pakistan, like myself, or my daughters. We are with our Indian brothers and sisters in their pain and sorrow."

Daud said she is still in shock from the events in Mumbai, a city she has often visited. "Such a beautiful city, so many people’s livelihoods and so much art and culture associated with it… It is so painful to see what is happening there. I watch the television coverage and remember standing at one of those spots watching street theater…"

Others, like Karachi-based businessman Tahir Siddiqui, believe that events in Mumbai will force greater cooperation not only between India and Pakistan but also between other countries engaged in combating terrorism.

"Pakistan can’t afford to open any more fronts," Siddiqui told IPS. "We have to cooperate in this fight. I think any support within Pakistan to militants will decrease significantly now, including in Kashmir."

He added that the situation in Mumbai is "basically the symptom of a larger problem – the imperialist world’s continuing support to dictatorial regimes across the Muslim world, from Indonesia to Morocco. This lack of democracy marginalizes people and holds back development. This is a wake-up call to address these issues."

On a personal level, what can citizens do? "Resist fear!" advocated Islamabad-based peace activist Shahid Fiaz in an email to friends in India and Pakistan. "I know how it feels when your cities are attacked. After the Marriot Hotel bombing and continued suicide bombings around the country, people go out less – markets and restaurants have a deserted look."

Fiaz, who is on the National Council of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), the largest people-to-people initiative between the two countries, told IPS that fear is what the terrorists want to achieve. "We need to come out and resist and tell terrorists that these are our cities, we own our cities and we are not scared!"

"We in Pakistan understand and share the pain, anger and grief of the people of India, as we are also victims of terrorism including daily suicide bombings in one part of the country or the other," said Iqbal Haider, co-chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and a former federal minister for law and human rights.

"Instead of accusing each other, which will only help the real terrorists, the need of the hour is unity and understanding among the people of our region. We need to make concerted efforts to defeat the nefarious aims of these terrorists and eradicate these extremist religious militants or mafias from every nook and corner of South Asia."

In the final analysis, what is certain is that there will be no progress towards peace without determined political will.