Making South Asia safe from the kind of terrorist attacks that have hurt Mumbai and Islamabad calls for an intelligent response from South Asian citizens.
The first step is to understand the nature of terrorism. At a very broad level, we can identify two types of terrorism. The first is the terrorism practiced by relatively small, marginalized groups that wish to achieve some utopian vision of society. The classic exemplars of this type were the Red Brigade in Italy and the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany. Both emerged in the 1970s led by alienated students and professors radicalized by the brutalities of the Vietnam War and supported by the client states of the USSR in the context of the Cold War.
The second type is the terrorism practiced by large groups that have lost hope in having their voices heard by the political process. At one point or another, the Palestinians, the Catholics in Northern Ireland, and African-Americans in the USA have been part of such groups.
The point of this distinction is to make the claim that terrorism of the first kind can be eliminated by rooting out the terrorists even though that can take a fairly long time. The Red Brigade and Baader-Meinhof group are non-existent today.
Terrorism of the second kind, however, is not amenable to a similar remedy. The Middle East remains wracked by violence. The IRA that practiced the same kind of terrorism in English cities that we are witnessing in South Asia today could not be rooted out by counter-insurgency measures. And the urban riots of the 1960s in American cities finally forced a fuller integration of African-Americans into the politics of the USA.
So, how we respond to Mumbai and Islamabad depends on how we understand the nature of the terrorism that we are facing. Three types can be identified. First, there are the Laskhar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad kind of splinter storm-troops that were created by the active support of various governments in Pakistan. Second, there are the Talibans who were also created by the joint efforts of the Pakistanis and the Americans but who now represent sizable numbers of people in Afghanistan. And third, there are marginalized populations like the Baloch in Pakistan and some sections of the rural landless in India that have given up on the political process.
There is no reason why the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba types of groups cannot be rooted out. It is the obligation of all Pakistani citizens to demand that their government take credible and decisive steps to put an end to any remaining protection of such groups. It is also important to impose sanctions on Pakistan, including suspension of all international assistance, till a more credible response is forthcoming from its government. There is no doubt that such sanctions will hurt ordinary Pakistanis but perhaps the shock is needed for the citizens to stand up and demand an end to state sponsorship of terrorist groups.
At the same time, it does seem necessary to find a way, however unpalatable it may seem, to negotiate with the Taliban because all the combined might of the US, NATO, and Pakistan has failed to dent its power. The US will remain reluctant to negotiate because it is fighting its War on Terror largely outside its own borders. But this is not the case for Pakistan and therefore Pakistani citizens should push their government to argue for a negotiated settlement.
The third group comprising disaffected sections of national populations requires a different approach. Whether they protest as the Baloch Liberation Army or as Naxalites, they need to have their voices heard and to share in the fruits of prosperity. South Asians need to re-examine their models of political representation and economic development to make sure that large groups of citizens are not left by the wayside without hope. Recent developments in Nepal should provide a case study for the rest of the countries in the region.
With unity and concerted will, South Asia may be able to get rid of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba type groups and be able to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban. But a much bigger adjustment and change of focus would be required to avoid disaffected national populations from creating the continuous disruptions that would jeopardize the future of the entire region.
South Asia countries need to fight their external enemies without losing sight of the disaffections that could cripple them from within.