Saturday, December 13, 2008
Viewpoint - Should Pakistan Hand Mumbai Suspects to India?
A look at the costs and benefits.
[Text by Gaurav Sood; picture of the Pakistanis protesting against Indian allegations by S.Murtaza Ali]
Columnist Irfan Husain, writing in Dawn on 26/11 Mumbai attcks, finds Pakistan government’s denial of access to 20 terror suspects to India on basis of legalese, patently disingenuous.
“While defending Pakistan recently, our foreign minister was quoted as saying that we were a “responsible state”. And when India presented our government with a list of the names of 20 people accused of terrorism against our neighbour, spokesmen immediately demanded to see the proof against them. This legalistic approach would have carried more weight had the Pakistani state shown this kind of respect for the rule of law in the past. But given the frequency with which ordinary Pakistanis are picked up and ‘disappeared’ by organs of the state without any vestige of due process, the claim to responsibility rings a little hollow.
Indeed, a responsible state would hardly allow the likes of Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-i-Mohammad; Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-i-Taiba; and the Indian criminal Dawood Ibrahim to run around loose.”
While Mr Husain focuses on the hypocrisy of a ‘responsible state’, a stronger argument can be made on basis of rather minimal costs for such an enterprise.
Handing over suspects will likely strengthen the hands of moderates in India, and perhaps dampen the chances of BJP coming to power in elections next year. This argument is reasonably important given negotiating with sane people is a necessity, though arguably BJP at least for some of its time in power was predisposed to following a sane strategy.
It will be a potent gesture towards extremist organizations (domestic), India, and US. I believe any such handover ought to be accompanied by negotiations with India and US and perhaps getting some guarantees on issues of interest, and it ought to be done in blaze of media glory to burnish Pakistan’s image.
Handing over 20 people to India – even if they aren’t involved in the attacks – is probably the most painless of the gestures that Pakistani government can make to address the media inflamed demands of India and US.
As Mr Husain says, the arguments made about inability of handover aren’t real – not because of legal issues, and not because of stated weakness of Pakistani political establishment. Pakistani political establishment lacks power due to two reasons - lack of public support for measures which may be seen as blatantly catering to Indian whims, and existence of a powerful military with interests that are different than the political establishment.
Politics is often circumscribed by incorrect perception of political costs; Public opinion constituencies can be ‘shaped’ to line up behind cogently argued, and aggressively marketed policy initiatives. It is lack of political entrepreneurship behind good policy – which probably stems from rampant cynicism and preference for ‘safe’ choices - that dooms most policy exercises.
There is perhaps a genuine opportunity for some Pakistani leaders to craft constituencies by taking an appropriately framed response around handover of the 20 people to appeal to vast majority of their countrymen.
The second point would about weakness of political forces vis-à-vis military establishment is powerfully highlighted by Army Chief General Kayani’s refusal to allow ISI chief to travel to India. However, it is but one instance and ought to be considered in lieu of the following facts – ISI chief is probably directly under the protection of the military, India’s demand for ISI chief was mostly a political maneuver and India would have used the visit for primarily political point scoring.
On the issue of handing over suspects, it is quite likely that the PM and president can use the leverage provided by Indian and US pressure, and the media brouhaha, to negotiate some kind of deal.
Even if we assume that handing over all 20 people may be a particularly costly strategy for Pakistani establishment given its weakness, it is always possible to ferret out more than a few of these people by negotiating deals with others. I say this because we know that the interests of even ‘jihadi’ organizations are often contraposed.
I believe handing over terror suspects is perhaps an optimal strategy to quickly firefight the situation at limited cost, and to likely benefit Pakistan's long-term interests.
[This piece appeared here in a longer form]