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J. Sri Raman: Blasts That Shake South Asia

Blasts That Shake South Asia


by J. Sri Raman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Terror strikes anywhere and everywhere have larger targets than lives and limbs. This is even more so in the case of bomb blasts carrying the terror tag in the South Asian triangle of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Every blast here does not stop with creating trauma and tension in the country where it takes place. It also threatens peace among the countries, triggering campaigns against each other.

We have the latest lot of lacerating illustrations with the blasts that shook Kabul and Karachi on July 7.

It was a cruel Monday for the Afghan capital, when a suicide car bomb just outside the embassy of India ripped through reinforced walls and the iron gate, killing 41 instantly and injuring about 150 more. The toll rose soon to 58, with an unforeseen tragedy striking many queuing up for Indian visas and women and children at shops on a heavily protected street housing the Interior Ministry as well. India's Defense Attache Brigadier S.D. Mehta and press counselor V. V. Rao were the two car-borne victims.

About 12 hours later, between 8 and 9 p.m., a series of seven "low-intensity" blasts struck a Pashtun residential area in Karachi, killing one person and injuring 37 initially, including urchins playing in narrow lanes and by-lanes.

The blasts came a day after Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, giving away prizes at the end of Asia Cup Cricket Tournament in Karachi, condemned the suicide attack in Islamabad on July 6. The attack marked the anniversary of the official offensive against Lal Masjid, a jihadi fortress that had come up in the country's capital and was functioning with impunity as a fundamentalist force.

Responses to such blasts have always been predictable and Pavlovian through the entire region. The first outcry one hears after every one of them is about the "foreign hand" behind it. In India, the expression is invariably a euphemistic reference to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and "cross-border terrorism."

"Local jihadi groups" were added to the list of usual suspects after the Mumbai train blasts, of which July 11 marks the second anniversary. Subsequently, these groups have been described as "sleeper cells" with cross-border connections, as in the case of the Jaipur blasts of May 13, 2008.

Again, India figured as the victim and Pakistan as the "cross-border" conspirator after the Kabul blast. Afghan President Hamid Karzai pointed an accusing finger at the ISI, stressing the point by saying that this was "pretty obvious." The Pakistan government promptly denied the allegation, with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani asserting that terrorism was a common enemy of Kabul and Islamabad. Identical has been Pakistan's response to allegations of any ISI involvement in terrorist strikes on India's soil.

Gillani's denial cannot be expected to end the dispute. The imprint of the Indian foreign service is evident in a theory doing the rounds, which sees a specific meaning in Mehta's death. He belonged to the Indian Army's Intelligence Corps. He had also served as the head of military intelligence in the insurgency-torn, India-administered State of Jammu and in Kashmir. Opponents of the India-Pakistan peace process are likely to link this to a change in Pakistan's stance on Kashmir in the post-Musharraf period.

Predictably again, the allegation has elicited a similar countercharge from the Pakistani side. The serial blasts in Karachi have been seen as an Indian act of revenge for the Kabul strike. India's National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan has not exactly scotched such suspicions. In a television interview, he has blamed the ISI for the blast and added, "We should pay them back in the same coin."

In the confused scenario of Karachi, however, this is not the only interpretation of the evidently coordinated incidents. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party identified with Musharraf earlier, was the prime suspect to some, though the MQM blamed the blasts on the Taliban. Jihadi clerics have, meanwhile, jumped in to accuse "the Americans and the (official) agencies" of staging the strikes as a sabotage operation.

The Americans have chimed in with their reaction, too. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there was no evidence that "foreign agents'' were involved in the Kabul blast. The White House denounced the Pakistani violence. National security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "Extremists continue to show their disregard for all human life and their willingness to kill fellow Muslims. We will continue to stand with the people of Pakistan as they face this common enemy."

Neither the Afghans nor the Pakistanis, as distinct from their governments, concede that they and the US-led forces have a common enemy. The "war on terror" is perceived widely as a war on the people, and not only because of allegedly accidental strikes on Pashtun homes and hamlets in the border areas. The fact is that the antiterrorist credentials of "the Americans and the agencies" lack credibility because of a pro-Taliban past.

Nor do the governments of the triangle see a common enemy in terrorism as such. On paper, New Delhi, Islamabad and Kabul may be allies in a US-headed antiterror front. But, in practice, they have only been busy trying to turn the alliance and its leader against each other.

There would seem to be no sound reason to hope for early arrival of a time when the region won't reverberate with terrorist blasts.

*************

A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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