Their nose for slights, real and imaginary, and quest for bloody retribution has ensured an unbroken stream of sectarian violence that has so ruptured Pakistan’s polity and civic life. But the ‘insane jehad brigade’ has never had such an incendiary issue served on a platter from across the border. A palpable sense of ‘didn’t we tell you so?’ permeates every extremist utterance ever since Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde publicly claimed that the BJP and its parent organisation RSS run terrorist camps and were behind the terror attacks on Samjhauta Express, Ajmer Sharif, Mecca Masjid and Malegaon.
Understandably, Shinde’s remarks created a furore on Pakistani streets. But for people following Indian affairs, ‘Hindutva terrorism’ isn’t new, as it has been extensively reported in the Indian media. It was the timing of Shinde’s remark—so soon after tension at the LoC—that intrigued Pakistanis. Officialdom here brushed it aside as ‘domestic politics’, only renewing its demand that those behind the 2007 Samjhauta Express attack, which killed 67 Pakistanis, should be brought to justice. Others read Shinde’s sudden lunge at the BJP as an early Congress jab at the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, with the obvious objective of reaching out to Muslim voters.
Shinde’s comments, perceived in Pakistan as an acknowledgement, even a ‘confession’, of a corrosive internal problem, is not an isolated incident. It comes just weeks after the Pakistani chief of army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said that the ‘enemy number one’ was the prevailing internal threat, and not India. This from a man who, in his first term, told Outlook that he was ‘India-centric’ because it was the neighbour’s ‘capability’, not its ‘intentions’, that worried him.
Executive editor of Express Tribune Mohammed Ziauddin wonders why “the LoC incident happened within a week of Kayani’s realistic assessment that saw the internal threat as a bigger one than the external one”. Who was unhappy, Ziauddin seems to ask, at this downgrading of the threat from India.
Beseiged as it is with issues existential and legislative—a firebrand cleric breathing down its neck, the PM charged with serious corruption and impending elections—it was a rare occasion for Pakistan’s parliament to focus on India. Shinde’s statement prompted PML(N)’s Chowdhury Nisar to warn the lower house that regarding the internal threat as paramount can compromise Pakistan’s security. He demanded that Pakistan circulate copies of Shinde’s comments in the UN Security Council. Foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar replied, “We are very much aware of the challenges emanating from eastern borders but must not be delusional about the challenges within Pakistan”.
Former ISI chief General Hameed Gul says that Shinde was compelled to make the remarks at the behest of PM Manmohan Singh, who had to deflect attention from statements hurled by his bellicose military chiefs threatening war on Pakistan during the crisis on the LoC.
“This is the first time that any state has declared an opposition party a terrorist organisation. Manmohan knows that his military chiefs tried to take their nation to war when both sides are nuclear powers. This must be the first time that the Indian army and air force chiefs held press conferences; they believe in limited offensives against Pakistan in a nuclear environment,” Gen Gul said.
Pakistani defence analyst Shireen Mazari finds it significant that such serious charges are levelled against the BJP—one of the two major Indian political parties. In Pakistan, none of the parties espousing religious extremism have even come close to achieving electoral majority.
“In India, the BJP was in power earlier and is a major contender in the next elections. As it has now been identified as being a direct trainer of saffron terrorism, imagine the threat to peace if the BJP comes to power. For all those Western states who drum up fear about Muslim extremists taking control of Pakistan’s nuclear assets—a total improbability—they should look to the possible electoral success of the BJP in India, which would give saffron terrorists direct access to India’s nuclear arsenal, especially if Narendra Modi was to be India’s prime minister,” warns Mazari.
The independent media here welcomed India’s “introspection” and asked it not to make Pakistan’s mistake of “concentrating only on foreign threats”. “Introspection is a virtue”, wrote The News, while Dawn said that “Hindu terror is an explosive and alarming one, not just for India but also for Pakistan”. Citing the Samjhauta Express blast, it said such terrorism contained the threat of cross-border terrorism. It exhorted the two countries to take the spread of home-grown extremism seriously, reminding readers how Pakistan is still suffering from its past policy of concentrating only on foreign threats and failing to control the spread of right-wing politics.
Former foreign secretary and India expert Riaz Khokar said, “The Congress party leadership, especially the home minister, should be congratulated for his statement regarding saffron terrorism. The international community, especially the US, should take note of his comments. The UN Secretary General should also place this statement before the Security Council,” he says.
No one is more delighted by Shinde’s comments than the man who has a $10 million bounty on his head but walks tall in the towns of Punjab. Speaking at Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s headquarters at Chauburji in Lahore, Lashkar-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Mohammed Saeed demanded that India be declared “a terrorist state” by the UN Security Council.
“We demand that the UN immediately ban these organisations, as they were involved in an attack on the Samjhauta Express and other terrorist acts in India. India tried to involve us in the Mumbai attacks, but after a passage of five years, nothing has been established against us in the courts. Our government often protects Indian interests and its stance on such issues is apologetic. I ask the Pakistan army chief to fulfil his duty and give his reaction on this issue,” he said.
Some experts advocate using the recent ‘confession’ to open an old can of worms. “Their own reports say there are 234 terrorist organisations in India, but since they are not involved in cross-border terrorism, not much attention is given to them. Around 20 per cent of the territory in the so-called ‘red corridor’ is with Maoist militants. This is the right time for Pakistan to aggressively engage the UN on Kashmir,” says Gen Gul.
One of Pakistan’s main opposition parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), also welcomed Shinde’s comments. Like others here, they saw it as an acknowledgement of the presence of Hindutva terror groups in India. “Samjhauta Express is one example, but there are other instances that prove their involvement in massacres in both Gujarat and Mumbai,” said Shafqat Mehmud, PTI’s central information secretary.
Both Pakistan and India appear to be confronting the worrisome reality of home-grown terrorists bent on serious mischief. Mazari says some of the blame can be laid at the door of bad governance and poverty.
For now, Pakistan is largely relieved—Shinde’s statement gives a certain parity between the two nations in their acknowledgement of one of the toughest challenges they face.