Attack on Sri Lanka cricket team: a sign that Pakistan is unraveling?

If it is becoming a failed state, Indian officials wonder if they should take a harder – or softer – line with its neighbor.

Munish Sharma/Reuters
In Amristar, India, members of All India Anti-Terrorism Front protested Tuesday's attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan. The placard in Hindi (top) reads, 'Stop killing innocents.'

India's ruling party reacted to the attacks on Sri Lanka's cricket team by suggesting Pakistan was on its way to becoming "the Somalia of South Asia."

The comparison to the failed state is hyperbole at this point. But the comments reflect rising concern here over the combustible political standoff and entrenched Taliban insurgency gripping Pakistan.

The dilemma for Indian policymakers is whether to continue to pressure Pakistan as an untrustworthy adversary, or to approach its historic rival as a failing state in need of more delicate handling.

"We really need to rejigger our Pakistan policy," says Bharat Karnad, a security expert at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. "It basically means we need to tone down the idée fixe that Pakistan is a military threat. It is really not a military threat, but it will become a social threat ... if we let it disintegrate."

Holding Islamabad responsible for events like November's terror attacks on Mumbai (formerly Bombay), he says, is unfruitful because the state "is really not in control." The latest evidence, he says, is the inability of security forces to prevent Tuesday's attack in Lahore.

Sri Lanka's foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, said he couldn't rule out the possibility that Tamil Tiger rebels, which have been losing ground in the island nation's protracted civil war, were involved, and called it the first "terrorist" attack on Sri Lankans abroad. Noting that responsibility for the investigation lay in Pakistan's hands, he said that "we have confidence in Pakistan."

Pakistani police announced the arrests of some suspects, but said none were the gunmen. The director of the FBI, already in the region as part of investigations into the Mumbai attacks, arrived in Pakistan Wednesday.

Many regional leaders in the region, including the governor of Punjab Province, have commented on the similarity of the two attacks. The three-day hostage drama in the Indian financial capital was blamed on a Pakistan militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

But the comparison with the Mumbai attack hasn't stopped some, including a Pakistani minister, from alleging involvement by Indian intelligence.

B. Raman, a former counterterrorism chief for India's clandestine Research & Analysis Wing dismisses the idea. He suggests that Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan are all facing the same enemy now. "What we are seeing is a pattern of terrorism that has emerged from Sunnis in Punjab that has [become] a pan-subcontinental threat," he says. "We need some sort of joint thinking about how to deal with this – because everybody is bleeding now."

While Mr. Raman suspects Punjab-based jihadis were behind Tuesday's attacks, he doubts it was the most famous of the groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba. That group has never attacked within Pakistan, he explains.

Both Raman and Mr. Karnad admit that the scope for public cooperation is limited given the political antagonism between the longtime rivals. But Raman notes that before Sept. 11 2001, the officials from intelligence agencies across the subcontinent used to meet quietly, and share tea and information.

"Pakistan, India, and other regional countries ... should nominate an officer from each intelligence agency and have them meet quietly," he says.

Not all Indian analysts think a softer approach to Pakistan will be in India's interests.

"This is an argument that has been made since 1971, that whenever Pakistan is under pressure, give it some leverage. It has never worked for India," says Suba Chandran, an analyst at the Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies in New Delhi.

Besides, he adds, India has its own limitations of reach when it comes to combating terrorism, and may simply "not have an option other than to live with a failing state" next door.

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