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Dec 11, 2008

The Mumbai attacks could eventually produce Obama’s first crisis.

By FLYP Staff

Watch FLYP’s video editorial this week, which focuses on the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and engage in a conversation with other readers about how Obama should respond to Pakistan.

Since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has understandably focused on the economic disaster threatening the country. However, the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai could force him to shift his focus—and might provide the first life-or-death crisis of the new administration.
The brutality and randomness of the Mumbai killings, as well as the easily traced trail of clues that led to a terrorist group known for its links to elements in Pakistan’s military, seem to have been designed to provoke a confrontation between India and Pakistan. Add a mysterious, threatening phone call from India’s foreign ministry at the height of the crisis, and it is amazing that these two nuclear-armed powers did not end up in a shooting match.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the game is far from over.
While Pakistan quickly arrested leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba—the group that is charged with organizing the attacks—the country’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, declared that they would be tried in Pakistan and not turned over to the Indian authorities. Since Lashkar-e-Taiba says its goal is to drive India out of Kashmir, it’s hard to imagine that Zardari’s weak government could actually punish the people they have arrested, or survive if it did.
It’s equally hard to believe that India’s leaders could accept a slap on the wrist for terrorists who killed almost 200 innocent people in Mumbai.
All of this should be of more interest to Hollywood scriptwriters than to the new president, except for two facts.
First, Pakistan has somewhere between 30 and 50 nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s military insists that their bombs are safely stored and well protected. They probably also would have insisted that armed terrorists couldn’t attack Mumbai by sea and kill a couple hundred innocent victims.
The possibility that even a few nuclear weapons could disappear into the Middle East bazaar if Pakistan disintegrates is beyond terrifying.
Second, Pakistan hosts supply lines that are critical to American and NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. In recent days, terrorists in Karachi have destroyed substantial amounts of NATO-bound supplies. Increased instability in Pakistan would make the renewed fight against the Taliban almost impossible to sustain, although that is supposed to be a centerpiece of Obama’s foreign policy.
The Bush administration’s gut instinct when it came to foreign policy crises was to look for military solutions. That is how the country ended up mired in Iraq, with an un-won war in Afghanistan and increased instability in South Asia.
Obama’s gut instinct seems to be to try diplomacy first. Although the issues that separate India and Pakistan seem almost intractable, the crisis the president-elect will inherit next month is an opportunity to launch a foreign policy based on engagement instead of confrontation.
During the campaign, Joe Biden said Obama would be tested within his first six months in office. Maybe he meant the first six days.

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One the one hand, given Hillary Clinton’s strong ties to India and Obama’s rapport with the Muslim world, I think the Obama administration is poised to have a productive and influential relationship with South Asia. On the other hand, I find Mencius Moldbug’s analysis all too true: “The key question is whether Indian politics compel a genuine response. I am not an expert in Indian politics. Nor, I suspect, are the people in Pakistan who are doing this shit. Is anyone?” (http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2008/12/translating-asif-ali-zardari.html)

Divia Melwani
Dec 12, 2008

This Bush administration has absolutely led us astray. I know that Bush-bashing has become so incredibly prevalent that it’s almost ridiculous to even add to the pile of criticisms, but really–why were we so focused on all this time on Afghanistan and Iraq, serious things were happening between Pakistan and India. And doesn’t our involvement in Afghanistan put more of a strain on the Pakistan-India relationship? I sincerely hope that Obama has more guts–and a more patient diplomatic stance–to deal with these literally explosive issues. We do not need nuclear war…

Dec 12, 2008

really sad how dramatically that country has changed — a good friend of mine went to elementary and middle school in Islamabad, and was saying that at the time, it was a normal scene to see local kids playing with large numbers of british and american expat kids. but now when he goes back, tensions are so hiring that the westerners have disappeared.

Megan Riley
Dec 12, 2008

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