New policy needed after Mumbai terror

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The attacks on Mumbai, India, stunned and outraged the world last week. It’s being called India’s 9/11. That may be an accurate name for the shock and anger that people felt as bleeding bodies, fires and chaos pervaded their largest metropolis.

But, luckily for the world, India’s government is not dominated by ultra-right neocons as the United States was in 2001. And, neither is the U.S. today. The bodies and wreckage of Mumbai could also mark the death of Bush's disastrous 'war on terror.'

Barack Obama’s election signals a changed U.S. foreign policy – one that relies more on robust diplomacy and not on tanks and drones. The Mumbai attacks challenge the new administration to move ahead on a new policy for peace and stability. In order to do that, he and the American people will need to take a good look at all the moving parts – past and present – that have led to Mumbai.

Using the claim of getting rid of terrorists, the U.S. and NATO invaded Afghanistan and the U.S. invaded Iraq. Lately, the U.S. military has crossed into Pakistani territory as well. These military adventures have killed thousands of civilians and destroyed homes and communities, angering the local populations, and pushing many in the region into the arms of extremist groups. These groups exploit popular anger over anti-Muslim pogroms in India and tensions over the disputed Kashmir region. The U.S. occupation of Iraq and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel also add fuel to the combustible mix of grievances.

Perhaps most of all, the economy of much of the region stands in ruins with millions mired in deep poverty, barely scratching out a living. Clearly, there has to be a new approach that emphasizes political solutions and diplomacy to isolate these fanatical groups and assist the people in rebuilding their lives and countries.

The democratic and progressive forces in both India and Pakistan are saying that terrorist extremists are not in either country’s interest. They agree that efforts to develop peaceful relations between between the two countries have to continue, along with cooperation in the investigation of the attacks. India's Left parties have called for a full investigation and if evidence shows Pakistani involvement, they say, India should take it to the United Nations Security Council for action.

As the investigation continues and facts come out as to who funded and planned the Mumbai attack, the role of our government in promoting and financing extremist groups and propping up dictators in the region has to be remembered. This history – along with current U.S. military actions - fuels a deep-seated distrust of the U.S. that the incoming Obama administration will have to overcome to have any success.

The U.S. with the help of Pakistan aided and abetted the formation of extremist groups from the late 1970s into the 1980s and '90s to fight the Soviet Union, which in 1979 sent its military to try to prop up neighboring Afghanistan's beseiged left-oriented secular government. Although India and Pakistan are both called U.S. allies in Bush's “war on terror,” the U.S. long supported Pakistan against non-aligned India, and utilized the Sino-Soviet split to try to get China to ally with Pakistan. Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have propped up Pakistan's army and its intelligence agency, ISI, which is believed to have ties to some of the extremist groups.

As a result of the U.S. actions, Afghanistan has been at war for almost 30 years and there is no Soviet Union to play a countervailing role. The descendants of the nasty groups the U.S. launched during the Cold War continue, funded by drug- and gun-running, networks of right-wing religious extremists, and directly or indirectly, by various intelligence agencies on behalf of reactionary forces whose interests are served by such groups. Pakistan has suffered under a series of dictatorships. Now it is torn by four centers vying for power: the democratically-elected government headed by President Asif Ali Zadari, the army, ISI and the religious extremists. Some analysts say the Mumbai attack was intended to provoke India-Pakistan border tensions, so that Pakistan would pull troops out of its northwest frontier, easing pressure on the extremists based there.

But it seems the Pakistani government does not want a nuclear-tension-filled standoff with India. India's government, led by the Congress Party, also seems inclined to avoid inciting such tension. However, the Indian government has been open to joining with the Bush administration in a “strategic alliance” many see as targeting China and Russia. The recently signed U.S.-India nuclear agreement has many worried about its potentially destabilizing impact on this already tension-ridden area.

If the last 30 years of history in the region shows anything, it is that U.S. policies designed to encircle, provoke and isolate China and Russia through proxies, be it Afghanistan, Kashmir, Pakistan or India, have been disastrous and must be abandoned. The terrorism, violence, poverty and degradation spawned by these policies can only be eliminated through international cooperation, equality of relations, multilateral agreements and a reduction in military and corporate power. Long live a different approach.