Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

False Narrative, Partisan Politics

The high decibel debate on the destruction of a Pakistani boat by the Indian Coast Guard has little to do with the security and strategic discourse in India, and much to do with domestic and partisan electoral politics. Indeed, a great deal of the current discourse apparently focusing on the country's security falls into this category, and this was, perhaps inadvertently, conceded by BJP President Amit Shah, when he responded to mounting criticism of the Government's version of events by demanding, at a rally on January 6, "I would like to ask the Congress where they fight elections? In India or Pakistan?"

The boat incident could well have been projected as a modest success on the part of the Government, demonstrating the technical surveillance and response capabilities that helped neutralize what was essentially a petty criminal operation. Nevertheless, this success would have been reassuring to the public (rightly or otherwise), that if a greater threat from the sea was to manifest itself in the foreseeable future, our security apparatus was ready and able to face it.

Instead, a far from credible narrative - riddled with inconsistencies - was deliberately circulated to claim credit for having averted 'another 26.11', conspiracy theories and claims of communications between the Pakistani boat and 'Naval Headquarters' in Karachi, and quick identification by some of linkages to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, proliferated. All this was immediately harnessed to the increasingly jingoistic posturing of the present regime and, at least initially, fed a hysterical triumphalism in the media.

When this narrative was challenged, first by a single journalist, and then picked up by others, almost immediately to be adopted by the political opposition, instead of provoking some critical restraint in Government, it fed into an even more elaborate, and internally conflicting, mesh of falsifications. Regrettably, some of the most prominent figures in Government and in the BJP have now invested enormous political capital in this fiction, and a tremendous loss of credibility would result even from the smallest concessions or backtracking.

The result has been an aggressive, ultra-nationalist campaign against those who have chosen to question the Government's version of this incident, accusing them of 'helping the Pakistanis', of 'betraying the nation', and of 'demoralizing the Armed Forces'. This is garbage, of course, but it has and will find strong and sympathetic echoes among the Government's and BJP's committed cheerleaders.

What has been missed out in the din of the political confrontation and media carnival that has resulted from the boat incident, is the fact that the information regarding the tapped communications on which the Coast Guard's responses were based, and which were the foundation of the challenge to the official narrative, were placed in the media from within the establishment. Clearly, elements within 'the system' were cognizant of the grave costs that would eventually accrue if partisan political considerations were permitted to define the operational record and, cumulatively, the security and strategic discourse. For those who do not understand the grave harm that can be done by imposing a fictional narrative on the national security discourse, it is useful to look at Pakistan's continuous descent into a banana republic and terrorist state as a result of the systematic falsification of the operational record of its Armed Forces, and of the broader context of the country's own history.

It is useful to underline, here, that people who agree with everything the Government says are not the only patriots. Indeed, hyper-nationalist postures often coexist with the deepest betrayal of national interests. Once again, a look at Pakistan's trajectory and destiny is ample warning against such an orientation.

Under enormous media pressure, the Government has now promised a comprehensive inquiry into the incident, and has promised that the results of the inquiry, as well as the full surveillance and communications record relating to the case will be brought into the public domain. This is an additional and unfortunate cost of the state's intentional miscasting of this operation. It is far from desirable that the magnitude and effectiveness of our surveillance and response capabilities should, even partially, be brought into the public domain, allowing our adversaries to adapt their technologies and tactics to accommodate apparent changes in our capacities. There are aspects of national security and strategy that need to be brought into, and to be discussed fully in, the public domain. But such disclosures must be very closely calibrated to ensure that they do not compromise future operations and the institutional capabilities of our intelligence and enforcement apparatus. Unnecessary controversies such as the one present, force disclosures that cannot be appropriately moderated, and place an entirely avoidable burden on the nation's security apparatus.

There are many in the present dispensation, and among its committed acolytes, who believe that demonizing Pakistan serves a critical strategic objective for India, and if the boat incident can be harnessed to the broader plotline of Pakistan as the source and sponsor of international terrorism, particularly within the context of current and global concerns regarding Islamist extremism and terror, such an instrumentality should not be eschewed. Deception is, of course, an integral element of strategy, but it must be sustainable. Crying wolf too often, and where the evidence is weak, can only undermine the credibility of India's case and of its governing institutions. Crucially, evidence of persistent Pakistani malfeasance over the past decades is already overwhelming, and has been very poorly marshalled by Indian state institutions to build a convincing case in the international community. Focusing on the hard core of Pakistani mischief, rather than on imaginary offences, is what is needed. Further, strategic deception should target the enemy; when it targets the domestic constituency, it feeds into a cycle of misdirection that will eventually result in errors of assessment and policy, and a growing environment of domestic and international mistrust.

There is, now, a widening consensus, even within official security circles, not only that the "another 26/11 averted" narrative was false, but, indeed, that the operation itself was botched in certain aspects. It is, of course, not possible to pronounce authoritatively on this without full access to the operational record, but the information already in the public domain does suggest that this is another angle that needs to be inquired into.

The most crucial element of the Government's promised inquiry, moreover, must be, who authorised the circulation of a false version of the boat incident? And what nodes of power sanctioned its further elaboration and perpetuation? The answers to these questions have far greater national importance than any further clarifications on this relatively trivial incident at sea.


(Published: DNA India, January 9, 2015)





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.