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Security Repercussions to Attack on Parliament

The limited expectations of a more peaceful and stable South Asia that may have been emerging from the rout of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and by the vaunting rhetoric of "Enduring Freedom" that proclaimed American determination [enthusiastically echoed by other Western nations] to wage a relentless global war against terrorism, are rapidly evaporating. The heat of focused terrorist violence in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and cumulative evidence of the widening scope of such activities across India – most dramatically manifested in the December 13 attack on India’s Parliament – leave little room for such fragile aspirations. The hope that was vested in a coherent, principled and consistent US-Western counter-terrorism thrust has also begun to waver, as the pre-9/11 ambivalence towards terrorism in distant places appears to be reasserting itself. Thus, US Secretary of State Colin Powell saw fit to appreciate General Pervez Musharraf’s ‘forthrightness’ in condemning the ‘armed assault’ on the seat of Indian democracy. This makes things rather simple for the General. As long as he denies all knowledge of the terrorist organisations operating from Pakistan and condemns major incidents of terrorist violence in India, there is little to constrain him from continuing, perhaps a little more secretly, with the covert war that has been the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy for a decade-and-a-half.

Despite continuous casualties – with fatalities in J&K between January 1988 and December 19, 2001 mounting to as much as 30,517 – the Indian response has vacillated between alternating phases of police and military action interrupted by ill-conceived and counterproductive

The Indian reaction to the attack on Parliament has, however, been qualitatively different from anything in the past. Even the October 1 attack on the J&K Assembly, which left 39 dead, did not significantly alter perceptions. This is unsurprising. As K.P.S. Gill, who led the successful war against terrorism in Indian Punjab, remarked, "It is amazing that it takes an attack on India’s Parliament for our leadership to understand that the terrorists are enemies of democracy. For decades terrorists have been murdering our people with impunity, but the unfortunate truth is that, when people die in distant provinces, Delhi remains unmoved. The Members of our Parliament failed to understand the reality of terror and its paralysing, corrosive, impact on the psyche of the people." Such an understanding has, however, now abruptly emerged, and the purely partisan squabbling over a counter-terrorism law and over the government’s responses to terrorism in the past has yielded to a consensual support for an effective – though yet to be defined – response to the challenge, and a crystallising inflexibility towards Pakistan.

This is a major shift. The orthodoxy in India’s strategic community has long held that a strong, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s best interests. This position is now undergoing a radical review, and, though advocates persist, the reality of Pakistan’s unrelenting campaign of hatred and terror is forcing a gradual but progressive shift to the position that an unstable, weak and eventually collapsed Pakistan is an objective that India could pursue over time. Whether or not this conviction is translated into national policy will depend on events of the near future, but fundamental commitments are now being made. Despite its aversion to war, India will prepare for a definitive confrontation with Pakistan – even with the attendant risks of nuclear escalation. Such preparation makes strategic sense on several grounds. First, such a confrontation may be forced by Pakistan’s continued and escalating support to terrorism, or by another military misadventure. Total preparedness is, consequently, an imperative and would also significantly increase India’s negotiating strengths. Such preparation would, moreover, imply increased defence spending. An increase by India, of even, say, one per cent of its GDP (current levels of defence expenditure are at a low 2.6 per cent of GDP) on defence would push Pakistan into an unaffordable arms race. Pakistan would need to increase defence spending nearly 8 per cent of its GDP to match a single percentage point increase in India’s outlays. Given India’s greater economic depth and stability, Pakistan’s military and strategic over-extension would impose utterly ruinous economic and social costs. This is the explicit goal that is increasingly being built into India’s strategic calculations in the face of Pakistan’s intransigent support to terrorism in the region.

Despite the rising rhetoric, however, there is little scope of the options of ‘hot pursuit’ or any other cross-border engagement by India in the foreseeable future. Delhi is by and large preparing for a ‘diplomatic winter’ during which it will campaign internationally to expose terrorist networks and secure a greater delegitimisation of Pakistan-based terrorism.

There is, moreover, a growing confidence and determination in India to defeat terror on its soil. The fruitlessness of the flip-flop policies of the past is increasingly acknowledged. There is a realisation that India has defeated terrorism before, and the experience and responses of other nations – most recently the United States – are also in evidence. The one principal that stands out clearly is that there can be no compromise with terrorists; all such compromises reward terrorism. Fitful policies seeking negotiations with terrorists and with their front organisations have only helped entrench these groups, creating an alternative sphere of a violent, murderous politics that is fundamentally a negation of democracy. Political solutions may, of course, still be pursued. But only those political actors who are untainted by associations with terrorism can be party to such political solutions. As for those who practice or support terrorism – the response can only be that of confrontation with the fullest might of the state.

The distorted political discourse on a law against terrorism has also undergone radical transformation since December 13, and there is now a strengthening consensus that an effective anti-terrorism law is certainly needed. It is acknowledged that ‘terrorism’ as opposed to a ‘terrorist incident’ is a complex phenomenon, involving support structures and functions that are altogether divorced from the macabre theatre of blood. Stringent laws are needed if these structures and processes are to be disrupted. There is also some pressure for an even harsher law to tackle cross-border terrorism and foreign terrorists. The United States has already brought such laws into force, and there are strong grounds for similar legislative initiatives in India.

Within this broad perspective, one fact that cannot be ignored is that there is a great churning presently taking place in Pakistan as well, and powerful voices are being raised against the ruinous course that Pakistan’s foreign policy has taken over the past two decades. As one Pakistani commentator, Syed Talat Hussain, notes, "The Army will have to decide whether it wants to be the ‘guardian of religious frontiers’ or it wants to pay prime attention to the basic duty of guarding national borders." Ayaz Amir similarly rues Pakistan’s record of "Two and a half decades of wobbly civilian rule matched by two and a half decades of disastrous militarism, with institutions, as a consequence, destroyed and the nation bereft of a sense of direction." Musharraf himself has been making appropriate noises hinting at a significant review of past practices, though his commitment to Pakistan’s "critical concerns" regarding the "cause of Kashmir" remains undiluted.

Nevertheless, half a century of policy – however disastrous – cannot be expected to be reversed in a sudden fit of unprovoked sagacity, and there is ample evidence that Pakistan, at least in the near term, proposes to continue with its covert war against India. Apart from continuing violence in J&K, there is evidence that a number of other cells similar to the one that carried out an attack on India’s Parliament, are already positioned in various parts of the country. There are also apprehensions of terrorists "squeezed out" of Afghanistan moving into India, and agencies have currently increased surveillance and security measures, minimally, to contain the impact of any anticipated terrorist incidents or movements in the region.

(Edited version published in Pinkerton Global Intelligence Services, December 21, 2001.)





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