Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

Are we imitating the Pak model?

September 11, 2001, was certainly a defining moment in history, marking a catastrophe that, I had hoped, would drive home the reality and scale of the peril of terrorism into even the most obtuse and insular minds. This was an incident, I thought, through which destiny was shaking up our political leadership to awaken them to these dangers. Unfortunately, over the past month, I am yet to see a single policy initiative or action, or even to hear a single statement from the government or any of its constituents, or from the opposition parties, that reflects an adequate understanding of the issue, or an articulation of the framework of a coherent policy of response. It is a matter of shame that, with a history that spans decades of a direct confrontation against the scourge of terrorism, there is not a single political entity capable of defining India's role and destiny in the global war against terrorism.

Post-September 11, the visible focus of India's policy appears to have remained fixed on securing international, and primarily US, attention on its grievances against Pakistan's role in fomenting terrorism on Indian soil, and a high level of petulance has marked political and diplomatic pronouncements and actions in this regard. The most brazen and unfortunate incident in this enterprise was the reported artillery action in the Akhnoor and Mendhar sectors on the eve of Colin Powell's visit to India, and, indeed, at a time when he was present in Pakistan. It is probable that such a major action would not have been initiated by the local commander, and must have been approved at the highest political level.

It is clear, equally, that we have still to learn the basic lesson that brinkmanship is bad policy. Pakistan's present predicament should have been lesson enough not to follow such a course. India stands to gain the most, in the present international context, by projecting itself as a mature, stable democracy, deeply committed to the war against terror, but not given to arbitrary and aimless acts of aggression, even though the provocation be great and sustained.

Pakistan has been inclined to a policy of adventurism for much of its existence, and has been initiating unprovoked military and unconventional strikes across the border - including the Kargil Operation - in order to draw international attention to its "cause" in Kashmir. Indeed, despite the Kargil debacle, the Pakistan leadership continued to regard this operation as a significant strategic gain because it had, in their assessment, helped "internationalize" the issue and play on Western insecurities by projecting Kashmir as a potential nuclear flashpoint. But it is precisely such actions that have put the entire Pakistan leadership on virtual trial today, placing them on a daily diet of crow.

It now appears that a section of the Indian strategic establishment, in a display of extraordinary immaturity, has chosen to imitate what is demonstrably the most disastrous model to draw attention to their case in Kashmir, and there are increasingly shrill and entirely ill-informed demands for cross-border retaliatory action, 'hot pursuit' and the bombing of militant camps in PoK and Pakistan.

The basic defect of the Indian response is that it reacts to transient, often peripheral, events without any clear context of policy, institutional memory or strategic thought. India persists in its failure to articulate an internally coherent and consistent position, a clearly defined counter-terrorism perspective, leaving vast spaces open for continuous destabilization by those who benefit from the divergent assessments and perspectives of those who temporarily control power at the Centre.

The problem, clearly, is not just with the political leadership and the bureaucracy. Legal formalism and a total neglect of the corrosive impact of terrorism on the fundamental institutions and functions of democratic society have characterized the responses of the judiciary through decades of continuously escalating violence. So much so that the Supreme Court held even that the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was not an act of terrorism, but a simple act of murder. India is the country worst afflicted by terrorism in the world, and yet, "terrorism" finds no mention on our statute books; every effort to legislate an anti-terrorism law has met with obdurate and motivated opposition. At a public forum, a former Chief Justice of India recently claimed that the procedural guarantees of human rights could not be diluted even in circumstances where the unity and integrity of the country was under threat - ignoring entirely the reality that these procedural guarantees had worked overwhelmingly to the benefit of those who commit unspeakable acts of violence against the innocent. The judicial attitude has remained in inflexible opposition to the executive branch, and to those who bear the entire risks of the war against terrorism. It is interesting to contrast these perspectives with the recent decision by the British Court of Appeals, which approved the deportation of a Muslim cleric, Shafiq-ur-Rehman, where the Law Lords remarked on "the need for the judicial arm of government to respect the decisions of ministers of the Crown on the question of whether support for terrorist activities in a foreign country constitutes a threat to national security."

Worse still, we have blunted, undermined, even destroyed our instrumentalities of response. We have wrongly and vindictively prosecuted and jailed policemen, denying them the very procedural guarantees that are available to any citizen of the country. In Punjab, those who did good work, those who bore the brunt of the counter-terrorism war, have been stripped of their ranks. On the other hand, we find that those who fostered terrorism are welcomed into the country by political leaders, to live here in the comfort and security that they denied to others for a decade and a half. One of these worthies recently issued a letter supporting a particular political party in the Majitha by-elections.

Within such a context of ambivalence it is impossible for India to chart any consistent course, or to play a useful role, in the global war against terror, or even to defeat terrorism on its own soil. These are not ends that can be secured by stratagems to manipulate US and international opinion, or by tagging India's counter-terrorism responses to the actions of other nations. I have repeated this ad naseum, but find it necessary to do so again: terrorism in India will have defeated by India; and there are no short cuts or easy options in this war.

(Published in Hindustan Times, October 19, 2001)





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.