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It's time India got its act together

By Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retired)
November 27, 2008 19:05 IST
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News reports and visuals of the terrorist assault on the commercial capital of India on November 26, 2008, make it abundantly clear that detailed reconnaissance and even a few dry runs with local guides must have preceded this coordinated attack.

The fact that one of the attacking teams ambushed a vehicle of the Anti-Terrorist Squad itself shows the level of training and preparedness of the attackers. The attackers seem to have taken hostages according to their plan, and not at random. The singling out of the citizens of the United States and Israel by the terrorists points in the direction of Al Qaeda.

Perhaps, the terrorists might have settled upon the day and date of assault with prior and definite knowledge of some event or the other in Mumbai. The sea-borne approach of the attackers possibly points to the transportation of the main teams in ships up to release points, and plans for their subsequent extraction.

The 'pathfinders' might have been inserted earlier. This attack has all the signs of careful planning, preparation, and execution comparable to what had happened in the US on 9/11. This does not appear to be the handiwork of someone on a shoestring budget. This appears to be a 'battle' in a carefully crafted campaign, or several campaigns.

The strategic objective of the converging campaign(s) is the gradual weakening, and ultimate fractionalisation of India. Pakistan could then emerge as the largest State in the subcontinent. Such thoughts by Pakistani thinkers are on record. The scale and the audacity of the attack is so shocking that it could not have been conceived, planned or executed by the home-grown variety without active motivation, encouragement, and assistance from determined centre(s) of power from outside of India.

The 'foreign hand' is no longer a mere 'shadow'.

The sight of the ongoing US-India strategic partnership has unsettled Pakistan as few other developments since Kargil have. The US had relied in the past on Pakistan to facilitate its access to the Chinese leadership, as also to guard the US interests in the region by thwarting Russian intentions. It seems that only the People's Republic of China had thought things out and foreseen the advantage of helping Pakistan with its atomic bomb way back in the 1990s, if not earlier.

China drove a wedge in the subcontinent by enabling Pakistan with the bomb. Pakistan could now maintain its active hostility to India in spite of India's vast superiority. At the other end of the spectrum, it relied upon Pakistan to draw upon its fundamentalist elements to threaten India with the spectre of civil war by deliberate acts of provocation. This strategic plan has been in place for many years and Pakistan is unfolding it.

The idea that Pakistan will cooperate with India in 'fighting terror' is misplaced. The newly elected government in Pakistan has neither the muscle nor the skill to restrain the fundamentalist elements in Pakistan, assuming that it is sincere in its commitment to good relations with India. Pakistan has been for so long under military rule that neither the Pakistan bureaucracy nor the political class have any first hand experience of exercising sovereign authority in its entirety. Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence can take on the role of 'non State actor' to achieve the Pakistani national objectives, as indeed it has been doing in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan government under Musharraf has been playing both ends against the middle since 9/11. On the one hand, it gave assurances to the US that Pakistan was its partner in its war on terror, and minimally cooperated with the US when cornered; on the other hand, Pakistan manipulated the Taliban and other fundamentalists to continue with their activities, particularly against India, in the name of its support to the 'freedom fighters' in Kashmir.

The first strand of its policy ensured the US support to the military government, and kept open the tap of US resources. The second strand, kept up the level of hostility to India at the selected benchmark but for which Pakistan fears that it would 'dissolve' in the subcontinent.

Any diversion of attention from Pakistan-generated fundamentalism and its concomitant terror in all parts of India will hurt the country. There are other radical groups in India; they have always been there -- Communists in Telangana, Naxals, the militant Akali movement, and so on. The Malegaon blast probe brings intimation of another radical group, this time of Hindus. Some commentators have hinted that the radicalism of the majority community -- a euphemism for Hindus, oh, how we love euphemisms -- is by far the most dangerous.

As an academic conclusion, this is hard to challenge, but as a practical proposition based on real life experience it lacks substance. What has come out in the open from the Malegaon blast probe is worrisome for the army, but it is a strong institution and will be able to take care of itself.

Quantification and careful analysis of all the past terrorist attacks is far more important than some arcane debate about majority or minority radicalism. The 'statistical truth' culled from the past attacks may be a better indicator of the probability of attacks in the future than mental constructs about mere possibilities. This would help more in focusing attention and directing effort in a productive manner. Political correctness may have to take a second place.

Well-deserved praise of the majority of Indians for their stoic tolerance is not out of place, but by itself, it is not sufficient. The fact that life goes on as normal in much abused Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, or Mumbai ought not to comfort decision makers. Even perplexed and benumbed individuals follow what is normal to them because they do not know what else to do. That much-quoted normal 'lesson' in a German school at the end of the Great War, when Germany faced cataclysm, was an indication of helplessness rather than phlegm or courage.

Helplessness implies willing acceptance of victim-hood. Indians have lived for too long in this manner. A sense of personal outrage and humiliation would be a better substitute because it would lead to purposeful action. Citizens imbued with this feeling will demand action of their leaders.

As of now, there is a sense of general insecurity amongst citizens on the one hand, and the vigilantism is on the rise on the other hand, which merely shows that some groups of the population feel that they are getting a much worse deal than others, and take the law into their own hand. Nothing increases desperation amongst sensitive and concerned citizens more than the feeling that they are left to their own resources by the State. That is how vigilantism takes its roots.

Poor governance and government officials who are, corrupt, inefficient, indifferent, or cruel invigorate vigilantes who are driven by their own sense of moral rectitude, no matter how misplaced it may be. The countering of Pakistan-inspired terrorism has to be pursued single-mindedly and not relegated and clubbed with the 'war on terrorism' in general.

It is time to take heart that the Muslim clerics in India have dispelled such doubts on this score as might have been there, and declared that terrorism is not consistent with Islam. This should help in setting aside ungrounded suspicions. War against Pakistan-inspired terrorism is not a parochial undertaking; it represents a national consensus.

The indirect cost of the Malegaon-blast probe -- still climbing -- is very considerable. None can gainsay at present what national benefits would accrue from the Malegaon probe even when it is complete; but the collateral damage so far has already been overwhelming. It is no one's case that the Malegaon blast probe is either unimportant or unnecessary. It appears, however, that the probe exclusively held the attention of the security apparatus until November 26, 2008, when the disaster occurred. This could well have been an unintended consequence, but it was terrible. The perspective and the sense of proportion in evaluating threats, and assigning resources for combating them, are so very vital. There is a need for a serious review.

The success in combating Pakistan-inspired terrorism has not been significant, because a structured apparatus for the purpose is not in place yet.

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Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retired)