ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Not by War Alone

A realistic policy on the response to the December 13 terrorist attack on parliament demands that we consolidate the significant diplomatic gains that have already been made and evolve a well-considered, multifaceted strategy, make an intelligent assessment of the pros and cons of the different options and act with a degree of self-confidence and faith in our national values.

The attack on parliament, the most shocking and provocative act of terrorism in its recent phase in India, has provoked a lot of people in India to demand strong action. Parallels are being drawn between what happened on September 11 and on December 13 and how America and India respectively reacted to the two incidents.

Indeed India has a much stronger case against the terrorists, who were identified soon after the attack, than America which had merely hypothesised the identity of the culprits at the time of the attack. Why does not India then follow the precedent set by America and attack the country that harboured the terrorists the way America did? Is it because the rules of international behaviour are different for the only super power of the world and a developing country like India? Or because of the difference in the comparative strength of America and Afghanistan on the one hand and India and Pakistan on the other? Is it a question of double standards or merely pragmatic and realistic compulsion?

Before we develop a feeling of self-pity, to which we are often prone, about our reaction for either reasons, let us examine more closely the way America reacted to the terrorist challenge so as to draw the appropriate lessons from it. Despite being the mightiest power, did not America take one month to mobilise diplomatic support around the world before taking retaliatory action? In particular, it made extraordinary efforts to neutralise the hostility of some Muslim countries and to win over fence-sitters. Further, it continued to draw a distinction between the people of Afghanistan and their Taliban rulers. Its planes not only dropped bombs, but also relief material over Afghanistan.

The international response to India’s diplomatic efforts has indeed been more positive than what America initially got. The act of terrorism was universally condemned; even by the Pakistan president, general Musharraf. A few voices were certainly heard later which insinuated that Indian agencies might have engineered the drama at parliament house. So was said about a Jewish hand in the attack on WTC and Pentagon. These theories got no serious notice.

India also demonstrated, no less successfully than America, the strength and maturity of its democracy by forging a rare unity of all parties in meeting the challenge of terror. Both the ruling coalition and the opposition dropped the contentious issues which had been blocking the working of parliament and abstained from making any undue political capital out of the situation. The blank cheque from the opposition to the government for the measures it might take and the offer of the government to consult the opposition on any measures it takes are vital assets in a war against terrorism. The government resisted the temptation of using the favourable atmosphere for passing the controversial POTO – which would have compromised democracy a little – and showed that it preferred unity and democracy to its own prestige.

Before the option of hot pursuit and attack on bases and training camps of the terrorists is considered, some more precautions are necessary. Taking again a clue from America’s strategy, we may take notice of contradictions within Pakistan as they existed in Afghanistan. Liberal opinion that has been emboldened with the collapse of the Taliban cannot be equated with the perpetrators of the crime of December 13. Again, there is no love lost between the radical followers of the Taliban and the Pakistan government. A series of meetings of provincial governors to tackle extremism in religious schools, according to Friday Times, shows that “Pakistan is serious about curbing fundamentalism”. The murder of the elder brother of interior minister Moinddin Haider, according to The Dawn “is intended to send a signal to the government that they [the Jehadis] would violently resist all attempts to rein them in”. For the minister was responsible for putting curbs on the functioning of the madrassas and “pushing through a ban on collection of donations and public display of weapons by the jehadis”. There are contradictions even between different groups of militants.

The current rhetoric in India against Pakistan presumes a unity within that government, the government and its opponents, liberals and radicals, terrorists and democrats which does not exist. Instead of treating Pakistan like any other country with various types of diversities, it has acquired in our psyche a status of an eternal and monolithic enemy. Thus unlike America which narrowed down its target to a single individual, Osama bin Laden, and to the Taliban who harboured him, we are trying our best to enlarge our target.

We do know that all those who attacked parliament belonged to Pakistan. It is also presumed that they belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba, both based in Pakistan. But on the basis of publicly available evidence we are in no position yet to categorically assert that they were sponsored by Pakistan government and what the degree of their understanding or hostility with their government is. We have no firm evidence to controvert the assessment of the US president Bush that Lashkar-e-Toiba was “a stateless sponsor of terrorism” and that “it sought to destroy relations between Pakistan and India and undermine Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf”. Bush had added that “LeT has committed acts of terrorism inside both India and Pakistan”. However, as a concession to Indian sentiment, an official statement clarified that “the president calls on general Pervez to take action against the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad and other terrorist organisations, their leaders and finances”. The statement added, “we know these groups have bases in Pakistan and how they operate”.

Commenting on this statement, the New York Times wrote: “Bush appears to be pushing the Pakistani leader towards serious political hazards. Kashmir is a far more sensitive issue for most Pakistanis than the fate of Taliban.” It quotes a former Pakistan official with close links to the government who said: “what Bush is demanding now is that Musharraf make the biggest u-turn yet”; much bigger than he did in Afghanistan.

The New York Times report concludes: “In effect, Bush has told Pakistan that after 50 years of battling India over Kashmir, it must now abandon the armed struggle there, and rely henceforth on political means.” Friday Times comes to a similar conclusion. It warns, “we have barely managed a survey of a highly destabilising debacle in Afghanistan. But we might not be so lucky in the event of a conflict with India over Kashmir.”

Aren’t these enough gains which have accrued to India and aren’t there indications of more potential gains as a result of the counterproductive misadventure of desperadoes on December 13, Pakistan’s diplomatic vulnerability are India’s diplomatic initiatives? While considering the military option, for which there is considerable clamour, care must be taken not to squander the dividends of non-military options, apart from calculating the expected and unexpected consequences of a military option.

If we forgo these gains and get ourselves isolated in the global community, what do we get through military action? Will we subdue Pakistan as easily as the mightiest coalition of world powers did fragile Afghanistan? Will we have in mind any people like Zahir Shah, Karzai, Qanooni and Abdullah who replaced the Taliban to replace general Musharraf in Pakistan? Can we think of a worse alternative than war with Pakistan – not from a moral and humanitarian point of view but from the national interest point of view?

A realistic policy demands that we consolidate the gains that have already been made and evolve a well considered multi-faceted strategy, make an intelligent study of the pros and cons of the various options and act with a degree of self-confidence and faith in our national values such as democracy. Those who are in the habit of decrying the will and strength of the Indian state and magnifying those of the enemy betray an insecure mind and an inferiority complex; these are hardly an asset in meeting as serious a challenge as terrorism.


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