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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 11, February 28, 2009

Mumbai Aftermath: India‘s Disciplined Response Helped Avert Major Threat to World Peace

Monday 2 March 2009, by Bharat Dogra

Now that the threat of an India-Pak war has receded, it becomes increasingly clear that India’s disciplined response helped to avert a major threat to world peace.

The available evidence on the recent Mumbai terrorist attack indicates that this was carried out by terrorist organisations based in Pakistan (helped by a section of the Pakistan Army and ISI that has been close to religious extremists) mainly with the aim of creating tensions on the Indo-Pak border and thereby creating conducive conditions for transfer of significant sections of the Pakistani Army from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas to the India-Pak border areas. This would ease the pressure on various insurgent groups and create some tension in Pakistan-US relations and, above all, provide an escape to many Pakistani solders from the unwelcome confrontation in the Pak-Afghan border areas imposed on the Pakistani Army by the USA. The terrorists and those who sent them had hoped that the discovery of such links will lead to a war-like build-up (if not an actual war) and this would help to achieve the goal of troops transfer. Other motives may also have been at work, the Al-Qaeda may have added its own inputs, but this appears so far to have been the main motive.

In such a situation any war-mongering in India would amount to playing into the hands of the enemy. Even otherwise, while acts of terrorist violence no doubt inflict very heavy costs, we’ve to be careful to ensure that the ‘remedy’ we find does not cause even greater distress. An all-out war between two major military powers, who in addition to other highly destructive weapons also possess nuclear weapons, can potentially cause even greater distress than even a hundred terrorist attacks put together. What is more, there is no guarantee that a ‘final solution’ to terrorism will be found. While ‘final solutions’ have also been popular for jingoistic talk, all along the long road of history these have brought more destruction than relief.

By the same logic ‘surgical’ air strikes on terrorist training camps cannot provide any solution as in all likelihood these are likely to lead to an all-out war. It is also well-recognised that several so-called ‘surgical’ strikes by most accomplished forces like those of the USA actually caused large-scale deaths of innocent people. The likelihood of this increases in the context of Pakistan where our knowledge of terrorist training camps and any recent changes is less than complete.

While all this doesn’t rule out a war for all future times to protect our legitimate and most significant interests, war is clearly only the last option after all else has been given more than a fair chance but fails to succeed.

IN any peace-loving country, a country committed to peace and equally committed to strongly protecting its legitimate interests, people need to have a good, factual, rational understanding of what a full-fledged war between two major (in this case also nuclear) military powers in the 21st century means. Some would argue that a war would not be destructive as the ‘international community’ would step in to stop it before it turns too destructive, but in that case there is no guarantee that the terrorists’ acts would be restrained by such a war. Rather, it is more likely that such a scenario would enable them to acquire greater acceptance within their own country as ‘patriotic’ fighters assisting the Army. Actually terrorist organisations crave for such a recognition. What then should be the response for India? The commonsense response of any peace-loving country would have a two-fold strategy. First, reducing the capacity of the terrorist gangs across the border to strike at us as much as possible while at the same time strengthening and improving our protection against such attacks. There is much that can be done on both fronts.

True, India has already tried repeatedly to draw international attention to terrorist groups and individuals in Pakistan and their actions which directly and indirectly cause violence and destruction in India and elsewhere. But there is much that can be done to improve and escalate this campaign on a more continuing basis to increase the pressure on the Pakistani Government to take actions against these groups and individuals. Keeping in view the enormous distress these groups and individuals have caused in India, directly or by spreading hatred against our country, all actions to isolate, pressurise, weaken and damage these terrorist groups and individuals would have a legitimate and ethical basis subject to the provision that any covert action would have to take adequate precautions to ensure that innocent people do not suffer any harm in the process. As peace-loving people with ethical norms, we cannot endorse the same violence that they inflict on us repeatedly. We can justify our peace credentials only if we ensure that any action we take does not harm innocent people, even if in the process our task becomes considerably more difficult and restrained. Any covert action that harms innocent Pakistanis in the process of damaging our real targets should be rejected.

Secondly, there is much scope for improving our protection against such attacks but we have to acquire the will-power to break the nexus between criminals on the one hand and politicians, officials and police on the other. The scope for improving the intelligence system is enormous, as also improving the security at various public places. The alienation of the police and intelligence has ensured that despite the strong feelings people have against terrorism, anti-terrorism effort couldn’t benefit from the widespread cooperation of the people. Even when poor people are the victims of crime, they are reluctant to go to the police as their fear, based on past experience, is that this will only increase their problems. These are long-standing problems, and perhaps the increasing threat of terrorism can provide the motivation for taking up long delayed reforms. What is true beyond doubt is that such long-overdue reforms are capable of improving our protection from ‘terrorism’ (and incidentally other crimes) to a very significant extent.

Only a part of the terrorist attacks in India has their origin or support-base outside India. To reduce home-grown terrorism, India should implement strong policies that can check communalism and in fact all forms of violence and hatred based on religion, caste, region etc. The overall thrust of our policies should be (and should be seen to be) based on justice and equality. Without accepting the separatists’ demands, efforts to meet other legitimate demands and solve urgent problems should continue. A situation should be created whereby people feel that it is possible to solve difficult, long-pending problems using entirely peaceful methods. Such examples should be highlighted. Efforts at national integration should be made on a continuing basis on a significant scale and those endeavours which make significant contributions to communal harmony and national unity should be adequately rewarded and publicised. India’s foreign policy should be based on considerations of peace and justice and a wider, longer-term understanding of our interests.

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