From Asian Age dt Nov 4 2006
. Posting in full as it isn't archived.
From Brahma Challaney...
Think inside the box 11/3/2006 9:13:55 PM
- By Brahma Chellaney
What India needs is a credible, sustained counter-terror strategy. What it gets is never-ending political rhetoric. There is still no sign that a coherent strategy is being evolved, let alone being put into practice. After every major terrorist strike, the nation hears brave but empty words from government leaders to defeat the forces of terror. Then official New Delhi goes back to its familiar ways, until a major terror attack again stirs up the leadership to make fresh vows.
Given the way India has become an easy target for transnational extremists, it is only a matter of time before the terrorists strike again at a place and time of their choice. In fact, a new report by the online strategic intelligence firm, Stratfor, is titled, "India, Ripe for Another Militant Strike?"
Under Atal Behari Vajpayeeâ€™s government, terrorism morphed from hit-and-run attacks to daring assaults on military camps and symbols of national power, as the then Prime Minister vowed "zero tolerance" against terrorism and then declared aar par ki ladai. Now, under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, even when terrorists strike brutally under the nose of the government, authorities present a face of helplessness. Dr Singh, for instance, has sought to rationalise his decision to embrace the sponsor of terror as a partner against terror by asking, "What other option did we have?"
No western democracy allows any major act of terror to go unpunished. In contrast, India has come to stoically live with high incidence of terrorism, taking terror strikes in its stride as if they were the products of its immutable geography or destiny. Not only is there little political will in India to wage its own war on terror, but also the instrumentalities of state have been allowed to decline and decay.
Indian decision-makers give little thought to why their country has turned into a laboratory for international terrorists, who try out and perfect techniques in the worldâ€™s largest democracy before replicating them in the West. Among the acts first tried out against Indian targets and then repeated elsewhere are attacks on symbols of state authority, the midair bombing of a commercial jetliner and coordinated strikes on a city transportation system. Methodology employed by the US Central Intelligence Agencyâ€™s Office of Terrorism Analysis shows the highest number of terrorist attacks occurring in India.
Yet India has yet to articulate a counter-terror strategy with clear objectives and means. Nor has New Delhi been able to convince the world about the Pakistani establishmentâ€™s direct culpability in the daring acts of terror carried out in India.
Many Indians had hoped that the October 8, 2005 earthquake that struck Pakistanâ€™s terrorist-infested areas the hardest would lower the terror level against India. But the terror attacks in India from Mumbai to Varanasi, and from New Delhi to Bangalore, have revealed an increase in the trans-border movement of Pakistan-trained operatives. According to the Army chief, Pakistan is now infiltrating terrorists through new routes, including the Rajasthan, Bangladesh and Nepal borders.
Yet, what Indians read in their national press and what the rest of the world gets to read are two different worlds. For example, a recent New York Times story reported on what it called "a new twist to the abiding India-Pakistan rift over who is responsible for acts of terror on Indian soil, and what to do about it." This is what the October 23 New Delhi-datelined despatch stated: "Neither country seems to be able to veer from an old and familiar script. After every terrorist act, the Indian government blames Pakistan-based groups, and the Pakistani government goads India to furnish specific evidence. India responds by saying that crime suspects, including the leaders of banned groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba, continue to find shelter in Pakistan, despite Indian demands. Pakistan counters that they have not been charged with crimes. The accusations fly in the other direction as well. Pakistan maintains that India supports a rebel movement among tribal groups in its western Baluchistan Province â€” a charge India denies."
If the New Delhi-based correspondent of a major American newspaper is not convinced about Pakistanâ€™s involvement in terror strikes in India, how does the Indian government expect others in the world to be convinced?
Nothing better illustrates Indiaâ€™s faltering approach than the wanton way it has confused the world and its own citizens over the terrorist links to the Mumbai train bombings, which left more than 200 people dead. The national security adviser first pronounced, judge-like, that the evidence on the Pakistani connection to the bombings was "pretty good" but not "clinching." The home secretary chimed in with his own judgment: the evidence, he declared, was "fairly solid," with his qualifier, "fairly," adding or subtracting little to the NSAâ€™s claim. Then, like the court of appeals, the PM ruled there was "credible evidence" on Pakistanâ€™s involvement, except that days earlier he had publicly judged that country as a fellow victim of and partner against terror â€” a verdict he still sticks to.
Indiaâ€™s self-goal epitomises the manner it has fallen victim to its own contradictions. The PM of late has developed a tendency to contradict himself in the same sentence. For example, at Thiruvananthapuram last Wednesday, he said: "We are trying to develop friendly ties with Pakistan despite difficulties arising out of their support for terrorist operations directed against India." What may be more worrying is that the PM actually does not see a contradiction in his seeking to build "friendly ties" with a state that he admits is aiding "terrorist operations" against India.
Despite a national furore, the PM is determinedly pushing ahead with his decision to set up a joint counter-terror mechanism with Pakistan, overriding the concerns of professionals within the system. Yet the PM is unsure whether his radical move would succeed, admitting he is banking on little more than hope: "We have agreed to the mechanism. Let us see how it works. I hope Pakistan is serious about it."
By now, the PMâ€™s style of functioning has become known: when he wishes to put an issue on the back burner, he sets up a panel or a commission, but when he sets his mind on doing something, he presents the nation with a fait accompli. Having sprung a surprise on the nation, he then keeps up the refrain that there is no change in policy. His latest gem is that "there is no change" in foreign policy under him, only an effort on his part to "widen Indiaâ€™s horizons."
Semantics apart, Indiaâ€™s counter-terror policy has never been in greater disarray than today. Not only is there a lack of direction on where India is headed against transnational terrorism, but also there is a lack of concern over what the country has been through. The first anniversary of the New Delhi bombings passed last Sunday without the country or even the city remembering those who fell to the terroristsâ€™ bombs. Contrast this with the way London observed the anniversary of its subway bombings. Yet the fact is that more people died in the synchronised New Delhi bombings than in the London attacks.
Terrorism represents an existential battle that will determine whether India stays a free, secular, united state. The PM himself admits that terrorism constitutes "the biggest challenge" to India. Yet, strangely, the Indian republic is unable to get its act together to wage a concerted war on terror, backed by unflinching resolve.
When escalating terrorism demands action, India has become the master of inaction, making itself an easier prey for terrorists and their sponsors. Without a concerted response, no system can keep up morale. Inaction not only damages a systemâ€™s credibility but also saps public confidence to the extent that necessary leads on the movement or hideouts of terrorists may not be forthcoming from citizens.
Instead of acting to stop further attacks by going after terrorist cells and networks and those that harbour or aid such extremists, India seems more interested in collecting and presenting evidence of Pakistanâ€™s terror links. Under Vajpayee, the emphasis was on presenting the evidence to the United States in particular. Now India wishes to present the evidence to Pakistan itself. Returning from his South Africa tour, the PM proclaimed: "If we have evidence, we will hand it to them (Pakistan). We will test the waters."
No state victim of terror has ever emphasised evidence collection as a substitute to counteraction. But India is India â€” always unique.
Having failed on other fronts, India now is intent on making history: it will seek to convince terrorist-patron Pakistan in high dudgeon through the joint mechanism to own up to its sponsorship of terror. Please. Even if New Delhi had a video that captured General Pervez Musharraf ordering a bomb attack on an Indian city, it will not persuade a military-ruled Pakistan to sever its ties with terrorist elements. After all, the Pakistan military values terrorism as its main instrument to mount pressure on India and wring out concessions in negotiations.
How far divorced from reality does New Delhi intend to become? Before wanting to think outside the box, it ought to learn to think inside the box so it brings credit to Indian democracy, not comfort to terrorists and their patrons.