Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The days after the Mumbai terror attack

For the time being the Mumbai mayhem is over. All ten terrorists except one are killed. The one arrested terrorist is now under interrogation. Indian security agencies are trying to squeeze out maximum information from him to figure out the greater plot. Political heads has started rolling. The central and state Home Ministers has resigned. Maharashtra Chief Minister was forced to put down his papers. With international support, the Indian government is trying to get tougher on Pakistan. The Pakistan government after agreeing to send the ISI chief to India later backtracked fearing the strong repercussion it can create in their own country. Mumbai is slowly getting normal. Politicians after a three day lull are back on their tracks. Full volume allegations and blame games has resurfaced. Too much of bombastic talks on the TV have started to show clear signs of dullness. Debates are turning ugly. Even the best TV anchors, worn out after days of continuous showbiz are facing a hard time to break free the clichés. The whole nation is utterly disturbed and bemused. People came out on the streets in large numbers and demonstrating their rage against the political leadership. In due course the disaster dusts will settle and the real questions will start coming out.

The calculation, precision and audacity of the Mumbai attackers have stunned even the most competent security forces of the world. The nature of the attack was so unprecedented that unless a tip-off is acquired from the source, it was almost impossible to prevent an attack of such magnitude. A terrorist insurgency can be counteracted only through building a network of informants in places from where the terrorists originate and operate. The navy chief has accepted that the Mumbai attack is clearly a systemic failure of India’s intelligence and security agencies. This devastating intelligence failure has quite obviously raised unpleasant questions in front of the government. The now revealed discord between the intelligence and security agencies are alarming. From one side there are allegations about the lack of actionable intelligence. From the other side accuses are hurled that intelligence was passed on timely but was not acted upon. It is also amazing to discover the bungling way in which these agencies are maintained. In addition, the sheer callousness of India’s political leadership is not something the people of this country should ever forgive. Even after nearly 200 civilians and 20 security men have died, the stupid manner in which key ministers has commented and acted is an obvious indicator to this callousness. The UPA government is bearing the maximum brunt and has turned into a sitting duck which they truly deserve but the track record of their loud mouthed opponent group NDA was in no way better. The war on terrorism in India has become a petty political subject in recent years and all major political parties are equally responsible for worsening it.

The Mumbai attacks have dropped a ripe apple in the hands of the RSS-BJP combine. The BJP which was initially hesitant supporting the Malegaon blast accused came out openly to hysterically support the arrested sadhvi and sadhu after the RSS-VHP sponsored Panipath meet on 16 November. BJP’s change of position was clearly read out at Panipath by the RSS which has comprehended that their deceptive campaign against Islamic terrorism might fall flat otherwise. Now, they no longer need to do any rhetorical trickery to score their points. They can notify loudly and adequately that their relentless campaign against the ‘soft on terror’ approaches of the UPA government and Islamic terrorism was hundred percent right. Approaching the imminent general elections they will certainly seize the opportunity through an explicit campaign that the country immediately needs to get rid of the Congress led UPA government with an indication that the solution of terrorism in India lies on the doorsteps of the country’s Muslims populace. With lesser efforts now the RSS-BJP combine could be successful in arousing Islamophobia by exploiting public anxiety. As the nation’s attention has shifted, the Hindutva lobby will also find it easier to suppress public mood on the Hindu terror groups and possibly derail the Malegaon blast investigation.

The problem of terrorism becomes virtually irresoluble with an attitude of being tough on terror without being responsive about its causes or vice-versa. Both the issues are concurrent and must be dealt together. The problem with the two major political forces in India is that each of them had chosen to address one aspect of this two sided problem and neglected the other. Their political compulsions are apparent. But it is high time for the Indian political class to escalate their consciousness on the fact that gaining political mileage by encouraging disparity is ultimately an illusion. Political parties are deeply infected by this terrible disease which it preventing them to unite even when the nation is under severe crisis. This is the vital reason why curbing terrorism has become an unfeasible task in India.

The physiological impact of the Mumbai attack will be far-fetched. It is in fact started showing disturbing signals that could have a devastating effect on the future of an increasingly polarized nation. The heinous attack has stimulated an initial fear psychosis and helplessness among the public which has now been transformed into widespread anger. The anger among the urban Indian upper and middle classes are flaring-up in multifaceted directions. Though at present the politicians are the main targets, it will not be difficult for them to recover their positions soon. But this anger is also having the dangerous undercurrents of deep rooted sectarianism. Without much effort or time, demagogic elements in the society can divert this anger towards familiar targets of class, caste and creed. Anger intensifies emotion and if not restrained can obstruct reasoning and tend towards paranoia. The babble on the TV screens about a robust response could easily get misdirected towards a quasi-chauvinistic leaning.

Many celebrity civilian and media experts are referring to the ‘American response to 9/11’ as a solution. Some of them have even turned into warmongers with bombastic proposals like ‘attack Pakistan’, ‘carpet bomb the Lashkar-e-Taiba camps’ and ‘gun down the jihadi leaders’. Either intentionally or foolishly, these armchair experts tend to forget the fact that in vengeance to the horrific events of 9/11, America had invaded countries like Afghanistan (in October 2001) and Iraq (in March 2003) situated about ten thousand kilometers away from their international border. Due to the huge distance between the countries, the impact of these attacks has never brought any direct retaliatory effect on American soil. Also the military might of America cannot be compared with the weaker countries it had invaded. If India attacks neighboring Pakistan, will the impact be similar? Even if one ignores the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear powered country armed with long distance nuclear missiles, will India really be able to teach Pakistan a fitting lesson without receiving an equivalent lesson in response? Will there not be any civilian casualties? What will India really achieve by raiding Pakistan? Will the country completely get immunized from terrorism? These are pertinent questions that might not have happy answers.

After 9/11, the George W. Bush regime brought on the vague phrase ‘war on terror’ and instigated military invasion on targeted countries. It apparently seems that the main objective of America’s military campaign has succeeded because after 9/11 the country did not face any other terror strikes. However, skeptics believe that the actual purpose of the war on terrorism was to establish the American hegemony and acquire control over Middle East oil. But there are also ample examples and studies that has shown that the enormous destruction and casualties of civilian life caused by the attacks (causalities in Afghanistan is estimated between 1,300 and 49,600 and in Iraq it is between 62,570 to 1,124,000) has been counterproductive in many ways. It has consolidated anti-American sentiments world over, radicalized disillusioned Islamic youths, encouraged them to take refuge under the terrorism fold and increased the possibility of terror attacks against America and its allies. This is the basis why the Mumbai terrorists were after foreigners, looking for British or American passport holders when they have invaded the hotels. In 2006, The New York Times had reported that “American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.” In the same report it was also said that the Iraq war has worsened the overall terrorism problem by fueling radicalism. Till now India was keeping a safe diplomatic distance from this ‘war on terror’ agenda. After the Mumbai attacks, there is a dangerous possibility of India falling into the infamous loop. There is a near hand possibility that India might line up as a close strategic and military partner in the region and serve the foreign policy objectives of Washington. Do not forget – the Indo-US nuclear deal is operational now. (See the post India and the Nuclear Deal.)

Therefore, in response to today’s inflammatory circumstances a sensible approach is expected from the Indian government, the Indian media and the people. As several military experts have explained, military action will be the last option for the Indian government in dealing with Pakistan. The democratically elected new Pakistani government has not yet shown any convincing sign about their ability to control the dreaded ISI and the rogue elements of their military establishment. A paradigm shift from the attitudes of previous regimes towards anti-India terrorist groups who are comfortably operating from their soil is also not visible. Yet, the first option of the Indian government is to undertake a tough diplomatic position in cohesion with the global community and force the Pakistan counterpart to act in co-operation. Today Pakistan is also suffering from similar terrorism threats. Pushing themselves in the verge of a full fledged war will therefore not be a pragmatic and desirable option for either side.

Image courtesy: ABC News