Wednesday, September 12, 2007

INDIA LOSING WAR ON TERROR: THE PRITHVIRAJ CHAUHAN SYNDROME

Finally, the open secret is formally out. And it has taken the United Nations to expose the truth that the government has been hiding form ordinary people: India is losing the war on terror because structures vitally required to fight it are either not in place or are in disarray. (Hindustan Times, Delhi, Sep 11)

India is worst effected by terrorism and has been bearing the brunt of it for decades now with over 70,000 lives lost, as per some estimates. In J&K, it has been left entirely to the security forces deployed there to fight this frustrating war at the point of impact, while for over two decades, no cogent, coherent policy has been put in place to tackle this scourge holistically. The mounting death toll of soldiers means little more than statistics, the inevitability of which is accepted without murmur in the cynical corridors of power as the occupational hazard of those who have voluntarily chosen to wear uniform.

Terror first manifested in 1989 in the Valley of Kashmir. From there it spread to the Jammu division and then to the whole of India, while the nation watched helplessly as a mute spectator. It appears now to be gaining further strength and there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that the problem is only going to get worse with many more attacks and many more deaths of innocent citizens in the future.

What does it take to fight terror? First, a country has to put in place measures internally to make it extremely difficult for terrorists to get funding, local support and freedom to move around with little fear of getting caught before they launch an attack. After an attack, not only should getaway be made very difficult but there should be swift and stringent punishment, mainly as a deterrent for those who might be contemplating joining such outfits. Second, the external factors responsible for propagating an exporting terror should be made to feel the cost of their misadventure to the degree that they are compelled to put a stop to their activities. Unless the second part is conclusively addressed, the first will yield only limited results.

The above points are straightforward and any country which faces the threat of terrorism has no choice but to face them squarely without any loss of time. The operational and legal details, no doubt, vary depending upon local factors, but there cannot be any compromise on the overall framework, if the war on terror has to be fought effectively and, critically, won.

The UN report clearly brings out that we have failed on virtually every count. To start with, there is no comprehensive counter-terrorism legislation in place. The earlier POTA and TADA which dealt with a small part of the anti-terror mechanism have been removed. Terrorists now enjoy the same benign system of justice which ordinary criminals face, put in place when civil society faced far less violence and destruction, and which is wholly inadequate even for normal crimes, given the state of our judiciary. There is no other country in the world affected by terrorism which has put up such a huge ‘Welcome’ sign for terrorists to come and play their Diwali of Death with impunity and virtual immunity.

The most horrifying reason given by some armchair luminaries for this almost anti-national lapse is that since despite earlier terror laws there was no reduction in terrorist violence, there is no need for any such law! Terrorists obviously have many fanciful friends here. I suspect this reason is only a front for a deeper and fundamentally damaging malaise: the greed for the imaginary ‘Muslim Vote Bank’, a greed which in this case is completely and unpardonably against national interest. In any other country, this would be classified as treason.

The report then goes on to highlight some other major gaps in the anti-terror framework like inadequate laws on terror financing and special investigative techniques like electronic surveillance and undercover operations, lack of witness protection programs and national database, and inadequacies in securing borders. In short, the report bluntly states that our national response to terror is almost non-existent.

The US is a democracy like us, but after just one major attack on mainland US, they have put in place very stringent measures to almost eliminate the chances of further major strikes. And that is why they have largely succeeded so far. Make no mistake: if there are more such attacks, that country will not hesitate at all to introduce even harsher measures, at greater cost to individual freedom temporarily. Liberty comes at a price and can be enjoyed unfettered only in a secure nation not facing a serious threat. Democracy is just one of the means to protect and further national interest, which has to be always supreme. Externally, the whole world knows how the Americans are attacking the jugular of terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere. No time wasted, no weak moral pretences trotted to allow terrorists to have a free run.

What has India done? Nothing at all to deter or stop either the terrorists or their known sponsors, except nursing the vain hope that both will eventually tire out, as long as we keep our minimal reactive response in place! Democracy, rather than the nation has become the end, to be protected, no matter what the cost to the nation.

Is this the response expected from a huge nation of 1.2 billion to such a grave threat? Every time a terrorist attack takes place, our politicians almost proudly and openly announce that a neighboring country, Pakistan, is behind it. It is almost as if they are telling the nation that they have done their job by blaming Pakistan, which is all they can do, and that the nation has no choice but to meekly continue accepting this evil. Everyday we hear policy makers shout that Pakistan is the epicenter of terror. Having identified the source two decades back, why has no effective response been formulated yet? Why do we continue to wail like a helpless, defenceless woman who is being repeatedly raped by a small boy 1/3 her size?

This seems to be the result of a very debilitating flaw in our political psyche, first exposed by Nehru. Weakness is equated with virtue and strength is looked upon as immoral. International relations are treated as playing grounds of morality. Naturally, when you are weak, that is all you can do. In 1962, The Chinese tried their best to give us a much needed, though bitter, reality check, but that humiliating defeat has to date taught us nothing.

Just imagine a scenario in which Pakistan was three times our size rather than the 1/3 it is. What would it have done by now? Do I need to spell out? We probably would have long been splintered and devoured as a nation by that country. And here we are, magnanimously allowing Pakistan to continue to ceaselessly keep trying to do that for more than sixty years, without any terminal response. We seem to know well only how to rush quickly to the high moral ground of fatal weakness that our first Prime Minister taught us.

The National Security Advisor says that organizations like the Al Qaida are a mindset. Perhaps our leaders do not have the courage to say that a country like Pakistan is a mindset, a concept that carries within itself the inseparable seed of Islamist fundamentalism and terror, particularly against India. It is not an accident that they have named their nuclear-capable missiles after Ghaznavi and Ghori, historical figures well known for what they did to Somnath Temple and Prithviraj Chauhan respectively. That is why terrorism in India, be it in Kashmir or anywhere else, cannot be conclusively crushed till the concept, the mindset is removed. No queen bee, no worker bees, simple.

I suspect some of our political leaders understand that. But we are slave to our own moral mindset, and can do nothing about it. To complicate matters, the excuse of democracy and vote bank ‘compulsions’ are rendering us virtually impotent while we pretend fraudulently to be on a high moral high ground, the country be damned. Tragically, we are hurtling down the same fatal path of ’magnanimity’ that took Prithviraj Chauhan to a merciless, painful end.

All hope is not lost though. There is the US which, to our supreme good luck, has also become a target of this mindset that has nurtured the Taliban and Al Qaida. America believes in occupying actual ground, not the weak, moral one. As of now, Pakistan is their ally against their war in Afghanistan. But by now the US has probably realized that Pakistan is the real Queen Bee, not Laden. I think it is only question of time before the US will do in its own supreme national interest what we should have done in ours, many, many years back.

Meanwhile, we doggedly refuse to learn our lessons. We have to fail just once to face horrifying consequences. Knowing that well, we seem to have decided to remain committed to ‘The Prithviraj Chauhan Syndrome’ of being blindly magnanimous and forgiving even as our eyes are being gouged out.