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What is the chosen path?

What is the chosen path?

Author: T V R Shenoy
Publication: Rediff on Net
Date: December 11, 2001

Did anyone catch United States Vice-President Dick Cheney being interviewed on NBC this past Sunday? [Its sister channel MSNBC is available on Indian cable networks.] If you didn't catch it, let me quote the relevant portion: "[The Palestinians] are led by someone who can't control terrorists. It's not surprising given that level of violence and those repeated attacks that the Israelis take steps to defend themselves. They have a right to do so."

The United States was bound to say so. It had exercised the same "right" when it attacked Osama bin Laden and the Taliban following the destruction of the World Trade Centre. So why is it that it preaches the virtues of self-restraint when it comes to terrorist attacks on India?

It bears remembering that India has been the victim of far more of these murderous attacks on innocents than any other nation in the past half a century. More Indians have died because of terrorist violence than citizens of any other country. True, there has been nothing quite so dramatic as the World Trade Centre bombing, but 10 people here and 20 there add up eventually...

We all know which nation bears the primary responsibility. The new government in Afghanistan has spoken freely of the terrorist camps that were conducted for militants on Afghan soil. Benazir Bhutto has confirmed this from her own perspective. So what is the Government of India proposing to do about it?

Actually, very little -- partly because of domestic politics and partly because of old-fashioned bureaucratic inertia. Let us see how both work.

What does one make of all the sound and fury over ensuring that POTO (the Prevention Of Terrorism Ordinance) is robed with the legality of an act of Parliament? Several states -- including those ruled by the Congress such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh -- have similar laws on their books. Some others -- such as the Left Front-ruled West Bengal -- privately accept the necessity of this legislation. But things change in Delhi...

Immense amounts of time and money have been wasted on walkouts, shrieking, and so on. I do not believe that POTO will be much of a tool against terrorism even if it becomes POTA. But if the opposition wants to play politics even with an issue of national security, what is the guarantee that they shall back the ministers if the time comes to remove the sources of terrorism?

How about the bureaucratic inertia? I am afraid the mandarins of the foreign office have not yet realised how much the world has changed in the past four months. India has pursued a pro-Palestine path for several decades, even ignoring the need to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. It was, like most of Jawaharlal Nehru's foreign policy initiatives, always fruitless. (Literally so. The Palestinians never backed India against its foes.)

But boosting Yasser Arafat, always a silly policy, has now crossed into the bounds of the purely idiotic. Who on earth respects the man or his organisation any longer? Certainly not his fellow Palestinians who think of him as impotent and prefer the path taken by bodies such as Hamas! Not the Israelis, who have effectively shut him up in his own headquarters. And not the United States, which has taken a zero-tolerance attitude towards fundamentalist terrorism.

I can understand -- though I certainly do not empathise -- with those asses in the opposition who take the treasury benches to task for not criticising Israel's "unilateral" action. These people are clearly making speeches with both eyes fixed firmly on the Muslim voters of Uttar Pradesh. But why isn't the government making its own case, pointing out the utter bankruptcy of India's Nehruvian folly?

Let us be frank: who is going to listen even if India appeals timorously for Israel to halt its operations? What favours has India done that Jerusalem would pay the faintest heed to New Delhi? In any case, which self-respecting nation can "afford to listen to advice which weakens us"?

Those quoted words were the response given by Indira Gandhi's government on a previous occasion when the United States appealed for restraint -- in 1971. One can only wonder where the steel has vanished from the foreign office in the 30 years since then.

But let us leave other nations to themselves, and see what India itself can do. If India chooses to pursue a "pro-active" policy -- and I am not saying that it should do so without preparation or debate -- it will be no easy task. The United States is more powerful by degrees of magnitude than Afghanistan. (Or Iraq!) Israel is without doubt more powerful in military terms than the Palestinians. Geography has been less kind to India.

But how long must India wait patiently as an unfriendly neighbour chooses to bleed it slowly? What happened on September 11, 2001, has led to a great change in India too. Indian citizens see with what swift and ferocious efficiency the United States has acted to avenge its murdered citizens. It sees how Israel has reacted to the death of a score of people. And it sees how woefully inactive India has been when democratic values themselves came under attack in the form of an assault on the Jammu & Kashmir assembly...

This has led to a piquant situation for the treasury benches. It was prepared for the assault from the Left, the "professional doves" as we may call them. But now it is the hawks who are becoming clamorous, and that is going to be a real challenge.

Following the Cheney logic, talks are no longer a solution. If Musharraf cannot control militants, there is no point talking. If he will not do so, then, again, conversation is fruitless. What, then, is the government's chosen path?

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