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Words are all we have

Words are all we have

Author: Brahma Chellaney
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date: December 30, 2008
URL: http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?sectionName=HomePage&id=4b9d0a27-ecb4-4c9b-8bd9-fc2f3720fdc0

On the ninth anniversary of India's Kandahar capitulation, it is evident that its costs continue to multiply. That cave-in set in motion a seemingly inexorable dual process - making India an easy prey for transnational terrorists, and the further softening of the Indian republic. Today, India has the dubious global distinction of suffering the largest number of terrorism-related casualties. Yet, far from waging its own war on terror, it is more interested in collecting evidence on Pakistan's complicity while obsessively craving international sympathy as a victim.

Such a masochist approach raises troubling questions. Are there no limits to India's patience in the face of increasingly provocative transnational terrorism? How much further can India be assaulted and terrorised before it finally concludes enough is enough? Or is it that the more terrorism it suffers, the greater becomes its capacity to absorb strikes? The Parliament attack was supposed to be India's 9/11. Now it is the Mumbai assaults. That is, before a new set of terrorists again expose the Indian leadership's cravenness.

Strategically, India's imperative not to brook the latest terrorist assaults but to respond effectively parallels America's post-9/11 attitude. Non-stop live television coverage of the 67-hour strikes has created not only an upsurge of patriotic revulsion and national unity, but also a propitious international setting for Indian counteraction. The providential capture of one fidayeen attacker alive helped unravel the Pakistani-scripted plot. Yet, having offshored India's Pakistan policy, the ageing leadership is throwing away a golden opportunity that won't repeat itself. The December 12 Parliament resolution on terrorism thus will go the way the Parliament resolutions of 1962 and 1994 on Chinese and Pakistani territorial aggression did - as mere words. The latest resolution, in any case, is long on rhetoric. The terrorists and their patrons certainly will not be taken in by words that palpably ring hollow by spelling out no action, yet smugly declare India will be "victorious in its fight against the barbaric menace of terrorism".

All talk and no action bleeds India. Punitive military action, of course, is at the top rung of the strategic ladder - a daunting choice tied to good timing so that the adversary is taken unawares and snow-blocked Himalayan mountain-passes bar China from opening another front. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thus far has not taken the smallest of small steps against the terrorists' haven, Pakistan. By shying away from invoking the mildest diplomatic or economic sanctions as a token expression of India's outrage, he has capped India's response at impotent fury. Instead, Singh bafflingly expects - and indeed urges - the international community to deal "sternly and effectively with the epicentre of terrorism".

Israel's heavy response to however small a provocation and India's non-response to frontal attacks on its security and honour make these countries polar-opposites. Still, as the international response to Mumbai and Gaza illustrates, it is the meek that get counselled while the intrepid wage action unhindered.

While Atal Bihari Vajpayee took India on a roller-coaster ride with an ever-shifting policy on Pakistan and terror, under Singh the chickens have come home to roost. Vajpayee's blunders - of which Kandahar remains a bleeding shame - have been more than matched by Singh's bungles, including his surprise action on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 in declaring the sponsor of terror, Pakistan, as a victim of terror like India. To consummate that policy somersault, he established a still-existing joint anti-terror mechanism - a case of unforgettable naïveté, akin to the police setting up joint investigations with the mafia. The advent of fidayeen attacks happened under Vajpayee. The manner Vajpayee fought the Kargil War - entirely on Indian territory, on the enemy's terms - emboldened the invading state to launch fidayeen terrorism no sooner than that conflict had started winding down. Kargil was followed by Kandahar, after which terrorism morphed from hit-and-run strikes to daring assaults on military camps, major religious sites and national emblems of power. But under Singh, suicide attacks have qualitatively escalated to such an extent that India has come under a terrorist siege.

Singh now has a person of his choice in place of the home minister who was eased out as a scapegoat. Singh expects P. Chidambaram to bring down terrorism. The new incumbent has told Parliament: "We have to take hard decisions". But so far nothing much has happened.

Let's be clear: Had India's leaders not ignored institutionalised policymaking in favour of an ad hoc, personality-driven approach, not repeated the very mistakes of their predecessors and not insisted on learning on the job, the terrorism problem would not have become so acute. In the manner a fish rots from the head down, the rot in India is at the leadership level.

Just the way Pakistan goes through the motions of cracking down on its terror groups, New Delhi responds to each terrorist strike in a perfunctory or mechanical way, without commitment or resolve. And just as Pakistan has a track record of easing up on its terror groups when the spotlight is off, India's leaders go back to business as usual no sooner than a terrorist attack has begun to fade from public attention.

While Pakistan is guilty of sponsoring terror, India's leadership is guilty of encouraging terror and making the country an easy prey. Make no mistake: If Pakistan is to dismantle its state-reared terror complex, India's leaders will have to first dismantle their terror-emboldening outlook.

- Brahma Chellaney is a professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi.

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