(First published in The Pioneer dated May 18, 2011)
At the risk of being called a ‘US stooge’ — whatever that means for a commoner like me who has never entered a US embassy or consulate, or been ever contacted by any US official or mole, or enjoyed a US-sponsored junket — let me state that I am awestruck by the manner in which the world’s only superpower felled Osama bin Laden. It was a show of military precision and daring, backed by technological support and superior ground intelligence. But more than that, it demonstrated the unwavering resolve of a country hit by terror to extract revenge.
In the 10 years that it pursued the world’s deadliest terrorist who not merely led Al Qaeda but also spawned and became a source of encouragement for a host of affiliates — many of which have been targeting India — the US never lost sight of its goal, despite coming in for strong criticism from various quarters for the manner in which it had conducted its ‘war on terror’. It crossed borders and nailed the man it considered to be its enemy number one. That is how nations should fight terror, if it comes to that. Here, India has a lesson to learn.
But every time the issue of India duplicating the US approach to tackling terror is raised, it is brushed aside as unworkable. For one, Washington, DC had the support of the world’s most influential countries, with some being partners in the ‘war on terror’. New Delhi, we are reminded, will not find such allies if it decides to engage in hot pursuit of the terrorists holed up in Pakistan. Even the US, we are told, will not back India in that situation. Then there is the matter of geographical contiguity. Unlike the US, which is far removed from the scene of conflict, India shares its borders with Pakistan and any proactive military action to hit terror camps there will invite swift, and even perhaps a nuclear, retaliation from Islamabad. Finally, we are informed that while our armed forces are as good as any in the world when it comes to valour, they simply do not have the technological capability required to conduct audacious operations of the kind the US engaged in.
These are genuine concerns and cannot be brushed aside in the heat of the moment. But they are also possibly exaggerated. For instance, India is not without support. The UK, France, Germany, Russia, Israel and several others including the US are disgusted with Islamabad’s prevarication on acting against terrorists who have targetted India and find refuge in Pakistan. It may be true that those like the US have not really walked the talk from New Delhi’s point of view, but that is because we have ourselves not taken a hard stance. We will have reason to grumble only when we are firm on action (and not just speculate) and find no support from them.
The fact that Pakistan is our neighbour did not prevent us from going to war against it on three occasions, and engaging in the Kargil conflict which almost became a full-blown war. From all accounts, we emerged the better in these encounters. As far as the threat of a nuclear attack is concerned, Islamabad knows only well that any first-use of nuclear weapons from its end will mean its own denouement. India too would end up brutalised, but it will eventually recover; Pakistan is unlikely to do so because only that which survives will revive.
It is the third factor — not being technologically well equipped for across the border operations — that deserves closer attention. Our policy makers must hasten the process of modernising the armed forces to conduct such operations, which would be the last resort after all other methods of persuasion fail.
Eventually, the point is well accepted that these decisions have to be taken by the political executives based on expert inputs, and not by the ranting of lay commentators. That raises another disturbing question though: Does our Government have the spine to consider such daring options? The answer is ‘no’. Indeed, let alone demonstrate intrepidity, the UPA Government does not even have a clear stand on the recent developments. Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan provided us with the perfect occasion to slam Islamabad for its duplicity, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with his head buried in the sand, refused to seize the advantage and continued to harp on working for better relations with that country. Amazingly, he did not have one harsh word for Islamabad. It was left to Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram to do some plain-talking — he slammed Pakistan for sheltering terrorists.
But strong words for Pakistan from the Indian Prime Minister, even when all of the world barring usual ones like China have pounced upon it, is perhaps expecting too much spine from him. Mr Singh has after all revived the composite dialogue process with Pakistan halted in the wake of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. He did so despite Islamabad’s categorical refusal to act on the tomes of evidence New Delhi has provided it on the terror strike. Not only has Pakistan not acted, it has ridiculed the evidence as just some silly stuff on a piece of paper. Yet, our Government revels in cricket and hockey diplomacy, allowing Pakistani leaders to score public relations points. It is no wonder that Islamabad deals with our so-called stern messages with contempt at worst and a good deal of amusement at best.
That the Union Government is in a state of self-inflicted stupor is most remarkably evident in the manner it continues to drag its feet over the death sentence to the Parliament attack mastermind, Afzal Guru. His appeal for remission of the verdict confirmed by the Supreme Court has been pending with the President for years. Why, when it should have taken not more than a few days for the Government to advise the President to let the terrorist hang? It is because the UPA has developed cold feet over the likely ‘repercussions’. That alone tells the story of this Government’s resolve to fight terror.