By Praful Bidwai
09 August, 2006
crass and hysterical nationalism is taking hold among a section of the
Indian middle class in response to the Mumbai blasts. This nationalism
is paranoid. It considers India uniquely vulnerable to terrorism because
its state is exceptionally soft, pusillanimous and "cowardly".
At the same time, it wants a militant response - armed attacks on Pakistan.
Its votaries say it is not enough just to suspend India-Pakistan talks;
India must teach Pakistan "a lesson". Some advocates of this
view have strong sympathies for Hindutva and harp on the "timidity
of Hindus", a phrase the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) fondly
uses to explain why India has been repeatedly subjugated by "aggressors".
But even if the communal element is excised from this view, its essential
content remains unaltered. It advocates a particular model unfolding
before our eyes - namely, Israel's aggression in Gaza and Lebanon, after
the arrest of one-third of the Palestinian Authority's Cabinet. India
would be "effete", unlike Israel, if it fails to respond to
threats to its security with all-out punitive attacks.
This view was encouraged
by the state's confused initial response to the Mumbai blasts. Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh's address to the nation did not reflect the
gravity of the destruction in Mumbai, which is of the same order as
Madrid 2004, the world's worst recent terrorist incident, next only
to 9/11. In a recent English-language television programme in which
I participated, the anchor asked whether India should follow Israel's
example. While the participants argued against this on differing grounds,
94 per cent of the audience agreed with the proposition through email
and SMS responses. In keeping with such extreme opinions, the government
hardened its stand and cancelled the Foreign Secretary-level meeting,
issued belligerent statements, rounded up hundreds of Muslims, and mindlessly
banned access to blogs on the Internet.
It is of vital importance
that we view the Mumbai blasts in perspective and formulate a rational
response that defends the interests and security of the Indian people.
To start with, it is not at all clear that the attacks exposed India's
"exceptional" vulnerability. A similar attack could well have
occurred on suburban trains in Paris, New York, Moscow or London and
produced similar damage. True, the Mumbai suburban rail system is even
more crowded than the New York subway. But it is nearly impossible to
prevent such attacks altogether. Beyond a point, no state can anticipate
such events, screen passengers, check all unattended baggage, and so
on. The very pace of metropolitan life makes such checks impracticable.
India lags behind in quickness
of response, in sounding warnings and providing emergency services.
We have failed to create the infrastructure necessary to deal with mishaps
such as train coaches falling on tracks, which need to be quickly cleared,
and so on. There is a strong case for installing inexpensive closed-circuit
television cameras at important transport hubs. But this is not a watertight
guarantee that terrorist attacks will never occur. No state, however
powerful, especially a democratic one, can provide 100 per cent security
or guarantee absence of violence. It can take precautionary measures,
be more vigilant, and improve police efficiency and procedures. That
is where India fails badly.
Secondly, the response of
the Mumbai and railway police was tardy and meagre. Citizens themselves
had to rush victims to hospitals and arrange for blood much before the
state acted. There was public anger that the state was not doing enough
or being responsive. This grievance is legitimate.
However, a rational long-term
response to terrorist violence can only be based on systematic investigation
to establish the identity of the culprits, their motives, and their
internal and external links. Only thus can a responsible government
conclude that the terrorists received encouragement or help from abroad
- in the present case, Pakistan. But senior officials, including National
Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, rushed to judgment and selectively
briefed the media alleging that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Students Islamic
Movement of India and other organisations allegedly supported by Pakistani
clandestine agencies were involved. Most national newspapers duly echoed
such views based upon mere guesswork and speculation.
The assessment that Pakistan
was behind the Mumbai attacks is open to doubt on two grounds. In the
past too, similar allegations were made. Yet, in no major case have
the culprits' identity or links with Pakistan been fully established
and convictions secured (an exception being the Parliament building
attack case, now under appeal). Accusations about their links with "sleeper
cells", or agencies operating through Pakistan, Bangladesh and
Nepal remain unsupported under Indian laws of evidence.
The second reason pertains
to recent developments in Pakistan and in India-Pakistan relations.
General Musharraf is under tremendous pressure from the U.S., other
Western powers and China to demonstrate that he will take on jehadi
groups and comply with the anti-terrorist commitments he made in 2004.
It is hard to believe, at this point in the evolution of the India-Pakistan
dialogue, that it makes sense for Pakistani agencies to risk wrecking
the dialogue process by encouraging or instigating gross violence such
as the Mumbai bombings.
It is possible that some
"rogue elements" of the Inter-Services Intelligence could
have done this. But the central issue is Manmohan Singh's assessment
that the sheer scale of the attack points to external involvement. Any
number of Indian groups with no live contact with foreign agencies is
capable of getting hold of explosives and planting them. Such groups
learn by watching others in different parts of the world. Enough hatreds
and injustices exist in Indian society, which can explain the kind of
ideological pathologies that encourage them to visit violence on innocent
civilians. It is a terrible, very sick, pathology. But such groups exist.
India has a huge amount to
gain from the peace process with Pakistan. It would be foolhardy to
make it a hostage to speculation about Pakistani involvement in terrorist
violence. In any cultural, economic or social interaction, India stands
to gain more than Pakistan. Apart from launching bus and train services,
India has received an assurance from Musharraf that the Kashmir issue
would be discussed on condition that there can be no redrawing of boundaries.
The more we blame Pakistan, the more obsessively we look for "the
foreign hand", the farther we get from the task of looking inwards,
to examine what is wrong with our police, intelligence agencies and
criminal justice system so that we can address some of the cesspool
of grievances in which violence and extremist ideologies flourish.
clamour is a complete negation of any reasonable, balanced, mature and
sober approach to the Mumbai blasts - just as was the 10-month-long
military mobilisation after the Parliament building attack, which achieved
nothing. What gives the demand a dangerous edge is the advocacy of Israel-style
militaristic approaches. Its proponents admire Israel for unleashing
high levels of violence upon its adversaries when threatened. But, to
start with, Israel is not a state that respects international law. It
has the longest history in the world of violation of Security Council
resolutions, such as 242 and 338, as well as the World Court judgment
on the apartheid wall. India cannot and should not emulate it. This
will encourage terrible lawlessness and violence in our own neighbourhood.
Secondly, what Israel is
now doing is illegal, immoral and politically disastrous. The roots
of the current conflict go back to Israel's recent liquidation of Abu
Jamal Samhanada, newly appointed security-chief of the Interior Ministry
of the Palestinian Authority. This was calculated, as many past Israeli
actions, to provoke. It brought on retaliatory attacks from pro-Hamas
militants with crude home-made Qassam rockets which inflicted minimal
damage. In response, Israel launched devastating attacks on civilians,
including a picnicking family of eight. The ensuing violence eventually
led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of one.
Under international law,
it is perfectly legitimate for people under occupation to militarily
target occupying military personnel, although not to abduct them. But
Israel has itself practised abduction and kidnappings and made hostage-prisoner
swaps, as in 1968, 1983, 1985 and 2004. In June, it took one-third of
the Palestinian Cabinet hostage. It escalated its attack on Hamas with
a view to destroying its entire military infrastructure. Israeli troops
cut off Gaza's water and power supply and inflicted collective punishment
on civilians who were in no way responsible for the earlier attacks
or abduction. Cutting off electricity means cutting off refrigeration
- and people's food supplies.
Israel has since invaded
Lebanon, in response to a Hizbollah raid on its forces. One need not
justify Hizbollah's actions to note the sheer disproportion of the violence
Israel unleashed on civilians. More than 380 were killed in 10 days.
The number of Israeli casualties is not even one-tenth this number.
Israel targeted civilian installations in Beirut and devastated its
infrastructure. Israel hopes to weaken decisively the Hizbollah militarily
and further the objective of establishing a Greater Israel, which annexes
large parts of the West Bank.
This objective can only be
achieved if Israel destroys all regional challenges and unilaterally
draws - for the first time ever - its national boundaries after dividing
up Palestinian territory into a series of Bantustans through the apartheid
wall. To do this, it must claim that there is no Palestinian agency
with which it can negotiate. Israel's withdrawal from Gaza even while
continuing with the colonisation of the West Bank must be seen in this
perspective. To these ends, Israel has inflicted cruel forms of collective
punishment, as well as large-scale violence, upon non-combatant civilians.
Collective punishment is impermissible under international law, as are
sieges of cities, which starve them of food and water - the state of
Beirut today after 15 years of recovery and revival as one of West Asia's
liveliest cities. Israel's unconscionable military offensive is an act
of international brigandage linked to expansionism. Those who want India
to emulate Israel assign the most obnoxious motives and purposes to
our state. Obviously, they see nothing wrong with expansionism, aggression,
occupation, disproportionate force, hostage-taking and outright assassination
of suspects - actions that are punishable under international law.
India is being asked to follow
Israel's bellicose, lawless and brigand-like conduct on the presumption
that "shock-and-awe" methods, although excessive, disproportionate
and immoral, successfully deter future terrorist attacks. However, this
presumption has been repeatedly falsified. Israel's coercion has failed
to deter adversaries or generate security for Israeli citizens. In fact,
the moral force of the first Intifada derived from the determination
that Palestinian youth showed when fighting the mighty Israeli military
with nothing more than stones.
Israel is one of the world's
most militarised societies: more than 576,000 of its 6.5 million people
serve in its armed forces. The country probably has the world's highest
density of surveillance equipment such as X-ray machines, closed-circuit
cameras and explosive detectors. And yet, suicide-bombers infiltrate
populated high-security areas and kill. Such is the deep sense of injustice,
injury, insult and resentment that Israel's excesses have created among
its neighbours; that its own citizens cannot remotely hope to become
secure in the absence of a just settlement of the Palestinian question.
It should be demeaning for
India even to think of following a model based on devotion to violence
and cultivation of hatred and prejudice. It is a sign of the moral and
political degeneration of the Indian elite that it has stooped to clamour
for attacks on Pakistan, without even establishing its complicity in
the Mumbai carnage.
It is incumbent upon all
those who value sanity, sobriety and principle in public life to counter
such crass and extreme militarist nationalism. Such extremism is the
stuff of fascism.
Copyright © 2006, Frontline.