Fifth column: A decade since 26/11

The 26/11 attack needs to be remembered more often by our political leaders because it is the one single event that completely changed India’s relationship with the Islamic Republic next door.

November 25, 2018 2:07:43 am

Tomorrow marks a decade since 26/11. In Mumbai this terrible anniversary will be remembered at a commemoration planned by this newspaper at the Gateway of India. But, it needs to be remembered more often by our political leaders because it is the one single event that completely changed India’s relationship with the Islamic Republic next door. It has made peace more complicated because the attack on Mumbai made clear that the hostilities between us go well beyond Kashmir.

What has become clear since 26/11 is that they are much more to do with India having succeeded, in her bumbling, chaotic way, to have become a responsible modern nation while Pakistan continues to teeter on the verge of being a failed state. It will remain that way as long as it continues to believe that the solution to all its problems is Islam.

That Islam remains the core of Pakistan is sadly evident from Imran Khan’s assertion that the ‘new Pakistan’ he wants to build will use the Prophet Mohammad’s Medina as a model. Already, mullahs baying for the blood of Aasia Bibi have mocked him for this in their speeches by saying he has no idea what Medina was like. When he tried to defend the acquittal of this tragically ill-fated woman, they brought thousands of their followers into the streets to demand that she be handed to them so that she could be hanged publicly.

In India, we have our own problems with religion and caste but they do not come close to the problems Pakistan faces. We might be ruled currently by the political party of Hindutva but Narendra Modi needs to remember that he won in 2014 because he promised ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’, not a temple in Ayodhya or a movement to stop cow slaughter. If he loses next year it will be because he has failed to bring the change and development he promised.

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When it comes to relations with Pakistan though, it has to be said in fairness to him that he tried from day one to work towards peace. If he has failed on this front it is because of betrayals by the military men next door, not for want of his personal sincerity. As someone who has closely observed the fraught relationship between India and Pakistan, may I say there was a time when I believed half the blame lay with India.

We should have ensured that our prime ministers did not make the mistakes they have made, and continue to make, in Kashmir. I do not share the view of people in the Hindutva camp that all our problems in the Valley exist only because of Pakistan. The truth is that the armed insurgency that began in the late-Eighties happened entirely because of mistakes made in Delhi. Islamabad was taken by surprise and became involved only after young Kashmiri men lost faith in democracy and crossed the border for terrorist training.

This is something that Pakistan’s military men are very good at. By the late-Eighties they had gained considerable practice with training young Indians to become skilled terrorists, having already done this with young Sikhs who fled after Operation Blue Star. So can there ever be peace with a country that continues to send jihadist killers into India? Can there be peace with a country that continues to try and break India in every way possible?

Not easy after 26/11. Not until Pakistan’s military men admit that the men who came to Mumbai 10 years ago were not ‘non-State actors’. Nobody who listened to the conversations between them and their handlers in Pakistan on those awful two days 10 years ago would say this. Nobody who has listened to the confessions of David Headley would say this. But somehow, 26/11 is not central to the conversations our leaders seem to have with those who rule Pakistan. Why do they continue to allow Pakistan’s leaders to talk about Kashmir after it has become so clear after 26/11 that it is not about Kashmir any more?

Pakistan has devised a new form of warfare. Last year, around exactly this time, I pointed out in this column that if there was a similar attack, India’s security forces would probably be taken as much by surprise as they were last time. This remains true. It is possible that trained counter-terrorism commandos would not take as long to get to Mumbai as they did last time. It is possible that Navy commandos may be better prepared to defend our coastline. But as an honorary citizen of Mumbai, I can report that most security measures in this city remain stupidly cosmetic. What is worse is that they seem concentrated on protecting VIPs and not ordinary citizens. This is not just not good enough, it is also deeply shameful since the victims are nearly always ordinary citizens.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh