December 28, 2008 11:54:11 pm
Crises are good, provided, as my learned colleague Arun Shourie argues with compelling logic, we do not waste them. They are good for individuals and they are good for a nation. Nothing teaches us more useful lessons than an adversity.
Of the many crises that India faced in 2008, two—economic recession and terrorism—will continue to cause intense pain in 2009. There is nothing new about cross-border terrorism, India having been a victim of it for the past nearly three decades. Nevertheless, it visited us with extraordinary ferocity in 2008 and the last of the terrorist strikes, the 26/11 bloodbath in Mumbai, has both angered and—let’s face it—unnerved the nation in a manner seldom experienced before. War clouds are gathering in the sky and not many can claim to know if they will disappear. I am of course referring to a conventional war. The unconventional war in the form of the Pak-sponsored terrorism has been going on incessantly. Question is: how should India respond?
If the UPA Government responds appropriately that is, as Good ought to respond to Evil, it can count on the nation’s united support. With parliamentary elections only a few months away, one hopes that the Congress leadership will not let electoral considerations colour its decision. It has already exhibited its vulnerability to vacillation, induced by votebank politics, in the noxious Antulay affair. Let it be clearly understood that only a strong and unwaveringly principled approach, in which the interests of the nation are placed firmly above the interests of the party, can guarantee united and ensuring support from the people of India.
Diplomacy is an integral part of India’s war against terror. Here some of the Government’s weaknesses are beginning to show. Its greatest weakness is that, mentally, a section of our ruling elite depends too much on the United States to fight our battle. We want Washington to put pressure on Islamabad, without realising that the US can, at best, lean on Pakistan’s military rulers to a limited extent, which, in practical terms, has not amounted to much, and, at worst, may use Pakistan’s discomfiture to its own advantage in its larger game of geopolitical domination in South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. As Pervez Musharraf himself once said that after 9/11, the US threatened to bomb Pakistan “back to the stone age” unless it joined the fight against al-Qaeda. We cannot expect Americans to issue any such threat to Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks. Yet, some of our rulers hope that the US, presumably because India now has a strategic partnership with it, will rein in Pakistan. It is a hope unsupported by evidence.
India’s diplomacy has suffered from another weakness. Just as we committed a costly foreign policy mistake by not condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, we are repeating the mistake by not asking the United States to end its military occupation of Afghanistan. Whatever justification Washington had to attack Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, it has long forfeited it after seven years of continuous, and unwinnable, war. It is a war that has strengthened the Afghan Taliban, not weakened it. It is also a war in which Pakistan’s army has led the US up the garden path. It has, on the one hand, given protection to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda men on its soil and, on the other, tricked the US into giving it billions of dollars to hunt down al-Qaeda. One hopes that the Obama administration revamps its Afghan policy, whose aim is not so much to get Osama but to get a strategic military presence in the region.
This is not in India’s national interest. It avoidably intensifies anti-American Islamists’ ideological hostility towards India. Our silent approval of America’s war on Afghanistan is interpreted by them as India being a part of the US-UK-Israel axis. We lose much from joining this axis, just as we lose greatly by being blind to the threat posed by global Islamism.
Hence, what the latest crisis after Pakistan’s terror attack on Mumbai teaches us is the abiding relevance of some age-old values such as independence in foreign policy, self-reliance, self-belief, inherent and all-sided national strength (including military strength) and, above all, unshakeable national unity. One should add three other ancient virtues to this list—patience; willingness to confront evil; and readiness to make sacrifices. We want peace with Pakistan. However, if the Pak-sponsored terror war does lead to a military confrontation with it—although this must be the last resort— let us fight with all our might. Victory will be ours. If our friends in the international community support our just cause, both before and during the military confrontation, we should welcome such support. But let us never for a moment forget that this is a war that we have to fight essentially on our own.
Let us also remember that this war can be fought successfully on several other non-military fronts. By strengthening our internal security apparatus, as, for example, Parliament did recently by enacting two anti-terror legislations. By busting the widespread network of sleeper cells that work for terrorist organisations. By rooting out corruption in governance. By, especially, booting out ministers who take bribes for transfers and postings of security personnel, and make the system porous for our enemies to exploit.
No astrologer is needed to predict that 2009 will be a difficult year for India. Both the Indian State and Indians society will be tested in multiple ways. The many weaknesses that plague both our State and society will be exposed, just as they have been exposed in the past. The best in India will have to overcome these weaknesses. To strive to make it happen is the pledge we all have to take as we make the transition from 2008 to 2009.
Wishing you a happy and fulfilling New Year, dear readers.
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