If I could erase those images of dead and dying children in that school in Peshawar I would write about something other than jihadi terrorism this week. As details of this latest jihadi horror have unfolded, I have found myself thinking that the whole thing must just be a surreal nightmare. How could these men, not much older than the children they killed, have brought themselves to do what they did? What kind of violence and hatred were they bred on that they could torture little children before hunting them down like animals?
The horror is doubly horrific for us who live in India. It confirms that we are in the throes of a war in which the enemy is not an army of soldiers but of monsters. The battlefield is everywhere. We know this and yet what have we done since 26/11 to make this hideous war easier to win? The short answer to that question is: nothing.
By coincidence I happened to drive past the Taj Hotel in Mumbai on the morning of the school massacre and noticed men with the word commando written on the back of their olive green shirts. As they climbed into an armoured car near the Gateway of India, I found myself wondering if the word was not just an act of childish bravado. If they were real commandos would they need to advertise their status? Were they not doing this only because the truth is that they are not real commandos at all and if a new batch of jihadis came to Mumbai they would find it just as easy to kill innocent people in this city’s railway stations, restaurants, hotels and hospitals as last time?
If India’s new Home Minister examines what the Sonia-Manmohan government did to strengthen national security after 26/11 he may find that there was a lot of noise and bluster and nothing else. The home minister then, a Sonia Gandhi loyalist, had to be sacked because he was more interested in looking good on TV than the killings in Mumbai. The home minister appointed in his stead was more articulate and made grandiose announcements of a National Intelligence Agency and coordinated intelligence infrastructure. But there is little evidence of change on the ground.
So when the Prime Minister talks of reforms and change, he must remember that the urgency for serious administrative reforms in every ministry of the government of India is more immediately needed even than economic reforms. There is not much he could have done in six months to rectify administrative infrastructure that has been defunct for decades, but in view of the Peshawar massacre he could begin by demanding a list of immediate reforms from the Home Minister and the National Security Advisor.
It is only a matter of time before jihadi spillover begins to affect us in horrible ways. Already we see signs of ISIS recruitment drives, already we see signs of radical Islamism in Muslim communities across the country. And now there is even an excuse: ascendant Hindutva. What compounds the problem is that there is no evidence that the Pakistani State will abandon its sponsorship of jihadi terrorist groups in the near future. When the school massacre happened, Nawaz Sharif said that the children who were killed were his children so deeply did he feel their loss. Then why mere weeks before the massacre did he provide special trains for jihadis attending a rally called by Hafiz Saeed in Lahore? And it does not help that Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi has now made bail.
There are other questions that remain unanswered. Where are the men who conducted the 26/11 massacres from cellphones in Pakistan? The Indian government submitted voice samples from the conversations they had with the killers in Mumbai but there has so far been no response. Where is Maulana Masood Azhar who organised the attack on our Parliament? Where are the hijackers of IC-814?
Until these questions remain unanswered, is there any point in resuming talks with Pakistan? If they remain unanswered, the talks will follow the usual pattern. We will say that jihadi terrorism has to stop before there can be meaningful talks and the Pakistanis will say that Pakistan is a bigger victim of jihadi terrorism than India.
Pakistan’s generals and civilian rulers seem not to notice the difference between jihadi blowback in Pakistan and jihadi attacks in India. The killers responsible for the horror in Peshawar were Pakistanis, not Indians. The killers who came to Mumbai for the 26/11 massacres were Pakistani, not Indian.
It is in India’s interest for Pakistan to not fail as a country. If for no reason other than that nuclear arms in the hands of Taliban-type groups is the last thing we need. Why is it so hard for Pakistan’s rulers not to understand this?