If India had not avenged the Pulwama massacre, I would have been angry and ashamed. I believe I speak for most Indians when I say this. I believe that like me they were ashamed when, after 26/11, all that our leaders did was try to shame Pakistan in the forums of the world. We knew, as did everyone else, that the attack on Mumbai was not some amateur exercise executed by 10 Pakistani jihadists. Long before David Headley’s confessions, we knew that it was an act of war conducted with the synchronised proficiency of a military operation. But, Pakistan was allowed to get away with blaming ‘non-State actors’. It was a big mistake that came after other big mistakes, like allowing Pakistan to get away with sheltering the evil men who in March 1993 planted bombs in Mumbai that killed nearly 300 people.
Last week, when Indian Air Force fighters flew deep into Pakistan to destroy jihadist training camps, they made it clear that the Islamic Republic next door will not get away any more with waging its cowardly, undeclared war against India. If we had done something like this after 26/11 it is possible that jihadist terrorism would not have become the cowardly but effective new form of warfare that it has become. So well done, Prime Minister, and may our response to jihadist attacks on India always be as potent.
Now it is time to look hard and carefully at some other harsh realities. We should begin by acknowledging that there is no ‘deep State’ in Pakistan, and there are no ‘non-State actors’. Pakistan is ruled by military men who allow dwarf prime ministers a measure of municipal power. As soon as they show signs of becoming real political leaders, they are got rid of, one way or another. This has happened time and time again, but in India there are an unfortunately large number of political leaders and commentators who believe in the myth that there exists a kind of ‘bonsai democracy’ in Pakistan.
So Indian prime ministers (including Narendra Modi) have tried to talk peace with the civilian leaders thrown up by what they believe are real elections, without realising that these leaders have absolutely no say in matters of war and peace. They are actually vital actors in the charade of democracy that the Islamist military men continue to play because when there is a crisis they are put forward as Pakistan’s real leaders to disguise the awful nature of the Pakistani State. This works so well that there has been no need for a coup since Pervez Musharraf ousted Nawaz Sharif 20 years ago.
Another harsh reality that we in India need to confront is that the reluctance of our prime ministers to respond effectively to jihadist crimes on Indian soil is seen by Pakistan’s military rulers as evidence of ‘Hindu cowardice’. One of the most unforgettable conversations I ever had in Pakistan was with the late General Hamid Gul. When he discovered that I was a Sikh, he said, “The Sikhs were not meant to have left. If the Sikhs had stayed in Pakistan we could have defeated India long ago.” This remark would have been unimportant if it had not come from the father of the jihad. As Director General of the ISI, he created the jihadist groups that have been used as an instrument of Pakistani foreign policy ever since. He was not unique. I have met other Pakistani military men who believe the same kind of nonsense.
So I am proud of what the Indian Air Force did last week and congratulate the Prime Minister on his courageous decision to allow a military response. But, a little annoyed that the Modi government has let the narrative slip out of its hands. The strike across the border was not about Kashmir, but every foreign correspondent in Delhi has reported it as being just another chapter in the Kashmir story. BBC and CNN ignored the strike for more than 24 hours and then started banging on about how India and Pakistan had fought several wars over the ‘disputed’ region of Kashmir. Other than perfunctory briefings by the Foreign Secretary and senior officers of the armed forces, no attempt was made to persuade the media that this was not about Kashmir but about jihadist terrorism.
Pakistan believes that the ‘core’ of our problems is Kashmir, but this is not our view and we need to say this much more loudly than we have so far. If it was only about Kashmir, there is no explanation for why Mumbai has been attacked more than once or for why there have been jihadist attacks in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. We have problems in Kashmir but they are our problems. With Pakistan we have one problem and one problem alone. It is jihadist terrorism.