A question that has troubled me ever since Maulana Masood Azhar became one of the jihadist fiends we released in Kandahar 20 years ago is why he is still alive. Why was he along with the other monsters released in exchange for the passengers of IC 814 not killed immediately after they sped across the border into Pakistan? The military men who rule the Islamic Republic have never hesitated to admit that the jihadi groups they created were ‘assets’ in their unending war against India, so they would have no right to complain if we started destroying these assets by covert means. So why have we never done this? Could it be because we do not have the ability to do this? If not, why not?
When Narendra Modi became prime minister, he promised not to be as much of a wimp as the prime ministers before him. He used strong language to condemn their wimpy behaviour. After the attack on the military camp in Uri three years ago, there was that famous surgical strike. It was a tough immediate response. But, surely since then, there should have been time to build enough covert assets to conduct exactly the sort of war inside Pakistan that the Islamic Republic’s military rulers have been conducting on Indian soil for far too long? It is because India has not yet learned to fight this new kind of war that evil men like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar are still able to do what Jaish-e-Mohammad did last week in Pulwama.
These Pakistani ‘assets’ are religious fanatics who have a hatred for India that is visceral. In a memoir Masood Azhar wrote soon after being freed, he wrote of how the Indian Minister of External Affairs, Jaswant Singh, had offered him food and water on the flight that took him to Kandahar and how he had refused. “I did not want to sip even a drop of Indian water,” he wrote. He drank plenty of it when he spent years in Indian jails and to this day it makes no sense why nobody quietly poisoned that water while he was a guest of the Government of India. The other man who we should have been dealt with similarly was Omar Sheikh who was released in the same exchange. He also spent years in Indian jails.
If we can have special courts to try rapists, why do we not have special military courts to try jihadists? In ‘secular’ Congress times, this was not a question anyone could have asked without being labelled a hawk because senior Congress leaders were not even prepared to accept that the 26/11 attack was a Pakistani military operation. A former chief minister released a book whose title said that the RSS was behind the attack on Mumbai. And, the man who is now Congress president told an American ambassador he was more worried about Hindu terrorism than the jihadist kind.
So we learned to live with what we continue to wrongly call ‘Pakistani terrorism’.
It is not. It is war. When the surgical strike in 2016 was Modi’s response to the Uri attack, there was hope that Modi understood the need to fight back hard. Surgical strikes have their place but why are we not using the same tactics that the Pakistani army is using against India? If it is because we have not created the assets to do this, then shame on us. We need these assets more than we need Rafale fighter jets because there is unlikely to be another old-style war on our benighted subcontinent. There will not be that kind of war because the Pakistani military has proven that it is unnecessary when they can continue to deploy ‘assets’ like Masood Azhar.
So what happens now? With India on the verge of a general election, there is little time to do more than spout the kind of platitudes we heard from senior political leaders after the Pulwama attack. ‘The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain,’ tweeted the Prime Minister and the Home Minister echoed this sentiment. The Governor of Jammu & Kashmir accepted that there had been a major intelligence failure.
But is there nothing more we can do? Since we are in a state of undeclared war with Pakistan, surely we can, at the very least, break diplomatic relations. Is there any point in having an embassy in Islamabad when Pakistan has made it so clear that it has no intention of calling off its cowardly, shameful war?
What must be done even more urgently is to prepare our soldiers and para-military forces to fight the kind of war that is being fought against us. Attacks like the one that killed 40 CRPF men last week are not acts of terrorism; they are acts of war.
This article first appeared in print under the headline: This is war, not terrorism
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh