26/11 and what it says about us

After 26/11 we had many intentions about improved functioning. A week or so ago, a man murdered his ex-wife INSIDE a women’s police station and escaped. A Hindustan Times article quotes G K Pillai that we can’t prevent another 26/11. US didn’t provide adequate information. The response of our security forces still is out of scrutiny. When Keenan and Reuben got stabbed in Amboli, their girlfriends tried calling the cops for over fifteen minutes.

Kill Kasab, people insist. That will be the real justice. Will it? We did kill nine terrorists, you know? Did that bring any peace? It didn’t to me. Kasab being dead won’t either. These ten were pawns. Them being alive or dead does nothing, unless its source meets justice. Kayani refused an American request to remove a phone Lakhvi was using to direct terror operations from his cell – for a general idea on how close the source is to justice.

Our political apparatus is so paralyzed by fear of failure that it has no space to operate in. Holding talks is permissible, but not agreeing. Making “mistakes” will be invitation for mud slinging. We fail to see that nothing drastically different can be achieved without doing something different, and doing something different MUST involve risking something you don’t know the results of. And it isn’t like doing nothing prevents the “mistakes” from happening anyway – including mistakes of neglect.

What is it that one can do under such paralysis? Stagnate, of course. Except, in real life, everything moves on. Stagnating is the same as regressing, because obsolete ideas don’t work.

From a country that fought and won a decisive war in 1971, we are a country fighting a three decade covert war and losing. Our losses exceed those of the “bad guys” – material, emotional and in lives. And that is in spite of flooding an area of our country with soldiers till citizens are fed up of them.

Bleeding by a thousand cuts, we are. And resilience is nothing if the next cut is not prevented.

We have a failure of political ability to leverage positive circumstances to advantage. The soldiers we deployed got insurgency down, but we did nothing except freezing that situation because it was “working”. It wasn’t “working”, it was a window of opportunity created at great loss of life, limb and money. In freezing it, we are essentially asking our soldiers to hold open an opportunity indefinitely.

We didn’t care that we are deploying our own soldiers into a permanent existence of jumping at shadows among our people and being unable to shoot at them without turning into monsters. We didn’t care that we are condemning an entire population to living in “state arrest”.

Sure, we can’t reduce forces or lift AFSPA as long as insurgency remains, but what exactly DID we do politically to consolidate decreases in insurgency rather than this uneasy status quo through force? When things are well, we do nothing to avoid rocking the boat, when things are bad, we pressure the forces to make it safe again. We ignore military excess because it suits our lazy “do nothing” intent, or we lynch the military under pressure, but we have failed to do our job to finish the need to park them there.

Our border conflicts with China echo the same problem. We are open to talks, but not discussing boundaries. What are the talks to be about? The weather?

Economic reforms and basic inaction on any military front (side effect of being irresponsible) got us leverage over Pakistan in the world. It is powerful enough to literally destroy Pakistan in the eyes of the world by exposing them and contrasting against our “done nothing”. Something we could have used to bring pressure and end the insurgency or at least seriously cripple it. And we gleefully enjoy it, forgetting that destruction of Pakistan will only be trouble for us. We stick to something we have been doing since the first Kashmir conflict – we plead to the world to describe our justice for us and keep committing to talks with Pakistan, sending endless dossiers about an increasing number of things. The fantasy here seems to be that the world will somehow be more interested in finding justice for India rather than itself, and we can leave it to them and play goody-goody.

How is this about 26/11? Because it is the same thing. Terrorists may originate in Pakistan or Timbuktoo, but as a sovereign country, we have to come up with our solutions that don’t require things that wouldn’t happen.

It is all interlinked. It is the basic attitude. When we don’t want to risk our image doing something, and we don’t want to risk our image not doing something, we do it in a way that renders it meaningless. We make it dependent on conditions that are impossible to fulfill and point fingers at those to excuse our culpability. We address symptoms to create a lot of things to show without touching the root. We make a big deal out of victimhood so we can pretend surviving itself is an achievement.

This 26/11, we should stop saying anything that has been said before and failed. About anything. Terrorism is a war of the mind, and unless we have original thinking, we will be bleeding with thousands of cuts.

We need to fight this war according to its own parameters. We can’t fight a conventional war because of nukes. Not to mention that our problem is with the hatred spawning terrorists, which will only increase. We still have an ongoing leverage with the economy and world opinion etc and we could “destroy” Pakistan like that, but the pieces would still hate India, and they wouldn’t even have marginal pretense of law and order. That may feel like victory, but will be useless, indeed counterproductive for our security.

We could hang Kasab, but that achieves us exactly nothing other than saving some money on guarding him, which should be saved even when he is alive. Crores sounds impressive, but it is hardly anything for a country the size of India if the reason is important enough. Money ought not to be a reason to sabotage the best anti-terror leverage India has, so that we can pretend we got justice. Killing Kasab isn’t remotely justice. Kill Shakir Mir, and we’ll talk.

26/11 was a security nightmare, we have pickled Kasab in crores worth in security – like Kashmir. No one has the guts to lower the security and risk “something happening”. Better evaluation would be to ask exactly how many threats to Kasab did this crores worth security find or neutralize in three years? If none, scrap it and try good old cops. Then you can afford to keep him alive until old age, and trot him out every few months, reminding the world every time there are funds to be given, “agreements” with terrorists to be made, etc. That will do more to reduce resources available to terrorists than hanging him will.

Pakistan knows this. Why else do you think Prime Minister Gilani said that Kasab should be hanged and got no objection from any of the many terrorist groups and supporters? Bullying the government is a prime hobby there.

If, like some conspiracy theorists claim, ISI will get him killed, all the better – he is bait. We can nab more terrorists, maybe get even more info. If he dies at their hand, fine. He had the security of a prison. It didn’t work. We have plenty of failures, this would be one more. A diplomatic loss, but not the end of the world. At least we did something different. Something that damages the source of terror – Kasab is our link to it. He is the button we can push to sabotage support to them time and over again. Killing him is plain stupid, though it may feel great.

We need to develop serious covert capabilities. Serious enough to inflict damage. Sabotage, assassinate, or whatever it takes to keep the terrorists busy trying to form in their own country, rather than in ours. Let any collateral damage be a deterrent to them than us.

We need to form a policy of zero rhetoric. If we make a demand, it must have a consequence attached, and that consequence must be carried out no matter what if the demand is not met. If we are not willing to do anything drastic, we must learn to talk small, but definite. No matter how small, but the important thing is that it must be done. The communication needs to be solid on our end in terms of what to expect.

Without this, there is no reason for Pakistan to do anything at all. Why would they, if doing nothing does them no harm, and they don’t want to do it?

We have to find our determination to take risks to save our country. Right now, it is deteriorating, and a 26/11 without any sense of closure is only a symptom.

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Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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