On the night of the 1st January when the country finished celebrating the New Year’s Day and looking forward to a long weekend, an yet unknown number of terrorists suspected from the group Jaish-e-Muhammad abducted a senior Superintendent of Police car and entered the strategic Air Force base at Pathankot and opened fire with a view to destroy the strategic military assets maintained in the base. Seven Indian lives were lost until now, whilst six terrorists were suspected to be neutralised. The operation is now declared complete, although it is not clear how many terrorists attacked the base and whether any escaped.
When I started my day on 2nd January, thousands of miles away from those picturesque yet dangerous terrains that abut Indo-Pak borders, I was completely taken aback! Not that terrorist attacks are unheard of in India — in fact, before 9/11, India had been subjected to numerous attempts since independence that the rest of the world dismissed as internal issues. Yet, in recent times, peace seemed to have returned to the Kashmir valleys and the attack sent a completely contradictory message, whilst the Indian PM recently paid an unexpected visit to Pakistan.
The fingers for obvious reasons point towards Pakistan, where regardless of all peace talks and all different political parties in power, on the issue of Kashmir, it is a bureaucratic and diplomatic dead end. Pakistan would never stop claiming for Kashmir fearing a political annihilation otherwise, and India would never give it away for the same reason, as well as Kashmir providing a natural deterrent to invasions without which, the border would be too close to Delhi.
Following the attacks, on the social media which, in addition to the news on the Internet, is my window to what’s happening in India, there seems to be another controversy brewing up. On one side, some pacifists are proclaiming #TerrorHasNoReligion and #NonStateActor etc, the bigger and louder voice is for imparting capital punishments to terrorists, strengthening the army and in some extreme cases criticising the government brazenness on waging war on Pakistan. For this majority, the suspicion, quite obviously turns to the Indian Muslim population, in where their loyalty lies. Political parties weighed in quite expectedly, all blaming the attacks to appear patriotic, yet criticise various fronts to the incumbent BJP government.
The anger in the Indian public is understandable. For various reasons, India has been involved in numerous conflicts with Pakistan and although the relation thawed in recent times, the terrorist attacks in India have never ceased and in ALL cases, the links were found going back to Pakistan. All Political parties in power in New Delhi have said harsh words, then it no measure was taken, neither offensive nor collaborative. The public is frustrated with the government inaction and the continuous disruption to normal life and the huge human loss incurred in the attacks. To the common public, such an attack should have been avenged, to make the perpetrators afraid of planning further invasions.
Such expectations, no matter how patriotic they sound, are only emotional, passionate and impossible. Declaring war without any evidence is a direct breach of UN legislation and however frustrating it is, the government can’t but accept that outfits like JeM are non-state actors, they are terrorist outfits with no established connection to Pakistan government or army until proven. Is Pakistan not aware of these outfits training in its soil and then crossing the heavily guarded Indo-Pak border? Of course, they are aware, we can’t be so naive to assume that they don’t. It appears that in Pakistan there is the elected government, then the army and finally the ISI — Pakistan’s secret service agency, and each of these three leaderships has their own agenda. So, as far as terrorists are concerned, the government view was perhaps to turn a blind eye on attacks on India, rather than have the attacks turn internal. Also, for a large number of Pakistanis and perhaps some Kashmiris, who believe that Kashmir should a part of Pakistan, these attacks are not terrorist activities, the terrorists perhaps were seen as freedom fighters instead. Considering the whereabouts of these outfits are known to the government, what the Pakistan government has done would define whether there were heavy involvement and possibly the supply of weapons etc. to these terrorists, or whether they were aware of the plans and did not take proactive measures to thwart them crossing the borders. One of the conspiracy theories floating around suggests ISI and Pakistan army tend to keep the Kashmir melting pot simmering but not boil over, in the wake of the goodwill missions between the Indo-Pak governments to defrost the relations. This also highlights the lack of control by the government over the Army involvements in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, what should India do? There is not much more to do than what’s being done in this or the last terrorist attacks. The first target was to secure the base and the key assets, as well as ensure the safety of the civilians in the nearby area. The Punjab Police and the NSG have completed that task although clumsily. The other important task was to neutralise the perpetrators or capturing them alive. Although it’s been a long battle and the statement from the SP was perhaps confusing in ascertaining the number of terrorists, most of the terrorists are now neutralised and the operation is declared complete. An enquiry by NIA is already underway to probe the attacks. The investigation is essential and the outcome will lead the way how India government would respond to the situation. During the attacks, it emerged that the right forces were not deployed or the right equipment was not available, which will need to be addressed for future crisis situations. All the unanswered questions that have been raised following the attack will need to find an answer such as where the other terrorists came from or how did they infiltrate the border security forces of India and Pakistan. Questions need to be answered why after the SP was abducted, there wasn’t a high alert? Another approach by the Indian government is really commendable during the Pathankot attacks was not to point finger at Pakistan straight away without any inquiry. Considering the ruling party is Hindu supremacist, not being carried away with a passion for an Islamist attack showed the sign of its political astuteness. At the same time, the Pak media seemed to have asked the pertinent questions on how the borders that are heavily guarded were breached, and the investigation committee should pass information back to Pakistan if the involvement was found. On the other hand, despite cries from opposition Congress to sever all diplomatic ties with Pakistan, that would make the discussions and negotiations that have just started freeze again, as before. The trend showed that whenever Indo-Pak peace talks started, the separatists replied with an attack. The peace process or at least the discussions should not stop as that would appear as victory to the terrorists. Last but not the least, the soldiers who died in the confrontation should be remembered and it should be made sure that the state looks after their next of kin, as well as of the taxi driver who was killed.
One of the greatest achievements of post-independence India was that it’s the world’s biggest democracy and the government is run by a well-defined constitution. At times critics may have quite rightly pointed out that they could be sluggish and overly bureaucratic, calling for revisions to cater for recent times. However, in situations like this, the integrity of the Indian constitution can be fully appreciated that allowed the government to function in a logical manner, keeping the interest of the entire population in mind. India’s Gandhian peace efforts in diplomatic missions have earned the country many allies, as did the recent economic boom. An adolescent response by a declaration of war would not only destabilise the political and social balance in the subcontinent, but it would also undermine India’s position as one of the biggest emerging economies. Considering the biggest opposition to India is China — economically as well as politically, such a move would definitely lose India a few supporters. Also, in the politically volatile situation in Pakistan, the last thing expected is to push Pakistan in a state where the extremists take over the government and cause a nuclear Armageddon, leaving probably entire Pakistan and a large part of India wiped out for generations. The international community will keep the safe distance, and although based on their economic interest perhaps most of them take India’s side, none of them would be involved in the conflict.
Apart from the win-loss angle, a war situation should at all cost be avoided from a humanitarian point of view. That each human life is precious and the war would only mean loss of hundreds and thousands of the human capital, the true building blocks of India — this should be the first point of argument. People are outraged about the situations and causing storms in the social media, but all such petty activism is light-years away from the harsh terrains of Himalayas, where the military outposts are guarding the territory in the most unforgiving climate and landscape. Despite being strongly opposed to the idea of an army, in the volatile borders such as Indo-Pak or Sino-Indian frontiers, unless the governments reach a permanent equilibrium, armed forces and border protection is necessary, not just for preventing illegal land acquisition, but also for minimising terrorist infiltrations. We don’t want to see any loss of life as seen in this attack, but a retaliatory response to flexing the muscles, is something that may appear heroic in the ultra-nationalist perspective, but going to an armed conflict wiping out cities and villages is not a sensible option at all. So, before one raises another battle cry to show raging patriotism, please ask yourself who would suffer the biggest loss? Even if there is a war and India flattens Pakistan, what will happen then? Would that not pave the way for more ferocious terrorist elements like Al-Qaeda or ISIS? Picture the sights of devastation seen in the war-torn middle-east, of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — despite being threatened many times, such destruction hasn’t touched India or Pakistan yet, and let’s all hope that the governments to be prudent enough to avoid such meltdown.
There are possibilities that a lot of insider information is passed over to ISI by Indians, unknowingly or being bribed. Such possibilities cannot be ignored, and rather than the lapse in technology, the insiders passing on information are bigger threats, helping the terrorists with details to make their master plans. A lot of information coming out of the investigation still doesn’t add up. Also, the focus should be on the people of J&K as well, because the terrorists may have received local help, without which, how did they manage to their reconnaissance of the army base? There is a lot of grievance against the Indian government and abuses by the army. If such issues are not addressed effectively and the residents felt that their voices are not heard, it makes way for sympathising, if not directly supporting, with the partisan elements – terrorist or otherwise. I remember watching a recent documentary on Channel 4 called Walking the Himalayas, where citizens in Srinagar were asked about the political tensions and the presenter summarised that people don’t feel to be a part of India. Such statement is conflagrant because a major UK channel is endorsing the view that the population don’t feel to be a part of India based on the ten people he spoke to. But the more worrying fact is that whether that statement is true, that the population is felt betrayed by the Indian government and feel detached? Will there ever be a referendum on Kashmir? The present referendum in Crimea showed how easily the votes can be rigged and a region is annexed. So what chance have we got of a fair vote and the accept the results and work towards a solution? This brings more fundamental questions of what is a state and its necessity in our lives. Why do we live in a fragmented world, building artificial boundaries and then keep spending more protecting these frontiers? There are endless questions and the answers are not available or implementable as yet.
To conclude, however, let’s spare a moment for all the lives lost, and think again before crying out for blood. And remember, that the biggest harbingers of peace are also the biggest warmongers and the more the other countries, communities, people get into conflict with each other, the more we spend on war machinery, the more money goes to the coffers of these vendors of war. Our emotions will only feed the interests of those leeches. So think carefully, and do the right thing, which is to look at the situation from a different dimension and see who the biggest sufferers will be for our wrong decisions. It’s always us.