Amidst the growing India-Pakistan tensions following the terror attack on Bombay, there are some points of analysis that must be considered. All of Southasian peace is threatened, and what is important is for democratic India to not allow itself to be dragged towards a situation where rancour turns to hostility. It must save itself from the simplistic notions of an anti-democratic evolution within and also ensure that the fragile Pakistani democracy is not shaken. Some may suggest that this fear for Indian democracy is exaggerated, but enough hoary rhetoric has emerged from India’s political commentators and satellite channels pandering to the so-called middle class, for us to urge caution.
The hysteria unleashed by most of the Indian satellite channel anchors is unacceptable. Within India, they went overboard in challenging the democratic political process and putting politicians on the defensive, attempting to force their hand. Vis-a-vis Pakistan, they have orchestrated a shrill chorus that seeks an aggressive military posture from the Indian government. In what seems a cynical competition for what are called TRP ratings, the channels have sought to outdo each other with proclamations of patriotism, and have influenced other Indian media, including print, into playing nationalistic catch-up. Given the Subcontinent-wide accessibility of the satellite channels, the media frenzy emanating from India has also influenced some Pakistani media towards extreme posturing.
Given the emblematic nature of the Bombay attacks of late November and the accompanying media hype, the Indian Government has been responsible in not responding with bilious rhetoric such as would affect bilateral relations beyond repair. One need only recall the six month-long massing of Indian troops along the Pakistan border in 2002 by the BJP-led government after the attack on the Indian Parliament. Even as it responds to a provocation as drastic as the terror attacks on public and private spaces of Bombay, New Delhi does have to keep in mind the instability and precariousness of Islamabad’s civilian government, and the reality of a Pakistan which too is a nuclear weapons state.
The Bombay attacks have marked a departure in what is expected of the Islamabad establishment as well, with credible information that at least some of the gunmen have origins in Pakistan. There is the expectation that Islamabad will assist in the investigation and prosecution of the militant leaders and handlers who are active in fomenting terror across the eastern border. Any proof of instigation and collaboration by Pakistan’s intelligence and military outfits must be acted on. All of which will indeed be a challenge for the fledgling government of Asif Ali Zardari, with its own inherent weaknesses and the legacy of a decade-long military rule, to manage this imbroglio that it has suddenly been handed. The increasing India-US alignment also places President Zardari in a difficult spot, of being seen to be succumbing to concerted international pressures. Within the country, he faces the lionising of the Islamist extremist organisations even as the upcoming Obama Administration seems willing to continue with the ‘war on terror’ in the Southasian (Afghanistan/Pakistan) theatre.
Per capita terror
Even with the heinous nature of the Bombay attacks, India’s media managers, intelligentsia and policy makers must maintain a sense of scale. As far as the capability of the police and administrative services are concerned, it is impossible to make an open, democratic society impregnable to terror attacks. The best in intelligence, equipment and institutional structures will not suffice in the face of, in particular, murderers willing to immolate themselves for their cause. While everything possible must be done to upgrade law and order, the best of security cannot protect innocent civilians in the public spaces of Southasia from suicide bombers and attackers. Additionally, this cannot be at the cost of simplistic suggestions which would turn India into a garrisoned national security state, and institutionalise violations of human rights and fundamental liberties.
In terms of maintaining perspective, let us keep in mind that the population of India is large and diverse, burdened by systemic inequalities. The focus of the entire nation on the Bombay blasts was natural, but a sense of scale would indicate that in a country of more than a billion, the law of probabilities would mean that there are bound to be attacks now, and in the future. While unwilling to stand accused of condoning the Bombay attacks in any sense, we would still want all to understand this aspect, for it is a particular area which has suffered from a lack of discussion.
In relation to the bilateral ties with the western neighbour, let it be kept in mind that Pakistan suffers from more per capita terror than India. The sectarian Shia-Sunni divide, the Taliban and al-Qaeda nexus, the US drones raining down on the NWFP, and the troubles in Balochistan and Waziristan, should be enough to make Indian analysts restrain themselves. Certainly, Pakistan is in a horrendous mess amidst its competing and violent power centres (including the military, intelligence and Islamist outfits) and the future of a peaceful and democratic transition is as yet uncertain. The last thing that Southasia needs today is heightened tensions by the Indian satellite channels which have wide reach and influence.
The Pakistani state and society must be assisted in tackling this sensitive moment, so that the militant camps and those who would distort Islam’s tenets in order to fulfil their terroristic ambitions are brought to book. Pakistan should be assisted in its return to democracy howsoever difficult, as that is the only way to tackle terror in the medium to long run. We do not believe that, as things stand, the so-called surgical strikes will end these. Islamabad’s politicians must not be pushed against the wall due to the fact that the gunmen may have been Pakistani. These are globalised times, and with the evidence at hand we cannot believe that the Pakistani state directed the Bombay blasts. Even if it is proven that renegade state agencies or units have been involved, that still does not mean government sanction.
There is an automatic assumption among many commentators in India that a Pakistani address and citizenship implies the complicity of the present Pakistani state establishment. Even if this were to have been true at some point in the past, given the military-intelligence nexus in that country, it is difficult to believe that the present government would direct a terror attack on India. The knee-jerk willingness to believe the worst, which feeds the aggressive questions on air that put Pakistani commentators, diplomats and politicians on the defensive, have more to do with the television anchors engaged in competitive patriotism than doing justice to the topic at hand.
If it turns out that the Lashkar-e-Toiba may have had a hand in training and mounting the Bombay attacks, the Pakistani handlers must be challenged and Islamabad be asked to engage in the enormously difficult task of controlling and prosecuting the militant Islamists. As far as the electronic call to arms emanating from India is concerned, let us keep perspective on the fact that India is not a monolithic state, and there are a variety of voices in the Northeast, the South, the Deccan, in Bengal… in fact everywhere. A monochromatic sense of Indian patriotism will not do justice to the democracy that is India, just as a narrow-cast television patriotism must not be allowed to overcome better judgement. Southasia will sink and swim together, including India and Pakistan, even if some analysts and anchors seem to think differently.