Thought of Sharing….
Posted By: Vir Sanghvi | Posted On: 03 May 2011 07:40 PM
The thing about television is that while you get the big picture, you sometimes miss the nuances. For instance, the excerpts of President Obama’s speech that I saw on the news channels made all the obvious points: that Osama bin Laden had been killed, that this was not a war on Islam etc. etc.
It wasn’t till I read Tuesday’s papers, however, that I recognized the full power of the speech. Two sections, in particular, struck me as being particularly outstanding. Referring to the horrific images of 9/11, Obama said: “And yet, we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Three thousand citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts.”
I tried to think back but I could not recall the single instance when an Indian leader – any leader, not just the Prime Minister or President – spoke of the loss of our citizens with such perception and sensitivity. When Indians die – and we die all the time, in terrorist strikes, train accidents, Naxalite attacks etc. – our politicians issue the standard notes of condolence, announce the odd cash payment (which is never as much as they pay cricketers for winning tournaments), and then move on.
Who talks about the victims of 26/11? Of the people who lost their lives in the serial bombings of Bombay in 1993? Of the brave men who gave their lives trying to protect Parliament? Of the innumerable paramilitary jawans who have been killed by Maoists? Nor do we care about making those who kill our citizens accountable for their actions. The Maoists flourish in their hide-outs. The masterminds of 26/11 laugh in our faces as we invite the Pakistani leadership to watch cricket matches. Dawood Ibrahim remains entirely out of our reach, the blood of the victims of the 1993 Bombay blasts still staining his hands.
Contrast this with the US’s attitude. The second brilliant passage in Obama’s speech dealt with how America responded to attacks on its citizens: “As a country we will never tolerate our security being threatened nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defence of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are.”
He ended by saying: “Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attacks on our shores.”
Reading these words, I was first moved – and I’m not even an American, which tells you something about the power of that speech – and then angry.
It was this phrase that did it: “We will be true to the values that make us who we are.”
What are India’s values? On what basis do we claim to be one of the world’s great democracies? We know what America stands for – its commitment to its citizens was demonstrated once again in Abbottabad – but what guarantees does the Indian state offer its citizens?
Forget for a moment about clean politics – that is still a distant dream – but what about the basic guarantee of security? Do we have a sense that our state will always protect its citizens, and that if this protection fails – as it did in America on 9/11 – our government will hold those who killed Indian citizens accountable?
The answer has to be: no, far from it.
Politicians believe that Indian lives are expendable. Take foreign policy. Our leaders are happy to execute high-minded diplomatic initiatives while stepping over the bodies of those Indians who have lost their lives to terrorism. They look for Nobel Peace Prizes; not for accountability.
The general attitude is: look we are sorry that people died but the priority now is to normalize relations, and nothing else matters.
But of course, relations are never normalized. The threat never goes away. There is no stable peace.
And Indians continue to die.
Our leaders tell us that individuals are not important; that it is the national interest that is paramount. But what are nations if not collections of individuals? And which nation’s interests can ever be served if it does not first secure the safety of its citizens?
Day after day, new excuses are trotted out for why we are soft on terrorists and their Pakistani masterminds. We must follow international law, we are told. We must go through proper channels. When we do use these channels and dispatch our dossiers, we are treated like jokes and our dossiers thrown back at us.
The basic truth is this: either you accept that the Pakistani state is complicit in global terrorism or you do not.
The Americans know Pakistan inside out. For decades, they have nurtured the Pakistani army and spent billions on its welfare. Even today, Islamabad claims that Washington is its great ally and calls itself a partner in the war against terror.
But because the US understands the nature of the beast, it does not believe Islamabad’s hypocritical promises. It floods Pakistan with CIA operatives. It stations troops on Pakistani soil. When ISI operatives follow such CIA agents as Raymond Davis, they are shot and killed.
And when the Americans have proof that the Pakistanis are lying – and Islamabad lied about Osama bin Laden just as it has lied about 26/11 – they do not waste time on dossiers and cricket matches. They send in a team and shoot their target dead.
Contrast their approach with ours. At some level, sections of our establishment (and a tiny but visible section of the intelligentsia) cling to the view that Pakistan is ‘just like us’ and that it plays by the same rules. So, each act of terrorism is explained away. It is blamed on a rogue faction of the ISI. Every assault on Indian citizens is described as the work of jehadi lunatics who are also the enemies of the Pakistani state. And when all the evidence points to official sponsorship of terrorism, we fall back on that old cop-out: the army is bad but the civilian politicians are wonderful guys.
Why should India, which has fought four wars with Pakistan, delude itself in this manner? Why can’t we simply follow the example of the Americans – who are long-term Pakistani allies – and accept that we are dealing with a dysfunctional country that regards terrorism as an instrument of state policy?
Our failures stem partly from a misunderstanding of the essential nature of Pakistan. But they stem also from cowardice. Our leaders do not have the guts to say to the world: we’ve tried the legal and diplomatic approaches and they haven’t worked. So now, we are going to take direct action.
I am not suggesting we go as far as Mossad which tracked down every one of the Black September terrorists and killed them. But I can see no reason why we haven’t taken out Dawood Ibrahim yet. How difficult can it be to bomb his house even if we are too incompetent to launch an Abbottabad-style surgical operation?
What stops us from going after Maulana Masood Azhar who was freed from an Indian jail in exchange for the passengers on IC-814? Why can’t we destroy the terror training camps in POK? Given that Pakistan has no interest in doing anything about Hafiz Saeed, why shouldn’t we take direct action on our own?
I have asked these questions of Indian politicians for years. Not one answer has been satisfactory. I’ve heard the usual nonsense about ‘engaging Pakistan’. I’ve been told that the “world community” will censure us. (Like the Americans have any moral authority to stop us from doing to Hafiz Saeed, a 26/11 plotter, what they did to Osama bin Laden, a 9/11 plotter!)
And I’ve even heard pious rubbish about how the “path of vengeance will brutalize Indian society.” Oh yeah? Well, it is exactly the path America has followed. And the last time I looked, it surely as hell hadn’t done American society any harm.
All of these really are excuses. There are only two reasons why we do not follow the American example. The first is our own ineptitude. We can’t even fight the Maoists in our own backyard. Will we be any more successful in tracking down and punishing Pakistan-based terrorists?
But it is the second that makes me really angry. We have become a state that does not care about its own citizen. We treat the murders of Indians as being of little consequence, as acceptable costs in the pursuit of some high-minded foreign policy goal (which is, in any case, crazy and unrealistic).
We feel no indignation that foreigners can come in and slaughter our citizens. We feel no need to avenge their deaths. We care nothing about making those who harmed Indian citizens accountable for their actions.
Consider our lazy, callous attitude and contrast it with America’s. A full decade after 9/11, the US tracked down Bin Laden and made him pay. In India, we have already moved beyond 26/11 even though we know that the masterminds are still at large.
In India, life is cheap. As far as our politicians are concerned, our citizens are no more than cattle who turn out to vote every five years. In America, the state values the lives of its citizens. It protects them, nurtures them and, if necessary, avenges them.
That’s why America is the world’s greatest power. And that’s why, despite all the growth of the last two decades, India is still floundering on the road to great-power status.
The world only respects a country when it respects the lives of its own citizens.