Mumbai: The New War on Terror

Finally, we hope, the seize in Mumbai is over. 250 people, and counting, died, and more than 300 were injured, some critically. Two NSG commandos, fourteen police officers, scores of known faces among them. The entire city is recovering from shock and disbelief - the schools, colleges, offices were closed for two days, and now opening. The stock market opened yesterday, but the attendance was minimal, a rumour of firing nearby almost closed it down around mid-day. I would have said, the city is limping back to normalcy - but someone reminded me that the city will never be normal again.

Surely, questions will be asked and investigations will be launched. The government has to show that it is acting. The opposition will have to show that they know as much and are capable to govern, if power comes their way. Rhetoric will fly. Some issues will flare up; some issues will retreat from headlines. [One notable casualty of this crisis : Raj Thackaray and his MNS - we never felt more 'Indian' like now, and 'Maharastra for Maharastrians' will be out of fashion now] But, one thing is certain : India's war on terror has to start.

What is important at this stage is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The 'Blame Pakistan' strategy is past its sale-by date. The Indian politicians feel comfortable heaping blame on Pakistan, as if that absolves them of their responsibility of guarding us. If Pakistan is such a natural, believable threat, then we should have posted NSG on the Gateway of India. We knew hotels were targets when the Marriott in Pakistan was blown up. So, there is no comfort in thinking that if Pakistan is involved, the politicians are not at fault.

Now, Pakistan. Let's accept that it is a failed state. The government there controls the government offices, and possibly the army barracks, but not much else. They have no idea what's happening in the country. We may cajole them and get the ISI chief to fly to India [though he won't come] but this is all grandstanding - nothing of substance.

What we need is substantive action. We need imagination now, not the stale drama that plays out every time these things happen. The fact is that we have to build our own security, by stamping out our mafia [who would have helped such attacks logistically], by taking serious and continuous action against corruption in our society, and by raising citizen awareness and allowing citizen watch on terrorism. Sending troops to stand on the Pakistani border with guns blazing will not solve our problem; we have been there before and it did not solve anything.

I think India's security can not be guaranteed till we continue to live in the region of failed states. We always gloss over the fact that almost all our neighbours - Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Afghanistan - face significant challenges to their state. India can not succeed continuously and sustainably if the people in these states do not share the prosperity and hope. India has done little in the past: in fact, it has rather done its bit in destabilizing some of these countries. Like sending troops to the border, and making Pakistani government, however crooked, spend resources on keeping its troops mobilized, and therefore, its people poor.

Let's face it. We can not wipe out Pakistan from the face of the earth, whatever we say. That thinking is dated - those things don't happen anymore. Nuclear weapons are no solution - not just that Pakistan has them too, if we nuke Islamabad, Delhi is gone; if we nuke Karachi, we may as well stop bothering about Mumbai.

So, we have to live with it. And, if we want to be able to talk to a Prime Minister in Pakistan to solve our problems, we have to let that Prime Minister govern. We won't do ourselves a favour by undermining the government in Pakistan, though that's the easiest thing to do. Making demands like ISI chief come to Pakistan helps no one; the Government in Pakistan looks weak, and that helps another ambitious Army General to mount a coup someday.

What we can not do is to repeat Bush mistakes. Terrorism today isn't any more a State affair. Even if a section of ISI supported this attack, we will not be able to stop them by bombing Pakistan. This is a new, post-Bush war on terror, which has to be fought on three fronts: Internal Security, Citizen Partnership and Shared Prosperity.

Internal Security is possibly the easiest to talk about. We have heard a lot of talk of agency coordination. That has to happen. One has to realize that the Home Ministry is not exactly a retirement home, and someone with more dynamism and imagination than Shivraj Patil has to handle that. It is time, possibly, to create a Homeland Security ministry. While that will add to bureaucratic costs, we need to give real power to them. I repeat - corruption in our society is the biggest security risk, and this needs to be tackled. The Homeland security and the NSG also needs to take on the mafia; Chota Shakil and Arun Gawli run their empires miles away from the scenes of these terror attacks, and that can not be tolerated anymore.

Citizen participation is more important than just internal security measures, but this is possibly more difficult to do in India. Citizens in India are not valued as adults; the legacy of the state capitalism days perhaps. Again, a reference to what I have seen living in London: It is the citizens' awareness and their participation in the community that keeps it clean, safe and secure. Here, citizens' opinions are valued and their rights are sacrosanct. If they feel threatened, the police and their MPs may as well stand by them. I am tired of hearing the argument that there are so many people in India that we can't do this. That is dictatorial bullshit - democracies can not function if you think you have too many voters and therefore, can not listen to each of them. Citizens' participation could be our biggest shield against the acts of terror. We should start by valuing citizens' rights - not just their rights to life, but also to a secure environment, to work, to education, to fair process. The terror attacks of this week has possibly told the elite of the society that they are not as safe as they thought they are. They now need to understand their war on terror has to start with taking the man on street on their side, and building a defence mechanism together.

Third, and this should be our Foreign and Finance ministry's job: We must lift this region of failed states and build a region of Shared Prosperity. We must help Sri Lanka stamp out its terrorists. We must help the government in Nepal to bring prosperity to that poor country. We must help Bangladesh to build a stable democracy after the elections. We must look at Myanmar critically, and beyond our immediate needs of energy, and see whether we are siding with the right guys [most probably not: we got this wrong in Nepal earlier, and that did not help]. More than most, we must work with the government of Pakistan and help them secure themselves and their country.

At times like this, it is easy to lose reason to rage, and do something silly. The worst mistake we can commit will be to start a riot, victimising those same citizens of ours who we must get on our side if we have to build a secure country. The second worst mistake will be to start a political game with Pakistan - we get nothing out of that. I hear the rumour that the peace process with Pakistan may be suspended; that would possibly the worst mistake we can commit.

Terrorists, even if they came by boat from another country, can not harm us if we are resolute, strong and united. Our war on terror, therefore, must start at home. Terror can not be stamped out by waging war; it must be stamped out by giving a strong answer internally, at the grassroots level. Let our politicians not hijack this war one more time.


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