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Will we go to war with Pakistan?

Aditya Sinha First Published : 29 Nov 2008 02:06:00 AM ISTLast Updated : 29 Nov 2008 10:55:34 AM ISTWill we go to war with Pakistan? Such a question may seem premature, given that on Friday India had yet to conclude the battle for Mumbai that terrorists began two nights earlier.

Secondly, war usually aims at regime change, but Pakistan’s businessman president looks like he genuinely wants peace, offering a visa-free regime and a no-first-use nuclear weapons policy, the latter repudiated by his own army (never a good sign).

Thirdly, even if Pakistanis are involved, that does not automatically implicate the State, particularly if the terrorists are linked to “rogue-elements-within-the-state-within-the-state”, a dubious formulation for ISI cliques of the kind linked to the July bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul. Fourthly, if we go to war, what do we attack – things like a radical camp in Muridke and a mosque in Karachi? Lastly, if it turns out that most of the boys in the attack were from Gujarat, then there is little point in bombing the GHQ in Rawalpindi.

The fact, however, is that no matter who is involved, and no matter what their motivation, the blame-game – as the visibly nervous Pakistani foreign minister visiting India called it – is already on. Our alpha-male prime minister said three things on TV: 1. “The well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of panic, by choosing high profile targets and indiscriminately killing foreigners.” 2.“It is evident that the group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country.” 3.We will take up strongly with our neighbours that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them.” For good measure, our PM has summoned Pakistan’s ISI chief to Delhi.

Our foreign minister has followed with some stubby finger-pointing of his own, saying that Pakistan was involved, maybe. The Gujarat chief minister, not bound by the discretions of diplomacy, has challenged the government to take Pakistan to the UN for letting terrorists use its sea waters. All leaders are undoubtedly aware of the fact that Indians, despite being jaded by decades of terrorism, have been deeply angered, saddened, frustrated, depressed and embittered by the terror attack. They are also aware that general elections are around the corner.

The government also knows that there has been massive intelligence failure, a fact which is obvious to even otherwise disinterested citizens. To blame Pakistan is to absolve oneself from any responsibility for this failure. But the blame is a double-edged sword, for it makes the government vulnerable to public pressure that will build in the coming days.

Talking heads and newspaper columnists will feed upon this anger and fuel it further, adding to the pressure. There will be a common thread: our politicians are self-serving, the state is soft, and there has got to be payback.

Even if the terrorists are Gujarati youngsters, there will be expert declarations of the trans-national “linkages” of terrorism, leading to cross-border culpability. An example of this linkage: the Gujarati who e-chats with a Malayali who bought a houseboat from a Kashmiri whose cousins live in PoK. Not an example: an extortionist shopkeeper who holidayed at a Kathmandu casino.

Some will even argue that India should take advantage of the transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration to “teach Pakistan a lesson”. The world is well into a recession, and the US is waiting for Obama to take office on January 20, 2009. Thus, a window of opportunity exists, since once Obama is in the White House it is likely that his administration would “discourage” any Indian action. In any case, he would be too distracted by the urgent need to stabilize the US economy and thus the world economy, even as time rapidly slips away.

Such arguments would be ridiculous.

Even Operation Parakram in 2002 took several weeks to mobilize (meaning the window of opportunity is too narrow), and in the end, its results were debatable. It is equally absurd to think that simply because Obama spoke of pursuing al Qaeda in Pakistan, he might allow any Indian initiative, albeit with a nudge and a wink, or even shoot from India’s shoulders. More likely, in the aftermath of this week’s terror attack, Obama will now forgo any initiative to push Indo-Pak peace (as part of a strategy to focus Pakistani energies on al Qaeda), or appoint a special envoy for Kashmir.

Yet the pressure on the government will grow, and, let’s face it, whichever new government takes power after the next general elections will face the same pressure, particularly if there is another terrorist strike which, from all indications, looks unavoidable.

Maybe a good way to relieve the pressure would be to bomb some known training camps in Bangladesh. But that would probably influence their national elections in December. Perhaps we should bomb a few camps in Pakistan; it is said that the training camps in PoK which were destroyed in the 2005 earthquake have been rebuilt. That, however, would probably mean the end of the goofy but amiable Asif Ali Zardari. Maybe we should just go and lob a few bombs in Iraq.

If war is ruled out, then we don’t have much choice besides the prosaic option of beefing up our internal security. As unsexy as it sounds, it serves a dual purpose of a fiscal stimulus during a global recession; as it is, the government is begging banks and companies to unfreeze liquidity, but all that it’s getting for its troubles are a couple of blue faces. Government expenditure on a security infrastructure and central government loans to the states to modernize their police forces requires deficit financing, but these are times when deficit financing is a good thing, so long as it gets the wheels of the economy into gear.

More boringly, the PM needs to come good soon on his promise for a federal investigating agency. Many existing agencies will oppose this, but they should be ignored, because India needs and exclusive, full-time antiterrorism agency. In order to avoid being another bureaucratic white elephant, it needs to be accountable on a day-to-day basis; accountable to the PM. Implicit in this accountability is a refocus of India’s intelligence community. As our executive editor pointed out yesterday, the intelligence agencies of late have lost the plot. Terrorism needs to be made their priority again. Terrorism needs to be at the top of the intelligence chief ’s daily morning briefing to the PM.

Such a charter will ensure that the new agency does not degenerate into another bureaucratic dumping ground. It may take time to settle down, but it can be as effective as the US department of homeland security has been the past seven years. This administrative refocus and re-prioritization is the sensible way for our country to fight terrorism, even if it isn’t as sexy or viscerally satisfying as preparing for war.
About The Author: Aditya Sinha is the Editor-in-Chief of The New Indian Express and is based in Chennai


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