India must take a deep breath and avoid the unthinkable

The atrocities in Mumbai have shocked the world. The final death toll has reached 190. The damage to India’s confidence in its national security is shattered. Indo-Pakistani relations are deteriorating rapidly. These must remain the only casualties.

Now the dust has settled on the 60-hour-long siege, and the blood and rubble has gone, another far more pertinent danger than bullets and grenades is beginning to emerge. The threat of military action against Pakistan is being touted as a response by an under-fire government looking to appease its electorate in the face of a looming onslaught by the pro-Hindu nationalist opposition. This must be avoided at all costs.

Echoing back seven years to comments made by President George Bush following the terrorist attacks on New York, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has publicly stated that military strikes against terror camps in Pakistan have not been ruled out.

Mukherjee, a moderate and long-standing member of India’s Congress government, has said that India has the right to protect its territorial integrity and “take appropriate action when necessary”. Perhaps more chillingly, he added that the peace process with Pakistan will be “difficult to continue” in this atmosphere.

Those that have described the attacks on India’s second city as the country’s 9/11 are not wrong. This was an attack designed to both cripple a country and send a message to the wider world. The attackers were determined, well-trained, and alarmingly prepared. The similarities must stop here, however.

The aftermath of September 11th is a long list of lessons for anyone considering retaliatory strikes. Attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq have led to long and painful wars, an uprising of anti-American sentiment, and a swelling of global terrorism. India has spent a large part of the post-mortem of last week’s attacks in dialogue with US officials. We must all hope that the rhetoric has not focused on following the Bush Administration’s lead.

Mukherjee is a moderate politician. The Congress party, who have held office in India since 2004, have so far practiced a system of dialogue and discussion with Pakistan. His comments should shock observers into action. However, they represent something far more dangerous. National elections are looming, some state ones have only recently taking place, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the country’s fiercely pro-Hindu opposition, are going on the offensive.

“The Congress cannot protect you. They could not save innocent lives in Mumbai, how can they make your future secure here?” said Nirmal Singh, the party’s former State unit president this week.

“Let us not forget, 26/11 is not another terrorist incident. This is declaration of an open war by terrorists and their perpetrators against India. The Government should consider taking some measures against Pakistan… There is a need to avenge the repeated assault on our people and democracy… The BJP will support every honest initiative that the central government proposes to fight terror,” read a statement from BJP National President Shri Rajnath Singh.

The BJP, who reject a two-state solution in Kashmir and champion Hindu nationalism, will utilise these attacks and the growing sentiment against Pakistan to their advantage. Expect large amounts of anti-Pakistani rhetoric, and criticism of the Congress if no attacks on Pakistan are made. The government must ignore this, and hope the electorate see sense.

In 2002, after an attack on India’s parliament that was blamed on Pakistan, New Delhi moved 500,000 troops to the Line of Control in Kashmir. It was a face-off that took huge amounts of international pressure to cool, with both governments aggressively reminding each other of their nuclear capabilities. Pakistan is a far less stable country today.

The last time India exploded a nuclear device was in 1998, under a BJP government. The underground tests were celebrated in India. The BJP’s popularity soared and the country’s stock exchange leaped. After tests in 1974, India had reaffirmed its nuclear capabilities, and sent the strongest possible message to Pakistan. Their response was immediate. Fifteen days later Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif oversaw five underground nuclear tests. Trigger fingers may be itching again.

Six state elections are currently polling. Four began after the attacks. A general election must be called in the next six months. In a recent vote in Karnataka, in South India, the BJP have triumphed in the state elections. This is the first time that the party has been able to form a government in South India without a coalition. The Congress must do enough to convince voters that it can protect India, but a nationalistic strike on a nuclear-armed neighbour is not the way. If power switches to the BJP, that will be a step nearer.

America, and the rest of the international community, must assist. India deserves our compassion, and the perpetrators our condemnation, but strong pressure must quickly be placed on all countries in the region to take deep breaths. The US and Russia, who both have large amounts of influence, specifically in military matters, in India and Pakistan must work together to diffuse the situation. Neither would benefit from a war in the sub-continent, especially with already-volatile Afghanistan only next-door.

Pakistan is hideously unstable, both socially and politically. Border tensions with Afghanistan and US troops threaten to undermine the government, and many observers state that it simply has little control over vast swathes of the country. The Mumbai bombers may have come from Pakistan, but the chances are that the government had little or no idea of their existence.

Indo-Pakistani relations are a delicate balancing act. The ongoing issue of Jammu and Kashmir needs to be talked, not fought, over. The peace process now looks wafer-thin, and leaders need to come back to the table. The acts of obscene violence in Mumbai must not be allowed to precipitate further bloodshed.

8 comments

  1. Sometime i feel all western observer like author of this article are stupid in good words.When they get attacked they talk about retaliation and show those who attacked who they are.

    And Till the time this “stupid” observers understand that Kashmir is not issue. Those who are again humanity wants the “Islam World”. You can obviously try to press india and not take any action but now india and its people needs justice and those terrorists needs to be reminded that india is not a soft target.

    Why noone opposes ISrael from attacking palestian? Why double standard.

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  2. Nilay, it’s people like you that seem to think like you actually want my country to not suceed. Do you want nuclear war, can you imagine? India needs to be peacefull and show pakistan that war wont win

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  3. I like how this one article is more coherent and sensible than anything that has been said on NDTV in the last week.

    Before any evidence had been found, the attack was blamed on Pakistan, thus allowing India to play the blame game again. And whilst the resignations of Bombay officials have superficially pleased the angry people of the attacked city, it hasn’t actually allowed anything to be achieved, as worthy successors are not easy to come by, thus paving the way for more unrest.

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  4. There is no doubt that the Pakistani government is not doing all it can to make life as tough as possible for terrorists within its own borders. This is because of the (admittedly tough) balancing act the Pakistani government must perform; appeasing those in the international community who rightfully accuse it of not doing enough to stop terrorism, and the inherent anti-American attitudes of the population who at best do not condemn and at worst, actively support terror attacks in Afghanistan and against the free world.

    Ruling any response out, weakens the position of India. As it happens, I don’t think India will retaliate, but if it’s proven that the individuals involved in the Mumbai siege were from Pakistan and even trained in the secret-service, then India has a right to respond however it sees necessary in order to preserve the integrity of its borders and its place as the largest multi-faith democracy in the world.

    Pakistan must decide what side of the fence it sits on in the war on terror. It cannot attempt to appease both its people and the free-world when they both have such radically different goals. The US has recognised that strikes against Pakistan in Taleban strongholds are necessary to eliminate the Taleban from Afghanistan. After much deliberation, India might gain intelligence that leads them to the training camps of the individuals involved in Mumbai, and they would be more than within their rights to act in the defence of their people.

    Sometimes, great leaders must do what is necessary. Not what is good.

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  5. There is more than that meets the eye here. The Pakistani government is a double-faced monster. It breeds the barbaric ISI within its borders and strategically condemns al-qaeda globally. The biggest irony is that Al-Qaeda has influence on LeT which again gets unconditional support from the ISI to increase infiltration in Indian Kashmir and mastermind inhumane attacks on the Indian soil that only kills the innocents.

    The difference between Pakistan and India is that the former believes in covert operations that are targeted towards unsettling the second-fastest growing economy of the world, whereas India has always fought transparent wars such as Kargil.

    Also, I do not agree with Henry here. Henry, if you are unaware, I must tell you that LeT in 1999, made a public statement that their objective is not to win Kashmir but to Islamicize the whole of Asia.

    For India, attack is a synonym of defense right now!

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  6. Dan, I agree with quite a lot of what you have said, and I think yesterday’s news of a Pakistani assault on the LeT camp is a positive step. I dare say this is due to pressure from the US and India, and I’m very glad the Pakistanis have decided to deal with this internally, and not ignore the problem and risk the fallout of an Indian offensive. In my opinion, this pressure from New Delhi is India asserting its “right to respond” to protect its citizens.

    Harsh – I must disagree. Yes, Pakistani domestic policy is questionable, and it’s management of the ISI is shocking. However, an Indian strike on foreign soil will not fix that. In fact, it has the very high risk of acheiving the opposite. Pakistan should be allowed to police its own country, and is evidently doing so – the raids this morning, as mentioned above.

    I noticed from your blog that you live in Delhi – me too. I’m sure you don’t think that living there, away from Mumbai or Islamabad makes you safe. A strike on Pakistan will simply increase terrorist attacks on India, and Delhi is certainly a prime target for groups such as LeT. With family and friends in India, your calls for an attack on Pakistan are frightening.

    I also noticed this on your site:

    “I say make Mr Modi the PM. Give him the Navy, Air Force and Army and ask him to attack. We need a leader who has the courage to take on the enemy. We don’t want a coward at the CENTER. We don’t want sophistication. We need brutality for now… We need eccentricity at the center to give a formidable and earth-shaking response to the instigators of this proxy war. THEY WANT A WAR; LET US GIVE THEM A “WAR.

    Look at George Bush. 9/11 happened and he wiped Afghanistan off the world map. He may be an object of hatred for many citizens of the world, but no terrorist has had the guts of attacking US after 9/11. We need a leader who can take on the enemy and teach him a lesson.”

    Brutality? Eccentricity? Earth-shaking? Wiping off the map? Leaving your praise of Bush’s foreign policy aside, your concept of international relations and peace is wholly flawed.

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  7. Viceroy Foy to the rescue…

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  8. ‘Harsh’, I to would question your facts.

    > “Look at George Bush. 9/11 happened and he wiped Afghanistan off the world map.”

    This is simply not true. A multinational force under NATO command is present in Afghanistan attempting to eradicate the Taleban from communities and governmental levels of influence. Attempting to bring about regime change from a brutal, terror-sponsoring regime to something resembling democracy, by no means amounts to “wiping Afghanistan off the map.”

    Hypothetically, say you were to do this to Pakistan, there would be one response: you too in India would be “wiped off the map” as you put it, because Pakistan has nuclear weapons as well. They would not hesitate to retaliate. Thank goodness you have not got your finger on India’s nuclear arsenal!

    >> “no terrorist has had the guts of attacking US after 9/11.”

    I think you are horribly mistaken. By this, I do not mean that US action in Iraq and Afghanistan was not justified. On the contrary, in both cases, I was an advocate of military action and continue to be, indeed I think there is a strong case to be made for intervention in Iran as well, but I digress. I mean that every insurgency attack on US troops in either country is a terror attack on the US and her interests. Given, I happen to think the ability of the Taleban to initiate and sponsor attacks against the US has been minimalised by intervention, but I don’t think that means there are still not terrorists with the “balls” to carry out such atrocities. I’m sure US intelligence would go along with that as well!

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