Tuesday, 11 May 2010

DIVERSION

In the aftermath of 13/12 & 26/11

In the days and weeks immediately following the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament building, New Delhi nearly went to war with terror sponsor Pakistan. Hundreds and thousands of soldiers were amassed on either side of the 3,323 km (over 1,000 miles) India-Pakistan border. The people of India were convinced that their “iron willed” Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Janata Party, would take the battle right into Pakistani territory to teach Islamabad a strong lesson and destroy its state-backed terror apparatus. Nothing of the kind happened.


As the United Nations called for restraint by both sides, the West, led by America, arm-twisted the ruling BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government into backing off, after months of military standoff. By October 2002, the war clouds had pretty much disappeared.

Seven years later, on the night of November 26, 2008, ten gunmen from Pakistan attacked the heart of Bombay and left hundreds dead and wounded. Nine of the terrorists were gunned down. The tenth, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was caught alive and, two years later, sentenced to death.

Since that fateful night, one question has continued to trouble Indians everywhere: would 26/11 have happened at all if India had gone to war with Pakistan in 2001? Many people think not.

The idea of war with Pakistan—to once and for all end Islamabad’s 60 years of mischief—is both appealing and appalling. The latter because you have to think at least twice before going to war with a nuclear-armed, trigger-happy, back-to-the-wall country that appears to be run by both politicians in Islamabad and terrorists in Waziristan.

Still, the cry for an armed conflict with Pakistan is not without some logic. That is, if you look at it in the context of what America did soon after 9/11—going after the perpetrators in distant Iraq and Afghanistan. Or Israel, which, in spite of being surrounded by hostile Arab neighbours and several thousand square kilometres smaller than India’s tiny southern state of Kerala, regularly bombs Palestinian territory without so much as a blink of the eye.

But then, the United States is a superpower, India is not even a full-scale regional power yet. On the other hand, Israel is dealing with a far less powerful ‘enemy’ than India and it has the backing of Washington to do what it likes with the Palestinians. The thing is that if you put Israel in India’s place, Tel Aviv's response to repeated acts of terror would have been much the same: bomb them.

If Prime Minister Vajpayee decided against war with Pakistan after 13/12, Prime Minister Singh felt the same way post-26/11. Both men knew the gravity and consequence of a war that neither country might have won decisively. Both had calculated the huge costs of war and its impact on India’s booming economy. Both were probably unsure of international support, mainly from the US, China, EU and Japan. And both were aware of the serious implications of an exodus of Pakistani refugees into Indian territory.

So if not war, then what? Did the two wise men have other credible options, apart from imploring the global community, to bring Islamabad to heel on its sponsorship of terrorism?

They did but almost none were tried. Mainly, declare Pakistan as a rogue and terrorist state; freeze diplomatic relations with Pakistan; recall India’s envoy to Islamabad and send back Pakistan’s envoy to New Delhi; possibly, destroy the terror camps in a limited conflict; censure Pakistan in every international forum; halt all peace talks indefinitely (at least this happened after both the attacks); harden our stance on Kashmir; seek Pakistan’s suspension from SAARC and ASEAN; sever trade and economic ties, including import and export of all goods and services, except medical and humanitarian aid; stop giving visas to politicians and businessmen from across the border; and ban cricket and other sporting ties with Pakistan (yes, that too).

While these measures would have pinched India, they would have most certainly hurt Pakistan. The question is: why didn’t India exercise these options soon after the Parliament and Bombay attacks? With a full-scale war no longer a viable option, why did the Vajpayee and Singh governments not challenge Pakistan through diplomatic, political and economic means? Indian citizens, who are sitting ducks for terrorists even now, have a right to know why.

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