[Warning: long post]
Is this India’s 9/11? There is no doubt that what we have seen today is as much an act of war as 9/11. Foreigners have breached the nation’s borders (with consummate ease may we add). Not through the snowy slopes in the mountains. We are used to that. Not through the porous borders of Bangladesh. We know of that. But through the coastal waters of India’s biggest, supposedly most secure, city. The waters of which as a route for narcotics smuggling should theoretically have been under heavy government surveillance. Or perhaps it is the very lucrativeness of the clandestine water traffic (after this this is D-country) that makes the local authorities not look too closely.
However will this the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back that will ultimately make national security the number one national agenda? Will this change India as 9/11 changed USA fundamentally? Though I would like to hope so, I have too much faith in our so-called “resilience” to be more than a bit pessimistic.
To understand the scope of the operation and the sheer scale of India’s failure, one needs to look at historic precedents of similar kinds of amphibious assault. In 1961, in the famous Bay of Pigs invasion Cuban emigres, trained by the CIA, tried to retake Havana by a similar beach-originated attack after days of US air attack. They could not get much beyond the beach despite being supported by the full might of the United States of America, which in the 60s was possibly at the height of its power. Though I do not want to draw exact historical parallels (the scope of Bay of Pigs was to overthrow Castro), the point I am trying to make is that it should be theoretically intensely difficult for foreigners to use the sea route to infiltrate a country, even more so when the country claims to have an extensive defense infrastructure. But these group of men, well trained and equipped they be, managed to do so without detection and without being attacked. If this does not shake every Indian to the core, I fail to see what will.
The two questions that we all ask now: is why and who? The questions we do not ask because we are afraid of the answers are “When next?” and “How much more”? This being a sunny happy blog, let me not even go into those dark areas. For now.
Foreign news agencies like CNN spare no breath in telling us how India always blames Pakistan in a “knee-jerk” fashion for every incident in the country. This is of course knee-jerk only when India is concerned, when the US identifies Al-Qaeda and Taliban days after 9/11 as the culprit (and correctly too) it is considered to be justice. In a comment to a previous post, a Pakistani commenter Sana says:
All I see on this blog and others is Pakistani and Indian bloggers who are otherwise very reasonable getting at each others throats over this. But it is (what is commonly perceived as) a knee-jerk blame Pakistan reaction followed by a knee-jerk blame-India reaction and I am afraid the vicious cycle will only get worse. It seems like that is another evil product of terrorism, turning people against each other, people who have nothing to do with it in the first place. For the sake of neighbourly support and humanity, I am truly sorry for your loss and it is terrible to see this beautiful city being treated this way. I have seen mine own (Karachi) slip into chaos many times and it never stops being painful. Funnily enough, we have a common enemy, so why can’t people see that?
Without wishing to disrespect Sana in any way, let me put things in perspective. Say I come home and find my lock broken into, the safe open and the gold jewelery gone. My next door neighbor is a convicted felon and a locksmith. It was raining that day and there are muddy footprints from his house to mine, going in and coming out. And then just a day later, I see him standing at the goldsmiths door, selling some gold. Now I could say “He is a human being. I am a human being. He lost a few years of his life. I have lost my life’s savings. How could he cause my misery?”. It is an admirable sentiment and one I would teach my son/daughter if I ever choose to have one. If only to pass their moral science exams.
However what I am going to do is that I will suspect my next-door neighbor and you can call that “knee jerk” if you will. Terrorism does not affect India and Pakistan equally. In Pakistan, terrorism is between rival gangs of terrorists while in India it is between terrorists and their targets. Benazir Bhutto was a facilitator of terrorists and instigated crowds of Kashmiris to murder Pandits. This is on videotape. She got assassinated by another terrorist.
Terrorist eats terrorist.So there you have it. My point illustrated.
The point is that once you start defining yourself by extremism, there always will be others who will take an even more extreme and populist stance and make your extremism “conformism”. General Musharaff had thought after 2001, that for the war of terror he would give to the US some token targets, get wads of cash and divert that to the Kashmir cause and that the Pakistani people would thank him for it. However soon there arose a tidal wave of contrary public opinion which perceived the game of Mushy to be pandering to the West. Many people were not even willing to put up the symbolic facade of “fighting their brothers”. And why should they? After all, they were not skimming off the top, had no personal stake in the “bogus war on terror” and saw no perceived progress in snatching Kashmir from India. This is the kind of internal tensions that has lead to the terrorist violence in Pakistan and the burning of Karachi.
Things with India are extremely different. Here Pakistan’s enmity with India is historic. As a matter of fact, some may say that the very reason of Pakistan’s existence is a rejection of the fundamental principles behind India—secularism, pluralism and equality for all.
The fundamental problem that Pakistan has with India has magnified over the last few years.
And no this magnification has not been something that has been driven exclusively by the philosophy of radical Islam, as is commonly understood.
I would say it has been the green-eyed monster. Jealousy.
While there was a time a few decades ago that Pakistan and India were both in the mud, as a Pakistani commenter said, India chose to look up at the stars while Pakistan kept its face buried in the mud. So while India is seen as a rising power, an economic superpower in 2008, Pakistan is seen universally as a failed state, undoubtedly feared by the West, but as a nuisance actor, the creepy middle-aged man who hangs around at children’s park. Over the last few years, Pakistan has suffered consistent national humiliations—-their citizens have to jump through higher hoops in order to get admitted to Western countries along with countries like Iran, foreign cricket teams have refused to tour the country for many years now because no matter how many times they are referred to as “the front line on the war on terror”, noone is under any misapprehension as to which side of the line Pakistan lies.
A common sentiment I have seen expressed in Pakistani cricket boards—-why does the West refuse to tour Pakistan when India has more number of people killed from terrorist attacks? The reason is simple. The West knows that while there are vast sections of the Pakistani administration hands-in-glove with the terrorists, whereas in India the administration is the unquestioned antagonist of the terrorists. So the fear is that while the Indians may be competent, the Pakistanis may be overtly competent. In the wrong way.
I mention this to illustrate the difference in perception between India and Pakistan. And it is this difference is what drives Pakistan mad.
I would poke my head out and say that the recent attacks represents perhaps Pakistan’s most egregious attempt to bring India to the level of Pakistan in terms of international perception. What Pakistan wants to show is that:
1. Foreigners are as safe in India as they are in Pakistan
2. Do not invest in India.
In other words, November 26 is the day that Pakistani terrorists want to show the world that they and India are, in a way, equal. This they want to do by destroying our national confidence, our economy and our tourism. Make no mistake about this.
Now that we have tried to answer “why”, let’s look at who. One of the most important aspects of this attack has been the taking of an American Rabbi as a hostage by the terrorists making Nariman House a special target just for that purpose.
Ask any SIMI rabid radical and while he may fulminate against the Jewish state, it is highly unlikely he would ever go out of his way to get at Jews in India.
Radical Islam in India and Pakistan has been driven by anti-Hinduism. However if you go to the middle East, they don’t care for Hindus. There radical Islam is driven solely by their historic antagonism to Jews.
In this light, the taking of American Jewish hostages may be of great importance. It may represent the changing alignment in the Pakistani terror movement as its leadership passes from a more South-Asia-focused leadership to a more Arab-focused one. This could be the unfortunate concomitant of the failed US war in Afghanistan as the old Al-Qaeda leadership, driven away from Afghanistan but made more powerful, has now taken over operations in Pakistan. Hence the attacks of November 26 are extremely similar to attacks on foreigners in Cairo and in Beirut, with the focus being to attack the US and Israel while humiliating India.
So when the Lashkar e Toiba say they are innocent, perhaps they are right. While their old cadre may be involved in the project operationally and the ISI may still be a major mobilizing and training force, the old brain-trusts of the LET are perhaps no longer in control of the Pakistani Jihadi movement. In other words, the actual Jihadis may be South-Asian but the ones pulling the strings thousands of miles away may be Arabs. Which is why they go out of their way to take a Jewish American hostage and that too a Rabbi.
The train and bus bombings were the “old” way of doing things. These endeavors meet their objectives in the following manner: 1) cause panic 2) make the Indian government make heavy-handed arrests 3) portray those arrested as innocents by “friends” in the media and 4) antagonize minorities who are fed the message that they are being targeted. This I expect will continue.
But November 26 has shown that there is a new kind of terrorism which has emerged—-the kind that does not make much attempt to hide its foreign bonafides, which seeks to effect a more direct toll by breaking international confidence in a country’s economic and political institutions, and which has multiple strategic objectives one of which is to promote and provoke sectarian violence.
If one wants to see an example of how a country crumbles under such attacks, read the modern history of Lebanon where a multi-cultural, liberal country was decimated by a series of such attacks, fragmenting the country into essentially a group of warring militias.
Dark days ahead.