Why fixing drains will help counter terrorism

India cannot be competent in internal security without being competent in overall governance

“If 26/11 is not to become another one in an endless series of fatalities,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes “we need to keep asking the question: how can a people who have much to be proud of, be endowed with a state that has much to be embarrassed about?” The answer is in a guest post I wrote on Dilip D’Souza’s blog last year. Here is the post, in full:

Since those Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai in the last week of November, I received innumerable emails and phone calls from nice people expressing righteous anger against two targets: the incorrigible Pakistan and our own arrogant, self-serving and incompetent politicians. Shouldn’t we just bomb that place Muridke, where the ISI trains jihadis? Shouldn’t we punish politicians and bureaucrats who failed to prevent these attacks from happening? It was difficult to reason with them: no, we can’t just bomb Muridke, because, you know, that would start a war with a wretched, broken country that has nothing to lose. And besides, that’s exactly what the Pakistani military-jihadi complex wants us to do. Now, I didn’t think that I would have to defend myself against the charge of being a “dove”. But let that be for now.

What about our politicians and our security agencies? Shouldn’t they be punished for ignoring the terrorist threat until it was too late? Sure. But first, let’s ask when was it that we gave them a credible signal that we think this was important. And let’s ask ourselves why it should be surprising that our intelligence and security apparatus failed to prevent a sophisticated amphibious assault mounted by both the might of a powerful intelligence agency and a well-organised organised crime network.

South Mumbai is one of India’s richest constituencies. It also has the lowest voter turnouts. The Maharashtra state government routinely fails to protect its citizens from the ravages of the monsoon. Mumbai didn’t complain. The Maharashtra government failed to put uppity political goondas in their place. Mumbai didn’t complain. The state government shelved plans to invest Rs 2000 billion to modernise the city. Mumbai didn’t complain. Plans to transform it into an international financial centre disappeared into another black hole. Mumbai didn’t complain. The good citizens of India in general, and Mumbai in particular had seceded from the nation—choosing to provide for themselves the basic public goods that the government ought to have.

It is unreasonable to expect competent policemen and intelligence agencies when the public works, healthcare, education and environment departments are characterised by non-performance, corruption and worse. Unless the overall quality of governance improves, one cannot expect India to battle terrorism and other lesser threats to human security. And you can’t expect law enforcement to comply to the civilised norms we expect. In this context, it is just as unreasonable to expect the Indian state to be effective against terrorism as it is to expect it to show regard for human rights of suspects. The upshot is that overall governance must improve. How?

By voting. By giving money, legitimately, to politicians to support their election campaigns. And by holding them to account. I’m stopped at this point by people who say it won’t work, and we need to do something “stronger” to change politics. I find this amazing. Because despite being one of the simplest instruments available to Indians, it is dismissed as being ineffective by people who have not even tried it. If the vote is empowering the historically downtrodden segments of the Indian population, won’t it empower the middle class too? No, it’s not a quick fix, but our politicians are a smart lot—they are bound to notice a bank of votes and notes when they see one.

It doesn’t matter if the choice on the ballot is between a criminal and a person who has broken the law, between a former and current member of the same party, between a candidate of this party or that. Voting is the most credible signal we can send to our politicians—both to fix the drains and to secure us from terrorists. It’s time we send it loud and clear, above all the noise we make.

After the mea culpa

India shouldn’t expect that it can defeat Pakistani terrorism on the cheap

So little do people expect out of Pakistan that when it did admit that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai came from Pakistan, it was seen as major step in a good direction. That step, we are told, was due to pressure from the United States. It’s possibly true—but in the Islamabad scheme of things, it is still better to be seen as caving in to the United States (unpopularity rank #2) than to India (unpopularity rank #1). Just like July 1999, when it was President Clinton—no, not the Indian armed forces—who got Pakistan to climb down from Kargil.

India’s diplomatic success in getting Pakistan to concede its role in cross-border terrorism and take nominal action is in line with the logic of containment that C Raja Mohan wrote about: “using external pressure to secure internal change in Pakistan.” Beyond the game of diplomatic cut-and-thrust, what is the strategic score?

In the December 2008 issue of Pragati, I wrote: “India must not only seek to deliver exemplary punishment on the terrorist organisations and their Pakistani sponsors, but also make it prohibitively expensive for anyone to use terrorism as a political strategy.” While the Zardari government has moved against some mid-level jihadi leaders, the top leadership and infrastructure of the Lashkar-e-Taiba remains intact. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed has merely gone under the purdah, to use Sumit Ganguly’s apt description of the kind of “custody” that the Pakistani government places its surrogates under when there is too much heat on them. Can we expect Pakistan to really punish any of the alleged culprits? Going by its record, the answer is no. And as long as the military-jihadi complex remains intact, terrorism remains an affordable instrument for Pakistan.

In other words, the strategic score remains where it was on November 29th, 2008. In the absence of any strategic move by India, how can it not be?

That strategic move has been out there for some time now. We have argued that India’s “strategic response must be to engage the jihadi adversary in Afghanistan.” Richard Holbrooke’s statement in New Delhi today indicates that the United States is open to the idea. India should offer.

Related Links: We are all hawkish now, on Pragmatic Euphony

A finger pointed at Dhaka (and Dubai)

Internationalising the terrorism issue

When accosted by a frowning teacher, the first trick that naughty primary school students use is denial. When that doesn’t work, they try one or both of the following: develop stomach ache and point finger at classmate.

It’s stomach ache time when you hear about Pakistan being "a victim of terror". And now Pakistani authorities have used the third trick by letting it slip that they are "closing in on a Bangladeshi connection to the terrorist strike and are said to have evidence of not only the involvement of a banned militant organisation, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami, Bangladesh (HuJI-B), but also of its role in planning the attack and training the terrorists."

They allege that at least one of the terrorists came from Bangladesh, and that the plot was partially hatched in Dubai. Now they can afford to drag Bangladesh into this but naming Dubai can have political repercussions for Pakistan and personal repercussions for its political leaders. Still, it is illuminating to know that Pakistan might allege that the terrorist attacks were conducted by "‘international network of Muslim fundamentalists’ present in South Asia and spread all the way to Middle East" and might even be
"remotely linked to Al Qaeda’s international terror network." (Now who would have suspected that?)

Tomorrow, you’ll see a foreign office spokesman in Dhaka asking "but where’s the evidence"? Groan.

Pink, but not pretty

Calling out the Financial Times’ anti-India prejudices

The editors of Financial Times have timeandagain demonstrated an anti-India bias that is unfathomable. Or it is perhaps a ‘poison-pill strategy’ to prevent Anil Ambani or Vijay Mallya from buying over the paper and casting out the condescending snobs who sit on its editorial board. If these are strong words, they are only in response to an editorial that not indulges in crass moral equivalence but sees nothing wrong in using language that it probably considers taboo in other contexts.

It’s about David Miliband’s disastrous visit to Mumbai a few days ago. The newspaper is within its rights to find that Mr Miliband “was, of course, right” and that his only failing was being tin-eared and tactless. Given the context—Britain’s chief diplomat speaking at a sombre funereal occasion—that failing is the kind that should make decent Britons call for his resignation.

But the FT doesn’t leave it at that. It goes on:

More generally, the boyish Mr Miliband and Pranab Mukherjee, his septuagenarian Indian counterpart, do not seem to have hit it off. The studied informality of New Labour mateyness collided with official India’s Brahmin sense of decorum. Yet there is more than outrage in India’s over-reaction. [FT

Unless the FT’s editor’s think that “the studied informality of New Labour mateyness” has replaced a sense of decorum in the way the world conducts its diplomacy, shouldn’t it have called Mr Miliband out on this one? If indeed such chumminess is the new style in international politics, perhaps they should try that in Beijing or Moscow. “Hey Vladimir dude, can you extradite those mates of yours who go about our locals spiking drinks” is, shall we say, unlikely to impress those non-Brahmin Russians.

Which brings us to the “Brahmin sense of decorum”. The reference to caste was uncalled for, and is in gross bad taste. If Mr Miliband’s mateyness was of the New Labour kind, Mr Mukherjee’s decorum could well be the Old Congress kind. Does the FT equally drag in race and ethnic labels in other contexts?

There’s more:

First, the ruling Congress party is fighting desperately for re-election against the Bharatiya Janata party, Hindu supremacists who say the government is soft on terrorism and its causes: Kashmir and Pakistan.[FT

There’s a new odious label that the FT has invented for the BJP—“Hindu supremacists”. Now, the BJP can reasonably be approximated as “Hindu nationalist”, but it is gratuitous for the FT to describe it as a Hindu “supremacist” without justifying the label.

Second, kicking the former colonial power is a popular, almost cost-free way to send a message to Barack Obama. The new US president is believed to be considering a special envoy for south Asia, with Kashmir as part of the remit.[FT

Here the British editors of the FT claim undue importance. The truth is that far from being a favourite whipping boy, Britain is largely irrelevant. In fact that is implicit in the FT’s own argument: kicking Britain to send a message to America is cost-free because an uppity foreign secretary of an irrelevant country behaved improperly. And no, it’s not India’s fault that Britain is irrelevant.

Third, while Indian officials regard Kashmir as inalienable, much of the rest of the world sees a 20-year insurgency with 60,000 dead; that India refuses outside mediation or to call a plebiscite mandated by the United Nations after partition; and that New Delhi needs almost half its army to subdue 4m Muslims in the Valley of Kashmir.[FT

There they go again: the days when British editors could claim to speak for “much of the world” are long gone. One wonders how old the FT’s editors are, for their memory goes back only 20 years. If they were older, or had read their history, they would not have glossed over Britain’s own mala fides starting in the 1940s and 50s. India is still sorting out the mess Britain created.

And unless the FT thinks that all 4m Muslims in the Valley of Kashmir are terrorists and armed insurgents, it is baffling that it should claim that the Indian army’s job is to ‘subdue’ the population. First the FT indulges in moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims, and then again between Muslim terrorists and ordinary Muslims.

Indian officials talk windily of a “paradigm shift” in Kashmir following successful elections there this winter. But dozens of Kashmiris were shot down last summer in protests against Indian rule. This is a conflict that transcends regional boundaries. Pakistani support for the insurgents has helped spread jihadi extremism. And the religious right is influential in both India and Pakistan, which have twice been on the brink of war since they tested nuclear weapons in 1998. The Miliband storm was not in a teacup. [FT]

Mentioning the killings after the elections might make it appear that that was the order in which it occurred. But unless the FT does this, it can’t fit the facts to its conclusion. For just how can it sustain its argument if it were to truthfully say that an unprecedented number of people defied the calls of the separatists and turned out to vote, despite last summer’s killings?

The reference to the regional dimension, the religious right and nuclear weapons is the usual gratuitous garnish, it makes no substantial difference to the taste, but subtly adds to the smell.

Is Britain anything more than a nuisance?

David Miliband’s trip raises serious questions on Britain’s role in countering terrorism

Never in recent times has a visiting foreign minister been so flippant and so insensitive. The flippancy concerns a bizarre trip to Rahul Gandhi’s rural constituency, the purpose of which is unfathomable beyond cheap political theatre.

But the British foreign secretary’s speech at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai—just over a month ago the site of one of the worst terrorist attacks in India—sets a new low in terms of its sheer insensitivity. For here is a leader of a foreign country, speaking at the site of a terrorist attack, not only telling India to co-operate with a country that refused so much to acknowledge the bleedingly obvious fact that the terrorist attack was of Pakistani provenance, but went so far as to call attention “to be alive to the impact of our counter-terrorism strategies on minorities. As the Sachar Committee reported, India’s Muslims remain socially and economically disadvantaged.”

Mr Miliband’s claim that “we share your anguish, we admire your resolve, and we are determined to work in close collaboration to address the threats we face” seems hollow, empty and patently insincere. If he shared India’s anguish, he would not have taken a position that compromises India’s demands on Pakistan. If he admired India’s resolve he wouldn’t have ignored the fact that co-operation over the last half-decade neither prevented the Mumbai attacks (and others before it) nor cause the Pakistani government to act with sincerity after their occurrence.

Britain might be ready to work with close collaboration to address the threats “we” face, but Mr Miliband’s statements must give the Indian government pause for thought. His contention that different terrorist groups have nothing to do with each other is only partially true. Perhaps the LTTE and the Naxalites have nothing to do with Hezbollah. But to suggest that there is no international network of Islamist terrorism is to indulge in vacuous political correctness or, as Melanie Philips describes it, to demonstrate “astounding shallowness”. But if we accept Mr Miliband’s contention—that the jihadis that attack Mumbai are not quite the same as the ones who attack Britain—then why should India collaborate with Britain at all? Perhaps the British government should be left to ‘cooperate’ with Islamabad to address the 75% of terrorism cases that it claims (without credible evidence, come to think of it) can be tracked back to Pakistan.

Britain must ask itself whether it intends to be part of a solution or merely a nuisance in the war against jihadi terrorism, which for India is very real indeed. Mr Miliband’s newfound dislike for the “war on terror” in the last week of the Bush administration’s term is opportunistic and linked to Britain’s attempt to extricate its armed forces out of Afghanistan where they have not exactly covered themselves in glory. But it is wholly unnecessary for Britain to recommend a Partition (this time of Jammu & Kashmir) every time it retreats from the subcontinent.

Mr Miliband ostensibly came to India to ‘defuse tensions’ with Pakistan. He has succeeded in creating new ones—with Britain. India’s response to Mr Miliband’s comments must extend beyond rebutting his words. Some cooling of relations is in order.

Update: Richard Beeston, foreign editor of The Times calls David Miliband out; Siddharth Varadarajan reports that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee didn’t take Mr Miliband’s hectoring too kindly. They would do well to ensure that such acts are costly.

On proof and its credibility

International relations is not a courtroom battle

Here’s a post from the archives on the matter of proof in international relations, written in August 2006 after a previous round of terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Things remain so much the same that there’s no need at all to write a new post.

Comical Gilani

The farce is with him

Yousuf Raza Gilani, who became Pakistan’s prime minister before he knew what was going on, and remains prime minister without knowing what is going on (and, is likely to still not know what is going down even after not remaining the prime minister) has upstaged the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson—historically, and arguably, ex officio the funniest man in Pakistan. Yes, yes, we know, this allegation too is baseless.

Mr Gilani, a decent person that he might be, still cannot triumph over human psychology. He’s got to prove—well, it’s not clear to exactly who—that he is, after all, constitutionally the chief executive. Never mind that between his civilian boss, his military ‘subordinate’ and his American ally there are few areas where there is room to prove anything. But he did sack his principal secretary, and then his national security advisor, who were both appointed by Mr Gilani’s civilian boss, Mr Zardari. For all we know, he might have even re-arranged the furniture in his office.

All these, of course, might gladden partisan hearts, who might rejoice in the arrival of another “Junejo”. But the neatest trick to spread the gladdening and rejoicing really wide is to blow hot on India and on Israel. Or, for the best effect, both. Mr Gilani did that yesterday, and how.

No, he didn’t compare India’s actions with Israel’s, an old, if evergreen analogy. Mr Gilani said something that should make you sit up and take notice (before falling off your chair). The world has double standards, caring more for the victims of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, than for the Palestinian people of Gaza. (No, he didn’t mention Congo or Darfur at all; places that might be on a different, fictional planet as far as the anti-Israel protestors are concerned).

As international opinion turns against Pakistan’s brazen denial of facts concerning the Mumbai attacks, the military establishment is trying to distance itself from the civilians. General Durrani’s post-dismissal comments, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s comments to Der Spiegel signal that it is the civilian leadership that is behaving unreasonably. With Mr Gilani as prime minister, the reasonable-sounding generals are almost believable.

On the topic of double standards though, the good Mr Gilani surely needs to contemplate why Pakistani people get out on the streets to protest against Israel, but express only silent sympathy, or just silence, for the victims of Mumbai?

Putting perfume on a skunk

Pakistan’s military mobilisation bogey didn’t work—it only exposed the army’s hand in the Mumbai attacks

It is hard to say whether the good retired brigadier Shaukat Qadir actually believes in his own fairy tale or is merely trying to make the skunk smell good in public. For he argues that “the token withdrawal of troops from our western borders was also an exercise in employing defence to further diplomatic ends and accelerate international efforts to defuse tensions between two nuclear neighbours; and it was successful.”

His first argument about how Pakistan showed tremendous restraint in the face of belligerent words and actions on the ground by India is factually wrong. According to the the same paper that published his analysis, Pakistan threatened to pull back 100,000 troops on 29 November 2008, even as the Mumbai siege was in progress. Far from responding to any hostile action from India, Pakistan’s alacrity in troop movements suggests that this was a pre-planned move, and half of which failed in the end.

And his argument that moving one armoured and one infantry division to a strategic location that would threaten India’s lines of communication is ridiculous. For if all it took to deter India from attacking Pakistan were army divisions at strategic locations, then why did Pakistan ever have to invest in nuclear weapons at such great cost to itself? It is plain and simple that Pakistan is using its nuclear weapons to provide cover and protection to terrorists. That smell won’t go away so quickly.

My guest post on Dilip D’Souza’s blog

A common bank of votes and notes

As the ghastly chapter of the terrorist attack on Mumbai came to an end, long time reader Jai_Choorakkot wrote to Dilip D’Souza, Rohit Pradhan and me suggesting that posting on each others’ blogs would be a great way to show that Indians are united on fundamental issues. So here, on Dilip’s invitation is my take on what we—as individuals and citizens—could do in the wake of the terrorist attacks. To keep the discussion in one place, do leave your comments there too.

Wax in her ears

After the apologists come the Sominists

Emily Wax—the Washington Post correspondent who, in February 2008, informed the paper’s readers that Indians don’t dress like Mahatma Gandhi—now announces that the calls made by the Mumbai ‘gunmen’ to television stations shed light on their motives.

(The use of the word gunmen should already alert you to where the correspondent, and, probably, the newspaper’s editors stand. Even by their own apologetic standards, the word ‘gunmen’ is inaccurate, for the strapping young lads from Pakistan used grenades and improvised explosive devices as well. It’s been discussed on this blog earlier, as also by the NYT’s public editor, and is not the point of this post.)

The point here is that Ms Wax failed to appreciate that the “demands” made by the terrorists who attacked Mumbai were not even close to being of the negotiable kind. Must terrorists arrive from Pakistan and take Jews hostage in Mumbai for Indians to be made aware of “how many people have been killed in Kashmir…(and how) your army has killed Muslims?” Or does taking hostages and killing people at random remotely help push the demand that “the Muslims who live in India, should not be harassed . . . Things like demolition of Babri Masjid and killings should stop.” It is understandable for Pakistani jihadis not to know that these arguments are part of the public discourse in India. But it is inexplicable, and certainly, inexcusable, for Ms Wax to be fooled by the ‘gunmen’s’ words.

Those words are merely the feverish outpourings of poorly educated, brainwashed, young Pakistani men, who were not only incapable of thinking for themselves, but were actually taking orders from their handlers back in Pakistan. To take their words literally and impute motives by simple inference is to demonstrate a similar level of intellectual development.

Those abstract demands were not the motives behind the terrorist attacks. They could well be the personal motives of the terrorists. It is misleading to merely examine their personal motives as if they explain why the terrorist attacks were carried out. If anything, their personal motives show how easy it is for the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to find gullible footsoldiers to play their geopolitical games. Yet, despite interviewing astute analysts like Ashley Tellis and Wilson John (whose name she gets wrong), Ms Wax just can’t grasp it.