The coming Friday will mark the 2nd anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. In these two years, India has not seen one major terrorist attack, something government spokespersons never tire from repeating. This tranquillity has more to do with fortuitous circumstances—external and internal—and less with the government’s success, or ability for that matter, in eliminating the root cause of this kind of terrorism. Those causes continue to exist and the government can do little about them.
After the attacks, India seemed vulnerable as never before. Terrorism had, no doubt, existed before. Terrorism is a stand-alone phenomenon—an organized group of disaffected individuals or even one individual indulging in violence. 26/11, however, was qualitatively different: It was a regular state-to-state conflict on the cheap by using non-state actors.
At that time, the way forward to eliminate the problem would have been to combine diplomacy with aggressive demonstration of intent to guard our territory. But over the next two years, the latter dimension has been wholly ignored. In fact, the government went on to launch peace talks with Islamabad and was rebuffed repeatedly. The result today is that if there is calm, it is because the US and the Western world at large have made it clear to Pakistan that such violence is not welcome. Peace since those terrible November days is a dividend of this development.
This cannot be taken for granted for long. One reason for Western pressure has been that any diversion of attention from Afghanistan and its problems—inevitable in case of an Indo-Pak stand-off—would have derailed the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda there. One direct corollary of this is that once the North Atlantic Treaty Organization marches out of Afghanistan, South Asia and its squabbles will no longer be a Western concern. If not 26/11, something equally, if not more virulent, would be a distinct possibility then. To assume that the US helped India mount pressure against Islamabad because the latter is its long-standing friend would be a mistake.
It is often held that India cannot escape its geography—for Pakistan is a neighbour. But instead of using this line as a homily to make a non-existent case for “peace”, it’s time we spared some thought to strategic interventions that would help overcome this peril.
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