Sunday, January 11, 2009

Uncivil War

More than a month after the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India and the world has still not figured out how to make Pakistan accept the responsibility of fuelling terrorism. Forget about trying to make Pakistan pay for its perfidy, the world actually needs to be grateful to it for at least showing the decency of denying that the Mumbai attackers were its citizens. So now we all can step back, after weak protestations, with a semblance of our dignity intact. Imagine had Pakistan accepted that it was behind the terrorist attacks and challenged the world with its brazenness where would that have left India and the US.
Given the way things are in Pakistan at the moment, this is not a far-fetched prospect. The Pakistan military, which the Indian soldiers have often referred to as a professional outfit, has now slipped so far down the realms of the civilised world that possibility of redemption looks bleak. Unfortunately, we all must accept blame for this deterioration. Because we accepted and dignified uncivilised and inhuman behaviour by giving it the name irregular warfare, as if it was a perfectly soldierly act to throw a bomb in a public place or to kill unarmed non-combatants. Once this was accepted by us as part of war, the Mumbai attack was just a step further. No one, not even an average Pakistani truly believes that the 10 men who indiscriminately fired at public places and lined up people against the wall before shooting them in cold blood, were not Pakistani citizens. The father of the surviving terrorist has recognised him, the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has accepted him as his fellow countryman and even President Zardari admitted that the attackers were Pakistani by saying that they were non-state actors, before doing a volte-face under Army Chief Kayani’s glare. To still maintain the fa├žade of waiting for evidence is nothing but brazenness.
However, the worrying thing here is not India and its security. India is a big country with the capacity to absorb much more than 1,000 cuts. The worrying thing is Pakistan and the civil society there, which is getting so completely manipulated by the military that it is failing to distinguish between civilised and uncivilised, between Islamic and unIslamic, between just and convenient. All that the military leadership has to do is raise the spectre of war with India and the entire country immediately cowers behind it. The military tells the country that only it can save it from rampaging India and the gullible society not only believes this but join in the war cry, like mindless juveniles in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
The level of brutalisation of the society can be judged by the fact that in peaceful times, Pakistani intellectuals like Ahmed Rashid, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Hassan Abbas, Husain Haqqani, Zahid Hussain and so on write about the dangers of radicalisation of the Pakistani society and military, about how ISI created and nurtured the Taliban and how it closely works with LeT and JeM which it has created specifically for terrorising India, about how Pakistani military has consistently double-crossed the world on its nuclear programme, how deeply entrenched the Jihadists are with the army and so on. Yet, the moment the military raises the India-threat card, they all shuffle in line behind what is now turning out to be a rogue army in both worlds: the secular and the Islamic.
Rogue in the secular world, because no army trains to kill unarmed civilians; professional militaries are not the domain for trigger-happy sadists. They are the bastions for honourable soldiers who value human life above all. And rogue in the Islamic world, because Islam codified the whole concept of war-fighting. It properly laid down rules for engagement, surrender and treatment of prisoners of war (PoWs). War can only be waged between armed combatants and only if the opponent wants to fight. If he does not want to fight, then no matter how just your cause is you cannot fight with him. If he surrenders, you cannot kill him and if he is your prisoner you have to accord him the dignity of a surrendered warrior.
The tragedy is not the decline of the Pakistan military. The tragedy is the decline of the society and those who are lulled into sleep by a sense of security that the enemy is outside and the military can take care of it, because the enemy is quietly creeping inside their hearts and homes. I mourn it because once we were one.
At the height of tensions with India a few years ago, Pakistani poet Late Ahmed Faraz came to Delhi to participate in the annual January 26 Mushaira at Red Fort. He concluded his poem ‘Dosti ka Haath’ (hand of friendship) saying: “Tumhare des mein aaya hoon doston abke/ Na saaz-o-naghme ki mehfil na shaiiyri ke liye/Agar tumhari ana hi ka hai sawal toh phir/ Chalo main haath badhata hoon dosti ke liye”. My hand is still held out, but don’t shake it because it is convenient. Reach out only when you are confident of my intent and at peace with your strengths and insecurities.

Weep India Weep

Never before have issues of internal security and terrorism been as undermined as they have been done in the last few weeks. The entire debate on security, the multifarious nature of terrorism and strengthening of the response mechanism has been reduced to two words by the political class: Hang Afzal. What does it say about India as a country that for the biggest Opposition party and the man who would be prime minister, one fringe person has become symbolic of the nation’s commitment, or lack of it, to ensure security of its people. How much more will issues of national security and national integrity be trivialised at the altar of electoral politics before it is understood that certain subjects should be beyond party politics. Now that we are faced with a new threat, in the form of extremist-Hindutva forces, in addition to the already existing extremist-Islamic forces, it is absolutely critical that Indian political class rise above petty, short-terms objectives. Today, terrorism is not a threat to life and property alone but to the very fabric of Indian nationhood.
There has always been a school of thought that believed that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the most dangerously divisive force in the country. From time to time, the divisiveness has been cleverly couched in educational, social and cultural activities. By assiduously keeping out of politics, the RSS has remained an almost invisible umbrella under which groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bharatiya Janata Party, Bajrang Dal and so on were born and nurtured. And all these years it insidiously penetrated the educational stream in the country (which shapes not only the mind but prejudices too), starting with nursery schools and gradually even colleges. Such has been the reach and success of the RSS-run educational institutions that one constantly bumps into professional people who have, at some stage or the other, been to one or the other of these schools, colleges or post-graduate institutes. They hold their prejudices (especially against the Muslims who remain outsiders for them) very deeply despite their station in life. It is no secret what version of history is taught in these institutes or what lessons in patriotism are imparted to the young impressionable cadets. There have been several reports from time to time about how the government should exercise better control over the education imparted at these institutions. Given how secretive and shadowy RSS has been and that it has been banned by the government in the past, it is a wonder that during its non-banned phases, government has not insisted upon greater transparency and accountability.
The RSS need not be a terrorist organisation, because what it has been doing and envisages to do is even more destructive then what a mere terrorist attack can do. It has succeeded in converting a large number of people (fortunately, they are still a minority) to its line of exclusivist and divisive thinking, so much so, that the BJP today is convinced that raising the Hindutva banner once again will get it the winning votes. Despite former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee admitting that not sacking the Narendra Modi government was a mistake, Modi has consistently been the BJP star campaigner, even in Delhi. The purported prime minister to be, Lal Krishen Advani, has hitched his political fortunes onto the suspects in the terror strike in Malegaon, even when the investigations are on. He has obviously been advised that this move will propel him to the top job. So unlike the last campaign where the BJP was sticking to economic issues by way of India Shining, today the biggest totem is terrorism, with ‘hang Azfal’ being Advani’s clarion call in his public meetings.
Instead of getting worried and doing some soul-searching about the long term impact of RSS making inroads in the Indian armed forces to such an extent that the officer who takes an oath to protect his motherland indulges in acts of war and sedition against the state for the sake of religion, the BJP has reduced the discussion to Hindu terrorist versus Muslim terrorist. That RSS holds sway over certain officers of the armed forces has been well-known for a while now, given the numbers who flock to the BJP after retirement. But at least, they abided by the honour of the office they held and the uniform they wore as long as they were in service. But the recent Malegaon incident has robbed us of this comfort as well. So far we had to contend with the prejudiced sections among the police, now the spectre of this prejudice creeping in the last bastion of nobility looms.
At the time of writing this piece on November 27, the gun-battle was still going on in Mumbai following the terrorist attack the previous night. Will this attack still be called terrorism or an act of war will have to be seen, but whatever it may be, one thing is clear, terrorism cannot be fought by reaping electoral harvest over the dead. Is it at all possible that in this season of electioneering, we do not trivialise these anti-national activities?