Friday, May 07, 2010

Revenge is a dish best served cold

Today is Judgment Day. The court will decide on the punishment of Amir Ajmal Kasab, the convicted killer who along with his associates snuffed out the lives of 166 innocent people and maimed 308. There have been insistent calls for a death sentence from victims’ kin and an outraged public; the public prosecutor, Ujjwal Nikam, termed Kasab a monster and declared that his execution would deter more acts of terrorism.
An argument could be made to say that a Kasab alive would serve us better than one dead. But there is the matter of the crime, committed with brazenness and brutality and the issue of the price that must be paid for killing so many innocents. If the law demands his head, so be it. Considering the fair and dignified manner in which the trial has been conducted, we can only expect a reasoned and fit decision from Judge M.L. Tahilyani.
Nikam’s description of him as a “killing machine” is apt, since conscience and compassion was wiped out from his brain. Actually, Kasab was a mere cog in the machine. The real machine— the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba— continues to flourish in Pakistan, brainwashing more young men, and arming and equipping them to wreak more mayhem. We know some of the names, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, but the others are nom de guerres— Yousaf aka Muzammil Butt, Abu Hamza, Abu Qahfa, Usman, Rashid Abdullah, Sajid Mir, Major Iqbal, and the shadowy “Major General” and Col Sadatullah of the Signals Communications Organisation of the Pakistan Army.


India needs to set two goals for itself in the wake of the Mumbai massacre—avenging the deaths of the innocents and preventing the recurrence of another attack. Both objectives are interlinked, but there should be no doubt that the second one is paramount. Success in rooting out the terror network will be the best revenge for the Mumbai attack and for that we need to adopt an integrated strategy which will use all the instruments at our command—military, intelligence, diplomatic and financial. The strategy will have to have a short and a longer term perspective.
Some of the elements of the short-term process have already been set in motion— better intelligence coordination, the ability to react more quickly to another Mumbai-type attack and so on.

But everyone knows that even now we are a long way off from achieving the goal of ensuring that India’s borders are not so easily breached. Given the open borders at Nepal and Bangladesh, we need a lot of diplomatic and intelligence work to ensure that terrorists from Pakistan do not find it easy to use the Kathmandu or Dhaka option. There is a great deal of work as yet to be done in securing our 7,500 km long coastline. It will take at least five years and a lot of hard work to ensure that small fishing boats cannot slip in to land terrorist commando teams on the Indian shore. This requires enhanced policing with a triple layer—Navy, Coast Guard and State police—cordon along our maritime boundary.
The Multi-Agency Centre has gotten going but it still requires a lot of effort to ensure that a varied group of people— Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing, economic intelligence organisations, military intelligence, state intelligence services—can work as a single team. On paper this looks simple, but habits of a life-time which include a fierce turf mentality are not so easily overcome.
The MAC is expected to evolve into a National Counter-Terrorism Centre. Again, it is important not to be fooled by paper achievement. The US had one going for the past three years, yet, the centre failed to pick up the most obvious clues left by Umar Abdulmuttalab, the underwear bomber. The ultimate proof of the pudding will be in its eating.


Lamentably, the biggest failure remains at the bottom of the security pyramid. The policing system in this country remains unchanged. It is corrupt, illiterate and brutal. Policemen who are on the take and are involved in criminal acts can hardly be the instruments to fight the subtle and sinister forces of terrorism. People talk of police reform and structural changes, but there is the simple issue of humanising the policeman who instead of seeing service to citizens as a duty, sees them as a potential target for exploitation.
Strengthening fortress India is, no doubt, a major challenge. But only diplomacy of the benign and the coercive variety can be the genuine game-changer. And the game that needs to be changed is called Pakistan. As we have learnt, most recently from the Times Square bomber, Pakistan is both the fountainhead and sanctuary for international terrorism. Faisal Shehzad emerged from a Waziristan training camp to go to the US and launch his strike, and after that he sought to flee back to Pakistan, a country where he would have presumably found sanctuary, which may not have been officially sanctioned as in the case of terrorists who attack India, but at least from those who sent him out in the first place.


New Delhi is involved in a complex exercise in engaging Pakistan even while seeking to contain Islamabad’s proclivity to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy, or at least to tolerate the activities of those terrorists who are inimical to India. Pakistan of today is not the same as that of 2007 when we were able to come close to a solution for the Jammu & Kashmir dispute and get a sharp reduction of the movement of terrorists across the Line of Control. The Pakistan of 2010 is more conflicted and confusing.
At one level no one seems to be in-charge, at the other the process of the restoration of a civilian government seems to be under way. Then, on one hand, the Pakistan Army is permitting terrorists to cross the LoC in larger numbers, on the other, it is itself involved in a mortal conflict with the god-fathers of those terrorists in Waziristan. One part of the cocky GHQ expects that with the Americans under control things will soon be back to the halcyon days of the late 1990s when they ran the regime in Kabul. But there are quite a few who know that the Taliban of today are not the same as the ones who angered the world by wantonly destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas and that a Taliban government could prove to be more than a handful for Islamabad, especially if the latter is not able to ensure that its writ runs in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
India needs to factor in these issues whether talking to or building up pressure against Pakistan. India’s real revenge will be in helping the transformation of Pakistan into a normal society, one that no longer takes pride in jihadi gunmen, leave alone provide them training and shelter.
This article appeared in Mail Today May 6, 2010

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