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Monday, December 08, 2008

Being careful on the cry for war

The joint cry for 'war on terror' that India has to unleash on Pakistan has marched from the periodic rhetoric of political right to a sales pitch for mass media since 26/11. For more than a week now our media seem to precipitate the idea of war in our midst.

The westward looking among us have sucked up duly to this. We want our own version of American War on Terror. We want to be part of that global fight which would lead to  many of us do not know what. 'Cold Start, 'Surgical Strike' are the kind of terms suddenly crowding our media space, seeking to suddenly educate us on offense strategies and technology about which none of us have any clue, I don't.

If the American example has taught us one thing, that is this, you can't win a war on terror by terror alone. They have been made to bleed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are caught in the quagmire which was set-up by the trumped up war potential with the same 'precision bombing' and other such terms on their television after 9/11. More importantly, hate for America has not decreased in any part of the world. If anything people hate America more

The Americans have not gone on 'war on terror' in their own land or that of their neighbours. This too holds an important lesson for us. Pakistan is an extension of India, we cannot root out the virus that is crippling the Pakistani society by destroying part of the society. The 'fundamentalist' virus will remain. India has for long stayed blind to the developments in its vicinity. 

While we have been aware of and engaging in the economies of the western nations, we don't know how many people die of hunger in Afghanistan or Pakistan. While we are proud of our corporates getting listed in NASDAQ or other western markets, we don't know the threats of  local markets in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma and other countries of this region (of course many of us don't know some of these facts about our own country, that is a different issue).  If India wages a war in its neighbourhood, the war will drain India forever. We have the Sri Lankan example. A nation waging a war on parts of its own people has been bleeding now for decades and its economy crippled.

Let the feeling of being 'hurt' and 'anger' not lead us to approve or indeed demand a war. We may not be able to afford the consequences. 

The other rhetoric that has emerged from the Mumbai 26/11 is more important. The need to cleanse our system of governance. I had earlier blogged on the need for an Indian character in our response to terror. Two interesting response for that post ensued, (1)  my pointing out the inherent inefficiency in our governance systems was refuted by Joe. He took it as implying inefficiency on the part of the IAS officers. I have nothing against them and do think some of them are amazing individuals. What I implied was that they are often imprisoned by an archaic system that they cannot press F5 on. They have to navigate within the system for their survival. Some perhaps are efficient navigators, but, it cannot be denied that our arms of governance, the legal system, the system of public participation and the method of governance need a far more systemic assessment for their limitations. They have failed to deliver and those of us whose lives are not linked with day to day engagement with this system are the ones feel the impact the least. Indeed most of us who are hurt and angered today are often the least inclined to engage with the system. 
(2) the second response was as a long phone call from Sathya, who said that India has no right to interfere in the affairs of Pakistan, after  all they have a democratically elected government now. I don't agree. Reports make it clear that Pakistani democracy hangs by a thin thread with multiple players holding it up. India cannot today ignore the weakness of Pakistani democracy and demand action out of its government or by the same token denounce the government for inaction and bomb and destroy some of the terrorist places. The Pakistani government can only do the former at its own peril and will have to respond to the later through violence to survive.  A mature approach is to help Pakistan build their democracy, we have ignored their weaknesses for too long only treating it as our strategic advantage. It could be a long haul, but, for too long we have ignored their societal problem through the infiltration of fundamentalism. 

Indian governments have to stand up for a character of this region and build in that in its response to terror.  Currently, there doesn't seem to be a great approach of our own, we are parroting (and indeed being encouraged to) 'our right to respond' because someone else has said it. This is what I had earlier written as lacking in character. If there was a 'Indian response to terror' that was built from fundamentals on the foundations of the Indian world view, then it would be different from that of others and rooted in our own strengths and understanding. I cannot accept that a civilizational entity that prides its record of not going to war for over 5000 years lacks the courage or vision to come up with its own response to terror.

Finally, any war in any part of the world today means more production and marketing of weapons of war. There are businesses that are dependent on production and servicing of war machines which rightfully look at any semblance of a new large scale war as a good opportunity. As part of their marketing strategy, one cannot find fault with them if they encourage the parties to move in the direction of the war. It is important to see how much of our public opinion on war is being influenced by such elements.  It is important to see how much of the Pakistani public opinion on war is influenced by such elements. Being victims of such influence is something we share now and that could be a good point to start a dialogue. 

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