November, Terrorism, and Pakistan: Why The Ghosts of 26/11 Still Haunt Us

If 26/11 taught India anything, it is that even a slight level of complacency could lead to catastrophe.

6 min read
Hindi Female

(This is part three of a four-part 'November' series that revisits significant historical events or policies and how the lessons learned from them continue to be of relevance in present-day politics and society. Read part one here, part two here, and part four here.)

With the manner in which terrorists manage to score spectacularly gruesome attacks that butcher innocents across the world, countries have started identifying specific days that will be remembered by posterity as days that singed the soul of the countries.

For the United States, it is 9/11. For the UK, it is 7/7. Israel will forever be traumatised by the memories of 10/7, just as India counts the unacceptable costs of terrorism every year on 26/11.

Too much has been written about 26/11 and its aftermath by numerous analysts, commentators, scholars, and pundits with superior skills than the authors for us to offer any new meaningful insight into this sordid chapter of contemporary Indian history. Yet, since this is the age of “aggregation”, the authors would combine four insights offered over the past 15 years related to 26/11.

The first is that there are a lot of ordinary Indians who have not been told the full story of 26/11. Second, India can never completely rely on “strategic partners” and must fight its battles alone. Third, it remains a mystery why the top brass of the Congress decided after 2008 that Hindus will go on voting for Congress irrespective of what it does and says. And fourth, General Pervez Musharraf was the de facto ruler of Pakistan when its “non-state” actors spread mayhem and terror across urban targets in India for a decade; but Pakistan is now being ravaged by the “snakes it grew in its backyard.”

What Do Ordinary Indians Know About 26/11?

What do ordinary Indians know about 26/11 beyond the fact that it was one of the worst terror stacks in India?

Perhaps top levels of government have been aware of the details but haven’t shared the information. For instance, some of the troubling questions that persist are: what were top Home Ministry officials doing at a hill station in Pakistan on 26/11?

Obviously, they had gone for a meeting, but who in the Pakistani deep state orchestrated this meeting? Most Indians know that David Coleman Headley, who is still in a federal prison in the US, conducted extensive reconnaissance in Mumbai to identify and pinpoint the exact locations for the terrorists to attack.

How else would Pakistan-based terrorists know the exact locations of Café Leopold, Taj Hotel, Trident Hotel, and the Israeli Chabad House?

If he has revealed anything to investigators about who in India helped him, the details remain secret. The 1993 bomb blasts masterminded by Dawood Ibrahim were planned and executed with “local” help. Almost all were identified by investigators.

But in the case of 26/11, there is hardly any information. There are many other information gaps that don’t make sense to the authors or other ordinary Indians.


Embracing Pragmatism

Th second insight is a lesson that India keeps learning.

Make friends with great powers and power groupings. By all means, become strategic partners. But never blindly repose your trust in those “partners” to come running to help you during a crisis.

How the Headley saga has been handled by the US across the regimes of Barrack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an eye-opener. Particularly for that set of Indians that have been “bowled over” by things like the Indo-US nuclear deal, the strategic partnership, the QUAD, the grand welcome granted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his state visit to Washington, and of course, the remarks of Elon Musk.

For that lot, the manner in which the US, and its four other “Five Eyes” allies have dealt with Khalistani extremists like Harjit Singh Nijjar and Gurpatwant Singh Pannun should be another wake-up call.

Satellite imagery was denied to Indians during the Kargil War. Not to forget how hardly any major power publicly condemned China for the brazen manner in which it tried to grab Indian territory in Ladakh.

It doesn’t mean that those countries are enemies of India.

It is not that they will never help India. They will. But only when it serves their strategic national interests. But that’s the way geopolitical games are played: on the field of hard-headed pragmatism rather than emotions and idealism.

Mercifully, the Indian dispensation is finally embracing pragmatism after decades of ambivalence.


The Mysterious Behaviour of the Congress Party

The third mystery for the authors is the baffling and mysterious behaviour of the Congress as a political party that ruled post-independence India for decades and hopes to rule again. Even a school student knows that the primary aim of a political party is to gain power in order enable it to implement the vision and agenda it has propagated.

About 80% of the voters in India are Hindu. Even a fool would know that alienating a lot of them is not the best strategy for winning power. Yet, for more than a decade, sections of the Congress have alienated Hindu voters.

Before and after 26/11, when the rest of India was talking of the perils of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, senior Congress leaders were blabbering about saffron terrorism. A handsome repeat mandate in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections deluded the lot into thinking they go on talking about it without paying a political price.

They forgot that the mandate was for Dr Manmohan Singh and the way he had handled many challenges and issues including the Indo-US nuclear deal. Then came 2014 and the Indian (Hindu) voter delivered a crippling blow to the Congress.

But it seems to have learnt no lessons. Even now, it tacitly supports DMK leaders despite their alleged abuse of Sanatan Dharma. In the aftermath of the 10/7 terror attack in Israel, Sonia Gandhi herself wrote an op-ed openly supporting Palestine. Indians support the Palestinian cause. But they are revolted by terror of any kind.


Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf

That brings the authors to the fourth and last insight, that is, about Musharraf, terror attacks, and Frankenstein’s monster devouring its creator. Since Musharraf became a military dictator in October 1999, the nature of Pakistani state-sponsored terrorism changed.

No doubt terrorism was at its peak in Kashmir in the 1990s. But it was largely confined to the Kashmir valley. In the first decade of this century, however, urban centres became prime targets. A terror blast in Coimbatore in 1998 had already shown that something new was happening.

Since 2000, the terror attacks have come in waves. Hardly any major city was spared. Chandigarh, Jaipur, Surat, Ahmedabad, Ayodhya, Varanasi, Hyderabad, Pune, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Bengaluru…Innocent Indians were slaughtered in terror attacks in towns and cities. No one seemed to be safe.

Even as the rulers in Pakistan focused on bleeding India through a thousand cuts, its economy started entering no man’s land. Today, the Pakistan economy is virtually bankrupt and people die in stampedes for wheat flour. But the bigger existing crisis comes from the snakes in their own backyard.

Hardly a week passes in Pakistan without a deadly suicide bombing or a terror attack on security forces killing them right, left, and centre. Even the mighty Chinese are now afraid of sending their engines and managers to complete the dozens of showcase infrastructure projects in the country.

There literally seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.


Complacency Could Lead to Catastrophe

But that’s hardly any cause for Indians to cheer. Despite bleeding from the inside, the Pakistani deep state continues to send well-trained and heavily armed terrorists across the border.

Indian security forces continue to suffer unacceptably high levels of casualties in Jammu and Kashmir. Perhaps the only thing worth chewing on is the fact that there has been no major terror attack on Indian cities since 2014.

But if 26/11 taught India anything, and as 10/7 has taught Israel, it is that even a slight level of complacency could lead to catastrophe. While the absence of terror attacks since 2014 is a big achievement, a lot more needs to be done to prevent cross-border attacks.

The authors have no security expertise. And they know the long Indo-Pak border is very difficult to keep an eye on.

But surely something can be done? The West cannot be relied upon for substantive help. India has to continue waging this lonely battle.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  26/11 

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