(This story was first published on 16 February 2019 and is being republished to mark three years of the Pulwama terror attack.)
In the face of a gravely provocative and hostile act of aggression – such as the terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, 14 February, – a mature nation should display five qualities. Unity. Fearlessness. A steely resolve to punish the aggressors. A complete lack of hatred, revengefulness and triumphalism. And readiness to understand and address the root cause of the problem.
India has shown some of these qualities – to be precise, the first three in the list. That’s heartening. However, more work is needed to develop the remaining two.
First, Unity: Just before the news of the terror attack came in, the acrimony of the election season was visible all across India. The 16th Lok Sabha had ended its term the previous day.
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Throughout its last session, the prime minister and the Opposition had exchanged barbs both inside and outside Parliament.
The Congress party’s combative president had made a fiery speech at Valsad in the PM’s home state. In Lucknow, his sister was about to address her first press conference.
But as soon as the terrible news from Pulwama came in, India suddenly closed ranks. In a gesture that has been widely appreciated, Priyanka Gandhi cancelled her press conference and mourned the martyrdom of our jawans. The following morning, Rahul Gandhi, again in a gesture that earned much acclaim, announced in a brief press meet that both his party and the entire Opposition stand in full support of the Armed Forces and also, most importantly, “our government”.
There is a highly educative motto in the Mahabharata − “Vayam Panchadhikam Shatam (We are not five or hundred, but 105)”.
As is well known, the epic is all about a dispute in the Kuru family between five Pandava brothers and their 100 Kaurava cousins. However, when there is an aggression by an external enemy, who is about to vanquish the Kauravas, Yudhishthir, the wise leader of Pandavas, exhorts his younger brothers: “When we are fighting amongst ourselves, we are five Pandavas versus 100 Kauravas. But when an external enemy attacks us, we must become a united force of 105 to defeat the common foe.”
For how long India’s political parties will remain united, especially with crucial parliamentary elections round the corner, is unknown. But the initial signs are good.
Clearly, the obligation to keep both the people and the polity united in any action the government may be planning is primarily (though not exclusively) rests on the ruling party itself. Two points of self-restraint must be adhered to. One, the government should not act all on its own. It must take the Opposition parties into confidence on its overall plan and its objectives. Two, no attempt should be made by either the ruling party or its adversaries to gain electoral mileage from the terrorist episode and the response to it.
The reason for this is self-evident. This is not the first time that India has experienced a terror attack, nor is the first on our armed forces. Numerous such attacks have taken place so far, during the reigns of both NDA I and II, and also UPA I and II – not to mention the previous history of such attacks. Similarly, both the BJP and the Congress have so far failed to find a solution to the root cause of the problem – the seven decades-long dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Therefore, there is simply no scope for either of the two major national parties to score political brownie points over the other.
Terrorist Groups Are Repeating One Mistake
Second, fearlessness. Terrorist groups, and their sponsors across the border, have been time and again repeating one mistake.
After having waged, and lost, four conventional wars so far, they reckon that India can be bled into submission by conducting this relentless ‘war by other means’, which is what State-sponsored terrorism really is.
Even though thousands of our civilians and security personnel have lost their lives in these acts of terror in the past nearly four decades, India has not lost its nerve – and it never will. On the contrary, reliance on terror, fuelled by Islamist extremism, as a means of State policy to bleed and browbeat India has actually boomeranged on its sponsor.
Third, India today is more determined to punish the aggressors than ever before. Far from generating fear in Indian minds, the campaign of cross-border terror has further steeled our people’s – and also our polity’s – resolve to counter this menace. Indeed, after Pulwama, there is suddenly a national mood, unseen and unprecedented in the past forty years, to inflict deterrent punishment on the guilty. Today it is difficult to imagine what form this punitive action will take, and what its future consequences will be. But one wonders whether the sponsors of the campaign of terror against India had reckoned that they would have to pay the price, instead of succeeding in making India pay the price.
If they fail to see the atmosphere of anguish and anger all across India, and if they fail to quickly announce – and take – some corrective measures, the future course of events could be ominous.
Why India Shouldn't Act Out of a Sense of Revengefulness
Fourth, this brings us to the absolute need to ensure that India does not act with hatred and out of a sense of revengefulness and triumphalism. It is unfortunate that the cry of badla (revenge) is being heard on TV channels and social media. Nothing that is a product of the dark emotions of hatred and retaliation can yield positive results. The history of the problem of terrorism, which itself is a subset of the larger problem of the unresolved dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, makes it absolutely clear that there are no quick-fix solutions. Nor does the solution lie in the lunatic demands being raised by ultra-nationalists to “break up Pakistan”. India – especially the current ruling establishment – needs to marginalise those who are whipping up anti-Pakistan sentiments and are calling for reprisal against it.
Our problem is not, and cannot be, with the people of Pakistan. Rather, it is the nature of the dispute both India and Pakistan have inherited from the tragic history of partition in 1947 – and also the violent manner in which both governments have tried to solve it to their advantage.
Here, the culpability of the military establishment in Pakistan is more because it has taken recourse to supporting terrorism as an instrument of its Kashmir policy. But this does not mean that successive Indian governments have been blemishless.
Therefore, we come to the fifth quality that both India and Pakistan, the estranged brothers of the same civilisational family, must develop: Readiness to understand and address the root cause of the problem. Pulwama has happened, as have other terrorist incidents in Kashmir happened in the past, because the ruling establishment in Pakistan believes that this campaign of terror, if supported and carried out unceasingly, would one day break Kashmir away from India. This, Pakistan should know, will never happen.
JeM Operates Mainly From Pakistani Soil But...
Again and again, Islamabad has remained in denial mode when it comes to acts of cross-border terror in Kashmir and the rest of India. For example, after Pakistan’s establishment had vehemently denied its role in the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, none other than Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had to deny the denial – and tell the truth. He had to pay a price for it.
In the case of the Pulwama terror attack, Jaish-e-Mohammed has already claimed responsibility.
That the act itself may have been perpetrated by a suicide bomber from the Indian side of Kashmir makes no material difference to the incontrovertible fact that JeM operates mainly from Pakistani soil.
Clearly, Islamabad has repeatedly violated a seminal assurance it had given in 2004, when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf met in Islamabad and issued a joint statement. This is what the statement said: "President Musharraf reassured PM Vajpayee that Pakistan will not permit any territory under its control to be used to support terrorism in any manner."
As recently as in November 2018, after laying the foundation stone for the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said it was not in Islamabad’s interest to allow terrorist groups to use its territory and plan attacks outside Pakistan. If anti-Pakistan feelings are running very high in India today, it is because of these examples showing the inability or unwillingness of Islamabad to rein in terror groups like JeM. As a result, there is a widespread belief in India that Pakistan continues to make a distinction between “bad terrorists” (who attack Pakistanis) and “good terrorists” (who operate from Pakistani soil and attack Indians).
But not all the blame lies at the doorsteps of Islamabad. We in India should also be honest in admitting that, at least one branch of the root cause – the homegrown nature of terrorism, coupled with frequent mass protests – has gained sustenance from the atrocities and human rights violations in the Indian side of Kashmir.
Without this Indian culpability, the sense of alienation in a large section of Kashmiri population would not have been as deep, widespread and long-lasting as it is today. India’s political class, and India’s civil society, have not been sufficiently honest and introspective about this factor. And this problem has grown worse in recent years when a very vocal section of our “nationalist” media has begun to brand all Kashmiris as “anti-national”, with Narendra Modi’s government doing nothing to stop this dangerous bellicosity.
What will happen in the immediate aftermath of Pulwama remains unpredictable. However, peace-loving people and politicians in both India and Pakistan must never give up efforts to create a future without any kind of violence in Kashmir. Only in an atmosphere in which all parties shun violence – terrorist violence, State violence, people’s violence or violence arising out of an elusive “military solution” — can we find a lasting, just and democratic solution to the Kashmir problem. In short, the solution lies not in acts of ‘badla’, not in reliance on “goli” (bullets and bombs) but only in honest adoption of the healing path of “boli” (dialogue). Dialogue within Kashmir, and dialogue between India and Pakistan.