Pulwama Proves That Govt’s Knee-Jerk Act Won’t Work: Ajai Sahni
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Author and counter-terrorism expert Ajai Sahni makes no attempt to hide his impatience with the jaded vocabulary the government officials and ministers use in the event of a terror attack. “What do you mean by ‘cowardly’ or ‘dastardly’? India has been using the same vocabulary for the past three decades. If the government can’t change its vocabulary how can it change its policy of knee-jerk reactions?” he says as we settle for the interview. “It is evident that we haven’t learnt any lessons from the past,” he adds.
Sahni highlights the governmental failures in dealing with terrorism and his solution is a very caustic one-liner: “Stop doing what you (BJP-led NDA government at the Centre) are doing. Stop polarisation.”
Bring Democracy Back to Kashmir
Sahni feels that the breakdown of democratic politics in Jammu and Kashmir has been detrimental to the security situation in the state, and by extension, the country. He sees the constant pitting of Hindu Jammu against Muslim Kashmir as a subset of polarising politics played by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“By 2012, we had reached a comfortable level in J&K. There was a balance between counter-terrorism action and democratic processes,” he says. Security agencies were successful in eliminating terrorists using intelligence inputs from the people of Kashmir, he says. “The people of Kashmir are also tired of the situation. They want to be treated with respect. We must narrowly target terrorists and terrorists only.”
Stop Communal Narratives from Feeding Each Other
Sahni emphatically states that the separatist movement in Kashmir is Islamic extremism. “All this talk of Kashmir sub-nationalism, Kashmiriyat is garbage.” He cautions that extremist narratives feed each other. “When you say that all Muslims are terrorists, you are strengthening the separatists’ narrative,” he says. On the issue of withdrawing the security cover earlier given to some of the separatist leaders, Sahni says, “It is a childish, petty and meaningless move. If a separatist gets killed, situation will worsen. If they are engaged in illegal activities, the government can arrest and prosecute them. Throw them in the jail and just forget about them.”
On terror funding, Sahni shares that such cases drag on for decades because it is not ‘convenient’ to fast-track them. “All the terrorism cases and those related to the funding should be fast-tracked. Investigate and imprison those who are involved. It should not matter who all are involved.”
Build Military Capacities, Not Optics
Sahni says that any strategic response to terrorism is possible only when we have capacities. He says that no capacity building by happened in this government’s tenure. Previous governments weakened security systems but no actions were taken to address the problem. He shares, “68 percent of our defence equipment is of "Vintage" category but internal security and defence budgets have been shrinking in real terms. The 5-6 percent increase is not enough to even cover inflation.”
He further adds, “Revenue expenditure is rising but not capital expenditure, which is actually used for capacity building.” In such a scenario, the Govt's reaction to the Pulwama attack will only be for optics, he says. But what is more worrying is that, he explains, retaliating to Pakistan won't rout terrorism.
On this note, he ends the conversation.