In The Armchair


Posted in India by Armchair Guy on December 4, 2008

india_mumbai-012It’s  been several days since the Mumbai attacks of 26th November.  Like most Indians, I followed the news as it developed, and I slowly realized it was bigger and worse than it first appeared.  Seemingly a long time later, it was over.  But not before media all around the world speculated freely about various things: who did it, why they did it, why India couldn’t prevent it, what it would mean for the future, whether this could happen to other countries.

One reaction in American media was to fearmonger ridiculously, with emphasis on words like “nuclear”, “war”, “tensions” and “damage” in various permutations.  Examples: 1, 2, 3.  The idea seems to be to saturate airwaves with these words until people start believing a nuclear war is imminent.  But a few days later, American leaders are actively encouraging military action by India: 1.  A good deal of surreally-out-of-touch reporting: 1.

In press everywhere, a common reaction seems to be to talk of the incompetence of Indian authorities (some of it seems valid): 1, 2, 3.  There are many articles dealing with why these attacks were difficult to prevent: 1, 2.  Then there is Pakistani-style coverage: 1.  There is the occasional call to Pakistan and the Muslim world to stamp out the problematic elements in their midst: 1.  A great deal of naive anthropomorphic analysis of Pakistan’s motives is seen: 1.

Finally, most disturbingly, we have our internal saboteurs, people who want to see “Pakistan’s side”, by which they mean some kind of idealized rose-tinted version that ignores all realities: here.  While it is fine to wish for peace, I think that road has been tried with Pakistan.  It doesn’t work with them.  This kind of reporting has an extremely strong straw man characteristic: for example, the claim that everybody who wants action is clamouring for war and should therefore be opposed.  Far from it; no one wants war.  All that’s being done is to put firm pressure on Pakistan to dismantle its terrorist agencies.  From the high priestess of omniscience-conceit, Arundhati Roy, another queenly declamation here.  Roy, who imagines she is an expert on everything under the sun, had an immediate reaction to the attacks: pour vitriol on India  and pretend she sees something “deep” that no one else can.  Fortunately, her ignorance is obvious in this case.  It is a maze of weird claims and faulty logic that would be laughable if it weren’t for the timing.

Lately, bloggers and think-tanks have started thinking about how to counter Pakistan’s tactics.  The Pakistani polity is broken into factions, but all of them cultivate the terrorist faction.  The tactical pattern is quite clear:

  1. Provide cozy homes for terror organizations and individuals where they can plot and train without interference, sometimes by relabeling them as “charities”
  2. Maintain unofficial ties with terrorist factions so that any involvement can be denied loudly on international fora
  3. Demand concrete proof (evidence is never enough) of planning and activities without providing any access whatsoever to suspects
  4. Go on a publicity blitz saying all the things Western countries want to hear whenever a crisis arises

A solution to the Pakistan problem is mooted on the Indian National Interest blog: 1.  It is interesting but hard to see how to execute.

Solutions to the terror situation seem hard to come by.  India is itself divided, with the Congress willing to stoop to any level (including completely sacrificing national security) to appease its vote banks.  The Congress also strengthens the hand of terror by encouraging illegal immigration from Bangladesh.  The contender BJP would possibly take a principled stand on terror, but it lacks credibility internationally because of its association with organizations that have no respect for the law.  It is hard to imagine a Western government that would want to work with the BJP if it didn’t have to, and even the people, it seems, are scared of what a BJP government would mean for religious stability.

The currently proposed solution, to set up a “federal” agency, is not only a knee-jerk reaction, it will probably make things worse.  The tendency to create a new bureaucratic organ for every crisis must be stemmed.  The important thing is to improve existing infrastructure with a zero-tolerance policy towards incompetence.

What happens next will be interesting to observe.  My own impression is that not much will happen.  In recent history the Congress has had only one ideology: stay in power.  Protecting the country from terrorists is only important to the Congress as long as public outrage makes it essential.  After that, the memory of the attacks will fade, and so will any determination from the Congress.


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