The recent bomb blasts in Mumbai only triggered expected reactions from all around. Society was hurt, pained and even frustrated at the utter helplessness it collectively felt. Scribes were quick to churn out reams to criticise the government for its many failures; some of the criticism is apt, yet a lot remains unsaid and more remains to be done.
With close to four decades of service in the army of a country that till recently had the misfortune of bleeding the maximum without a declared war, I cannot but feel a sense of disbelief at the way our government has proceeded to deal with terrorism.
Terrorism as a phenomenon is perhaps centuries old. It exists today in a widespread manner affecting the largest parts of the world and arguably has taken on more violent dimensions than ever before.
Terrorists are either citizens of our country or another, but are harboured by our people. They draw sustenance of all sorts, including money, men and material from within society. They get their intelligence through the conduits within society without which they would be eliminated. They have an identity, but are not identifiable within society. In effect, the military power of the state is rendered irrelevant and force multipliers in its armory ineffective.
But is force alone enough to deal with terrorism? I believe the answer lies in the word itself. ‘Terror' is the noun signifying the effects it causes - fear and destruction. But the ‘ism' is the larger issue and more dangerous. The ‘ism' is the idea and brutal force cannot kill an idea. Appropriately noted by the philosopher John Gray, "In the 20th century the State was the chief enemy of freedom. Today, it is the weakness of the State that most threatens freedom."
To effectively deal with the ‘ism', we need to therefore to attack its core. History is replete with examples of success against terrorist organisations once the central leadership has been destroyed. Here in lies India's weakness. We have for too long waged a war on the ‘terrorist' but been unable to carry out any penetration operations against the leadership. For this we must develop intelligence gathering capabilities and invest in intangible assets for covert operations.
Would Mumbai be repeatedly hit if we had the means and capability to inflict reciprocal damage on the leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, or Jesh or any other terrorist group?
Having said that, do we posses the political will and acumen to use the resources to achieve decisive results? Who will take the decisions when it comes to the security of our people? For this to happen, systemic changes must be made where responses cannot be held hostage to whims or intuitions, but be made on the basis of capability and good intelligence. A declared no-negotiation policy with any terrorist group will be a good beginning, rather than a policy of case to case basis. This leads to subjectivity, which can dilute the focus of sustained and painstaking efforts by unobtrusive people, which is the sine qua non in this war. What we therefore need is capability, backed by positive intention, based on demonstrated political will.
I am reminded of the poet Josiah Gilbert Holland, who wrote… "A time like this demands, strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands."