Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.

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faults in the clouds of delusion

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving weekend

It was meant to be a weekend of rest and relaxation, after what was possibly the heaviest few weeks of work that I'd ever experienced. I was feeling physically battered, and my brain was on empty. The Thanksgiving weekend could not have come at a better time.

Today, Sunday evening, my body is relaxed. The pains are almost all gone. But the mind, it is full. And confused. And the heart is heavy.

Somewhat surprisingly, one of my primary emotions is irritation -- at the knee-jerk reactions in evidence all around. Within a day of the carnage beginning, I had received invitations to two different facebook groups. One was to a group called something like, "Narendra Modi for PM: Let's show the terrorists who's boss", and the other to a group called something like, "We can eradicate terrorism with a grassroots movement". Comment is superfluous. Then there were the bloggers, boldly hanging their preconceptions out, doing no good to anybody. Then there was the media, breathless, hysterical, and almost unrelievedly stupid. Enough has been said about the Indian channels that telegraphed (ha) the movements of the military to the terrorists, and the American channels whose Indian broadcast licenses expired midway through the crisis. My Zen moment occurred while listening to someone called Miloni broadcast on NDTV one evening -- a single uninterrupted meaningless streamofconsciousness rant stunningly reminiscent of Sarah Palin at her finest. In the middle of this idiocy, scant relief was offered by a couple of voices of sanity: Sanjana Kapoor on NDTV (note how she makes Barkha Dutt recant a lifetime's worth of sensationalism) and, as ever, Juan Cole, excerpted below.

India may well become a global superpower during the coming century. The choices it makes now on how it will deal with this threat of terrorism will help determine what kind of country it will be, and what kind of global impact it will have. While it may be hypocritical of an American to hope that New Delhi deals with its crisis better than we did, it bespeaks my confidence in the country that I believe it can.

Where do the reasonable people disappear?

***

It's getting closer to home all the time. I grew up in a Delhi that was familiar enough with terrorism. We traveled all the time on DTC buses that had stickers all over -- I can still remember the catchy captions: "Look under your seat. There will be a bomb. Raise Alarm. Earn Reward." A movie theater was blown up, not far from where I went to school. There were riots and there were curfews. Our car had a special sticker that allowed us to drive on the public road into the locality where we lived. I lived through 9-11 in New York City. I had a friend who ran from the WTC site, fifty blocks to the United Nations, and spent the next year in therapy.

But this, somehow, is different. Numerous people I contacted know people - friends, even siblings - who were at the Taj, or the Oberoi, or Leopold, just before. Or had plans to go there but changed their minds. An old colleague of my mother's was at the Taj during the siege -- he was rescued early on Friday morning. My friend's wife's colleague was not so lucky -- he was shot dead. All weekend, the news kept trickling in. All weekend, and especially now, the question looms unstated: When will it be our turn? And in this context, I want to thank someone I saw on television. A Canadian called Jonathan Herzlich, who was a guest at the Taj. He was in bed when someone knocked at his door, and something made him not respond. He escaped that night, and the next day told CNN that he urged everyone to go visit India, "or the terrorists have won."

***

There's the question of what happens next. Ministers' resignations aren't going to fix anything. Neither is bombing Pakistan -- America has protected its territory from further attacks, but it has bankrupted itself - both morally and financially - in the effort. Of course, the Pakistani military has seized the opportunity to redeploy forces from the Afghan border, where they never wanted them, to the Indian border. This is exactly what Al Qaeda wants, of course, since their hot spots aren't on the east of Pakistan in the Punjab, they're on the west, in the NWFP. Moreover, the Pakistani establishment wins because any Indian "provocation" can now be interpreted as detracting from the American War on Terror. The sophistication evidenced in the level of preparation -- credit cards, hotel blueprints -- suggests an answer to the oft-posed question of why they did it. This wasn't terrorism as grand statement, a la 9-11, and it wasn't terrorism in search of celebrity, as in Virginia Tech. This was strategic terrorism: call it game theory with a grenade.

The critical question now is how the Americans construe the situation. Currently, the American media is asking "How can we / the Obama administration prevent a crisis situation from developing between India and Pakistan?" Their answer to this question is to fall back on India's history of passivity and hope that India will do nothing (or be pressured to do nothing) since they have generally done nothing. This is exactly the wrong answer, since if India does do something, the Americans will (a) have precipitated a crisis through their inaction, and (b) taken several steps backwards in their War on Terror. The reason this is the wrong answer is because the question itself is wrongheaded. What the Americans should be asking is, "Who was responsible for the Bombay attack, and how do we crack down on them?" It is a moot point whether the terrorists who attacked Bombay were actively trained by Pakistani forces or not. There is sufficient evidence now - if the initial reports are to be believed - that the attackers used Karachi as their launching pad if not their home base. If so, it is not hard to trace the links back to the same sources that the American War on Terror concerns itself with.

The course of action, then, depends on the objective. I don't think it's possible to want to keep all civilians safe everywhere at all times. Let's face it -- the world is getting increasingly crowded; we're not going to be able to end terrorism for good. If the Indian government wants to protect its citizens, it needs to revamp the structure of its intelligence agencies, enable a centralized response unit, ensure intelligence sharing, modernize local anti-terror units, and structure itself for rapid response nationwide. None of these is even close to being a straightforward task. If India attacks sites within Pakistan, the retribution will be severe and unpredictable, and the consequences may well be far worse than the loss of 200 lives and a heritage building. It is America's stated objective to fight terror in the Middle East. If America is to stay true to that objective, much as Obama repeatedly asserted during his campaign, then the pressure on the Afghan-Pakistani border cannot be relieved. But there is a cost to this. If America does indeed strike within Pakistani territory, again as Obama has asserted, it may well be India bearing the brunt of the retribution. But then, am I really advocating that the Indian government sit passively by while terrorists strike?

I think not, because I think that if sufficient force is applied on the Afghan-Pakistani border areas, the terrorist groups will have to try and defend themselves locally. How long that force can be applied, and how successfully, I do not know. All I can say with confidence is that in Afghanistan, history is never on the side of the aggressors. But we - "the civilized world" - need to fight them there so we don't have to see them here. And who's to do the fighting? Methinks America -- after all, they started it.

***

What a happy post this is. But then, would you rather have me rant about the Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State game (it was brilliant), or the inanity that is the BCS? Let's just give thanks for those we know who are alive.

12 Comments:

Blogger gaddeswarup said...

Bruce Riedel has a similar analysis:
http://www.brookings.edu/articles/2008/1130_india_terrorism_riedel.aspx
Since he is one of Obama's policy advisors and the current adm. too is trying to prevent an Indo-Pak conflict, may be it will turn out ok. But the overall mood in India is not encouraging.

12/01/2008 9:44 PM  
Blogger km said...

Compared to this event, those DTC bus slogans make that chapter of home-grown terrorism seem almost quaint.

//Anyone got an audio/video clip of this Miloni person?

12/01/2008 10:22 PM  
Blogger Rahul Siddharthan said...

I don't think pressuring Pakistan on the west will help. These people come from Karachi and Lahore, not Peshawar. They're not from the army, though they may have received some training. Even if the Pakistan military/intelligence establishment is behind it, they can afford to keep at it, regardless of what's going on near Afghanistan.

12/02/2008 12:14 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

swarup:
thanks a lot for the link. very interesting in itself, but also in that he ends up not making any recommendations! i guess they're all waiting to see how obama jumps.

km:
almost quaint, maybe, but deadly nonetheless.

rahul:
they came *through* karachi and lahore, and i'm not sure it's important where they came from. my point is that we have to ensure that pressure stays maintained on the western front.

12/02/2008 1:19 PM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

TR,
Towards the end, Riedel says "The good news is that Pakistan has offered to assist in the investigation which could help prevent the very crisis between India and Pakistan that the plots masterminds may have wanted.
....
Zardari has also promised to get control over the ISI and to stop its policy of both chasing and supporting terrorism in Pakistan. His ability to do so is still very much in doubt."
My feel is that part of the establishment wants to cooperate and that gives a faint hope.

12/03/2008 4:12 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

True, true. Fingers crossed.

12/03/2008 12:07 PM  
Blogger Rahul Siddharthan said...

I have no doubt Zardari would like to cooperate, as would any Pakistani concerned for the future of Pakistan, never mind India. But it is an understatement to say his ability is in doubt. Look at the way they backtracked on sending the ISI chief to India -- something western commentators have all noticed too. Zardari wanted to, but couldn't.

12/03/2008 2:31 PM  
Anonymous anasuya said...

Great and good post. Yes, I'd retreated into wordlessness myself. You say it, and so much better.

Apropos a pet peeve, though, what exactly did Sanjana say to recant a lifetime's worth of Barkha Dutt sensationalism? I would so love to know, but I can't access the video.

And I'm not very impressed with the Obama administration-to-be's take on South Asia so far, but let's hope it gets more nuanced.

12/03/2008 2:40 PM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

TR,
Just wondering whether you read 'Maximum City'. I just started reading it. Even in the first few chapter, he seems to have shown the possibilities of such disasters in Mumbai. It seems that there is infrastructure for such things to happen any time. they do not happen more often because most of the time, the people invoved are more concerned with their llivelihoods. I do not read many books of this type but it seems to be one of the very interesting books about India in general and Mumbai in particular.

12/04/2008 3:46 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

rahul:
i wouldn't trust zardari that much. he's a front-line fraudster. he's also ex-husband of benazir, and 'daughter of the east' was a most moving book which turned out to predict her future actions exactly not at all.

anasuya:
thanks - i was waiting to hear your take on it. guess i still am. sorry i don't recall the miloni rant off the top of my head - i was too busy being astonished by it. and about obama - do you seriously expect nuance from an american politician? this is what i'd meant when i'd said back in jan-feb that i don't expect very much from either him or hillary. however, i do have an obama post brimming below the surface; it's been there a month now but i've just been too darn busy.

swarup:
oh yes, i have. i was gifted it a couple of years ago, and picked it up one friday evening to take a look inside. to my surprise i couldn't stop until i reached the other end, on sunday evening.

12/04/2008 8:33 PM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

I loved the book. Though I spent 15 years in Bombay much of what was described in the book is unfamiliar to me except perhaps when a cousin visited for a few months with his wife. It turned out that it was a woman who already had two children and eloped with him and he was trying to get in to smuggling. Strangely one character reminded me of myself in my younger days: Babbanji. Now, it is a bit more like Sevantibhai.

12/06/2008 5:54 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

that's funny! as i read the book i realized i was familiar with many of the places in it, and had even been there about the time that the author was describing.

12/06/2008 9:21 PM  

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