First Person | Talking With the Enemy

Why India cannot be like Israel

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Like a lot of Indians, I spent the first few hours after the serial bomb blasts frantically trying to reach my family members in Bombay, a few of whom travel by local trains. Fortunately, unlike a lot of Indians, the frantic search, bordering on despair, did not end in tragedy. However, in those few hours when the phone lines refused to cooperate, I and the rest of the family went through a gamut of emotions, ranging from desperation to anger against the terrorists.

Israel loomed large on the mindscape, not only in the family but outside too. Commentators and terrorism experts used the Israel example (it was timely given the strikes in Gaza and Lebanon) to castigate India as a soft state which is probably encouraging terrorism by its inactivity. Why India can’t be more like Israel, was the question that was asked repeatedly. We know who the benefactors of the perpetrators of the blasts are. We know where these terrorists are getting trained and who supplies them with weapons. We also know who brainwashes them enough to commit such crimes against humanity. How difficult can it be for the Indian military to carry out surgical insertions against the training camps inside Pakistan Occupied Kashmir? What have we raised the Special Forces for? And why should this raise anyone’s ante except Pakistan’s? Besides, Pakistan is hardly likely to drop a nuke on India on a small provocation of Indian Special Forces destroying a few training camps in POK.

As far as the international community is concerned, these days, there is only one community that India cares and worries about: the American community. But the Americans are our strategic partners. Moreover, didn’t President Bush recently say that Israel has a right to defend itself, when to avenge the kidnap of its soldier it bombarded civilians in Gaza Strip?

With the confidence of a novice, as I pondered these options, another idea occurred to me. Why not do unto them as they are doing unto us? Pakistan has raised Mujahideens who are waging this indirect war against India on its behalf. Pakistan takes no responsibility for them, in fact, it periodically bans a few outfits to mollify its American benefactors and these terrorist groups mushroom under new names and addresses. They pretend to be working completely independent of the Pakistan government thereby absolving them of any blame. The world knows that the ISI trains and arms them, but no evidence so far has been enough for the US to take action against Pakistan.

Isn’t this a brilliant strategy? Why don’t we do the same? Harness the hooligans of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena who strut around terrorising poor youngsters exchanging cards on the Valentine’s Day or periodically torch some remote chapel in some tribal belt in the name of protecting Hinduism. Their propensity to violence and felicity with indigenous weapons is evident during communal riots. If they can do this in the name of religion, why can’t they do this for their country? Instead of fighting imaginary enemies within the country, why don’t they fight the real enemy outside the country? They can be completely independent of the government, so no blame can ever come to the government of India. And even if there is unbearable pressure on the government because of their cross border activities, the government can ban them and they can function as underground outfits. Is this too great a price to pay for the motherland? I think this is a brilliant idea and Messrs Togadia and Singhal should seriously think about it. Unfortunately, the editor thinks it is not a good idea. He does not have any moral compunction about it, his reservation is that these guys lack motivation and they can never be a disciplined force to carry out precision attacks.

However, on a serious note, India cannot do this for a number of reasons. We may be corrupt and dishonest as individuals, but as a nation our polity is morality-driven. For this reason we cannot be like Israel. We can never justify, and rightly so, killing 50 innocents to eliminate one terrorist. We cannot carry out assassinations as a matter of state policy. We cannot go around bombing our neighbours without thinking through the consequences it would have for our own civilian population. We are not under siege. Our children do not grow up in homes with underground bunkers. We do not live, nor do we want to live, in a neighbourhood where nobody likes us. We see ourselves as a large country on the rise, a country where the citizens are secure and on whom the neighbours can rely upon in their hour of need. We demonstrated this during the Tsunami. We want to be viewed as a brother at hand and not a bully.

There is another and a less flattering reason why we cannot be like Israel. Our enemies in the neighbourhood are not like Israel’s. They are either as powerful as we are or probably a little more. Besides, we have invested so much in peace with Pakistan that our stakes are very high. So the honourable way of talking with the enemy is also the most pragmatic one


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