Sunday, 14 December 2008

After Mumbai, three questions but one answer

Once we have sifted through the anguish and anger over the terror attacks in Mumbai, the international community, Pakistan and we Indians have to answer three questions. If the answers converge, then there is hope for finding a common route out of not only the current crisis but also in preventing and responding to future challenges. If not, the resolve to confront terror will surely diminish.

Question number one to the international community: does human life have equal value everywhere in the world? After the 9/11 tragedy in New York, the French newspaper Le Monde declared, ‘We are all Americans.’ That expression of global solidarity with the United States signalled a new approach to the scourge of terrorism, recognition that the deliberate targeting of innocent lives through violent means affected not just the victims but also everyone else. It was a challenge that the world had to face together. To date, there have been twenty United Nations, multilateral and regional conventions to confront terrorism. In 2004 the UN Security Council agreed that there was no ‘political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious…’ justification for killing or injuring people to intimidate the population or influence a government or international organisation (Resolution 1566). Yet, a single definition of terrorism has eluded unanimous consensus at the UN General Assembly. In the absence of such consensus, can there be an effective response to terrorism? Perhaps, but only if there is universal recognition that targeting innocent civilian lives is morally repugnant, no matter what the ‘root cause’.

There have been editorials expressing outrage over the ‘horror in Mumbai’ and the UN has responded swiftly to India's concerns, for the moment. Yet, we find commentators linking the Mumbai attacks to all sorts of tensions. The flurry of diplomatic activity betrays concern that a ‘nuclear flashpoint’ might explode. Meanwhile, there are calls for resolving the Kashmir crisis and references to long-standing rivalries between India and Pakistan. Others draw attention to the condition of Muslims within India and the potential for radicalisation of some individuals.

These instrumental logics of crisis management are unsustainable. Everyone’s favourite theories are pulled out of the closet whenever terror strikes. But linking pre-meditated murder to a slew of causes gravely undermines the moral dimension. We cannot fight terrorism unless every act of terror, no matter where it happens and who the victims are, makes each of us feel sick in the stomach. Not because westerners are held hostage, not because there is a threat of nuclear war, but because human life anywhere in the world is equally valuable and its loss equally tragic. Without empathy, there is no humanity.

Question two to Pakistan, its state and citizens: even if Pakistan were not itself a victim of terrorism, would the presence and activities of terrorist outfits on and from its soil still be considered as equally heinous? There is no dearth of rabble-rousers on either side of the border and many have engaged in war-mongering. At the same time, thoughtful commentators in Pakistan have pointed to the need to uproot terror networks within the country, noting that Pakistan itself has suffered some of the highest casualties from terrorist attacks.

Once again, though, we find a response rooted in instrumental factors: terrorists must be confronted because they threaten Pakistan. Of course, this task is not easy and demands a lot from a weak, civilian administration. State responsibility is not limited only to acts with explicit sanction of the state. UNSC Resolution 1373 demands that all States shall ‘deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts, or provide safe havens.’

But the problem will not go away unless Pakistan’s government and its people once and for all turn their backs on organisations that promote a doctrine of cultural supremacy and domination to be achieved through indiscriminate violence. The motivation to clamp down on such organisations cannot be premised on mere internal security threats. Pakistan has to recognise that confronting intolerance of this kind needs a moral recalibration of its national interests: a modern state relies on commerce and exchange of ideas, goods and people, not on obscurantist ideologies that offer short-term tactical victories in an unending confrontation with India.

Question number three to Indians: are we really willing and ready to confront terrorism in all its forms? There have been many criticisms of the state's response to the terror strikes. Yes, there is the need for new structures of authority, autonomy from political interference, and accountability for inaction and incompetence.

But society has a more fundamental role. If the protection of life is the primary responsibility of the state, then society must hold the state accountable on that principle. Too often we are willing to forgive the sins of governments as long as they deliver ‘efficient’ administration by attracting foreign investment or building roads. As a result, we do not react when political parties accuse the state apparatus one day of persecution and abuse the same institutions for their own purposes the next day. (The manner in which Maharashtra's Anti-Terrorism Squad was being treated during its investigation of the Malegaon blasts was shameful in the least, dangerous to our political culture at worst.) We praise any political leader willing to fulfil our immediate demands no matter what her/his record is on protecting the lives of Indians or in promoting their deaths. Institutional reforms within India and action against terrorists abroad will be insufficient as long as we keep judging the state and its representatives on a sliding scale that morally equates the protection of human beings with, say, building infrastructure.

Civil society, including business groups in India, has to confront this question head on: by unequivocally responding to terrorism of all kinds and all persuasions, no matter which organisation or party promotes or tacitly defends it.

If the answer to all three questions is yes, then we have convergence: No matter who the victim or what the perpetrator’s justifications, there must be zero tolerance of organisations that execute their ideologies of bigotry and intolerance through violence or threat of violence against innocent people. Without that moral compass the international community’s response to terrorism will be plagued by hypocrisy, Pakistan’s civilian administration’s efforts will be undermined, and India’s quest to remain an open and tolerant society will be increasingly threatened.


Ankush Agarwal said...

A good thought provoking article Arunabha. Can't speak for Pakistani's but unfortunately the answer to your first and third questions is NO. You rightly conclude by pointing to the hypocrisy by which the world (including us Indians) deals with terrorism. Till 9/11 happened, the US was hardly concerned about the terrorist attacks that were going on in India since 1988 or for that matter anywhere else in the world. Similarly, forget about error strikes in other countries, we Indians never even reacted this strongly to the numerous attacks that have been going on non-stop within our country; be it externally sponsored or be it the local naxal activities in the East. Its only when we feared that now terrorism has reached close to our daily lives, we have awakened from our slumbers. It seems like this war against terrorism is now gathering pace but unfortunately it takes an attack on or near oneself before someonne joins this fight with sincere motivation. Let’s hope the leaders of various countries and the UN recognize this and pursue this fight with utmost priority, so the world does not have to face more attacks to unite further.

srinidhi said...

Dear Arunabha.
I felt flattered to see my blog listed. You said: "India’s quest to remain an open and tolerant society will be increasingly threatened."
I think this quest you speak about is the most important one for me. I felt we were getting to be an open and a tolerant society in the late fifties and the feeling gradually disappeared.
Let us hope a leadership emerges that will take us back to this state again with all the soul searching that seems to be happening now.
It is probably easier to go into a 'war on terrorists' rather than seek ways to wean them away from this sort of violence. It is not easy but let us hope.

Dhruv said...

Hi Anurabha, I think this is a great initiative where all of us as a society can express our views.
I personally feel that life is as valuable anywhere in the world, as much as we value it. Unfortunately, it takes a mass terror attack for us to realize this. India, particularly Mumbai, has been a target as far as it goes, but a clubbed noise is made because this time the victims were rich, affluent and powerful. Before make a request to international communities to help us fight terror, we as a nation need to value the life of our common man.

Where Pakistan being a victim itself is concerned, It somewhere still denies the existence of terror camps being fed and trained on its soil. There are trouble makers on both sides of the border, but
its not very often that Indians are accused and demeaned of such hideous acts. More so if Pakistan is a victim like us and the rest of the world, there needs to be a quick and a concrete reaction from its government to eradicate any groups/camps that may reside or exist within its boundaries.

And lastly, yes! I think we are ready now. Because terror seems to have threatened us where we fear for our lives everyday. A secure nation will be a powerful nation. We need to have faith our government, its policies and in times of need, its reactions.We accuse our government for its sins mostly because they let us. Rules that are meant to be obeyed and followed, no matter the status, would ensure a cleaner and a more organised society at large ensuring more faith in our leaders.
Who do we blame for this mess? our coastal guards, our intelligence agencies, or ourselves? its time to realize where we stand and do what needs to be done.

Prakash Kamath said...

A good analysis of the 'terror' which has now become a part of our lives whether we live in the US, UK, Pakistan or India.

However, a solution to resolve this is far from easy particularly when it requires Pakistan and India to do 'something'. Both India and Pakistan are so 'divided' that you cannot expect a consensus on any issue.

In Pakistan it is not only that the Shias, Sunnis and Ismailis who never see eye to eye but they are again split by regions into 'Punjabis', 'Pathans', 'Sindhis' and 'Mohajirs' to name only a few. In India apart from 22 languages and another 600 odd dialects they are further split into SC's, ST's, OBC's and what have you.

The only issue on uniting the various factions is in Pakistan for India 'bashing' and in India vice versa.

Everyone in South Asia is not as much interested in working hard to achieve something in Life as in finding shortcuts for reaching their goal. The politicians on both sides of the border are thriving by offering 'privileges' to each faction as a 'minority' group and on failing resorting to 'strikes' and/or 'violence'.

The only offshoot of all this is that 'terrorism' is on the rise. As I see it by dismantling the differences either by religion, region you belong to, the language you speak and what social caste you belong to is the only way to move forward. People must realise and accept that there are no free lunches and you have to work to rise from your current level and the Government policies is the same for all without exception.

In the South Asian context this is aspiring to 'Utopia' and the politicians who top the 'privileged' class are not going to surrender their hold.

We can only pray that with levels of education rising hopefully during our 'grandchildrens' generation they may be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

G-Spot said...

In my view, the answer to the first question is often a No, which is where the hypocrisy in the international community begins. While I was humbled by the international media coverage that the Mumbai attacks received (i think it was more owing to the length of the ordeal and everyone on tenterhooks), you will never see an international journal expressing the same kind of solidarity and quoting 'We are all Indians'. I think the question is better posited to the country in question rather than the international community. The US's response to 9/11 was a full-scale mobilisation of their military, a defiance of international consensus on attacking a sovereign nation and doing 'whatever it takes' to both send a strong signal to the world as well as quell the anger and satisfy the bruised ego's of the domestic constituency. Conversely, if the same question were posed to our leaders, what is the real action that we can expect them to take. Is the price of action too high for India than it is for the US? For the US, I gather it is more to do with an asymmetrical response and really having no counter-balance.

Completely agree with your point on 'favourite theories are pulled out of the closet whenever terror strikes and that it undermines the moral dimension' Constituents in the international media are itching to 'connect the dots' and create wedges between the range of issues that we grapple with in the country. I can only feel sorry for folks who like to create microcosms of such situations offering over-simplified solutions.

Question 2 - I'm not so sure about. As Prakash says, Pakistani society has been deeply fragmented, and you rightly point to a weak administration. Pakistan has been at the receiving end of this scourge of terrorism (with its own character and goal) for a long time. Quite recently they lost Benazir to it, which was linked to pro-Taleban and al-Qaeda militants having taken control of tribal areas along the Afghan border. I'm surprised that they didn't choose to crack down as hard on militancy and the presence of this training infrastructure right after that but in the case of Mumbai, under the pressure of being labelled a terrorist state by the UN and presumably after some tough-speak from the Americans and the Brits. Maybe earlier, the administration still claimed a moral victory every time an attack was successful on Indian soil, conveniently ignoring the the one's back home.

I think we certainly need to do a lot more to hold our elected leaders to task. One can even ignore the appalling conditions of infrastructure and sanitation in some of our cities, but the right to safety and security is one of our basic human rights, that needs to be guaranteed by the state. The cost of inaction is too high. I am glad to see a range of policy developments such as the creation of the National Investigating Agency (NIA), tighter laws on terror suspects and fast track special courts. We will have to wait and see what kind of a deterrent this creates as well as how we respond to the next 26/11 (and that's what saddens me...there will be one).

Nitish said...

Interesting and valuable perspectives D.

Should human life have equal value across the world? Ideally it should. But, will human life have equal value across the world? Maybe not, as long the power equations across nations/communities/individuals result in a skewed distribution of "economic, political and physical assets".

Even if Pakistan were not itself a victim of terrorism, would the presence and activities of terrorist outfits on and from its soil still be considered as equally heinous? Who should consider these acts as equally heinous - State of Pakistan, the ISI and army or the population of Pakistan. I guess before asking Pakistan to come up with an anti-terror (or pro-life) stance we need to ensure that the views of all dominant Pakistani power sources are indpendently factored into the dialogue.

Are we Indians really willing and ready to confront terrorism in all its forms? If we are talking about the guns n bombs kind of terrorism, perhaps yes due to the intense media coverage to such terror acts. But what about acts of genocide and many other forms of "terrorism" that occur regularly in our country and we condone regularly by not acting. I guess the first step needs to be a mass sensitisation/education regarding what are the forms of mass-violence prevalent currently in India followed by a discussion regarding the values needed to combat mass-violence. Skewed journalists like Barkha Dutt who like to only cover "celebrity & high-profile" violence will have a critical role in creating media neutrality with regard to mass-violence.

A zero-tolerance policy directed towards organisations that execute their ideologies of bigotry and intolerance through violence or threat of violence against innocent people will be a good beginning. But the "zero tolerance" must extend to American hegemony, illiteracy, skewed economic progress and lack of a confluence of World Religions -- all of which are the seeds of terrorism.

"Zero tolerance" in the final analysis should extend to the intertia within each human-being enticing him/her to be satisfied with short term quick-fix solutions towards terrorism.

Nitin said...

A common (but not new) perspective emerges then. Once I had read the newspapers and websites and saw this news being pushed further and further from the front page with the passage of time, there remains one question unanswered - what will it take to get something moving within the state/bureaucratic machinery? Another enquiry or commission will not cut it this time and should not be allowed to ....

Anil said...

Isn't it amusing that a small faction of misguided elements hold a peace loving world to ransom! If only Governments worked together, terrorism wouldn't exist; would it?
As for Pakistan, if the West were to impose an embargo - they could choke the system that funds terror overnight.

RK Ghosh said...

While I fully endorse your views, I should like to enlarge the scope of the discourse a little bit.

Far from observing a moment of silence for the victims of Gujarat, some of the celebrities who are now seen holding candle-light vigils in front of the Taj Hotel have been also seen participating in Narendra Modi's Durbar and congratulating him for the economic development he has brought about in Gujarat. But for their encouragement Narendra Modi would not have dared to go to the Late Hemant Karkare's house and offered money to his widow.

Again the same clever pillars of the business community, indeed the elite of the entire Indian civil society, are maintaining a resounding silence over the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's threat of observing a total Bandh on the Christmas Day ostentatiously to protest against the Orissa Govt.'s failure to arrest the murderers of the VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. The main purpose is of course to spoil the Christmas not only for the poor Christians of Orissa but for all the Christians all over the country, and indeed for all of us who celebrate this Day in our own way. If this is not terrorism, what is it? How long we should wait for a fine definition of terrorism and ignore our gut feeling that THIS IS TERRORISM and nothing else? What a Shame that we Hindus the majority community of this country continue to allow these fascists to run amok wherever and whenever they like! As you have rightly said, we cannot fight terrorism unless every act of terror, no matter where it happens and who the victims are, makes each of us feel sick in the stomach.

But it seems that we feel sick in the stomach in a very selective way. Only a month before the 26/11 tragedy multiple blasts all over Assam had killed about 70 people and leaving about 500 injured. How many of us outside Assam have remembered it, let alone thinking of holding candle-light demonstrations against such mindless cruelties? I should like to know what view our Corporate India holds of the perpetual unrest in Northeast India. Why do they keep silent about the neglect - political, social, economic - this strategically important part of India has been subjected to over the last 60 years?

And then what about the terrorist acts of Raj Thackerey, his uncle and their hoodlums which were taking place all over Mumbai only a few days before 26/11? Where were the Tatas, Ambanis or Godrejs in those days? How are the domestic terrorists different from the foreign ones?

Forget the Assam blasts or Bihari-bashings . Note the difference in the reactions of the Mumbai elite to the killings at the Taj and the Trident and to those at the Chatrapati Sivaji Terminal or Cama Hospital. I may be forgiven if I have missed it; but I don't remember any candle-light vigil or any TV Talk-show before these places.

We are quite right in blaming the Westerners that they do not see a terror as terror unless the Westerners themselves are threatened, held hostage or killed. But do you seriously think that our own Elite of Incredible India would have been roused as much as they have been but for the fact that it happened in the Millennium City and that too in their "Second Home(s)"?

There is no hope for finding a common route to a harmonious society until and unless we recognise that a terror is a terror is a terror no matter whether it is perpetrated or only propagated, organized by local fascists or foreign goons, privileged by religious or regional loyalties, justified by ideologies or opportunisms or sponsored by states or 'stateless people'.

There is no hope for peace, love and compassion unless we constantly keep in mind John Donne's words:

"any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

ocaml said...

Great initiative Arun. I was following the live telecast of the horror on the Tele right from its very onset, quite a contrast it was from India's win a few hours ago. I'm not too much worried or concerned about what the UN thinks the definition of terror is or what our big Daddy in USA or UK thinks it is.

As someone blessed with basic common sense every human being knows what terror is, what happened in Mumbai, what happened in USA, or London, or Israel, or Palestine. Whether it is MNS taking Mumbaikars as hostages and forcing decent law abiding people out of the city, or it is killing of the sorts, everything is and should be classified as terror. I find it rather bizarre that we have been looking for answers from across the border, and expect them to offer us any tangible meaningful help when our own house is not in order. I think we can become a much better confident nation (policy wise) if we know what we want for ourselves. Whether it is the state orchestrated terror in Gujrat, or the ULFA in Assam, or Kashmir (militancy and also reported Indian Army cases against innocent civilians) they are all forms of terror, the problem is when it happens to poor, less well known people, in lesser known places, it is a non-news, when it happens to the well-off in better known places it becomes international sensation. We have had 63 bombings this year alone, how many do we remember on the same scale as Mumbai?

I think the basic problem is that as a policy it is still not clear to us Indians as to what is the definition of terror. I'm not a big fan of Israel, or their foreign policy but I think they understand better than us. The problem with us is that due to the nature of our politics and the concoction of religion and caste with it, almost no political wing one can come up with a precise definition of terror without compromising their own interest. The people who articulate policies and who are responsible for their implementation have to follow a consistent and clean approach and only then are we in a position to stand tall and put the house in order. Yes Pakistan has rogue elements and almost all terrorist outfits have connections in Pakistan, but come on when we cannot fix our own problems in Orissa, Assam, SIMI related, VHP, RSS, Sena and the like, when we have had the luxury of 60+ years of democracy how can we expect Pakistan to deliver, when they've been through a very very turbulent past few years and still going on.

My perception is once we set straight our own definition of terror, answers on how to fix it in many cases would be (not easy) possible. If Pakistan or any other nation for that matter who is not helping (themselves and) us in curtailing terrorism we should go and fix it ourselves. Don't get me wrong, am not suggesting military action, but sustained diplomatic pressure to begin with. If that doesn't work we should be prepared for the worse case, but we have a long road ahead before we even think about punishing others for the same shortcomings that we are very much endowed with.

muser said...

Arunabha, a very timely writeup indeed.

Simple answer to first question - No. Terrorism has been around for decades, and many more around the globe have been its victim than the 9/11 tragedy, but until an attack happened in the heart of sole surviving superpower it didn't find the wide condemntation it so richly deserved. And, truth be told, the answer to this question will never be a 'Yes' due to lack of power balance - real and perceived. To cite a simple example, US armed forces explicitly note the goal of their advanced weapon system is to minimize 'enemy' collateral damage and that is considered to be an acceptable objective. COntrast that will another goal which states that not a single America citizen should SUFFER as a result of any goverment decision. This is not to say that there haven't been instances where individual US citizen's rights/life wasn't compromised for 'greater good'. Nonetheless, it was not deemed acceptable, and hence never carried out in public view. Another simple example is the word play carried out by global news agencies everyday to suit their agenda - terrorists vs militants, blamed vs alleged, and so on.

Answer to second question is not as straightforward since it depends more heavily on the psche of people. As long as a group (nation and its citizen, religion, etc) consider themseleves victims (I am not expert in sociology, but in my experience most of the people somehow always find reasons to feel thus. only difference in most and those mentioned above is the duration of ailment) and fail to take responsibility, a just course of action and will continue to evade them.

Answer to third question lies in the value Indians vest in human life. In the past I wouold have attributed it to general ignorance and sheer diversity of the land that a thing happening 2000 miles away in a seemingly different culture (take the case of NE India) didn't bother many. But what is the excuse now? Despite 16 or so 24-hour news channel, more than a decade long cross-culture migration in search of jobs and opportunities, and advent of internet and other communication channels Indians still do not seem to place the value on human life as most of the rest of world. Does it stem from some sort of self-defeatism? Or, is it the lessons taught from childhood to not get too attached to 'Maya'? I guess reasons are many, and this is not the place to discuss them - not for lack of space, but to have mercy on my typing fingers:)

Adios, for now...

Ayesha Faridi said...

Great perspective and analysis of the ‘terror’ which i personally witnessed from fairly close quarters..

Candle light vigils were held in memory of those killed in Mumbai..but there were none to mourn those killed in the Assam blasts and all over the North East. Corporate India hailed Narendra Modi as a future Prime Minister of the country but kept mum when communal violence against Muslims was unleashed in Gujarat to win State elections.

Such double standards only serve to expose our bias. The need is to treat every citizen as an Indian and not see them through the prism as different religious groups, different caste groups, different linguistic groups or regional groups.

The great Indian tragedy today is that when asked..a citizen identifies himself/herself as a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh etc or a Marathi, Bihari, Tamil, Punjabi etc or by his caste.

Today, the need is for every citizen to be identified as an Indian and be treated on par. Can we hope to see a Barak Obama like rise of a political figure in India in the near future? Actually, it is quite unlikely. In India, such a figure will need the backing of his caste, region and regional forces. Without all three he/she is unlikely to win even a municipal election.

The task is gigantic but worth trying for: truth, fair play and justice for all. Life whether it is in India, Australia, America or the continent of Africa is same — a human life and must be treated as such. A loss of life anywhere in the world is eventually a human life lost. How can it be treated differently, using different yardsticks?

Humanity must recognise the universal truth that all human beings are born equal. The high and the low, important and unimportant, rich and poor — distinctions come much later. Creation and nature make no such distinctions: earth quakes, tornadoes, tsunamis etc treat humanity equally. All distinctions are man made.

The solution is simple: man kind must treat human life the same anywhere in the world. Trade union movements ensure dignity of labour but what about the sanctity and respect for human life?

A human life is a human life whether that is of George Bush, Manmohan Singh, Benazir Bhutto, Ehud Olmert, Ram Lal or Pyare Lal. The solution lies in REALISATION of this simple truth.

What happens to the faith of the common man in fair play and justice when terrorists responsible for blasts, mayhem and death of innocents roam freely? What is worse, arrested terrorists, languishing in jail, are freed and handed over to their sponsors.

Let us first ensure the safety of every Indian citizen. Let every Indian enjoy justice and fair play. The climate so created in India will have an induced effect on our neighbours too whether they be Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal or Myanmar. The winds of democracy, fair play and justice are bound to touch and melt away the sectarian divisions. After all not too long ago they were all part of the same undivided India sharing the same problems.

While a range of policy developments\measures are underway, the National Investigation Bill and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Bill were introduced in Parliament, in addition to a separate pay commission for the armed forces which are all being debated on..there seems to some ray of hope.

Having said that..i somewhere feel we need to question ourselves and look within..why did only 26/11 make news channels host some 100 odd talk shows or ‘discos’ as they are called or the trillion GB of cyberspace that we’ve all contributed to..why not the Ghatkopar blasts in Mumbai? What after WE put our last full stop on each of our comments??