Uri Attack and India’s response: Why India is getting it all backward

Identify the central question before finding answers!

Looking at the call of war cries emanating from Indian newsrooms and twitter feeds as India’s potential response to the Uri attack ( attack by heavily armed terrorists on Indian security forces on 18 September 2016, near the town of Uri in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir), I am reminded of what Late Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw is reported to have once said “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defense of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter.”

I can vouch that if he were alive today and happened to watch any Indian news channel dissecting and debating this subject (with a war like frenzy albeit within the confines of an air-conditioned studio and participants subtly assured they are not going to war themselves), he would definitely have extended the reference of his quote beyond political masters and include the esteemed news anchors and most experts doing the rounds on these debates ( aka shows).

The argumentative nature of Indians (to borrow from the title of Amartya Sen’s book of the same name), plays itself out in such situations and that’s par for the course. Everyone is entitled to their views on how India should stand up against cross border terrorism and taking it further, grow a spine and revenge the death of its soldiers. (Sorry, Mr Gandhi, India has moved on from non-violence and from offering the second cheek if someone slaps you on one). Just that such discourse sounds like hyperbole.

As a start, what comes out in public domain is not always the full truth (or facts, if there is any such thing). The story often gets an angle, a color shaped by the disposition of the one bringing out the story. The noise surrounding the story further blurs the core elements and emotions work up the rest. So, in every story, it is absolutely imperative to take a step back and re-evaluate. This is a serious and sensitive issue. Soldiers have been martyred. Questions need to be raised, accountability established.

Every issue has a central question – but the central is definitely not how we make the neighbouring state/its army/the terrorist camps within that state pay for this (or earlier) attack on Indian soil. And the concept of “enough is enough” is not even a question – it is just rhetoric. In my mind, the central question here is how India can prevent attacks of similar nature (considering a similar attack in Pathankot in the recent past). And if that is the central question, then a lot of the accountability shifts back to India. What did India learn from Pathankot to ensure such attacks would not be repeated? What is it about India’s intelligence sharing and implementing process that India cannot prevent such attacks? Who are/should be accountable for such lapses?

For me, whether Pakistan is a sponsor of terrorism and whether the responsibility of proving and punishing them should lie with India is a question which is much larger than the current one which is around India’s preparedness to prevent such attacks on its soil. If a country created the capabilities to prevent incursions and attacks (irrespective of the source), would there actually ever be a need to even consider an attack on another country (unless one has imperialistic tendencies, which India certainly doesn’t)?

While no two situations are similar, there are adequate pointers in history that whether it has been the US attempt to smoke terrorists in Afghanistan or its operations in Yemen or the Russian surgical strikes in Syria, none of these have truly achieved their intended purpose ( to put it mildly ). And to use a fancy phrase, there has been collateral damage, often more than one bargained for.

Not that the fear of collateral damage should prevent a country from pursuing its goals provided the goals are not guided by jingoism. And here a side note to all those want India to call off Pakistan’s nuclear bluff, my question is what in the world makes you believe that India has been running scared on that account in the first place? That has been your naïve assumption. Such talk only feeds in itself.

Coming back, we seem to be in an era of act first, think later (and acknowledge last) fueled by the need to show capable leadership (amplified by new age media). That’s a trap that Indian leadership needs to side step even if it causes political loss of face. By all means, isolation of what India considers as a terrorist state can be pursued (specifics of which are already doing the rounds ) but the major impetus should be on making India attack proof ( for the lack of another word). That to me would be real leadership. And that to me would also be a befitting tribute to the dead soldiers as well as to the ones living, when the country acts to reduce the risk to their lives.

There is no better way to end this thought but to quote the famous Indian poet Allama Iqbal – ‘Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqder se pehle Khuda bande se khud pooche bata teri raza kya hai’ loosely translated as “develop yourself so much that that before every order, God will ask/ascertain your wish” Will India focus on itself?

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