Has a new realism dawned on policy makers in India after the recent Mumbai bomb blasts? Or have the country’s politicians simply realized the pointlessness of raising the spectre of the Pakistan bogeyman after every terrorist attack?
Whatever the reasoning, India seems to have developed a new approach for dealing with the post-Mumbai situation. Out is the usual jingoism, and in, it appears, is an understanding that engagement with Pakistan shouldn’t be disturbed by such attacks.
Perhaps the Indian establishment also realizes that some in the Pakistani establishment want to keep tensions between the two countries elevated, and that if talks break down Pakistan’s ruling alliance will be at the mercy of such extremist forces.
By showing a new poise and maturity, India has tried to send a message to the Pakistani public that India’s complaint isn’t with the citizens of its neighbour, but specific elements who are using terror to destabilize the region.
Pakistan, for its part, has also realized that the Frankenstein’s monster of terrorism that it created has started devouring its own creators. Indeed, the entire nation is in danger of becoming engulfed by this multi-headed monster, which has been a perennial threat to peace and stability in the region.
Speaking to the Times of India, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said recently: ‘I am convinced of the need for India and Pakistan to discuss such issues of vital importance for the future of this region…I know the extent and pain that we as a country have to deal with, and has been inflicted upon us by cross border terrorism…I don't think the memories of that can fade so easily. But because we share borders, we will always have to deal with them. I don't think unadulterated confrontation or speaking the language of conflict can help us or Pakistan.’
Such language is a by-product of past experience. Pakistan’s beleaguered military establishment got a new lease of life after India’s belligerent response following the 2008 Mumbai attack. But with Osama bin Laden having been killed by US troops deep inside Pakistan, and following the attack by militants on the Mehran military base in May, both the Pakistani military and the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence are on the defensive.
Of course, there are forces within India who are demanding that New Delhi be tougher on terror. But what exactly does that mean? Some cite the example of the United States, noting that there has been no terrorist attack in that country since 9/11. But the reality is that India is situated in a quite different neighbourhood, and the United States isn’t surrounded by hostile neighbours harbouring terrorist networks.
Anyway, the kind of racial profiling undertaken in the United States has antagonized Muslims not only inside the country, but the world over. Paranoia and prejudice is disguised as toughness, and fails to address the real reasons why terrorist networks have flourished.
Vocal rightist groups in India want the same kind of profiling of India’s largest minority. But this country can’t afford to be paranoid in its handling of terrorism. Any attempt to target a particular community as a whole would further alienate them, and create the kind of ill will that is extremely detrimental to democratic society.
India must devise its own method of dealing with terrorism, based on its own experience and the complex realities of the subcontinent – the United States and Israel simply can’t be our models.