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  Opinion   Columnists  26 Nov 2018  To fight terror’s poison, have faith in democracy

To fight terror’s poison, have faith in democracy

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Nov 27, 2018, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Nov 27, 2018, 12:05 am IST

A terrorist organisation operating from its territory poses as much threat to Pakistan as it does to India.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was one of the buidlings targeted on 26/11.
 The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was one of the buidlings targeted on 26/11.

For the survivors and family members of those who died in the November 26-28, 2008 terror attack on Mumbai, a decade gone by does not make the trauma any less nightmarish. They will continue to cope with the senseless loss it has created and the sorrow it has left behind. There have been instances of family members who have lost their dear ones overcoming the sense of hatred against the perpetrators. Sorrow sometimes has this rare quality of providing extraordinary catharsis when in the face of the ultimate fact of death, everything else seems a futile assertion except love and forgiveness. Remembering the night of November 26 is something very different for the survivors, and no amount of empathy can help bridge that gap between those who were caught in it and those who have not been in it. All that one can do is to respect the painful experience of those who have gone through that fateful night, from ordinary people to the local police and other emergency personnel, to the commandos who were caught up in it.
There will be some who would want to understand the motivations of those terrorists who entered the city and unleashed death all around them in a strange metropolis before they died. The lone survivor, Ajmal Kasab, did not really reveal much on what it was to be an agent of destruction. His mind remained inscrutable as he sat impassively through the trial and as he walked to the gallows. The psychology of the terrorists is not of much use when one is fighting them. The only way to deal with terrorists is to defeat the terrorists.

But there are questions, and they are complicated questions, which remain unanswered even after a decade. It is necessary for the others to ask these questions and to seek answers to them. A key question is whether the Pakistan government recognised the real dangers of an organisation like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), masterminding the terror attack in Mumbai. A terrorist organisation operating from its territory poses as much threat to Pakistan as it does to India. There is no such recognition on the part of the Pakistani establishment though that country has been subject to terrorist attacks in its own territory, such as the gruesome attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, in which 139 schoolchildren were killed.

The Pakistan Army has been fighting a ruthless war against rebels in the Waziristan area, and it is a pitched battle between the rebels and the government. But Islamabad has not yet made its commitment to fight terrorism in an unqualified sense. The fight against terrorism in India, the United States and other democratic countries is to defend democracy and the basic freedoms of the people. It is an ideological battle between those who believe in democracy and the anti-democratic terrorists. The loophole in Pakistan’s commitment against terrorism is that Pakistan’s Army does not have any kind of commitment to democracy. Pakistani politicians look to democracy as an expedient, but there does not appear to be any burning belief in the sacredness of freedom. The people of Pakistan desire freedom just like people anywhere else, but it appears that Pakistan’s political establishment does not transform that desire of the people for freedom into a principle and a basis of the Pakistani State. There is a brave and dedicated section in Pakistan which is committed to the cause of human rights, but unless safeguarding rights become the raison d’etre of the State, terrorism cannot be fought effectively and successfully.

The strengthening of the cause of freedom and democracy in Pakistan is important for India. As far as India is concerned, the challenge of terrorism emerges from the territory of Pakistan. The Pakistan government can claim that it has no control over the “non-state actors” living in its territory. This alibi simply does not pass muster. The poisonous ideology of terrorism will spread in Pakistan itself, and the view that when terrorism is directed against India it should not bother Pakistan is counter-productive.

There is a belief, which is strong among the right-wingers in India, that terrorism poses a threat to the State, and to defend the State it is acceptable to adopt counter-terrorism measures which are not very different from that of the terrorists themselves. This view has no place for democracy and freedoms. Consequently, any society which defends itself against terrorists on these terms becomes infected with the value of ruthlessness displayed by the terrorists. Victory over terrorists should not be at the price of reducing oneself to the level of the terrorists. It is necessary to posit a higher political ideal — and that ideal is democracy.

There is need for a South Asia League for Democracy, which should necessarily involve the citizens of all countries in the neighbourhood, and which should be critical of all the governments across national borders. Governments are authoritarian by nature and there is a need for a constant critique of that tendency.

In the 1980s, when the Italian government had appeared helpless, it was the ordinary people of Sicily and some heroic judges who came out against the Mafia, and literally overcame the menace. There are some signs in Pakistan that people are getting tired of terrorism. What people in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan need to do is extend support to the people of Pakistan to stand up to the terrorists. And the government in each of these countries must be made to recognise they can’t support terrorists who are fighting neighbouring governments in the guise of realpolitik.

The investigation of the Mumbai terror attack still remains inconclusive. The terror trail has not been laid bare. The role of David Coleman Headley remains unclear, and the Americans have not been forthright about it. There is a thread of conspiracy in that attack which has not been revealed. There is much work to be done on that front.

Tags: pakistan army, ajmal kasab, 26/11 mumbai terror attacks