Sunday, February 10, 2013

Affzal Guru hanging: The terror story that began on 9/11 is winding down

It is easily forgotten that the December 13, 2001 terror attack on parliament came after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington. There was the aborted attempt on Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly on October 1, 2001. The Indian as well world reaction to the attack on parliament was that of India and the US and other Western countries facing the common enemy – Islamic terrorism. There was reaction and sympathy from Washington and other chancelleries of the Western world, and that in a way seemed to satisfy the political sense of well-being of the BJP-led NDA government as well as many other security hawks who felt that they shared something with the besieged West. The NDA response to the attack was that it mobilised the army and placed them on the border because there seemed no doubt that Pakistan was the mastermind behind this because there seemed no doubt that it was Pakistani elements who were involved in the terror attack. After 9/11, the Indian government wanted to prove the point that Pakistan was indeed the ‘epicentre of terorrism’ that then ministry of external affairs spokeswoman Nirupama Rao coined. In early and in summer of 2002, there was enough concern in the world capitals about the confrontation between nuclear weapons equipped India and Pakistan. Then British prime minister Tony Blair flew down to Delhi as did French prime minister Dominique de Villepin and the US representatives. At the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit in Kathmandu, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee complained bitterly about neighbours fomenting terrorism and refused to shake hands with then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf who was playing his usual bluff and bluster. Vajpayee mobilised the army on the border, talked of ‘aar paar ki ladaee’ on one day and about reconciliation on the other. The mobilised troops stayed at the border for a whole year. We were informed that it worked as a deterrent even as Musharraf threatened that if the Indian armed crossed into Pakistan there would be retaliation. The ice broke at the next Saarc summit in Islamabad in 2004, when Vajpayee-Musharraf issued a joint statement which they failed to do in Agra in July 2001. And Vajpayee even allowed the Indian cricket team to play in Pakistan as the ultimate good will gesture. NDA dithered quite a bit on how to deal Pakistan-supported terror attacks. There was a difference between the terror attack on parliament and the terror attack in Mumbai of November 26, 2008. Thanks to the fortuitous arrest of Ajmal Kasab, the arrests of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana, the Pakistan-based terror groups’ links with the terror operatives in Mumbai became clear enough. In the case of the parliament attack, the terror trail was not established in such a clear manner. Also, the NDA government did not prepare any detailed dossier on the parliament attack pointing to the Pakistani link. At the end of the day, it seems to have been a clear work of some of the separatist groups operating with bases across the border. So the BJP leaders fell silent on the issue. Then home minister L.K.Advani talked about the Mumbai terror blasts of March 1993 but not so much about the attack on parliament while dealing with Pakistan. It looks like that the initial solidarity that India shared with the US and Europe over Islamic terror attacks weakened and faded away. The American propaganda about the global war against terror meandered and disappeared even American and Nato troops pulled from Iraq and the withdrawal from Afghanistan is under way. The first decade of this century was preoccupied with the shallow rhetoric against Islamic terrorism. There are local terror groups like Al Qaeda and Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba which have been marginalised. The global efforts on the scale carried out by the US and its allies was quite disproportionate to the challenge posed by the rag-tag army of Osama bin Laden. In India, the 2001 saga comes to an end with the execution of Afzal Guru. The other sub-plot of this war against terrorism was the victory of Sri Lankan army against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). When we look back on this decade, we would see exaggeration, propaganda and a bit of the real action. Indians would like to have a detailed account of the attack on parliament, what the terror trail, and the failure of the intelligence. We may need as good a report as the 9/11 commission which makes for a fascinating reading. The Congress of course is avoiding the triumphalist note, which is the right thing to do. The BJP needs to take a sober re-look at its government performance instead of empty anti-terrorism rhetoric.

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