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Home > India > News > Columnists > Surjit S Bhalla

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Terrorist's nationality? Well it's terror

November 29, 2008

9/11 marked the peak of terror in the US. It is hoped that 26/11 will be the peak of terror activity in India. For this to happen, some fundamental attitudes towards terror will need to change.

The first is the recognition that terrorists have only one nationality - that of spreading terror. TV reports carried information that the boat carrying the terrorists had come from Pakistan; some suggested that the terrorists were speaking in Punjabi; one terrorist was identified to be from Faridkot, Pakistan.

The Indian Foreign Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukerjee, cancelled the meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. News just in: Mr. Mukherjee says "Some elements in Pakistan were involved in the attack, and the Pakistan government is to blame."

All of the above, while true, constitutes zero evidence that the Pakistani government, or the Pakistani people, were involved in the attacks. As Indians should be painfully aware, and worried, that Pakistan has been subject to several terrorist attacks over the last several years; they lost a major political leader to terrorism, Ms Benazir Bhutto [Images], whose husband is now the President of Pakistan.

To blame the Pakistani government for this attack, and to refuse to meet the Foreign Minister, does not strike one as being very intelligent, or constructive.

Especially since it is likely that the attack was led by Al-Qaeda [Images], no ally of any civilised people in the world. The terrorists have people of all nationalities under their umbrella; there are several Indian terrorists. To blame the Pakistani people, or the government, for the Mumbai attacks is just as wrong as blaming the Indian people, or government, for the several terrorist attacks that have taken place in India.

One fallout from this crisis is a major forward step in Indo-Pak relations. We need to co-ordinate and share intelligence and policy towards the terrorists. In addition, traditional anti-American and anti-West prejudices should yield to intense co-operation and use of foreign technology and expertise. There is no place to hide for innocent people around the world and the collective goal should be that there is no place left for terrorists to escape to.

Besides recognising the Pakistan government as an ally in the war on terrorists, our politicians need to be above politics in dealing with this unprecedented crisis. Perhaps because of their age, our politicians still live in a bygone era when security was in identifying the "enemy", and in taking crass advantage of a national tragedy.

The terror attack was not even a day old and the BJP placed an advertisement on the front page of newspapers. It said: "Brutal Terror Strikes at Will - Weak Government, Unwilling and Incapable - Fight Terror, Vote BJP". This ad is both immensely insensitive and stupid.

Insensitive because it is exploitative of a collective Indian, and human, tragedy. Stupid because it presumes that there would have been no terrorist activity if the BJP had been in power. Who does the BJP think it will convert to their "cause" by advertising in this low-down manner?

It is interesting that so far, one has not heard of any demands being made by the hostages. This is unlikely. What may have transpired is that the authorities refused to relay the demands of the terrorists to the media, and the public.

The fight has gone on for more than 40 hours, certainly not what the terrorists had anticipated. This non-negotiation with the terrorists is a welcome departure from the Indian government's past tendency to be weak and negotiable.

This is not a Hindu-Muslim fight, nor is it an India-Pakistan war. This is modern urban terrorism, initiated by individuals who are loath to see progress on the India-Pakistan front, or among Arabs and Israelis.

These are the important two flashpoints in the world. With uncanny predictability, terrorist strikes occur in these two areas whenever there is hope for long-lasting peace.

Both India and Pakistan, and especially the latter, have made significant advances towards solving their cross-border problems. There is a large turnout in elections in the major area of dispute, Kashmir. There is plausible talk about free movement of people and trade.

And the implementation of e-visas. It is this consistent progress in Indo-Pak relations that the terrorists want to arrest. It would be extremely unfortunate if, by playing petty irresponsible politics, our rear-view politicians play into the hands of the terrorists.

The author is chairman, Oxus Investments, a New Delhi-based asset management company. The views expressed are personal.

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