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India's terrorism narrative needs a rethink

October 18, 2016 10:22 IST

'The crux of the matter is that our narrative lacks credibility with world capitals,' argues Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar.

Brazil's President Michel Temer, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and South African President Jacob Zuma with Sudarsan Pattnaik's sand sculpture tribute to BRICS in Goa. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/ReutersSeveral hypotheses are afloat why China and Russia cold-shouldered India's high-level diplomacy to insert its tensions with Pakistan under the garb of 'terrorism' into the Goa Declaration of the BRICS Summit.

For the Indian foreign and security policy establishment, the Goa Declaration must come as a diplomatic disaster. More so because the buck stops with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who led such an extraordinarily strident campaign against Pakistan at the BRICS event.

But sometimes there are simple explanations to such setbacks, which we tend to overlook simply because it does not suit us.

To my mind, the crux of the matter is that our narrative lacks credibility with world capitals (with the exception of Thimpu, perhaps).

It is one thing that we, patriotic Indians, believe in our government's narratives, even when disseminated through 'sources,' but that may not be the case with foreigners.

We get carried away by our self-serving narratives. Thus, we take pride that no country criticised our 'surgical strikes' -- 'not even China.'

But then, when Pakistan has no complaints about our 'surgical strikes' in the first instance, why should China or any third party take umbrage? It is pure common sense.

As regards the 'surgical strikes,' the only written statement or document so far attributable to the government merely says that the 'surgical strikes' took place 'along the LOC.'

Now, you don't have to be a PhD in the English language to know there is some difference between 'along' and 'across.' This must have been a 'talking point' in the cocktail circuit in Chanakyapuri.

The Russians have a saying, 'Where is the paper?' That is to say, don't take the oral word as the gospel truth.

The least that the government should do is to clarify the DGMO's uncharacteristically ambivalent idiom. Fortunately, an opportunity comes when Parliament meets. The government should be upfront.

In this context, Chinese President Xi Jinping's remarks at the BRICS plenary on Sunday are very revealing. He implicitly called for a political solution to 'hot spots' (such as Kashmir) and also for concrete efforts and a multi-pronged approach to address both the 'symptoms and root causes' of terrorism.

Beijing estimates that terrorism emanates out of the grave situation in the Kashmir valley.

What complicates matters is that we really do not know whether the government's narrative on the 'surgical strikes' is actually only intended for the Indian domestic audience.

A serious doubt arises when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar claims that neither he nor PM Modi is of a martial race and they were motivated by the 'RSS teaching' to order the 'surgical strikes.' (By the way, it must come as a shocking revelation to hundreds of thousands of our faujis who may not be RSS followers.)

Indeed, it is the present government's trademark to use foreign policies as an instrument of domestic politics to glorify the ruling party or the PM. If so, let us leave things to the electorate in UP and Punjab to pass judgment on the narrative.

On the other hand, if the narrative must also sell among the international community, it must be credible. Or else, the public will demand -- like Oliver Twist -- 'some more' surgical strikes and a flashpoint may arise at some point, which then would become the concern of the international community.

The Goa Declaration becomes a stunning reality check in its refusal to identify with the Indian narrative. The government should take a pause and rethink its strategies vis-a-vis Pakistan (and Kashmir).

To add salt to the wound, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing on Monday chose to comment on PM Modi's 'mothership' remark about Pakistan:

QUESTION: 'At yesterday's BRICS summit, Indian Prime Minister said that Pakistan was the 'mothership' of terrorists. As a good friend of Pakistan, do you think this is a fair characterisation of Pakistan's security problems by India?'

HUA'S REPLY: 'China holds a clear and consistent position when it comes to fighting terrorism. We oppose terrorism of all forms and maintain that terrorist threats tackled through enhanced international cooperation in order to uphold peace, security and development of various countries and the region.'

'We are also against linking terrorism to any specific country, ethnic group or religion. Both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism. The international community should respect the enormous efforts and sacrifices made by Pakistan in fighting terrorism.'

The Chinese stance is not substantially any different from that of the US or of the European Union. Indeed, President Vladimir Putin didn't mention the word 'terrorism' even once in his speech at the BRICS plenary on Sunday.

We should draw appropriate conclusions.

IMAGE: Brazil's President Michel Temer, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and South African President Jacob Zuma with Sudarsan Pattnaik's sand sculpture tribute to BRICS in Goa. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

M K Bhadrakumar