July 4, 2002


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Admiral (retd) J G Nadkarni

Now for the long haul

A reduction in immediate confrontation followed by the slight return to normalcy always brings forward the question 'what next?' In fact, a good strategist has normally thought out the next five moves and can chose from a number of alternatives before making his next move.

India's forward deployment policy is six months old during which the country came pretty close to an all out war with its neighbour. India shrewdly preferred a major diplomatic effort to a confrontation and has certainly benefited from the outcome. The Indian government has emerged as a mature and responsible entity and its stock in the world has gone up as a result. At the same time we have squeezed out everything that we could have expected to gain from our eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. Now for the long haul.

One of the first things both the Indian people and its leaders have to understand and acknowledge is that combating terrorism is going to be a long-term affair. Like other problems such as eradication of illiteracy, population control or poverty alleviation defeat of terrorism will require long-term solutions.

Terrorism is no longer the minor and isolated problem it was just ten years ago. In 1990 when it first started in Kashmir, it was more or less contained within a small area. Over the years it has grown in strength receiving sustenance not only from across the border but from all over the world. During the last ten years terrorists have organised themselves into a worldwide brotherhood, coordinating their actions and providing guidance and help to each other. From time to time they may have their bad days, suffer tactical defeats, resort to internal squabbles or be short of funds and weapons but they have an ability to emerge from these setbacks and strike again.

Even were we to believe that General Pervez Musharraf is capable of totally controlling the terrorist organisations, which he is not, or that he wanted cross-border terrorism to be stopped, which he does not, there will still remain the unruly elements in his ISI or some prodigal terrorist organisations, which are capable of carrying on the battle on their own.

Terrorism has a momentum of its own. Despite political solutions in place, the IRA is still carrying on in Northern Ireland. Even after 15 years of fighting the might of the Sri Lankan and Indian armies, V Prabhakaran and his LTTE have not been subdued. Palestinian terror groups have no shortage of volunteers and Ariel Sharon's tough methods have not been able to stop the suicide bombers.

The two major ingredients of a policy to fight terrorism will have to be patience and a consistent long-term policy. The essence of victory against terrorism will be the staying power of the people and the security forces. The aim of the terrorist is very clear. It is to destabilise a country, politically, economically and mentally. The terrorist wants to demoralise the people, bring public life to a standstill and goad the government in taking unwise actions in the face of public impatience and frustration. He has already won half the battle if he is able to make the people impatient and frustrated. A disciplined and tough population led by able leaders can outwit the designs of the terrorist.

In 1993 terrorists let of a series of explosions in Mumbai, including the stock exchange, aiming to disrupt life and bring the city to a standstill. But Mumbaites, hardened by the daily grinds of life and led by an able chief minister, did not bat an eyelid. Life went on as normal and the stock exchange opened the very next day.

Thus one of the first jobs any government must undertake in combating terrorism is the moulding of public will and instilling of confidence. In the early days of the Second World War when Britain was suffering defeat after defeat Churchill's speeches helped lift British morale. Even when they were standing alone against the might of Nazi Germany they never lost faith that eventually they would emerge victorious.

The Indian people must be prepared for the long haul. They will have to understand that combating terrorism may take decades. There may be many setbacks along the way but they must have enough faith in their armed forces and the government that the job will be done eventually. In the darkest days of terrorism in the Punjab who ever thought that one day the terrorists would be routed.

Unfortunately, one of the major drawbacks of a democracy is the inability or reluctance of any government in power to chalk out long term policies. Democratic governments owe their power and positions to public support and to get that support they have to produce and show results in the short time they are in power. With the life-span of any elected government being uncertain nowadays, no government will undertake any essential but long term programmes. Apparently they are worried that their government will plan the flyovers and their successors will do the opening ceremonies.

In the past, our propensity for seeing only as far as our nose has come to haunt us later on. Thirty years ago, to counter the Akalis in Punjab, the Congress aided and abetted Bhindranwale who later went on to bite the benefactor. He was ultimately responsible for the assassination of one prime minister. In the eighties we created Prabhakaran and actively trained and assisted his LTTE, who were eventually responsible for the death of over 2,500 Indian jawans in Sri Lanka and another prime minister.

A well articulated long term policy to combat terrorism has obviously to be evolved out of a consensus between the ruling and the Opposition parties. Terrorism cannot be brought under control if the methods and policies are changed and overturned each time a new government comes to power. Fortunately there is in India a consensus that terrorism must not be allowed to succeed. But we must go a step further. There must be a clear policy that there should be no compromise when faced by terrorist blackmail.

Above all every Indian citizen must now come to terms with terrorism. The events of September 11 and subsequent actions have changed the life of every citizen. The carefree and apathetic days of the last fifty years have gone, possibly forever. Thanks to the terrorists, today we are more alert, more security conscious. We are resigned to stringent searches at airports and public offices. We must accept these changes willingly and not let down our guard as the days go by. The fight against terrorism involves the citizen as much as it involves the government and the security forces.

Eventually when the cost of terrorism becomes unacceptable to its adherents it will wane and eventually disappear. But in the meantime, let us brace ourselves for the long haul, with patience and a steely resolve.

Admiral (retired) J G Nadkarni

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