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Kavita Karkare's call should not fall on deaf ears

November 29, 2011 12:44 IST

Her concern was the continuation of security breaches and terrorism and the apparent mood to move forward in normalising relations with Pakistan, without any guarantee that terrorism will not be its state policy anymore, says T P Sreenivasan.

Kavita Karkare, Hemant Karkare's widow, was not impressed with the beautiful words of homage spoken on the anniversary of the dreadful night three years ago, in which her husband and several sentinels of the security of our nation perished.

She was not impressed even with the compensation offered to her and others who suffered grievous losses. "You pay tributes to the departed, you honour us, you give us compensation, but how long will this go on?" she asked.

Her concern was the continuation of breaches of security and the scourge of terrorism and the apparent mood to put the Mumbai carnage behind us and to move forward in normalising relations with Pakistan, without any guarantee that terrorism will not be its State policy anymore.

'It was high time India sent a strong message to the world that it meant business when it came to taking action against the perpetrators of terror attacks,' she said.

Security has not yet become a part of our ethos yet. Even the fear, that has gripped powerful nations, has not infected us because we think that whatever we may do or not do, whatever has to happen will happen.

The cold comfort that the nation will survive in the end has generated a sense of resignation. Meaningless rituals like checking the baggage tags for the security stamps are performed as though the tags would guarantee security. Nowhere in the world are security stamps put on boarding passes or baggage tags. No passenger or baggage is allowed into the secure area under any circumstances and, therefore, no stamps are required.

The sanctity we attach to security stamps, in itself, shows lack of confidence in our procedures.

Absence of chaos and orderly movement of people are the most essential ingredients of security. No one, however powerful or mighty, should be allowed to escape security procedures as, while they may be the paragons of perfection, the fact that they can be subverted is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. Someone could easily insert an object into their person or baggage and these could be detected only through thorough security procedures. No one should be allowed to break the line at airports or other sensitive areas. The lines may be reminiscent of Communism, but they have to be accepted as a legacy of Osama Bin Laden and must be strictly enforced.

The tardy state of affairs of the security equipment is something that Kavita Karkare had spoken about repeatedly. The metal detectors rarely detect metals and their squealing noises do not seem to indicate anything to the security staff. They still go through with their lethargic and ceremonial procedures and correctly stamp the boarding passes to ensure that the procedures are followed.

I am a walking monument of a security breach by my guards in Nairobi, which resulted in my being a steel man, with metal rods in my right leg and left arm. Most metal detectors in India do not stop me and even if there is a noise, my simple statement that I have a rod inside my bone is enough to let me through.

But in New York, London or Vienna, they trust me, but they verify my assertion. I am grateful that I am let off, but would it not be possible for someone to smuggle metals by the kind of declarations that I make?

The best defence of our Pakistan policy of letting bygones be bygones and moving on, looking for men of peace on the enemy flanks, is that we have tried everything possible to get Pakistan to take action against the criminals and we cannot hold peace in the region hostage to the punishment of the guilty for more than three years.

The larger geopolitical shifts in the region are too important to be ignored and we should play a role in the emerging security paradigm. When the Pakistan home minister interferes blatantly in our internal affairs and asks us to hang Kasab and those guilty of the bombing of the Samjahauta Express, we see some evidence of a change of heart in the man, who has been systematically spinning tales for the last three years to shield the masterminds of 26/11.

We are easily swept off our feet by the charm offensive of Pakistan leaders and even ambassadors. We accept the argument that Pakistan too is a victim of the same kind of terror that they have developed for twenty years to hurt India. Such a policy may bring us the glory of a Nobel Prize for Peace, but not peace to the souls of our martyrs on the third anniversary of their supreme sacrifice.

Manasi Shashank Shinde, Inspector Shashank Shinde's widow, was even more harsh when she heard the tributes paid to the martyrs. 'It aggravates our pain. We feel harassed. It all comes back. It is reliving the agony,' she says.

Kavita Karkare's call for enhanced security, better security equipment and relentless pursuit of the criminals should not fall on deaf ears. No amount of compassion or compensation can remove the blot on our conscience that such brave men as Hemant Karkare and Sandeep Unnikrishnan had to die so that we could survive as a nation.

We cannot add to their hallowed memory with rhetoric, but we can prevent such sacrifices in the future with determined and concrete action.

T P Sreenivasan is a former ambassador of India to the United Nations, Vienna, and a former Governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna. You can read more of his writings here.

T P Sreenivasan