Christchurch Carnage: A Wake-up Call for United Front Against Terrorism

March 15, 2019. Christchurch (New Zealand). Forty-nine people have been confirmed dead after shootings in two mosques. Among the many issues that have surfaced and the many that will keep arising, some deserve immediate attention.

Graphic courtesy The Economist

Terming it as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said that the time had come to review the gun-laws. Now, as it always happens after such incidents, the clamour to implement stricter laws has once again reached a crescendo. Ironically, the last three times the issue came up (under similar circumstances, in New Zealand) it was shelved for a reason or the other. The opinion is divided because in the prevailing environment even the well-meaning people want to own personal weapons for their safety. It is a difficult issue to address because paranoid people with easy access to firearms are also potential threat to freedom and liberty of others. Besides, a small section of the society (some call it The Arms Lobby) has interest in promoting sales.

Yasmin Ali, one of the anguished citizens said, “We are such a suave community. We are so kind and loving… so I don’t understand why someone would hurt us like this and in such a way. Just like an animal. Why would you treat us like that for nothing?” She is so right––for no apparent fault of theirs, forty-nine people have lost their lives and many others are undergoing medical treatment. The incident has left people shocked, angry and indignant. The attack has drawn a wedge between “us, meaning the Muslims of New Zealand” and “you, meaning the rest of the New Zealanders.” The wounds will take an eternity to heal if, at all, they will; but the scars will remain forever.  

Graphic courtesy Independent

By itself the Christchurch attack would possibly have been written off as a dastardly act by some mad persons, but actions of one of the attackers have given a different hue to the incident. Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian man, who claimed responsibility for the attack had posted his manifesto on the social media and had live-streamed the attack. He had let loose his ire against the immigrants. Thus in its goriness, the attack seems to vie with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. His weapons too bore messages of hatred. As if that was not enough, the man, rather than being repentant, added insult to injury by allegedly making a white power gesture from the dock when produced in the court.

The well meaning New Zealand Prime Minister has expressed her concern thus: “…Many of those affected will be of our migrant communities. New Zealand is their home. They are us.” One only hopes that her words appeal to people more than Brenton Tarrant’s provocative actions and gestures.

On request from the New Zealand Police, different social media platforms have removed the graphic content from the Internet––a belated action. In any case, it couldn’t have been possible to prevent everything going viral. Needless to say, the videos of the carnage and the echoes of the gunshots have travelled far and wide and have spread different messages depending on who the recipients at the other end are.

To conclude, what happened in New Zealand will have obvious implications for New Zealand and Australia; the rest of the world will also not remain unaffected. There are two clear options for the world at large: one, to brace for impact without really knowing where and when would the next attack take place. Or two, unite against the perpetrators and wipe out the source. Today is the day, now is the time to get into a huddle, before the Masood Azhars, the Hafiz Saeeds, the Zawahiris, the Baghdadis and the Bin Ladens join hands to unleash retaliatory strikes.

Recently, China scuttled the effort of major world powers to declare Masood Azhar––a proven perpetrator of terror––as a world terrorist. It is time that China realises that the possibility (now) of the terror outfits in Pakistan luring the extremists from Xinjiang for a greater cause has become ever so strong. In the interest of world peace, and in its own interest, China needs change its stance.

Does this appear to be a motivated call by an Indian? Yes? No? May be?

So be it.

What is more important at this juncture is: Is China prepared to reap the harvest of its approach to global terrorism this far? Is Xi listening?

Jay, Veeru & India-China Relations

What if the world we live in was Utopia? And the countries of the world played golf (rather than rugby)?

Utopia is Utopia. To simplify the other analogy, golf is a game in which, ideally speaking, one plays with one’s own ball, as it lies. Emphasis added on ‘as it lies’. So, what if countries pursued their agenda without jeopardising the interests of others?

Or, at least, countries did not behave like the proverbial dog in the manger––doing little on their own but raising hue and cry when another one tried to do something in its best interest. Allusion here is to the countries of the world (including India) not doing their (enough) bit to gain from the trade and commerce that is available to them but envying (read ‘being jealous of ’) China. For example,countries not doing enough to woo the Dark Continent or Latin America but raising a hue and cry when China lands there and starts reaping benefits; and sending those benefits back home to Beijing.

Another example is the Chinese initiative on the connectivity of countries of the region––Xi’s ambitious OBOR Project. The countries that have joined the mega project know what is good for them and what is not. They have got on the bandwagon with conscious volition. Period.

Why should others (read India) bark?

Because in real life, this world is not Utopian, and the countries are not playing golf. And even those that appear to be playing golf are not playing the ball as it lies––honestly. At least one American President in the recent years has been notorious for(blatantly) improving the lie of the ball. Let’s spare the US and the US Presidents for the time being, since China and India are the subject matter of this post.

It was fine so long as China was pursuing its trade and commerce for its own good in the countries surrounding India; a little adverse effect also would have been an acceptable outcome. But then,China began pursuing its interests at the cost of India’s. The GMR issue in the Maldives, for example, was a setback for India.

India-China Relations

If that was not enough, China started establishing its military bases in return for the infrastructure it developed for the host countries. Acquisition of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and the islands leased to it by the Maldives are some of the many cases in point. Besides, the CPEC running through POK is a cause for great concern for India. China’s initiatives in Nepal and the Doklam standoff confirm that it is not Utopia; it is not golf either.

So, what could or should be India’s approach?

Those who occupy offices in the North and South Blocks and steer the destiny of this country know it best, but here is a simple suggestion for whatever it’s worth.

Jay-Veeru Relations

For a moment, recall the Jay (Amitabh Bachchan), the Veeru (Dharmendra) and the Mausi (Basanti’s Aunt) of the Bollywood classic, Sholay. Recall also, how Jay paints a (dark) picture of Veeru for Mausi: “…a good guy until he drinks. He drinks when he is sad. He is sad when he loses money… gambles, visits brothels, blah… blah… otherwise a good guy.”

Can India do to China what Jay did to Viru? Can India paint China’s character for its prospective host countries the Jay way: “China coming to your country would be a great thing. You’ll be able to boast about enviable infrastructure. Your country will progress in leaps and bounds. But of course, the Chinese will use their work force and machinery and building material. So what if your people don’t get employment, they’ll learn good things by being (sorry) spectators. Besides, there will be signs of prosperity, so what if you have to seek more loans to pay the interest on the Chinese debt…. After all being in perpetual debt is not all that bad a thing for a country. Things could be even worse. Haven’t Sri Lanka, the Maldives and even Pakistan benefitted from Chinese largesse?”

Two things need to be borne in mind while dealing with China…

One: For long India has been responding (reacting) to Chinese moves. Pre-empting China on known turfs will consume much less effort than dowsing the fires it lights for India in the future.

Two: Countries are run by people. By human beings who are made up of flesh and bones and blood. And they have a mind. And they have a mind that knows (learns) fear. The fear of notional (and national) loss and slavery is a fear. It can give nightmares, if not to (a corrupt) leadership, at least to the intelligentsia of a country. That fear is the key.

A conscientious three-pronged effort by the diplomatic corps, by those who pursue national interest on parallel tracks and by those who promote people to people contacts with other countries, can go some way in dealing with a less sporting neighbour.

Aborting Crime

Last week the scourge of deadly knife crime in the UK tried to vie with the Brexit issue for space in the British polity and life. An alarming 285 stabbing deaths were reported in the year ending March 2018––the highest number of such killings within a 12-month period since record keeping began in 1946.

Critics blame the austerity measures to reduce UK’s debt levels following the global economic crisis of 2008 for the increase in violence. They say cuts in support services and opportunities for children have left communities increasingly disadvantaged and fearful. Disaffection, anger, fear and the lack of positive alternatives could also be causes of children’s violent behaviour. Desperate circumstances might be nudging children to form gangs and resort to knife attacks.

Graphic courtesy CNN

Some believe that cuts in police staffing levels have aggravated the problem. The number of police officers in the UK has fallen from 1,71,600 nine years ago to fewer than 1,50,000 last year. Some think that a diminished police force has led to low detection and prosecution rate for crimes.

“We will only defeat the scourge of violence if we understand and address the complex root causes,” said Prime Minister May. She rejected direct correlation between falling police numbers and violent crime. London’s Metropolitan Police Service thought otherwise. Boosting police funding as well as widening controversial stop-and-search powers to tackle knife crime has been recommended as a way to deal with the menace. The defence secretary has offered to send in the military to assist the police to deal with the menace.

It is a complex issue.

Needless to dive into statistics; the situation in India is equally alarming, if not worse––from petty thefts and chain-snatching to robberies, rapes, murders and gang wars, we have them all. Rapes, domestic violence, and crimes against women, is a category in itself. While the Brits have to concentrate on one type of crime, namely knife attacks, Indians have a wide range to deal with.

To look for answers, it would be worthwhile to look at the crime graph in the US in 1989 when it had just about peaked––violent crime had risen 80 per cent in the preceding 15 years. Then, in the early 1990s the crime rate started falling, or rather plummeting. The fall was so sharp that analysts ignored the drop and continued to predict worse days ahead until the crime rate stabilised at a very low level and people started walking the streets without fear.

The natural questions were: “What happened?” “Where have all the criminals gone?”

Graphic courtesy The Hindu

The answers were obvious: “Innovative policing strategies and larger police force; drug controls; aging population,gun control laws; economic growth; and a whole lot of other ever-soobvious reasons.”

Levitt and Dubner, in their book titled Freakonomics came out with an explanation––beyond the obvious ones mentioned above, and the many more propounded by experts––for the steep fall in the crime rate. They drew attention to an unforeseen long gestating demographic change that had reduced crime, perhaps more than all the other efforts put together.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the US legalised abortion (Roe vs Wade case). Levitt and Dubner explained the judgement thus: “When a woman does not want a child, she usually has good reason. She may be unmarried or in bad marriage. She may consider herself too poor to raise a child. She may think her life is too unstable or unhappy, or she may think that her drinking or her drug use will damage the baby’s health. She may believe that she is too young or hasn’t yet received enough education. She may want a child badly but in a few years, not now. For any of the hundred reasons, she may feel that she cannot provide a home environment that is conducive to raising a healthy and productive child.” Levitt and Dubner observed that before Roe vs Wade, only the daughters of middle or upper class families could arrange and afford a safe illegal abortion.

Children born to women who wanted to abort pregnancy (but couldn’t) were likely to grow up to be criminals. There is a data galore to arrive at that not-so-pleasing inference.

Levitt & Dubner conclude: “When the government gives a woman the opportunity to make her own decision about abortion, she generally does a good job of figuring out if she is in a position to raise the baby well. If she decides, she can’t, she often chooses abortion.”

In the parting wisdom on the subject, which Levitt & Dubner share in their book, perhaps India, UK and the world can find solution to the problem of crime: “But once a woman decides she will have her baby, a pressing question arises: what are parents supposed to do once a child is born?”

MiG-21 Bison & F-16 in the Eyes of a Goof

A New Golf Set

My pride in my brand new Grand Slam Powerbilt golf set was blown to smithereens when I saw a caddie––in tattered trousers and oversized shoes––lob a golf ball beautifully over a bunker on to a practice green. The club he used was not a branded lob wedge but the branch of a tree, which resembled a walking stick. I was incapable of performing that feat.

Unbelievable, but true!

Although the golf set I was using was gifted to me by Mahesh, my nephew, that incident, more than a dozen years ago, made me wonder, “Was it worth it to invest a couple of thousand rupees in a costly golf set, when a similar result could be obtained with an ordinary old set (or a stick)?” The example of the caddie lobbing a ball with a stick was playing on my mind. Secretly, I envied that urchin to no end.

I’ll give a pause to golf for the time being for there’s a more pressing issue to discuss.

The Indomitable MiG-21 Bison

The other day, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison downed a Pakistan Air Force F-16. That’s what they say, and that’s what my feeling of nationalism, which is overflowing at this moment, makes me believe. In the many debates that ensued on the prime time television and in the electronic and print media, I found some people suggesting that MiG-21 aircraft was a match for the F-16. In fact, it was the other way round. They said, “F-16 is no match for the MiG-21 aircraft.” Mind the subtle difference!

F-16

Some suggested that Indian fighter pilots––with their Su-30 Mk I, Mirage 2000, Tejas and MiG series of combat aircraft––were too good, and were capable of matching any adversary. Hesitantly though, some experts broached the subject of urgency to procure the Rafale fighter aircraft. They felt that it was important to remove the doubts about the kickbacks before procuring the aircraft.

In a vibrant democracy people are not only entitled to opinions, they’re free to air them too.

Returning to golf. In due course of time I realised that the youngster could do little more than lob the ball a few yards away with that stick. To strike the ball long, or putt it, he needed a proper club––a stick of any shape or size was no good. When I gave him a pair of better shoes and one of my golf clubs, he displayed even superior prowess.

I set aside my envy and focussed on my game with the new set. My spirit was high; and my game improved––a few more pars and an odd birdie on the whole. I started winning more games against my usual partners. Interestingly, the scores of some of my opponents dipped. “How can we match your superior new golf set?” said one.

To conclude: Ability of the man behind the machine (equipment) matters; it is of utmost importance. But good equipment not only improves his performance but also raises his morale and goes on to intimidate the adversary. It’s time to address the equipment needs of the Indian armed forces in the right earnest. Today, the morale of the adversary is at a low ebb. Delay in enhancing our capabilities will give time to the adversary to recoup and re-muster its strength.

Balakot Airstrike & the Art of Drawing Lessons

A scientist placed a frog on a table and yelled, “Frog, jump!” The frog leapt forward two feet to the middle of the table. The scientist adjusted his spectacles, read the information flashing on the digital displays of the sophisticated equipment placed in the vicinity and scribbled some observations. He then picked up the amphibian and put it back at the starting point. Without any emotions, he removed (read “chopped”) its hind legs with surgical precision and yelled again, “Frog, jump!” The incapacitated being did not move an inch. “Eureka!” The heart of the jubilant scientist took a leap; he flipped open his notepad and wrote this inference: “The amputation of the hind limbs of an amphibian at an ambient temperature of 27ºC affects its tympanic membranes so that there is a hundred per cent loss of hearing (at 100 db, 25,000 Hz).

Drawing conclusions, inferences and lessons is an art.

Imran surrenders to a moustache

It is inappropriate to talk of a scientist and a frog when the flavour of the day is the airstrike by the IAF across the border at Balakot in Pakistan.

An expert with a TV channel has made an observation that Wing Commander Abhinandan took a hundred and thirty two steps in seven minutes to cross the Attari-Wagah border. Another one has concluded that Imran (Pakistan) surrendered to a moustache (that of Abhinandan).

That was for dark humour.

MiG-21 outwits F-16

On a serious note, a conclusion that some are drawing is that an F-16 aircraft is no match for a MiG 21 Bison. Perhaps it is a conclusion that has been reached a little too early by “experts” sitting in the cosy comforts of their drawing rooms. The fog of war has not cleared yet. Abhinandan’s version of the story is yet to become public.

This is a time for restraint; time to hold the horses and to avoid jumping to conclusions. Drawing inferences, conclusions and lessons is an art, a rare art. It better be left to the real experts.

For now, the question is:

Would the availability of a state of the art fifth generation fighter aircraft in IAF inventory have deterred Pakistan from daring to enter Indian airspace?

An expert is not needed to answer that question.

Pakistan, India & the Art of War

Dictionaries left by the British in the government offices at the time of India’s Independence were torn apart so that a country could take the pages with the alphabet from A-L and the other could own those with M-Z. That was the level of mutual antagonism between India and Pakistan on the eve of partition in 1947 as per Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. The hostility has compounded over the years. While Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sought to wage a war for a thousand years, General Zia ul Haq was determined to bleed India through a thousand cuts.

India-Pakistan

The two neighbours have pursued different Arts of War over the years. Pakistan has bled India for over three decades through covert operations. India has borne the brunt of acts of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan without retaliating decisively against that country, or against those orchestrating the attacks from its soil. The terror strike at Uri, and the one at Pulwama that left over 40 CRPF men dead, has changed the status quo. It has made India deviate from a path of reconciliation and take the path of retaliation.

The Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi gave the armed forces a “free hand in choosing the time, place and the nature” of the response to Pulwama Terror attack. He added that each drop of tear of the families of the martyrs would be avenged. The Rubicon had been crossed. The pre-emptive airstrike by IAF fighters on the terrorist training camps at Balakot (Pakistan) twelve days after the Pulwama terror attack, left Pakistan stunned, as if struck by an earthquake.

In effect, the aftershocks have been no less spectacular. India withdrew the “Most Favoured Nation” status accorded to Pakistan, and raised the excise duty to 200%. India’s action to re-commence work on the dams on the Indus and other rivers has jolted Pakistan. Although indirect, the withdrawal of security to the separatist leaders in J&K has also been a setback to Pak interests. To the detriment of Pakistan, all the opposition parties in the Indian Parliament have also pledged support to the government. Through conscientious diplomatic effort, India has managed to get Pakistan isolated on the world stage. Even China, its all-weather friend has since maintained graveyard silence. The US called on Pakistan to immediately end the support and dismantle the safe haven provided to the terrorist groups operating from its soil. The invitation to India as the ‘Guest of Honour’ to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Meeting in Abu Dhabi has been the proverbial last straw that has broken the camel’s (read Pakistan’s) back.

Pakistan released Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the IAF pilot who had landed up in Pak custody after ejecting from his fighter aircraft. Although, Imran Khan said that it was a goodwill gesture to promote peace, the fact is that an isolated Pakistan has succumbed to the cumulative pressure created by India.

With its economy in shambles, Pakistan cannot afford to wage a full-scale war. Besides, a full-scale war can lead to its dismemberment; trouble is brewing in the country’s northwest. Pakistan now knows well the consequences of waging a proxy war against India. In one of his televised addresses recently, Imran Khan had spoken of possible ‘miscalculation’ by either side. If he was obliquely hinting at the possible use of nukes, he is also aware of India’s ability to absorb the first strike and India’s capability of a second strike. For sure, he is well aware of the asymmetry, too.

The Art of War

Sun Tzu says: “When you surround an army (read enemy), leave an outlet free. This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object is to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair.

Has India left a road to safety for Pakistan? What’s it?

India has left an option for Pakistan. Pakistan’s road to safety (and peace for its people) is through handing over the likes of Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim to India, and to dismantle the terror training camps flourishing in its backyard.

Rummaging Pulwama for India’s Strategic Culture

A couple of years ago, I was at a seminar where many eminent people from different walks of Indian life had gathered to share their thoughts on India’s Strategic Culture. The discussion, which began with great bonhomie, metamorphosed into an animated debate. There were those who eulogised all great Indians from Manu to Manmohan Singh. They recalled with reverence Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Rani Laxmibai and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. They spoke in praise of Ashoka and Chandragupta Maurya; Mohanjodaro and Harappa; Nalanda and Takshila…. They were convinced that Chanakya and his Arthashatra were as great (read, “greater”) than Sun Tzu and his Art of War. They talked of the wars India has won against Pakistan including the surrender of 93,000 Pakistanis (1971). They skipped the Sino-India War (1962) and went gaga over India’s Space and Nuclear capabilities and its rich and varied culture and heritage…. “Wow! What a Strategic Culture!”

Chanakya

People on the opposite bench spoke of the so many times India has been invaded. They recalled some names with a lot of venom––Genghis Khan, Timur, Ghazni, Ghauri and the East India Company…. They argued that the Kashmir issue was poorly handled in 1947; we are still paying the cost of bad decisions. They held Prime Minister Nehru responsible for the debacle in 1962. They argued that the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 shouldn’t have been allowed to leave India; there was no question of releasing Masood Azhar. On the issue of the rescue of President MA Gayoom of the Maldives (Operation Cactus, November 1988), they were sure that India (like the US, the UK, and Pakistan etc.) shouldn’t have extended military assistance––the returns were not commensurate with the risk involved. For sure, India was the proverbial cat’s paw that pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for the Maldivians. In Kargil, India was caught napping…. “Does India have a Strategic Culture at all?”

In the Q&A hour, intellectuals raised doubts, asked questions and commented. I kept mum for I didn’t want to prove my ignorance. I felt relieved when the learned chair concluded that it was important to define the term “Strategic Culture” before one could talk about “India’s” Strategic Culture and there was no clear definition of that term. My relief knew no bounds when, during the high tea after the event I interacted with people and discovered that most of us (if not all) were sailing in the same boat.

Discussion, and the debate over, I consigned “Strategic Culture” to some far recesses of my mind for I had more pressing issues to turn to; we all have pressing issues, including children. Publication of my book was top on my list of priorities at that time.

Until Pulwama…

Rummaging Pulwama

Today everyone, literally everyone, is talking (on television, texting, tweeting, whatsapping…) about India’s Strategic Culture, or some such thing––the same debate and the same arguments have resurfaced. Only the discussants are more vociferous, more clamorous and very aggressive.

I wonder: “At this point in time, is a definition of Strategic Culture or a knowledge of India’s Strategic Culture important? Is it going to help in any way? Is this the time to think of doctrines, recall principles of war, military strategy––the theory?”

I am reminded of a young cricketer at the nets a day before a major game. Just when he hit the ball over the boundary, his coach came to him and said that that was not the way to hit the ball. He reprimanded him for his wrong technique and started teaching him the ‘textbook’ way of doing what he was doing.

“But where’s the ball, coach?” the player asked as he looked at the ball being recovered from the spectator stand.

In tune with what I said the other day, I add:“The time to learn theory has long gone; it is time to act. Rummaging Pulwama for India’s Strategic Culture will be an exercise in futility. Let those on the stage perform unhindered. Let others just W-A-T-C-H. Those of us who have performed our acts really well (when we were on the stage) will be approached for direction, if deemed necessary.”