Aftermath of Lanka Blasts: Of Open Stable Doors and Bolting Steeds

Forty-nine people were confirmed dead and many others injured, in the shootings in two mosques in Christchurch (New Zealand) on March 15, 2019. The shootings were a wake-up call, nay a jolt for people all over the world. In a post titled, “Christchurch Carnage: A Wake-up Call for United Front Against Terrorism” I had talked about the killings and had concluded thus:

“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 unleash retaliatory strikes.”

As if that conclusion was lost in thin air.

Less than a month later on April 21, 2019 (Easter Sunday) in Sri Lanka, more than 250 people were killed and hundreds were injured in eight blasts that rocked the island nation. Churches and hotels crowded by Easter revellers were the targets of the suicide bombers. Deaths (read “killings”) continue as the search operations go on. 

Although it was not déjà vu or a case of “I-told-you-so,” many people were not so surprised by what happened in Sri Lanka. Imminence of retaliation to the Christchurch killings was a forgone conclusion. A bit surprising was the location of the strike. That the terrorists did not strike in New Zealand or Australia but chose Sri Lanka, might suggest that this wasn’t a case of retaliation. But that matters little, because those involved in terror attacks (Christchurch or Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the world) perhaps believe in numbers––“Numbers killed on one side offset the numbers killed on the other side.”

The numbers do not offset; they add (Image: Reuters)

That is far from the truth. The fact is: numbers add up. Another counter that picks up speed after every attack is the one that counts the number of neutral people jumping off the fence to join a side in the war against the other. They are the ones who can be easily poisoned and indoctrinated; and among them are the potential suicide bombers. Their number keeps swelling after each gory incident.   

One wonders if it is turning out to be a case of jihad in Sri Lanka in reply to the crusade in New Zealand. While there are no straight answers to that question, more people all over the world are now bound to live in the shadow of fear. The many raids in Sri Lanka; banning of organisations and banning of burqua are some of the indicators of the paranoia that has set in. Similar actions with regards to ‘tightening of security’ have come into effect in other parts of the world.

Now about containing the menace: is it a case of the proverbial stable door being locked after the horse has bolted? Or, it is a case of the stable not having a door at all? Who’ll strike and what will be the next target: a mosque, a church, a synagogue, a temple or a crowded mall, a beach or a theatre/ movie hall? The question lingers menacingly as life tends to trudge back to some semblance of normalcy.     

Much has been said about the failure of the Sri Lankan authorities to act on the intelligence inputs provided by Indian agencies. Accusations are being hurled; the leadership, at different levels in Sri Lanka has acknowledged the lapse and some heads have rolled. But think of it, these were the same Indian agencies that could not see through the planning of the Pulwama Terror Strike. For that reason, the Sri Lankan security set up cannot be blamed entirely for the lapse. Intelligence reports need to be evaluated before concrete action can be taken. Many a warning in the past has turned out to be a hoax. During the Gerald Ford Presidency in the US, there was a suggestion to vacate an entire city due to the threat of detonation of a nuclear device, which turned out to be a hoax.

Dealing with intelligence reports is a rather difficult and complex issue.

In a few days the stats and the chronology of the Sri Lanka blasts will get added to the existing figures. To the rest of world they will start mattering less.

When 9/11 took place, and the whole world was sympathising with the grieving Americans, there, in some small quarters was an apparent brutal indifference manifested by lack of surprise––“What goes around comes around.” Sri Lankan blasts have proved the fallacy of that line of thought. A more appropriate way of understanding the present state of affairs would be to consider such attacks as some sort of a Butterfly Effect––An event (although not small and insignificant) in one part of the world (New Zealand) triggering repercussions in another (Sri Lanka). It matters little where an ocean gets muddied first; when the water gets contaminated the effect reaches far off shores. It is only a matter of time.

Therein lies the importance of the need of a united approach to dealing with the menace of terrorism. It is never too late to get going. The UNSC has included Masood Azhar in the list of global terrorists. One hopes that countries will continue to see eye to eye and take coordinated action to rid the world of terror groups and terrorists.

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?

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.”

Kandahar Hijack: A Revisit in the Aftermath of Pulwama

Among others, a phoenix that rises after almost every terror strike is the issue of hijack of the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 (Airbus A300) en route from Kathmandu to Delhi on December 24, 1999. The crisis ended after India agreed to release Masood Azhar, along with some other terrorists. The released terrorists were later implicated in other acts of terror, like the gruesome murder of Daniel Pearl (2002) and the Mumbai Terror Strike (2008).

Hijacked Indian Airlines Airbus 300 at Kandahar

Therefore, after Pulwama, a recall of Kandahar appears to be a natural public impulse. The decision of the Bajpai Government to barter Masood Azhar for the passengers and the crew is being criticised yet again. Many are suggesting that India should not have let go of Masood; it is being lamented that India is paying the cost for that ‘wrong’ decision. It is fashionable to cite the example of Israel in dealing with terror strikes and their policy of never-succumbing-to-the-demand of the terrorists to release their brethren in return for Israeli hostages.

The fact is that Israel does have a rigid policy on the subject. Israel has dealt with situations on case-to-case basis. Kozo Okamoto, a member of the Japanese Red Army fighting for the PLO was caught alive by the Israeli security forces after the Lod Airport Massacre in 1972 (17 killed; 22 injured). Although sentenced to life imprisonment he (along with some PLO members) was bartered for a few Israeli soldiers held by the PLO.

In another case, Israel had almost agreed to release PLO men in its jails in return for the hundred odd Air France passengers (mostly Israeli) held hostage at Entebbe Airport (Uganda 1976). But the delay in the return of Idi Amin (the Ugandan dictator who was away) to Kampala gave them an opportunity to plan and carry out the daring raid to rescue the hostages (the daring Entebbe Raid). The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was supported by the entire parliament.

The Israeli leadership decides when, and when not, it is in Israel’s interest to accede to the demands of the terrorists and acts accordingly. The public and the opposition parties do not question the wisdom of the leadership––they do not pester the leadership either way.

Returning to Kandahar, the Indian leadership did what it considered best under those circumstances. Post Pulwama, it is unfair to criticise the then government and the security forces for their actions. Kandahar is past––lessons have been learnt and ways of dealing with similar situations in the future have been worked out.

In the current situation, all political parties have shown remarkable maturity by extending support to the government. It would be best to leave the government and the military leadership (who are in the know of things) to decide the best course of action.

Pulwama Terror Strike

A parting thought.

For Israeli state, it is a question of survival; they have reason to respond to situations the way they do. They also have full support of major world powers in everything they do. Our leadership and military has to go it alone. We’ll do well not to breathe down their necks as they plan and execute an appropriate response. Let’s not indulge in candlelight marches, burn tyres, and block roads to pressurise those who need to remain calm at this juncture. Think of it: such actions only cause global warming, traffic snarls and loss of productivity. Still worse, they might force a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s give the government and the military the elbowroom to act freely.