COUNTERVIEW

New Year's lessons from Pathankot: India must stop being a grieving helpless nation

It is not a war just with guns and bullets but a war of perceptions as well. We have to win both. The enemy has to win just one.

The terrorist attack on Pathankot airbase despite early intelligence warning (a five-day lead as per some reports), has once again revealed gaps in our internal security grid. It has also been reported that the thermal imagery system between two posts at the border had broken down in July 2015. This had enabled an infiltration by the Lashkar-e- Taiba and the Gurdaspur attack. In the present case, well-armed terrorists had a free run to Pathankot. More than that, they seem to have a fair knowledge of the layout of the airbase.

A new pattern is discernible in recent attacks. Terrorists are being sent in to Punjab to see if the state has become soft and penetrable. In the bargain, there is not even a pretence that this is about Kashmir anymore. It is about India, make no mistake.

Reports clearly point out that Pakistan has spread its intelligence agents all over the country. India is an easy country to move around, settle, acquire identity and vocation and they have assessed that it is easy to carry on with their assignments. For every terrorist cell located, for every intelligence agent picked up, there must be 10 others not found. The nexus between heroin and drug smugglers, terrorists, local police, money launderers and politicians is weakening the system.

The war of perceptions

Why do we have to say war is not an option even as they send terrorists across or flash their nuclear arsenal at us? They have opened a second simultaneous front against India in Afghanistan. We should do likewise. We should not forget we have a war on our hands. It may be proxy war, or whatever else we may choose to call it, but it is war by stealth launched by an army which has a Ghazwa-e-Hind (the final battle for India) mindset. It is not a war just with guns and bullets but a war of perceptions as well. We have to win both. The enemy has to win just one

They know that India will only do so much (when Mumbai 2008 happened we did not even recall our High Commissioner, nor call off talks) and US will only say so much, usually some anodyne, limp and preachy statement as they have done again on Monday. Pakistan can happily live with this arrangement.

A country can afford to be magnanimous when it is the stronger but some countries do not do that. The United States never forgave Cuba or Iran and it has taken decades for the US to try reconciliation. At this juncture, in Pakistan's ruling circles, any conciliatory move by India is seen as appeasement. No self-respecting country, in their view, indulges in this kind of come-and-hit-me-again pleading.

Media coverage

Why show the photo of a grieving widow on our front pages? This is exactly what Pakistan wants to see and celebrate – a grieving helpless nation. Why not show a commando in action? Similarly, this universal desire to rush to interview families, widows and parents of the dead remains inexplicable. We would honour the dead better by letting the families grieve in privacy.

We invite their so-called experts on our prime time television shows, probably pay them handsomely and thus give them lucrative airtime to bad-mouth us and produce all sorts of alibis. A fine example of self-flagellation. Do we seriously expect them to join us in condemning these attacks?

Our editorials the next morning are very erudite and dispassionate as they advocate the big picture of continuing talks with terrorists. It is perhaps easy to be dispassionate when we do not quite know how it is to sit alone crouched behind a bush on a dark cold winter's night waiting for the unseen terrorist. At least for the present we could have spared a thought for those young men who died for us and put some fire and anger in our editorials.

Apart from the editorials, take the reportage in the press: On January 4, the Times of India referred to the terrorists as fidayeen five times in one report. Have the reporters not been told that terrorists on suicide missions use this term to glorify themselves in the name of Allah while on suicide missions? Why do we want to give them this honour when they are brutal murderers? So is the expression mujahedeen. Let's get it right: They are all terrorists, bar none.

The Indian Express report freely cites a senior officer's comments and those of a military officer. Is there no gag order? There is an imaginative report of how the Research and Analysis Wing or R&AW was able to identify five terrorists. How does the reporter know this? Has some one told him? Has he seen the report? Is it necessary to disclose this? Would it not be better to keep the opposition guessing? It is also described how the terrorists, after entering India, changed into military fatigues. Where and when did they do this? Who saw them? Or is this deduction? Did they really use this route that evening or had they slipped in even earlier? Who escorted them? It should be easy to confirm.

Taking stock

One hears that government would now be conducting an enquiry into this episode to determine how we suffered fatalities and how the terrorists penetrated thus far despite some early warnings. Depending on the source of intelligence, the timing of the report and its accuracy, it can be said that had this intelligence not been received and some measures taken, the attack on the Pathankot Airbase would have been a major disaster. It must also be said that the airbase is huge and it takes time to clear such an area. Having said that, it is important to address our shortcomings.

Our first line of defence at the border had some gaps and weaknesses. The opposition knew about this and, quite possibly, there was complicity as well. The local police should be the first point of call for any such terrorist incident after the border crossing. It should be a well-equipped mobile force which is familiar with its area of operation and able to reach the spot before specialised reinforcements arrive. In India, local police deployments are numerically low (one of the lowest globally as a ratio to population), they are thus thinly spread out. What makes it worse is that the quality of training, equipment and morale are equally low. Over time, police and counter-terror policies have been politicised. For decades now there have been commissions that have urged police reforms. These have been promised but never delivered. Prakash Singh, former chief of the Uttar Pradesh Police and Border Security Force, went to the extent of seeking legal redress for this, but nothing has happened so far.

Terrorists and their mentors use each terror attack also as a probing mission to test defences, reactions and about lessons learnt for the future. The adversary hopes to learn more about abilities not just of the security forces but the administration, politicians and media. There are thus two important issues in such situations. One is the functioning of the command and control of the state. The state must be seen to react with speed and efficiency, to be in charge all the time and on top of the situation. The citizen and the forces want to see that there is no panic or confusion. In the past there used to be meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security, although this did not guarantee that the image portrayed was that of a state in charge. Secondly, terrain knowledge and target familiarity enables quick and appropriate action. The National Security Guard or the NSG is a fine force but it is unfair to push it into this kind of a situation unless it has performed dry runs. Perhaps Army commandos could have been used.

It is going to be same old story again, I fear. We have had 30 years to put our counter terror practices in position and for a while we succeeded in Punjab, but the last two decades have pushed all these measures away. In the end, it seems like we have been here before as we wait for the next terror attack.

Vikram Sood is a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.