02 December, 2008

Terrors and errors

Though this space was intended more for music related posts, no thinking world citizen will be able to resist placing one’s perspectives on the subject above.

For the last several decades, billions of global citizens have been witness to organised terror. Millions have been touched by it one way or the other and hundreds of thousands have been subjected to it directly.

Contrasting responses: Developed countries such as USA and UK have tightened their act considerably through increased security measures, stricter immigration, rejuvenated intelligence efforts, ruthless clamping down of groups and sectors already inside the country that exhibit even a minute disruptive potential and numerous such measures. Even though some of these have been reactive, several others are proactive and anticipatory in nature.

Other nations such as India have been more content with immediate to not-so-immediate responses after or, as it happened in Mumbai recently, during the crisis. And they have never been able to bring to the books most of the perpetrators because of a host of reasons that include tedious judicial processes, lack of dynamic diplomacy or charismatic international opinion building capabilities which can pressurise countries that form the ‘cradle of terror’.

But the reactions of first world countries, mostly USA, has leaned on the other extreme of blatant aggression calculated to show might.

But is this 'war against terror' the right approach to terror? Questionable.

Two wars: The 'trample-your-face' approach is unlikely to win because there really are two different wars out there, being fought on dissimilar planes. On the one hand we have the all-conquering might of say, the USA (that nevertheless places so much importance on the lives and security of its citizens) vs the subterranean approach of the terrorists who do not value geographical boundaries or even their own lives. So, unless the USA is willing to engage the terrorists in a more subtle manner, how would it hope to win?

A lot of empty rounds are fired against unrelenting mountains, both literally and figuratively. This will be a perpetual battle as the terrorists will always wait out a storm of an army in caves and catacombs while actively plotting their next targets and drawing up time lines. But at least the stronger intelligence networks within and outside of the USA ensure that its anticipatory moves pay off at least to a large extent.

This is a huge minus when it comes to the third world countries. With paltry intelligence and half hearted follow ups, they leave their territories wide open to such attacks.

Optimal solution: The best solution, as discerning observers have probably reiterated often enough, is for first and third world countries to join hands and fine tune their approaches to win this war. In other words, as Robert Kagan of The Washington Post says, “internationalize the response.” Countries proven to turn a blind eye to terror camps definitely need the ‘assistance’ of the entire world community to root out such camps.

It has also been argued that such an action could violate a country’s sovereignty. But the counter to this, as Kagan asserts is: “Nations should not be able to claim sovereign rights when they cannot control territory from which terrorist attacks are launched. If there is such a thing as a "responsibility to protect," which justifies international intervention to prevent humanitarian catastrophe either caused or allowed by a nation's government, there must also be a responsibility to protect one's neighbors from attacks from one's own territory, even when the attacks are carried out by ‘non-state actors’."

For the terrorists, it is India today and USA another day and UK the next and so forth - no national border on the map is sacrosanct. So it should be for the nations when it comes to countering them.

Whether it is a strike on USA/UK/Indian soil, the world should unite and act together to weed out the roots of this menace, the camps themselves. Individual countries where the continuing complicity of the military and intelligence services with terrorist groups are only too well known, shed any claim to sovereign protection.

There is little to be gained by blame-game rhetoric when action is the need of the hour. India should get its proofs in order and get competent people to project the truth effectively and build a convincing case in the international community which will mobilise world opinion and galvanise influential countries into action as well.

Action plan: The Mumbai event has opened the eyes of the world to the reality in the subcontinent as no other event has, so far. World leaders are appreciating the direness of the situation here and the world media is projecting events with perspectives that are more balanced and realistic. This is the best time for the Indian think-tank to make its case.

However, it must be remembered by India that any unilateral, military offensive done prematurely before world opinion is solidly built, could backfire badly and result in fresh catastrophe. So India has to prioritise:

(a) Build irrefutable proof
(b) Make a strong case in the appropriate world forums
(c) Catalyse a joint world offensive against suspect regions – military/economic/political

This is also a time for political parties within the nation to shove internal bickering to the back burner and work together, sending a strong message to our own citizens and to the rest of the world that at least when it comes to defending the country, we are above self-serving, tunnel visioned politics. Will India's politicians rise to the occasion and find the perfect pitch to convince the world?

Citizens role: The citizens of India have exhibited quite a bit of anger and discontent over the way the politicians have let things precipitate to these levels. Several high-flying politicians have been openly snubbed by the people and slammed by the media as well. Even within the music community, a few people have tried to campaign against receiving awards from politicians.

However justifiable these actions, they are at best knee jerk reactions and are not the real solutions. A bit of soul searching will reveal that numerous ordinary citizens contribute to violence in one way or the other. Even an apparently innocuous act such as gifting a toy gun to a child can sow the seeds of violence in a future citizen. Same goes for software games that project violence. As to movies that portray violence graphically, the less said the better. To summarise, we all collude everyday to make violence fashionable and exciting at some level or the other.

It could be argued that only the smallest percentage of the millions who are exposed to the above actually become destructive in real life. But it is quite possible for us to make life exciting without turning brainless violence into an 'in' thing.

Civilians can at least start off by boycotting violence-oriented toys and software as gift articles. It may be a small drop but every drop counts.

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