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January 11, 2016

Pathankot lessons

Opinion

January 11, 2016

This is ugly. We don’t have to like it to face it. Our arch enemy, all of whose vital state and government organs are geared towards keeping us down and out of the big league, has us on the hook.

The Pathankot attack has given India a unique handle to slam us with. For now facts seem to be on Delhi’s side. So is the collective voice of the international community whose heavy hitters, like the US, China, Russia and Europe want Islamabad to cooperate with its aggrieved neighbour and bring to justice those behind the audacious and suicidal episode.

Government and state officials in Islamabad reluctantly admit that some members of the group might have gone inside India from Pakistan to cause what has to be the most embarrassing recent event in our ties with India. If the world weren’t consumed by the grim crisis in the Middle East and the Moscow-Washington cold war, our embarrassment would have been much larger than what we are facing now. But even then what we have on our face is bad enough – and we got to deal with it.

But first the key question: how have we landed ourselves in this sorry soup? Two words form a near-complete answer: incompetence and falsehood.

Not for the first time in our history has absence of timely performance (another way to describe incompetence) thrown us down in a crisis. For example, we were supposed to ensure that we had on our policy radar all non-state actors that might attempt to define history through bloody and deadly acts. Governments and state institutions were supposed to focus on busting rings of terror groups, capturing the ring leaders, choking their finances and making them totally dysfunctional.

The aim of this effort was: one, to yield a peaceful domestic environment and, two, to produce a solid rebuttal to our detractors’ insistence that evil deeds get planned on our soil (another way to describe sanctuary) and carried out across both sides of the border. The blueprint of this effort was written in our public commitment to the world that our soil shall not be used for any such activity. It was written in our leaders’ repeated assurance to us, the people, that they would not let any such group operate on our land that challenges the writ of the state and brings death and destruction upon citizens.

The guidelines for this effort were codified in the shape of the National Action Plan, under which every institution was supposed to come together and direct its energies towards stabilising our borders and purging our territory of this menace.

Seen in the context of the Pathankot incident, it is correct to say that every institution failed to do its duty. Groups that were supposed to be rendered dysfunctional remained functional. The network that was supposed to be broken remained intact. The mobility that was supposed to be frozen remained well-oiled. The borders that we were supposed to monitor and protect from being crossed remained unprotected and were crossed.

These unsettling facts combine to tell us a long story of costly dereliction of duty, punishable negligence and deplorable neglect of the tasks that every organ of state and government was supposed to carry out but didn’t.

This poor performance record looks even sadder when read with the fact of our long experience in dealing with the psyche and potential of such groups. The long war against terrorism that is almost endlessly consuming precious lives and national resources should have prepared us well to thwart such plans. Besides, an attack on an Indian target was almost predictable. Or at least was feared. We should have anticipated it. We should have prevented our territory getting involved in it. This was our leaders’ core job. They have made a glorious mess of it.

Now that everyone is trying to clean it up, we have to admit that we set ourselves up for this embarrassment by pretending (this is another name for falsehood) that we have done so well in uprooting the infrastructure of non-state actors that use our soil and blacken our name. Our claims of our own successes are taller than the tallest mountains; our appetite for being praised and garlanded every minute of every passing day for bravery is deeper than the deepest oceans.

We have made a shining career out of parading our prowess against terrorists and have pinned all the dazzling medals there are to be had on our chests for having defeated them. And yet – and yet – half a dozen or more men map and execute a plan like this and we need Indians to provide us with information to find out how much of this involved our territory? What have we been doing all this time if not monitoring our territory?

In a way we know what we have been doing. We have been shifting blame and passing the buck of responsibility. The National Action Plan – the ultimate, mega-scale lid on sources of organised crime and terror in the country – has become a virtual football that is kicked around the field without ever reaching its goal-post. The interior minister has suddenly discovered that the implementation of vast a majority of NAP’s elements is the job of the provinces. That he or his cabinet colleagues head every committee tasked to ensure speedy progress on these elements obviously escapes his notice. Provinces lament absence of resources and coordination with the federal government and insist that they are doing the best they can. Even Punjab, which is an extension of the Sharifs’ federal political estate, is heard making the same point!

The army says it has completed its task brilliantly and the rest of the matters pertaining to NAP is now the federal government’s job. The prime minister, a consummate deflector, flicks the ball of this job back to the interior minister who then passes it on to the provinces. And on and on it goes, this clownish game of shifting the blame for non-implementation of NAP and claiming the imagined trophies for those elements that we believe have been implemented.

It is a fact that if our state and governments had sincerely and with unbending resolve gotten down to enforcing their own commitments, our borders would have been secure from any transgression. If they had done their work and not wasted time in lifting false shields of ‘success’ against terror networks, our writ on our own territory would have been strong enough for us to rubbish all accusations of connivance in the activities of non-state actors.

But for now we have to deal with the burden of our own follies and failures. This country has again been sent up the embarrassment creek by a bunch of men who cannot seem to get their act together and forever blame others for their own misdeeds.

What do we do now?

To begin with, we should not dodge realities. If what India says has merit in it – and we have to determine the merit on the basis of fact, not fiction – we need to act swiftly and decisively in capturing and prosecuting those who played their part in this entire episode. We should also be ready to deal with the possibility of backlash, which could either be in the shape of attacks of various natures inside Pakistan or again in India or even in Afghanistan. Our communication and coordination network with our immediate neighbours must be robust, ongoing and round the clock.

We should also debate and discuss the facts of this case in public. Hiding our mistakes, sweeping challenges under the carpet and throwing a blanket of secrecy over the challenges we face isn’t the best way to build national consensus and mould public opinion. If we want the public to support a particular policy measure we must take them into confidence.

And finally, we should accept our own responsibility in fixing our own house but must not be driven by fear, panic or other such factors involved in a typical knee-jerk reaction. Dealing with India is a long-term task. Turning one incident into a reason to revise our entire strategic outlook towards a slippery neighbour would be a terrible mistake.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TalatHussain12

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