When people who have been at the centre of critical developments write their memoirs and truthfully recount what happened it can make for fascinating reading. Shivshankar Menon’s essay on 26/11, which is part of his book Choices, published yesterday, proves my point. At the time he was foreign secretary and few people had a clearer or fuller idea of what was happening.
He reveals that he “pressed at that time for immediate visible retaliation of some sort, either against the LeT in Muridke … or their camps in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, or against the ISI, which was clearly complicit.” He says this would have been “emotionally satisfying” and “some way towards erasing the shame of incompetence that India’s police and security agencies displayed in the glare of the world’s television lights for three full days”.
He writes that he urged both external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seriously consider retaliation. Mukherjee “seemed to agree”. I, therefore, presume it was Dr Manmohan Singh who did not. Unfortunately, Mr Menon doesn’t quite confirm that.
Mr Menon is probably the first senior official to confirm retaliation was considered at the highest level — although that ought not to be surprising — but, more importantly, he’s the only one to bluntly state the police and security agencies responded incompetently and shamed the country.
Mr Menon lists six reasons why “on sober reflection and in hindsight … the decision not to retaliate militarily and to concentrate on diplomatic, covert and other means was the right one”. Prima facie they’re pretty convincing.
First, “the fact of a terrorist attack from Pakistan … with official involvement on the Pakistan side would have been obscured”. Second, “an Indian attack … would have united Pakistan behind the Pakistan army, which was in increasing domestic disrepute (and) disagreed on India policy with the elected civilian government”. Third, “an attack on Pakistan would … have weakened the civilian government … which sought a much better relationship with India than the Pakistan army”. Fourth, “a limited strike on selected terrorist targets … would have had limited practical utility and hardly any effect on the organization”. Fifth, “collateral civilian damage was almost certain”. Sixth, if it led to war that “would have imposed costs and setback the progress of the Indian economy”.
However, Mr Menon believes that “should another such attack be mounted from Pakistan, with or without visible support from the ISI or the Pakistani army, it would be virtually impossible for any government to make the same choice again … I personally consider some public retribution and a military response inevitable”. So, I presume, he supports Mr Modi’s surgical strikes.
The interesting paradox is that Mr Menon doesn’t believe retaliation will actually end terror. “The LeT will not be deterred by the controlled application of military force … radical ideologies and religion cannot be defeated on the battlefield particularly if (they have) state support.” So retaliation is to boost morale at home not really to tackle the problem.
Mr Menon’s conclusion about Pakistan and India-Pakistan relations is devastatingly forthright. “I am not so sure that it’s any longer within Pakistan’s capacity to stop terrorism now that it has so infected and become so entrenched in Pakistan’s society and state.” “Terrorism,” he adds, “is hard-wired into Pakistan’s society and polity, not just into the ISI.”
This leads him, inexorably, to the following sentence: “India-Pakistan relations are one of the few major failures of Indian foreign policy.” I wouldn’t disagree.
The views expressed are personal