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9/11: The India story

So where is India in the war on terror today? Well, we aren’t in the sweet spot we were in the George Bush years. But we aren’t in the outhouse we were in the first year of Obama either. Chanakya writes.

india Updated: Sep 11, 2011 01:19 IST
Chanakya

It’s 10 years since Osama bin Laden knocked out the World Trade Centre in New York. So have Indians, veteran victims of terrorism, gained anything from 9/11 et al? Off hand, it doesn’t seem so.



Certainly not after Wednesday’s terrorist bomb blast outside the Delhi High Court. And if someone says that we may have hitched a ride on the post-9/11 ‘global war on terror’, here’s a fact: the most number of Indians to die in a terror attack took place in the seventh year of the war on terror (154 killed in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks).

And yet, India did move a lot closer to winning its own war on terror this past decade.

Let me explain.

Before 9/11, Pakistan sponsored terrorism against India as a means to get New Delhi to make concessions on Kashmir or to conduct general acts of mass disruption. India couldn’t retaliate fearing that Islamabad would go to Washington and complain, thereby ‘internationalising’ the dispute. This dreary game went on for years like two small cousins who pull each other’s hair but only the smaller one being able to tattle to her parents.

Then came September 11, 2001. President George W Bush decided the rules had changed. The litmus test was the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. I remember US embassy officials calling up to say as India mobilised its army, “When it comes to India’s options, we are not using the ‘restraint’ word this time.” Future historians should look up from the footnotes long enough to realise that this was the tipping point. India mobilised; Pakistan bleated to the US; but Bush said, “I can’t say India doesn’t have the right to give as good as it got.” Then Pervez Musharraf blinked (another tipping point) as he decided that the game was up. What came after that — the end of shelling along the Line of Control, Kashmir elections, draft agreements on Siachen and Sir Creek — followed logically.

But like all goods things, this too came to an end. Bush got mired in one war too many. Lehman Brothers got mired in one derivative too many. And Musharraf got mired in one legal battle too many. The new players who arrived in Washington didn’t believe Bush’s rules were still relevant. Barack Obama’s terror roadmap was all about reversing and he seemed to have a route running through Kashmir again. The men in khaki in Rawalpindi started wondering if the good old pre-9/11 days were back again.

Then we had Mumbai on November 26, 2008. We saw the India-Pakistan peace process go haywire. Pakistan’s generals believed the old terror equation was back and that it was okay to slip the dogs of terror out of their kennels again. They figured that mediation may have become passé, but at least the Americans would be passive. Which was more or less true, although even the generals seemed shocked by the sheer blood-letting of 26/11.

The past few months, however, has shown some evidence that the Bush rules are back, if in a diluted form. The green shoots of their return were fertilised in Abbottabad with the killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil, watered by Pakistan’s tolerance of the Lashkar-e-Taiba attacks on US soldiers and other acts of two-facedness.

The buzz is that one retired US general-cum-politico whom New Delhi used to believe was soft on Musharraf told people in Washington: “How do you know a Pakistani is lying? When he opens his mouth.”

The two old allies will get over the vitriol being hurled between them, as they have done in the past. But when the dust settles, the equation will be quite different from what it was two years ago. The US is working hard to reduce its dependence on Pakistan for its soldiers’ supplies. US congressmen get apoplectic these days at the idea of giving a dime to Islamabad.

So where is India in the war on terror today?

Well, we aren’t in the sweet spot we were in the George Bush years. But we aren’t in the outhouse we were in the first year of Obama either. Washington won’t be telling Pakistan that India has the right of retaliation anytime soon.

However, it is coming to accept that the Lashkar-e-Taiba is a threat to everyone, that Kashmir agreements are best left to New Delhi, and that Pakistan is the world’s largest nation in denial. Ten years since 9/11, this is the new norm on South Asian terror. It can be said that we got half a loaf. The question is how to get the other half in the coming years.