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Coping with risk

The massacre of 22 Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir and the killing of K. Suryanarayana in Afghanistan are two sides of the same coin.

india Updated: May 02, 2006 00:10 IST

The massacre of 22 Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir and the killing of K. Suryanarayana in Afghanistan are two sides of the same coin. Both are terrorist acts, carried out by people who think that their religion — Islam — gives them special sanction to take the lives of others as a means of making a political point. There is one more commonality — both sets of victims were ‘soft’ targets, civilians, who had neither guns, nor security personnel to protect them. Despite the double tragedy, we also know that we cannot be deflected from our course of either helping in the reconstruction of Afghanistan or be provoked into derailing efforts to build peace in J&K and with Pakistan.

The civilians working in Afghanistan know that they are operating in a highly risky environment. Yet, in addition to a desire to earn some risk pay, a sense of duty and professionalism has taken some 2,500 Indians to the war-torn country.  Knee-jerk reactions demanding protection for them simply miss the point — the government cannot protect soft targets in even New Delhi, so where is the question of protecting them in Afghanistan? Certainly, companies working there must provide as much physical security as they can as well as put in place work procedures that minimise risk. What Mr Suryanarayana, M.R. Kutty and Bharath Kumar, three Indians killed in Afghanistan so far, were doing — setting up telecom facilities and building roads, schools and hospitals — are activities which will  transform the country and drain the swamp that breeds the Taliban and the al- Qaeda. As for J&K, the government can and should be doing something more. It should provide better trained forces who are far more mobile and able to provide security in the far flung mountainous areas.

A word would be in order about the sometimes over-the-top media coverage of such events. Amplifying the emotions of the near and dear of the victims along with an irresponsible measure of spice by assigning blame before the facts are at hand, could have brought the government of India to its knees, a la Kandahar. Defeating terrorism requires nerves of steel and determination. It also requires a degree of stoicism and courage that refuses to allow grief to be turned into a self-defeating theatre of bereavement.