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Explaining away terror

Pak is the greatest enemy of Indian Muslims, shedding crocodile tears over their fate and trying to forge a bogus pan-Islamic unity. Its response to the Mumbai attacks has once again demonstrated this, writes Vir Sanghvi.

india Updated: Jan 18, 2009 09:37 IST
Vir Sanghvi

Are you as fed up as I am by attempts to explain away the Mumbai attacks? Ever since the attacks occurred, the Western press has informed its readers of the terrible condition of India’s Muslims and suggested that minority frustration led to the terrorism.

<b1>Within Pakistan, it is now fashionable to argue that there must have been extensive local involvement and that the attacks were an essentially indigenous operation. And now, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has claimed that the world has double standards. Why go on and on about the Mumbai attacks when so little is said about innocent children dying in Gaza, etc. etc.?

Some things need to be said clearly. First of all, the attacks were not carried out by India’s Muslims. They were carried out by trained terrorists from Pakistan. Secondly, even if it is true that Indian Muslims have been involved in terrorism, it does not follow that they have been forced to turn to violence because of the hostility of India’s Hindu majority. Thirdly, there are no parallels at all between Gaza and Mumbai, and the attempt to draw them reveals the hollowness of Pakistan’s position.

Let’s start with the identity of the attackers. Does anyone seriously doubt that they were Pakistanis? Islamabad made a futile attempt to disown Kasab before being shown up by Pakistan’s own media. Despite a certain amount of double-talk (including the sacking of the National Security Advisor for owning up to Kasab), the official position of the government of Pakistan, as expressed by Information Minister Sherry Rehman, is that Kasab is in fact a Pakistani.

Once we accept that Kasab is who he says he is — a young man from Faridkot, brainwashed and trained by Pakistani jihadi elements — many other things also follow. Clearly, there are outfits active in Pakistan that pick up people like Kasab, train them in mayhem and then export them around the world. The extent of the jihadi brainwashing can be gauged from a statement that Kasab’s father made to the Pakistani media. He said his son left home after quarrelling with him. Young Kasab had wanted his father to give him money to buy new clothes for Id. When the old man refused, his son stormed out of the house.

How much must a hot-headed youth who was prepared to abandon his family over a set of new clothes been brainwashed to reach the stage where he was ready to give up all worldly possessions, and even his own life, in the pursuit of jihad?

That gives us some idea of the strength of the jihadi machine in Pakistan. Young boys are picked up and encouraged to give up their lives for the cause. They receive military training — judging by the expertise the terrorists demonstrated in Mumbai. And they have access to sophisticated arms.

You can argue that all this tells us something about the condition of Pakistani Muslims. But it says nothing about the state of Indian Muslims. So, all attempts to link the Mumbai attacks to the so-called ‘anger of India’s Muslim minority’ are no more than lazy, knee-jerk journalism.

Secondly, let’s accept that even if there was no real Indian involvement in the Mumbai attacks, there have been other cases where the terrorism has been home-grown. So, yes, some Indian Muslims have turned to terrorism.

But there are many kinds of terrorism and violence. The kind we are used to is the variety that uses assassinations and attacks on civilian targets in pursuit of a political goal. Such as, say, Al Fatah or the Sikh militants of the 80s.

The distinguishing characteristic of 21st Century jihadi violence is that, unlike much of what has gone before, it has no clear political aim. When Osama bin Laden sent the planes into the twin towers, he did not think that America would collapse as a result. The British-born Pakistani, who carried out the London bombings did not think that Tony Blair would step down because of their actions.

The new kind of jihadi terrorism is random. It seeks to do no more than inflict pain and suffering on those who are identified as enemies of Islam. And it has found adherents all the way from England to Indonesia.

In this situation, it is not realistic to expect that India, with the world’s second largest Muslim population, will entirely escape this trend. Even if 0.1 per cent of India’s Muslims catch the jihadi bug, the number of potential jihadis could run into lakhs.

Fortunately, we have seen nothing on that scale. Even the Intelligence Bureau’s own estimates limit the numbers of jihadis and their sympathisers at a few thousand. In the circumstances, we have been luckier than any other country, luckier certainly than Britain, where jihadi sympathisers form a far higher proportion of the Muslim population.

Nor does it make any sense to claim that the reason we have some indigenous Muslim terrorists is because they are discriminated against by Hindus.

If that is so, then what about Britain? And what about Muslim majority countries that are the actual breeding grounds of jihad? Surely, nobody is claiming that Muslims face discrimination in countries where they are the majority?

Nobody disputes that India’s Muslims face discrimination. Nor do I deny that they are under-represented in government, in the top echelons in industry and in the police. I concede, too, that they have less access to education than they should.

But two points are worth making. The first is that even in Muslim majority countries, education remains a problem. In last Sunday’s Times of India, M.J. Akbar provided some interesting statistics. There are only 500-odd universities in the Muslim world. India has nearly 8,500. Literacy in the developed world is 90 per cent as against 40 per cent in the Muslim world. High-tech goods and services constitute only 0.90 per cent of Pakistan’s exports. They add up to 68 per cent of Singapore’s exports. Azim Premji, one of India’s high-tech gurus, is a Muslim — no Pakistani has reached that level.

Secondly, as long as we continue to make a link between so-called grievances and terrorism, we will never successfully fight the terrorists. Pakistan wants to have it both ways. It says that political violence in India comes from disaffected Muslims. But it argues that Pakistan is also a victim of terror.

Why do Pakistanis try and kill their own President? Is it because they are discriminated against? Clearly not. Jihad has nothing to do with grievances, or with any kind of political objective. And that is as true of India as it is of Pakistan.

I’ve always said that Pakistan is the greatest enemy of Indian Muslims, shedding crocodile tears over their fate and trying to forge a bogus pan-Islamic unity. Its response to the Mumbai attacks has once again demonstrated this.

When Pakistani politicians go on TV and say that the terror strikes were indigenous, they are — in effect — saying that Indian Muslims are terrorists, something that no responsible Indian politician would ever consider saying.

And when the likes of Gilani compare the Bombay attacks to the Gaza operation, they are playing a dangerous game, by seeking to forge some pan-Islamic sense of victimhood.

Pakistan’s basic problem is that it is a country based on nothing more than religion. But religion has not proved strong enough to hold it together (as Bangladesh’s secession demonstrated), or to provide a basis for democracy. And now, religion has come back to haunt Pakistan in the form of jihad.

The Pakistanis think they are being clever by manipulating the jihadis into attacking India. But ultimately, jihad always backfires on those who sponsored it. That is the lesson Pakistan is learning the hard way.

We, in democratic, secular India, on the other hand, may have our own problems. But our society is not built on religion or torn apart by religious violence.

In the short run, this may leave us at the mercy of a ruthless neighbour. But in long run, it will ensure we flourish, while Pakistan slides deeper and deeper into chaos.