Home > Uncategorized > 26/11: Three years on, do we have a strategy?

26/11: Three years on, do we have a strategy?

Three years ago, this day, 26/11 was in New York.


The day was a happy one for me, my happiness those days being tightly tethered to the equity in my trading account. The world was bearish; the markets near bottom, as now. We were busy hunting for bargains to cover our shorts. My supervisor couldn’t have been more pleased.


I barely noticed the small news item flash on my news screen that spoke of a gunman firing shots at VT.  Gang wars I thought, even as I dismissed it as inconsequential to what I was doing then, pausing only to note I should call home and ask when free later in the day.


Over the next few days the true horror of the story began to unfold.  Having travelled often, it was easy to identify with the victims at the hotel and share their panic and terror.  The sheer randomness of the act somehow troubled me immensely.  How do you grapple, and come to terms with, something like that?  What do you make of a person who can carry out such a premeditated act of murder in cold blood?  How would I react in such a situation?


But the conversations that really moved me were with my Dad on the phone.  Being in the forces himself, he knew what was going on.  He was stationed in Mumbai then, and worked a few hundred yards away from Taj.


Needless to say, we were utterly unprepared for what hit us.  We struggled for 10 or 11 days before we could end the siege.  There was horrendous loss of civilian life.  Worse, the terrorists had brought a sprawling densely packed metro to a halt.  It is beyond me to capture the frustration my Dad felt.  He was livid as a ponderous, top heavy, uncoordinated bureaucracy got its act together. Days were lost before we gathered enough men and material to tackle the terrorists. Nobody involved came away unscathed – despite individual acts of incredible bravery – policemen, soldiers, and civilians.


The act had been planned and rehearsed for months if not years at the highest levels of Pakistan’s spy agency.  It was designed to strike terror in our hearts.  Brigadier S K Malik meticulously out lined the strategy in a book on Quranic Warfare. It was an operation executed with military precision by men so highly indoctrinated that only one surrendered when panicked by an injury.  This was no terror strike even if the victims were randomly chosen civilians.  It was a military strike on carefully selected targets designed to create maximal psychological impact.  If there was any lingering doubt, those have all been dispelled by Headley.  Worse, we would not have known what we know but for the generous technical and other intelligence inputs we received from the Americans. If you have any doubts on that score take look at the Pune, Mumbai and Delhi blasts where we haven’t found any of the people involved so far.


26/11 happened after 10 years of ISI supported insurgency in Punjab that killed thousands of people.  The Punjab insurgency was followed by another 2 decades of insurgency in Kashmir that killed tens of thousands of people.  Contrast the casualties in Punjab and Kashmir with those in all of the wars with Pakistan in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1990.  In all, they were a few thousand, or a tiny fraction of the numbers we have lost in the two insurgencies. Which of them is then the real war?  The 4 formal engagements or the 3 decades of unending insurgency that has claimed 100,000 lives?  Forget the casualties.  Lets look at the troops engaged in CT duties.  By any parameter, the real war with Pakistan is the insurgency.  If wars are fought to bend the enemy’s will, we are right in the middle of a 3 decade old war.


The bigger question though is why don’t we recognize the war for what it is?  How can we fight it, and more importantly end it, without recognizing it as war by other means than conventional, and finding methods by which to fight it.  These are not terror strikes.  You cannot defend against them.  Even the US had to take the war to those who sponsored terror and put the terrorists on the defensive before it could render its homeland safe.  Merely building walls isn’t enough.  And since the terrorist retains the choice of time, place and manner of attack, you simply cannot defend all possible targets cost effectively.  We may not have been bled white but we have been bled.  And if Pakistan cannot sustain this war for reasons of economy we mustn’t forget we are 7 times the size of Pakistan.  And last but not the least, Pakistan doesn’t come alone.  The real elephant in the room that provided Pakistan with nuclear umbrella under which to wage this war with us is China.


Indian foreign policy in the 80s was shackled by the holy cow of feigned non-alignment. It saw us virtually tied down as a Soviet satellite.  The US was aligned with Pakistan and saw us not hostile but still firmly in the Soviet camp.  And then Afghanistan happened.  Pakistan used the opportunity to sideline us, acquire nukes, rebuild its arsenal and wrangle a lot of money out of the US.  Thus buttressed, it pursued its low level conflict with us in Punjab and Kashmir with impunity.  There was precious little we could do about it other than defend with whatever we means we had.  Note we nearly went bankrupt trying to do so in the late 80s.  Lets us never forget that, as is our wont.


Following the 90s reforms things changed which is why we now play up our economic success.  It well to bear in mind just how tenuous that success really is.  Be that as it may, we have now mended our fences with the US, built up adequate reserves to afford the weaponry we need, and can buy the best we wish from the sources we prefer.  The old constraints are gone.  It is a new world.  But has our strategy of fighting the ongoing war changed?


From all that I can see, we continue to plod along the earlier path of indolence and indifference.  Let us be brutally frank.  What has been our biggest strength in this 3-decade-old war?  It is our indifference to human lives lost.  We have lost close to a 100,000 of our civilians and soldiers without batting an eyelid.  There is no hue and cry over our losses; no Govt. has lost an election over our reverses; we haven’t sacked any general, military or police, for incompetence; no civil servant has been ever lost sleep over governance.  People continue to die every single day.  Is there any other country in the world that takes such losses with our equanimity?  How many more need to die before we can wake ourselves up from our stupor to set things right?


I do not have the answers.  I have a lot of questions though. What really bothers me is that it is well nigh impossible to ask hard questions in our polity let alone get answers.  Why is discussing these thing so taboo?  We say we are a democracy, we swear by it, but we as citizens have absolutely no clue why politicians are playing with our lives?  Is it too much to ask what is being done to end a 30-year-old war with Pakistan?  Look at the way the US debates its war on terror in Afghanistan and the attention it pays to its own causalities of war.  Are we children of such an inferior God that we dare not even ask why we need to die in such numbers?


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. commonindianman
    November 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Human life doesn’t have much value in India.. We are content to show mock outrage after every terror incident. The cycle is, Terror attack-people blame government-opposition blames government-Government blames opposition over something else- people lose interest & forget the issue..
    Easy to blame the politicians but how many citizens support a full scale war? Most are not concerned with what happens in Kashmir or what happened in Punjab as long as their daily life is not affected.. American people were baying for someone’s blood after 9/11 & Bush could launch a war and give them that.
    In India with the coalition politics of last 2 decades, PM can’t make one tiny decision without some party or the other getting upset & threatening to bring down the government.. It will take more than 5 years to get all coalition partners on board for a decision like war & by then coalition partners will change leading to more negotiations..
    Carry on living, hope for the best and just pray that you are not a victim of the next bomb blast because rest assured with this lax attitude of everyone concerned, there will be another attack.

  2. November 26, 2011 at 6:00 am

    Smasher of an article. Don’t feel like adding anything as you have put it all so will. Just Wish our rulers could be at the receiving end of terror. They escape every time.

  3. November 26, 2011 at 1:39 pm

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  4. December 2, 2011 at 12:44 am

    Thanks for picking up a burning issue. When gun totting Pakistanis cruelly killed Indians, I remember Indians came together as one to show Pakistan they wouldn’t be able to divide us and create chaos. But when the Zaveri Bazaar bombs went off in July this year, it was the first time I saw Indian anger at the government reach boiling point. Some government official tried to get a photo op. out of the whole hopeless mess – going to the scene of the bomb and giving a speech, calling Indians brave and suggesting the Indian spirit would survive. That was the final straw. Indian anger boiled over. So many, for the very first time, openly said “never mind our spirit, what are the government’s plans for our safety?”

    Safety and security are beyond mere rhetoric. They’re also beyond petty party politics. Political parties in any mature and responsible democracy throughout the world understand that safety and security of ordinary people is non-negotiable. To blame others and not make progress on this vital issue! Channeling Indian anger at what you rightly call the “path of indolence and indifference” seems to be the only hope right now. After all, whose voice is effective – a billion lone individuals or a billion strong force? I hope no more lives are lost before the government and the opposition take this issue seriously and hammer out a plan together.

  1. November 25, 2011 at 11:49 pm

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