Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Silence of the Lambs

Swati Parashar*

Even as I write this, I hear Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, in a press conference brazenly denying Pakistan's role in the Mumbai terrorist war and carnage. He says, 'Pakistan is a responsible neighbour and a responsible nation'. A new definition of 'responsibility' perhaps! The 'responsible' nation allows terrorists and fanatics like Syed Salahudin, Hafiz Sayeed, Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim to walk with impunity in its territory. The Minister further says that 'every Pakistani should know that when it comes to national security and national interest, all institutions of the state are unanimous'. Can we learn something from his message? Can we also say that when it comes to our national security, integrity and sovereignty, we, as Indians, can also stand together and speak with a unanimous voice? Can we convey a message to our leaders and our decision makers that this time, I repeat, this time we shall not have Indo-Pak rapprochement take priority over our response to this heinous act of terror against our nation? President Zardari said a few days back that, 'there is a little bit of Indian in every Pakistani and little bit of Pakistani in every Indian'. Well said Mr. President but your own people have derided your magnanimity or rather your hyperbole. Political analyst Shireen Mazari concluded in one of her usual anti-Indian rantings that beneath all the multilayered identity she has as a Pakistani, she failed to see that 'little bit of Indian' in her. I wonder what the kin of Mr. Jinnah, living in India, have to say about this. For her, India is a foreign country. At this moment, unfortunately, when 'borders' have entered our vocabulary once again, I am unable to see the 'little bit of Pakistani' in me. Pakistan is as much a foreign country for us as India is for Ms. Mazari, albeit with a history of hostility!

I have not been able to sleep since this nightmare broke out. I wonder if our ever sensitive PM who lost his sleep (and perhaps rightfully so!) when Mohammed Haneef, was arrested in Australia, could get some sleep this time. He did not seem to lose much sleep while addressing the nation. Mr. Prime Minister, (Dr. Manmohan Singh) which sovereign country will tolerate this blatant act of terror, when a group of armed men from across the border carry out a violent orgy in the name of delivering justice to their brethren in this country? What would happen if a group of Mexicans carry out this kind of mayhem against Americans in the US, in the name of delivering justice to Hispanics? What would be China's response to a group of Tajiks, Uzbeks or even Pakistanis, who walk into China just as easily as these terrorists landed in Mumbai and then carry out carnage in China, as a response to Chinese treatment of Uighur Muslims? How would the Australians react if a group of Indonesians enter their territory and carry out terrorist attacks to protest against the oppression of minority Muslims in Australia? We (including our own Government) know what course of action these governments will take but for India, inaction would mean a virtuous moral high ground.

But wait, is this new? We have been taught similar lessons in the past too, by our charitable neighbours in the South, East and West. Our national leader was assassinated in our territory using our resources, and terror and violence is unleashed almost on a monthly basis, often facilitated from across the Western and Eastern borders. They are lessons taught, but we learnt nothing! Not once could we send a strong signal that our tolerance could not be taken for granted. Mr. PM, you and your ministers have hardly inspired any confidence even during this war in Mumbai. On another note, even the commando operations have left us speechless as we try to come to terms with the fact that two or three terrorists at any given time can keep 100 or more elite NSG commandos engaged in a fierce gun battle for three days! The media reporting added to our fears as we kept getting information about how the terrorists are eluding the commandos, shifting positions, moving from one floor to another. Some of us ask, why did the media need to be briefed about the operations, about the movement of the terrorists, and about the number of commandos, hostages etc. and run it like a reality show? Why did the commandos need to address the media especially when the operation was still going on? I salute those brave soldiers who fought to secure us and our country, mourn for those who lost their lives, but I cannot help raise questions. I hope some informed people will dispel the darkness around these uninspiring 'counter- terrorism' operations.

I have been following the media reports and opinion pieces very carefully, even those from Pakistan. There is the familiar and understandable denial from the Pakistani side. However, the denial by our Indian media is disheartening. Some writings have started coming through, familiar and rhetorical; let us look at 'root causes', let us address 'marginalisation' and let us talk about 'oppression' and 'grievances'. I wish to tell them that despite the genuine problems of exclusion and marginalisation we still face, we have fared better than the dismal records of those in the world who point fingers at us. A gentleman from Pakistan asked me to think about what our (Indian) 'reaction' to this kind of terrorism would mean to the Muslims of the sub-continent. My only answer is that for every action and reaction, how fair is it to be always held hostage to the feelings of one community, when the sad truth is that we have not even succeeded in convincing them of our goodwill. I have written in an earlier article, "There can be no limit to the ways in which any community's sentiments are threatened because communities are more fragile identities than individuals. I am beginning to get a sense that in the name of protecting the feelings of communities of all sorts, we are promoting a culture of intolerance that will further divide the people and entrench conflicts in the society."

Why should the feelings of any one community negate any effective counter-terrorism strategy? What happens to claims about our multicultural, multi religious and multi ethnic identity and the fact that the state has responsibilities towards citizens and not just communities? Besides, I am sure the Indian Muslims would also not like 'foreigners' to speak for them and carry out such attacks in their name. These terrorists claimed to be representing the aggrieved in India. I am hoping those 'represented' will speak up this time. Kashmir was mentioned as a reason for this terrorist war in Mumbai. Do the Kashmiris want to be represented by such terrorists/ such brutal killers? Why haven't I heard any Kashmiri leader speak out yet? I also wait for intellectuals like Arundhati Roy, ever so conscientious and sensitive towards the 'wronged' and the 'innocent' victims, to offer their condolences to those who have died in these terror attacks including the uniformed officers! But, maybe Ms. Roy would argue that they deserved to die, the rich foreigners, especially Americans, Jews, and those rich Indians who were staying in these posh hotels, people who were symbols of imperialism, capitalism and therefore, of bourgeois decadence! But Ms. Roy, you can still condole the cold blooded murder of 'common' people at the CST railway station.

In classical political science we are taught that a 'state' as a political entity consists of four essential elements; territory, government, sovereignty and population. These attacks in Mumbai make me rethink our existence as a 'state'. Our territorial integrity blatantly violated by people (terrorists) who could walk in and out without being as much as even questioned. Sovereignty, such that these foreign terrorists deliver justice to the oppressed citizens of this country. Government? Does there seem like one? So does population alone make our country a 'state' then, a population which is anyways being annihilated in such acts of terror? These difficult questions will have to be asked and we will have to introspect, we will have to speak out. The great poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, has a message for us even as we make sense of this tragedy and outrage.

"bol ki lab aazaad hai.n tere

bol zabaa.n ab tak terii hai

teraa sutawaa.n jism hai teraa

bol ki jaa.n ab tak terii hai"

Speak, your lips are free.

Speak, it is your own tongue.

Speak,it is your own body.

Speak, your life is still yours.

Swati Parashar is a PhD candidate at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Lancaster University, UK. She can be contacted at

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