It’s been fascinating, but also disheartening, to watch the mainstream media completely miss the real story about the 60-hour terrorist rampage in Mumbai, India – which may have killed as many as 300 people, and has certainly injured hundreds more. What died in Mumbai — besides scores of innocent people in their hotel rooms and at the Mumbai Jewish Cultural Center and on the blood-drenched platform at Chatrapathi Sivaji railway terminal — were certain illusions about the war on terror, and how to deal with terrorists.
One of those illusions is about who is fighting whom in the war on terror.
Many put the blame for the attack on years of Indian-Pakistani hostility and tension. In fact, relations between the two countries have never been warmer. This past month, Pakistan’s new president stunned and delighted Indians by publicly renouncing any first use of nuclear weapons. Violence in Kashmir, the principal bone of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947, is on the decline. Before the Mumbai attacks, politicians were scheduled to start talks on permitting trade across the region’s Line of Control, so that Hindu farmers in Indian Kashmir can sell their wheat or a used tractor to Muslim farmers in Pakistani Kashmir.
This is precisely what the terrorists don’t want, of course. It’s the fact that tensions over Kashmir are diminishing that prompted them to attack on the November 28 — just as al-Qaeda blew up Samarra’s Golden Mosque in Iraq back in 2006 in order to keep Shias and Sunnis hating and killing each other. The illusion that formal agreements between peoples and governments – whether between India and Pakistan or Israel and the Palestinian Authority – can somehow defuse the terrorist problem was the among the first casualties in Mumbai. Terrorists see it the other way around: the relaxation of tensions is a problem requiring bloodshed.
Islamic terrorists don’t want justice or respect for their beliefs, or restoration of some imaginary homeland. They want violence and death. The duty of every government is to make sure that terrorists get them before they can deal them out. Pakistanis will never know peace, or peace with their neighbors in Afghanistan and India, until they finally and ruthlessly root out the terrorists in their midst.
The same goes for India. That was the second illusion that died in Mumbai: that democratic nations can somehow opt out of the war on terror. India has largely operated on that assumption since 2001, even though it is home to the second-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia, and wedged between two neighbors — Pakistan and Bangladesh — where Islamic terrorist groups operate in relative freedom.
The media here and in India seem to have forgotten that this was not the first round of mass death in Mumbai. Bombings rocked the city back in the summer of 2005, killing more than 200, followed by bloody attacks on Jaipur and India’s high-tech capital, Bangalore, earlier this year.
In spite of this, India’s record on counterterrorism is abysmal, almost deliberately so. The government in New Delhi steadfastly maintains a wall of separation between law-enforcement agencies like the one that used to separate the FBI and CIA before the Patriot Act, and keeps counterterrorist units underfunded and undermanned. It has repeatedly given way to the demands of Islamic radical groups and fundamentalist lobbyists in the name of “cultural sensitivity.” India was the first non-Islamic country to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses back in 1988.
India has no preventive detention laws; no laws to protect the identity of anti-terrorist witnesses; and no laws to allow domestic wiretapping without court order. In 2004, the new Congress Party government revoked India’s version of the Patriot Act, even as the Indian media was loudly condemning the U.S. for “torture” at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.
In short, the Indian government has waged the war on terror in much the same way that liberals and many Democrats have been urging the U.S. to carry it out. The result is that more than 4,000 Indians have died in attacks since 2004 — more than any other nation in the war on terror besides Iraq.
At the Sivaji rail platform on the November 28, eyewitnesses told the Belfast Telegraph that armed Indian police refused to shoot back when the terrorists opened fire. Even when the terrorists stopped to reload their guns, someone screamed at the police: “Shoot them, they’re sitting ducks!” But the police did nothing, only to be gunned down like everyone else.
Sitting ducks. One reason the Mumbai terrorists sought out Brits and Americans to kill is that they can’t get at them in their own countries. The latest report is that those “evil” U.S. intelligence agencies had actually intercepted threats about possible attacks on hotels in Mumbai, and passed them on to their Indian counterparts — who then failed to take action.
Britain and the United States have learned how to deal effectively with terrorism the hard way. Maybe this time Indians will, as well.
– Arthur Herman is the author of Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, published this year by Bantam/Dell.