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January 7, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Dilip D'Souza

Hijack Afterthought: Being Tough

Three militants for 150+ hostages. Not a bad deal? On the face of it, not a bad deal at all. In the circumstances, perhaps the only way the government could quickly end a situation in which the hijackers were making constant threats to murder hostages and blow up the plane.

But in retrospect, and probably over the longer term, an altogether dismaying exchange. I won't go over all the reasons here, they have been explored at great length several times.

Yet what happened in Kandahar did come with a silver lining: it shows us all, and particularly the parties filled with would-be machos that surround us today, that talking tough has little to do with being tough. With all the bluster about standing up to terrorism that we have heard from Home Minister Advani -- whose previous experience of standing up, of course, was on a Toyota truck he called a chariot -- his own government was forced to give in to this gang of thugs. Oh sure, the spin meisters are hard at work, from the PM downwards, telling us that the thugs' demands were "scaled down." But we all know that they really got just what they wanted.

And now we also know, if we truly needed to, that bluster remains just that. Bluster.

So what might this singularly non-macho columnist, scornful of ministerial bluster, recommend for actually being tough, rather than talking it?

First, recognise that simply slapping together another security squad, or putting more laws on the books, will not work to combat this kind of terror. For example, the news is that "the idea of a special aviation security force" is now "back in focus." But surely we have enough commandos, enough laws, enough mechanisms to keep law and order. Well, enough on paper, and that's the heart of the matter. It remains on paper. What we don't have enough of is implementation.

Our laws are less of a deterrent every day, because their violators know they will never face the punishments the laws prescribe. Our rules and regulations, whether in airports or in income tax offices, are subverted by a pervasive corruption in officialdom; a corruption the rest of us share and tolerate. The effectiveness of the forces that are meant to enforce the law is blunted by as-pervasive political interference; interference the rest of us wink at for our own partisan reasons.

In such a climate, we need never hope to be tough on terrorism. Because such toughness can never take root.

Second, remember always that terror happens right here at home. By focusing solely on the doings of Pakistan-inspired goons, we are persuaded to overlook the crimes that our own powerful goons commit. From policemen who torture with abandon in our jails, to politicians wrapped in taxpayer-paid security, we have numberless sources of daily terror in our very midst. They have combined to give us horrors ranging from custodial deaths to raging, murderous, riots. Never have we found the will to punish these people.

The result? The destruction these quite domestic horrors bring far exceeds what international terrorists have managed.

Third, understand that while the hijack was abhorrent by itself, it did not happen by itself. Nor is it sensible to pretend that it did. As long as Kashmir remains an unresolved issue between India and Pakistan, we had better expect such incidents. It is no use pretending, as so many of us in India like to do, that the problem begins and ends with Pakistan; or hoping that getting somebody to declare Pakistan a terrorist state will magically solve everything for us.

No, a solution to Kashmir must also acknowledge our own role in the tragedy of that state, a role which is meaty enough. That's where true strength lies. It also lies in going on from there, in negotiating the honourable settlement of the issue that no Pokhran blasts or blustering home ministers will buy us.

I don't pretend this will be easy. But neither is it easy to swallow years, unending years, of blood shed in Kashmir. Yet that, we are doing without asking too many questions of ourselves.

And to give those three observations some weight, here's what I think we might do.

First, let's all, each of us, decide to say no to corruption. Whatever the immediate consequences. If that means paying the legal amount at the airport for excess baggage or for a dutiable item, so be it. If it means paying the taxes our laws ask us to, so be it. If it means paying the fine for running a red light, so be it. Of course this will find some of us severely inconvenienced, tormented, by corrupt officials determined to extract their pounds of flesh. But if they are met by an equal determination to stand our ground and observe the law, they will eventually wither away. Palms are greased, after all, only by willing greasers.

Second, demand swift, impartial punishment for those who break our laws. If we live through riots, say, we must not settle for an inquiry into them. At least, not an inquiry as it happens today, under our Commissions of Inquiry Act. Instead, we must insist that rioters and their instigators be prosecuted and punished immediately, that that should be the highest priority right after a spell of rioting. If an inquiry is still conducted, we must demand that its findings be treated as equivalent to a verdict in a Court of law, thus binding on the government, which must immediately act on them.

I realise this will cause heartache to those who, for example, were offended by a recent inquiry report by Justice B N Srikrishna. That's just why such reports must be binding, punishment must be impartial. If they are, governments will be less eager to order interminable inquiries, more pressed to punish criminals quickly. This is worth demanding solely because it will work to establish the rule of law once more. Because it will instil a respect for the law that too many have lost.

No to corruption, demand punishment: not wildly innovative solutions to the diseases that plague us, I know. But we have to start somewhere, and these ordinary suggestions seem like reasonable places to do so.

Third, Kashmir. The knot woven there is so tangled, unraveling it to everyone's satisfaction must surely be a near-impossible dream. Still, I imagine any kind of solution will have to be on lines something like this. Promise all Kashmiris a referendum on their future in some fixed time: say three years. Bring in an international force to monitor the moves both India and Pakistan make. It will watch over the withdrawal of Pakistan's sponsored militants as well as our armed forces. It will also provide safe passage home, guaranteed by both countries, to all Kashmiris driven from the state: Kashmiri Pandits, in particular. Use the three years to persuade Indians that we must respect the result of the referendum, whatever it is. (A commitment to a similar effort will have to be extracted from Pakistan as well). Hold the referendum offering Kashmir two choices: stay with India or leave. Finally, respect the result, whatever it is.

Naive and simplistic, you might say. Far too trusting of Pakistan, you might say. You might even be right. But nothing else is working to bring the Kashmir argument closer to an answer. Perhaps it's time for the simple again. Time to find the self-confidence to trust again. To believe that an India willing to offer Kashmir that kind of choice, and to stand by the result, is the kind of India Kashmir will want to be part of.

What's more, it seems to me that an India like that will be strong enough that it will not easily line up in a terrorist's viewfinder.

Dilip D'Souza

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