Hindsight is a two-bogey train. The first coach is called ‘Clarity’, the second is ‘Wisdom’. The engine is driven by a fuel called ‘Realisation’. And so it is that after every hideous terrorist attack by jihadis from Pakistan, we realise our avoidable follies with great clarity; we believe we are wiser than before.
Unfortunately, the hindsight train makes only a brief halt and neither realisation nor wisdom last more than the 24-hour TRP-driven news cycle that has come to symbolise our life-clock.
Till the next train arrives, we, the people and our government, slip back into blissful, blessed complacence.
Schoolchildren pay tribute to the Pathankot martyrs
Every two-penny analyst has been prompt in raising questions about last weekend’s terrorist attack on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot, pillorying the government, mocking the security establishment, doubting the capacity of those tasked with defending India from its enemies. Some gleefully, others morosely.
This is not to suggest that the questions and concerns are misplaced. They aren’t. For instance, common sense tells us that our border management, both in the east and the west, remains woefully poor and way behind the need of the times we live in.
The report of the committee set up after the Kargil conflict to propose effective border management gathered dust before turning obsolete.
Had we managed our border with Pakistan better, had defunct electronic surveillance equipment been repaired, had drug trafficking routes been blocked, the terrorists who attacked the IAF base could not have entered Punjab.
What does it tell us of border area security arrangements that they were able to travel 20 km without hindrance? You don’t need to be a strategic affairs expert to realise that real-time intelligence, never mind how it was secured, could have been better used had there been better ground-level inter-agency coordination. Or that there was sufficient time to secure the outer periphery of the base instead of depending on the DSC as the first respondent.
That the terrorists were not able to reach ‘strategic air assets’ is no doubt a tribute to the determined fightback by the DSC jawans. That the subsequent operations saw six terrorists being neutralised without collateral damage to civilian lives is equally a tribute to the valour and spirit of the NSG and Garud commandos.
But behind the valour of our men lurks the cold comfort that we seek. The terrorists who attacked the base were not random jihadis, they were militarily trained, heavily armed, and highly motivated by jihad’s repulsive doctrine, prepared to kill, ready to die. In an asymmetrical war that gives them advantage.
There is little or no percentage in belabouring issues that will no doubt (or at least should) concern the security establishment. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is the best India has at the moment. He is not known to seek refuge in convenient cover-ups or gloss over discomfiting facts. Let’s wait and see how the post-attack response pans out.
Asking the Opposition not to score political points and feed ill-informed popular outrage is, frankly, meaningless.
As a nation we have failed to forge a national consensus and resolve in dealing with the scourge of terrorism, both of the home-grown and cross-border variety. Nothing demonstrates this better than the fact that India is possibly the only country which rubs shoulders with jihad-exporters in not having a legal mechanism to deal with terror.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act should have evolved into a law over the past decade, keeping pace with the rapidly-changing terrorscape that now confronts the world. Instead we replaced it with an amended Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 vintage. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work.
We have failed to build a national consensus on dealing with, and exterminating, Left-wing terrorism at home. Maoists still kill with impunity. Our politicians refuse to agree on the menacing rise of Islamism across the country. Fanatics spurred by the jihad impulse run riot in West Bengal, recruit Islamic State foot soldiers in Tamil Nadu, turn ghettoes into no-go zones in western Uttar Pradesh. The power of their veto rides roughshod over the lure of votes.
Saluting brave soldiers and policemen who die defending this land comes easy. It fetches Facebook likes, Twitter retweets, WhatsApp forwards. Such expressions of gratitude are often no more than self-gratification through selfies. We mourn, as we should, for the seven bravehearts who laid down their lives at Pathankot. But do we remember the 155 security forces personnel killed in India, 41 of them in Jammu & Kashmir, in 2015? That more jawans died fighting Maoists than jihadis last year?
Let’s face it. These are mere statistics. Neither the people nor the politicians see them as human lives lost. What we, the people, see is as cynical as what they, the politicians, see: An opportunity to score points, entertain primetime TV viewers and mock each other.
A last point that is offered as a lesson - for the majority of Indians, Israel is admirable for its determination not to concede a quarter to its foes. What is not realised and internalised is that determination comes with multiple price tags. Israel pays top dollars for arming its soldiers, buying or developing cutting-edge technology, acquiring real-time intelligence. Israeli politicians do not squabble over cents. Nor do they trade national security for personal pelf. Israelis pay high taxes and demand accountability from their government.
For every Israeli, each Israeli life is precious and to be protected. They do not see fellow citizens as disposable commodity. Israel, as a nation, pays a stiff price for its tough security doctrine. Media does not compromise national security. Jholawallahs do not set the agenda, bleeding-heart liberals do not determine policy. Bogus debates on ‘tolerance’ do not distract them from their resolve. Yet, human rights are enshrined and protected by an active and independent judiciary.
Now compare that with the way we are. Why complain?
The writer is a political commentator and tweets at @KanchanGupta