Following the Mumbai terror attacks, politicians, pundits and the press have created many myths, confusions and falsehoods. These deserve to be exposed in favour of clearer thinking.
Myth 1: “When it comes to terrorism, India and Pakistan are now victims of a common enemy.”
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan has expansively promoted this myth and many in the West and some in India embrace it. In an interview on CNN, Zardari said: “The state of Pakistan is of course not involved. We’re part of the victims.” A week later, he wrote in the New York Times: “Not only are the terrorists not linked to the government of Pakistan in any way, we are their targets and continue to be their victims.”
But this is a treacherous claim. True, Pakistan has been subject to several terrorist attacks recently including the one on the Marriott Hotel that killed more than 50 people three months ago. But India and Pakistan are not victims of the same terror groups. Pakistan suffers at the hands of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda groups whom it is now fighting on the Afghan border alongside the US. But Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) that sent terrorists to Mumbai recently and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) that attacked the Parliament in 2001 do not terrorise Pakistani citizens.
Instead, they have had a history of receiving patronage from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. It is only under intense international pressure that Pakistan has recently arrested the leaders of these outfits. The ease with which the Pakistani army was able to round them up testifies to the cozy relationship between the two.
Myth 2: “Pakistani government bears no responsibility for the recent Mumbai attacks.”
Zardari makes this claim calling the terrorists stateless actors. Indian and US officials have also avoided directly implicating the government of Pakistan in their statements. Yet, the statement is substantively false. For some time now, there has existed an “Army-ISI-Jihadi complex” in Pakistan whereby retired officials of the army and ISI routinely participate in terrorist-training camps that jihadi outfits such as LeT and JeM run. In turn, these outfits actively assist the ISI. Therefore, even if there was no official contact between the government and LeT specifically on the Mumbai attacks, the army and ISI bear responsibility in an essential way.
Myth 3: “A silver lining in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks has been the absence of any retaliatory attacks and riots within India.”
Western observers frequently mention this. Taken literally, the statement is true. But its unstated implication that terrorist attacks in India are usually followed by retaliatory attacks and riots is entirely false. In recent years, India has been rocked by a series of terrorist attacks, originating both externally and internally. But in no case has there been a retaliatory attack by either Hindus or Muslims. Indeed, in the aftermath of the May 2008 bomb explosions in my own hometown, Jaipur, both Hindus and Muslims lined up at hospitals to donate blood for surviving victims. In a similar vein, following the recent Mumbai attacks, the government has been unable to find a single Muslim group willing to accept the bodies of nine Pakistani terrorists for burial in its graveyard. Those who raise the spectre of retaliatory actions following terrorist attacks confuse them with communal riots. While communal riots by definition divide Hindus and Muslims, terrorist attacks usually bring them together.
Myth 4: “All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.”
The falsehood of this statement is made obvious by the facts that a Tamil terrorist assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sikh guards, guided by Khalistani militants, shot Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. White supremacist groups have had their share of terrorist acts in the US. Even a more restrictive claim that “all transnational terrorists are Muslim” is false. In the ’70s, terrorist groups in different Latin American countries cooperated with one another as well as Palestinian, European and Japanese urban guerrilla groups. Nor is modern day transnational terrorism in Africa Muslim in character.
Myth 5: “India itself is to be blamed for the terror attacks because of its ill treatment of Muslims at home.”
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, commentators in the Western media disproportionately focused on domestic ills as the principal source of terrorism facing India. Though strong signals of Pakistani involvement had begun to emerge within 24 hours of the attacks, some among these observers continued to cling to the idea that discrimination at home had led local Muslims to carry out the attacks. Others naively believed that outfits such as the LeT would not send terrorists if India did not discriminate against Muslims.
But these observers largely rest their case on association: If discrimination against Muslims exists — and there is plenty of it — it must be responsible for Muslim terrorism. But this is wholly insufficient reasoning. For instance, listen to what LeT head Hafiz Saeed said at a rally in Karachi in 2000: “There can’t be any peace while India remains intact. Cut them, cut them — cut them so much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy.” Is this a man who will stop sending terrorists if India stopped discriminating against Muslims?
Likewise, those connecting domestic terrorism to discrimination must answer why despite its existence for decades, we have witnessed systematic bomb explosions by a Muslim terrorist group only over the last year? Why is it that
Dalits, who have suffered from discrimination even more than Muslims and are today worse off than them, have not resorted to similar terrorist attacks? And why is it that, according to at least tentative evidence, even Hindu groups have begun to engage in terrorist attacks? Connecting terrorism to discrimination by association may make one popular but it does not make for sound analysis or policy-making.
Myth 6: “No amount of intelligence, training and equipment can prevent determined terrorists from striking.”
Taken literally, this is true but in substance it is false. The US has successfully prevented attacks since 9/11. Given its more vulnerable borders and the limited appetite of its citizens for searches and security alerts, India’s task is more difficult. Nevertheless, significant reduction in attacks and the damage from them is possible. Multiple checkpoints equipped with bulk-cargo scanners can make terrorist entry difficult. Intelligence, especially at local levels, can help catch some terrorists before they attack. And better weaponry, protection devices and training can improve the chances of the security personnel subduing terrorists in case the latter succeed in attacking. The best need not be the enemy of the good.