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Ramesh Thakur, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, ANU Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy. Former professor of political science at the University of Waterloo (Noor Khamis)
Ramesh Thakur, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, ANU Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy. Former professor of political science at the University of Waterloo (Noor Khamis)

Ramesh Thakur

India must stop being a soft target Add to ...

In words made famous by Ronald Reagan during a presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980, here we go again. Three blasts within 15 minutes of each other tore through India's commercial capital Mumbai on Wednesday evening, leaving 18 dead and 133 injured. Can any other major world city match Mumbai's record as the terrorists' serial target of choice?

On July 11, 2006, seven bombs on Mumbai's commuter trains killed more than 200 and injured another 700. In the globally televised attacks on Nov. 26, 2008, 166 people were killed, including many foreigners.

The co-ordinated nature of Wednesday's attacks and the choice of Mumbai as the target suggest that, like 2008, this too may have a foreign footprint. The modus operandi points to the involvement of the banned Indian Mujahedeen that works closely with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The resilience displayed by Mumbaikars in previous incidents will come to the fore again. But with each fresh incident, the cold anger at state and central governments' incompetence, callousness and indifference grows.

The persistence of domestic and cross-border terrorism is an indictment of multiple dimensions of governance. The Manmohan Singh government is among the weakest and most ineffectual in independent Indian history. It seems to soak up the warm and fuzzy feelings of rhetorical pats on the back from foreign leaders about courage, resilience, patience and refusal to be provoked into any retaliatory action against countries where the attacks originate. Instead of issuing credible threats and delivering effective action against terrorists, Mr. Singh urges calm on citizens.

Anyone can counsel caution. The real challenge is to offer practical suggestions on what to do, not what to avoid doing. The undying proof of India as a soft state earns the contempt of Islamists as a government that is all bark and no bite - and frankly, even the barks are getting fewer and fainter.

The secret to India's economic success, it is claimed, is that the economy grows mainly during the night, when the government is asleep. But the government has to be very much in charge in providing the public goods of law, order and security. Can the Indian government drum up the necessary courage of conviction in addressing grievances, modernizing security services and confronting Pakistan?

India's Muslims have many justified grievances. Most notoriously, the perpetrators of massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 are yet to be arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced. This stokes Muslim anger and thirst for vengeance. But terrorists are rarely prosecuted through the creaky and leaking criminal justice system, either. Detaining suspects indefinitely without trial adds to anger in one community without bringing closure to victims' families, in turn inflaming Hindu anger.

The quality of India's police and security personnel and their training, arming and conditions of service need to be upgraded substantially and urgently. The elite commandos are siphoned off for VIP protection duty, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves.

Terrorists have attacked India repeatedly with planning, training and financing based in Pakistan. Pakistan's military-intelligence-jihadist complex has been lethally effective in outsourcing terrorism as an instrument of policy. No effective response keeps India bleeding at a cost-free policy for Pakistan. India must find a formula that raises the costs to Pakistan by recalibrating the balance between no action and limited but effective military response.

Pakistan's record of double-dealing, deceit and denial has been based on four degrees of separation between the government, army, intelligence and terrorists. Plausibility is rapidly fading as it is exploited as a convenient but increasingly implausible alibi to escape international accountability.

Any Indian military action carries the risk of destabilizing Pakistan still more. That is no longer an unacceptable risk. India would unquestionably be better off with a stable and prosperous neighbour. But for over a decade, even as Pakistan has teetered on the brink of collapse and disintegration and been reduced to a bit player, India has prospered and emerged as a major world player.

Ideally, Pakistan's military must be brought under civilian control and the two countries' governments can then co-operate in ridding the subcontinent of the scourge of terrorism.

If the establishment of civilian supremacy over Pakistan's military-intelligence services proves impossible, India should adopt the policy of taking the fight to neighbouring territory from where terror attacks originate through strikes and targeted killings of terrorists. As India does not have such intelligence and military capacity today, it must invest all means necessary to acquire it.

Only so will India reverse the structure of incentives and penalties.

Ramesh Thakur is professor of international relations at Australian National University and adjunct professor in the Institute of Ethics, Governance and Law, Griffith University.

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