A costly error on terror

Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s statement has provided aid and comfort to the enemies of this country and bolstered their resolve to inflict further hurt

It is a fact that military commanders do not suffer fools gladly. One of the most pre-eminent amongst them, a German panzer general, famously classified his officers into “lazy and stupid” (harmless and to be ignored), “hardworking and intelligent” (excellent subordinates), “intelligent and lazy” (the most successful commanders), and, finally, the “stupid and industrious” (a menace, to be eliminated as fast as possible).

The question is: Should politicians in India be similarly graded?
The query suggests itself after no less a person than home minister Sushilkumar Shinde made his loyalty statement at the Congress Party’s Chintan Shivir in Jaipur. On January 20, Mr Shinde publicly projected the issue of “saffron terrorism” and alleged the existence of a direct nexus between “Hindu terrorism”, i.e. religion-based terrorism by Hindus, and the ideology and agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the country’s main Opposition party.
Mr Shinde accused the BJP and its traditional mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, of conducting training camps for “saffron terrorists” in the country. Obviously, it was a pre-election brickbat aimed at the principal political opponents of the Congress, something that is in the nature of politics itself and should not be seen as in any way extraordinary.
Politicians and their politics are seen as fair game for all types of allegations and innuendoes, true or false. But in this particular case did
Mr Shinde choose his words carefully enough? Or did he just fire off whatever random thoughts came to his mind? Because, had he paused to consider, Mr Shinde would undoubtedly have realised that the colour saffron his speech chose to besmirch is the traditional Indian symbol of selflessness and sacrifice. It is one of the constituent colours of the national flag on which the Indian soldier takes his oath of allegiance to defend the country against all enemies.
In fact, the flag of the same colour was flown by Maratha warrior Shivaji himself, a fact which should hold special significance for Mr Shinde as he is from Maharashtra.
The juxtaposition of saffron and terror in Mr Shinde’s speech, in effect, linked the Indian Tricolour itself to terrorism. This has naturally led to a reactive outburst of public anger in an already charged political environment, given that it came soon after the beheading of two Indian soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC) at Mendhar by a Border Action Team of the Pakistan Army that is still a raw memory for India.
Did Mr Shinde not realise the effect his statement would have? His statement came as manna from heaven for India’s enemies like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed, Illyas Kashmiri, the “commander” of Brigade 313 of the Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), and other jihadi entities whom
Mr Shinde did not specifically target in his speech. On January 21, Saeed demanded a ban on organisations such as the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and urged the international community to declare India “a state supporting terrorism on its soil”. He also said “India’s claim to being a secular country had been exposed.”
The ill-chosen words of
Mr Shinde were seized upon by the JuD and the HuJI across the border who sought to exploit them for their own benefit, as official vindication of their stand and, more importantly, a signal that their campaign of “death by a thousand cuts” was working. Undoubtedly, Mr Shinde’s statement has provided aid and comfort to the enemies of this country and bolstered their resolve to inflict further hurt. Surely this is a heavy price to pay in terms of national security for the dubious and ephemeral gains of political one-upmanship. The atmosphere in the run-up to the 2014 general elections has been severely vitiated.
Spin doctors of all political parties are working overtime — they are either trying to do damage control by containing the fallout or are aggressively pursuing a line which might hold promise for the future. Others are desperately splashing about at the deep end to counter the spreading oil spill of the ministerial foot-in-mouth, from which the party has publicly dissociated itself.

Meanwhile, stark details of the grim episode at the LoC on January 8 are slowly emerging from Indian military intelligence reports. Names, dates and places are being mentioned. It is being stated that Inter-Services Intelligence, the covert action wing of the Pakistan Army, is awarding monetary rewards for Indian headcounts — `2,000-12,500 (depending upon degree of difficulty) for guides taking Battalion Action Teams across the LoC into India, `5,000 for placing mines in Indian territory, `10,000 for a sniper who successfully assassinates an Indian soldier, and up to `5 lakh for major incidents like the Mendhar killings.
According to news reports, Anwar Khan, resident of village Barmoch Galli near Tatta Pani, a member of composite Battalion Action Team, comprising both jihadis and Pakistan Army soldiers, is said to be the one who carried out the beheading. He was a part of the “terror operation” to weaken the morale and motivation of the Indian troops positioned on the LoC. Anwar Khan, the reports say, was also involved in the beheading of an Indian Army captain in 1996 in Krishnaghati area. He is said to have been awarded `5 lakh for the Mendhar massacre by Col. Siddiqui of the ISI, who is said to have planned and directed the entire operation.
The Indian government, through its ministry of defence, should by now be aware of the identities of those who were involved in the Mendhar case. But does our government have the determination to take “appropriate action” in this matter? If so, what response would be considered adequate by a justifiably incensed country? In national interest, as also its own, the government has to come up with some answers.
Remember — general elections are due in 2014.

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former MP

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