Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bombay Blues

I was there, trapped in the Lawrence Hotel, near the gateway of India.  I somehow find myself in the midst of seismic geo-political events.  The World Trade Center and now this, but I made it back to Delhi, but completely, after many days, still in awe of what has happened and what this means for the world.    

If before Mumbai the War on Terror seemed a paranoid figment of the American imagination, think again.  All of us, no matter what we do, what political party we support, need to come to terms with the severity of what has occured.  The threat is real and the response - the direct response - has to be more than just appealing to the hearts and minds of terrorists.  There isn't enough time.  At this point, appeasement will not work.  Not Palestine, not Kashmir, nothing of that sort can derail what has been further set in motion with the events in Mumbai.

When joe six-pack, in America, is carving his thanksgiving turkey to the backdrop of live minute by minute news of the carnage, you know something is horribly amiss.  Something terrible has been unleashed on our collective conscious.  The level of coverage and global concern is perplexing and bizarre.  The monster that is 24 hour news is making perverse voyeurs of us all.

But on to practical concerns.  The geo-political chess game continues.      

Invading Pakistan, or engaging in a any direct State to State confrontations will be counter-productive and only serve to exacerbate the situation.  Its in our collective interests to have a strong Pakistani state which is capable of governing and dealing with internal elements of extremism.  Any weakening on this front, will lead to further chaos and uncertainty.  

Pakistan is fighting a war on two fronts; the northwestern frontier against the religious extremists and the eastern threat with India over Kashmir.  Pakistan needs to be re-assured that they need not worry about India, in order to focus all efforts on dealing with the religious extremists in the NW territories.  Its understandable that this is difficult and that there is anger at Pakistan for harboring terrorists.  But Pakistan itself is aware, having been victims of numerous and devastating attacks over the past year.  Working with them, makes more sense than working against them.  Pakistan has sent out signals indicating transparent cooperation, and India, along with the US, need to use this as an opportunity to gain concessions in terms of intelligence sharing and taking extreme steps to purge any terrorist elements in the ISI, Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency, which, if early reports are to believed, played a role in training the terrorists that perpetrated the Mumbai operations.    

Besides this, India needs to do a lot more to enhance its competency in terms of intelligence and preparedness.  Early evidence, that warnings of the attack were not heeded and the amateur response (terrorists blazing revolver toting policemen with AK 47s, along with the delay in reacting, or having any serious contingency plan), are unacceptable.  This will be a much needed wake-up call and also an opportunity for meaningful solidarity with the US and other Western nations.   

But I am pessimistic.  India's, so far, wonderful growth and transformation, has been despite the State.  The State remains incompetent and it's never more apparent than in moments such as these.  How will terrorism be prevented if basic simple service delivery(health, education, infrastructure), of which we know how to fix, cannot be accomplished?  Why doesn't someone just come out and say it:  the Indian state is pathetic.  The only thing good thing they have done in the past ten to fifteen years is step out of the way.  That can work for business, but in matters of State, more specifically, the integrity of a nation, it's impossible.  There needs to be something done to increase governmental capacity at all levels, and especially of matters pertaining security.  

It is promising that there is bi-partisan cooperation, but more is needed.  These events have done great damage, confidence is an element of economic growth, and confidence is shaken.  New York can recover quicker, because it's New York.  But Mumbai and India need to work harder to rebuild, both the infrastructure and the faith.  

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