Post Pulwama: What India can learn from the terrorist attack

Shiv Visvanathan
Shiv VisvanathanFeb 23, 2019 | 15:45

Post Pulwama: What India can learn from the terrorist attack

How does one think of an event as an act of terror? How does one react to a 9/11, the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike or to an event like Pulwama? Beyond the scream of protest, the unity of the candle march, the expression of horror, one sits and recollects. After the 26/11, the then prime minister had also threatened a strike, the Army remained alert and in abeyance, but nothing happened. The sense of scandal subsides and one wonders about arguments for the long run.


PM Narendra Modi too has threatened a strike. Yet there is something of a touch of histrionics in the act of performance. He claims there is no need for further talks with Pakistan.

Even within a week, one senses the need for a broader canvas of thinking, of realising the difference between thinking of an event and thinking through an event.

There is a lot that India can learn from the attack. (Photo: PTI)

Empty slogans

It is at that moment that one goes beyond perpetrator and victim to look at the broader canvas of strategy. One looks at India and the policies it plans for nation-states around it. Yet, watching India’s policy, studying its sense of strategy and tactics, one senses a flaw, a cascading sense of disappointment in Indian policy towards China and Pakistan seems nervous and knee-jerk.

We evince the qualities of the hysteria and histrionics directed more to our people than to our opponents.

There is a deeper flaw here because there seems little room for thought. A colleague watching this once described with the contempt that China plays thoughtful chess while India contents itself with Chinese checkers. We like spoofiness of quick moves, the colour is given to it by the media.


One senses more sentimentality rather than strategy. Chinese checkers as politics, my friend added, is more suitable for elections, rather than as a model for war and peace. We lack confidence next to a behemoth like China and, in fact, even undergo a bit of China envy. Our democracy seems weak and feeble next to the totalitarian decisiveness of China. Added to this is a sense of uncertainty about our military prowess, after the battle of 1962.

As a result, what we miss is any appeal to strategy. Our leaders behave like in a Bollywood movie, belting out lines which would be rejected by a C grade scriptwriter. As our sense of consternation and mourning subsides, all that we have to offer is a certain sense of jingoism. The first casualty of a terror strike is the victim but the real casualty is our sense of democracy.

The Kashmiri becomes the instant other as Kashmiris across India are asked to leave. Citizens are harassed and the state seems slow to protect them. The word surgical strike, the subject of a Bollywood film, enters popular vocabulary and the crowds in India demand a surgical strike, forgetting movies do not quite capture reality.


There is a silence of thoughtlessness a fortnight later. Our strategy seems empty. Firstly, one would like to know if India has an articulate strategy against China. The Chinese as a monolithic nation think the strategy for 100-year periods, while our policy experts lack such an equivalent; worse, our current regime has no sense of the future as a concept.

Lacking policy, we literally hiccup reactions as our policy appears empty, our democracy becomes knee jerk. Dissent, and any one perceived as the other, become subject to mob threats. The missingness of the long run is evident in the way we think as a nation. As a result, India becomes a pathetic case-study, rather than a strategic analyst. We have to break out of this autism of thought.

Blinkered vision

Firstly, India has to reassert that its greatest advantage is democracy. A finely tuned democracy sensitive to the pluralism of India is our first requirement. We have to signal that democracy responds to terrorism and totalitarianism adequately. Such a crisis has to add to the way we think of peace. Our sense of peace has to be more aggressive in Kashmir not our shibboleths of security as a nation and as a civil society. We have to question our Kashmir policy and at least ask out of concern why our concepts of security look inane and useless in Kashmir. A critique within is the strongest defense against an attack from without.

Secondly, India has to rework its entire sense of South Asia, learn to play friend and comrade rather than the bully. Thirdly we need concepts beyond security and border to outline strategy. The bowdlerized writings of our generals and retired foreign policy club are enough to show that Indian policy is arid and that Indian thinking about international relations is third rate. Civil society and the academe have to renew international relations as an intellectual domain.

India has to rework its entire sense of South Asia, learn to play friend and comrade rather than the bully. (Photo: PTI)

War and peace

Our students need to have an understanding of war and its consequences. Our sense of the camps, of Hiroshima, of the cold war has not even been literate. Maybe it is time to establish a few peace universities with a creative syllabus. It is a satyagrahic sign that our visions of our society go beyond war and violence. This might also be the moment to rethink our muted sense of the Rohingya crisis and rethink the notion of the refugee the way Maurice Frydman and Jawaharlal Nehru did on Tibet.

Finally, we have to rethink the ideas of the tribe, the border and the frontier to a different level. The border and the frontier, rather than being discarded as margins, should become central to a new democratic imagination and one should learn to represent nature within our constitutional imagination. The minute we do this, the Pakistanis and the Chinese know we are no longer thoughtless or predictable, but creative enough to show our opponents that a democracy which is sensible, sensitive and strategic can outline them.

This needs the confidence of a democracy and civilization, not the hysteria of a nation-state. We have to show we understand war, are ready for it by showing we are committed to peace. We need strategic thinkers of peace which we seem to be shy of. It is only such an alternative narrative that can respect the sacrifice of the victims and the agony of their families. An idea of India must contain its sense of China and Pakistan. Only with such a scenario can we survive in peace and confidence.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: February 23, 2019 | 15:45
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