September 17, 2001


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S Gopikrishna

India is a bad role model for the US

In its hour of need, can the world's most powerful democracy benefit by seeking advice from the world's largest democracy?

India is no stranger to the present day predicament faced by the USA -- the 1993 Mumbai blasts courtesy Tiger Memon and the 1998 Coimbatore blasts. And of course, a blast a day, a death every minute situation prevails in Jammu and Kashmir.

No less an institution than The New York Times declared that India has been the target of terrorism on a scale unimaginable in the US, this week's events notwithstanding.

Obviously, the US government has a lot to learn from the Government of India in coming to terms with the tragedy. More importantly, it should strive not to repeat the mistakes of the GoI in reacting to terrorist attacks, sending inappropriate messages to a dazed citizenry looking for direction and leadership from the government.

The US government is level headed enough to be able to name suspects, a direct contrast to the GoI going to great lengths to avoid naming possible culprits notwithstanding the existence of credible evidence. Indeed, the US did the correct thing by publicly naming Osama bin Laden within a day of the blast as the prime suspect.

In 1979, Iranian students affiliated to Ayatollah Khomeini took over the American embassy in Tehran and held staff members hostage. Outraged by the references to 'students,' Jimmy Carter ordered that the kidnappers be referred to as 'kidnappers' or 'terrorists' alone, a laudable act in stark contrast to the behaviour of the Indian government which hemmed and hawed about the role of Islamic terrorists in the Coimbatore carnage of early 1998.

The scum belonging to Al-Ummah (the terrorist group responsible for the outrages) were referred to variously as the 'alleged miscreants' or the 'perpetrators.' Terrified as the GoI is of rubbing the sizeable Muslim minority, we should be surprised that it desisted from referring to the those running Al-Ummah as the 'gentlemen who have been linked to unrest in Tamil Nadu.'

Praise be to the American model. This is one instance where the GoI's political correctness (verging on idiocy) is not worth emulating.

Secondly, the US should not fall prey to the very Indian phenomenon of making a few emotional speeches post-incident and then forgetting all about it a mere three months later.

The Coimbatore blasts were forgotten after the Kandahar hijacking in late 1999, which in turn became history after the umpteenth bomb blast in Kashmir in early 2000.

Outrages obviously should be remembered, and apologies should be demanded. The government of South Korea is correct in holding onto its demands for an apology from the government of North Korea for the attempted assassination on then president Kim Dae Jung in the early 1980s in Yangon, Myanmar just as the Israelis held the Germans culpable for the Nazi genocide in the 1940s and extracted an apology from them.

Linked to this phenomenon is the distasteful Indian tendency in desisting from the pursuit of criminals responsible for the most heinous of crimes and actually surrendering them upon capture. The daughter of then home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was kidnapped in 1989 and exchanged for a bunch of hardcore militants, as was the case with hostages on the kidnapped Indian Airlines flight flown to Kandahar in December 1999.

The Americans have always pursued wrongdoers with great zeal and perseverance, as would be evident of the pursuit of Eyad Ismail who was involved in the botched bombing of the WTC in 1993. Ismail escaped to Jordan before the Americans caught up with him and brought him back to the US to stand trial. Ismail was sentenced to 240 years of imprisonment in 1998 and was also ordered to pay $ 240 million as compensation.

However, the perseverance required in capturing bin Laden et al would require the skill of the Israeli Mossad. Among other feats, the Mossad successfully unmasked and captured dreaded Nazi Adolf Eichmann from Buenos Aires in 1960. It followed this feat by bombing Yasser Arafat's home in the 1980s and has dealt many a blow to the very kinds of terrorists holding the US to ransom presently.

The US should desist from the Indian practice of recognizing the grief of the next of kin by summoning them into the presence of an obtuse minister who launches into a long winded speech before presenting them with Rs 100,000. An appropriate way to recognize the grief of the next of kin would be to erect a memorial dedicated to 'they who perished in the senseless bombings of the 11th of September 2001.' It is important the future generations not forget the tragedy whose scope and magnitude have been aptly compared to the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Sustained rehabilitation programs, not cheque presenting photo-ops, allow the grief stricken to come to terms with their plight.

However, there is one aspect in which the US has a lot to learn and replicate from the GoI.

The GoI is extremely sensitive to attacking the sensibilities of any community within or outside the country lest it provoke communal outrages. The GoI learnt its lesson in 1984 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi and moved rapidly to defuse any possible atrocities on the Tamil speaking community in New Delhi in the aftermath of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Likewise, it seems to have learnt from the 1993 riots in Mumbai and moved rapidly to prevent a repeat after the Coimbatore blasts of 1998.

The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma City, (ultimately linked to Timothy McVeigh), was blamed on Palestinian terrorists and was followed by calls for a counter jehad from Republicans galore. Senator John McCain, a POW from the Vietnam days seems to be baying for the blood of Palestinians with his pronouncements. And as the calls for revenge grow louder, the rhetoric becomes shriller, Dubya will have to act in haste just in order to lend legitimacy to himself.

And this invariably targets the wrong group, as in the case of Jimmy Carter instigating a review into the immigration status of Iranian students as a result of his failing to get at the government of Iran in 1978. Such precipitate action demonstrates no skill or ability to take swift action, it merely demonstrates impotence.

Barring its legendary restraint, the Government of India has precious little to offer to the US government despite its familiarity with the nature of the tragedy currently plaguing the US.

S Gopikrishna

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