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Soft State, Smart State

Omkar Goswami


I write this a week after our 7/11 when a group of unidentified terrorists snuffed out the lives of over 230 people whose fault lay in commuting on the suburban trains of Mumbai. I write as a frustrated Indian who is fed up of our being targets of Islamic militants who  consider it just and proper to blow up innocent women, men and children; and  of the inactions of a soft state that makes big noises but fails miserably to deal with this ever growing menace.


India is a soft state, and its citizens are paying an increasing cost of being one. A soft state is one that chooses not to recognise problems as they are and congenitally procrastinates. It is one where group decisions are scuttled by a few individuals within the collective; and where the hallmark of high politics is to mollycoddle sub-groups even when these are known to be to the detriment of the nation. It is a state where petty squabbles are more important than the nation’s interest; where mindless heavy-handedness is considered as the proxy for power. It is a state that cares little about implementation, has forgotten the maxim of just and expeditious governance, and knows that it won’t be punished if it didn’t deliver what it promised.


Consider terrorism. After Punjab, our record of dealing with systemic terrorism has been pathetic. The government can say what it wants. But the facts on the ground demonstrate this in no uncertain terms: poor intelligence gathering, low anticipation of terror events, virtually no coordination between myriad under-resourced intelligence agencies, replacing the efficient with the politically expedient and, of course, hardly ever catching the perpetrators. This is true not only regarding the Islamic militants who kill in Mumbai and Kashmir, but also the Ulfa in Assam and the Naxalites who routinely slaughter people in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Telengana.


The contrast with a ‘smart’ state couldn’t be more stark, and the best example of that in counterintelligence has to be Israel.


“Israel”, you exclaim, “Don’t compare a country of the size of India with that of Israel!” Why not? India is a secular, democratic nation that is surrounded by at least three failed states. Pakistan is the most fecund breeding ground and safest place in the world for Islamic terrorists. Bangladesh is bee-hived with jihadist groups. And Nepal is a free-for-all transit nation for murderous men. We are, therefore, no different from Israel: our democratic nation state is being perpetually challenged by sponsored terrorism across all our land borders.


Unlike Israel, however, we respond like wimps. To give a single example: can you think of  Israel responding to a hijack by releasing a bunch of terrorists from Kashmiri jails and then flying them to Qandahar with a high ranking minister as their courteous and gentle escort? Israel’s attitude to terrorism is zero tolerance; ours is high brow talk with no effective deterrent or consequential action.


How much does India invest in intelligence gathering compared to Israel? Is there any agency in India that has the powers of intelligence gathering, external policing, spying and execution like the Mossad? Person-to-person, can we even dream of comparing IQ, talent, speed and ruthlessness in execution of Mossad operatives with ours? Would Israel have ever let the 1993 Mumbai blast killers run free?


Israel is a vibrant parliamentary democracy, with multiple political voices. For decades, it has been run by fractious coalition governments that change with great frequency. It has a free press; and like Indians, every Israeli loves a good argument. But when it comes to terrorist threats, Israel brooks no tolerance. To make zero tolerance an effective credo, it invests heavily in intelligence gathering and executes rapidly, efficiently and ruthlessly.


Don’t ever believe that political solutions suffice to end terrorism. You first snuff out the terrorists and then do the politics from a position of strength. Julio Ribeiro and K.P.S. Gill showed how it can be done in Punjab. Our 7/11 mayhem shows how comprehensively we have forgotten that lesson.


Published: Business World, July 2006


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