India inherits leadership of war on terror

India inherits leadership of war on terror

T.P Sreenivasan

The massive international support for India's war against cross border terrorism has imposed a heavy responsibility on India to lead the war on terror, which was unleashed by President Bush following the 9/11 attack in the US by terrorists from our region. The US had recruited Pakistan and not India as its partner at that time, but now that the US is withdrawing, it has virtually designated India to eliminate terrorism in our region by extending full support to India's fight against terror. It also suits India because the larger role might help India to wage its war. The cooperation in this regard with the US and others will make India a formidable adversary to terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The war against terrorism is in full swing and Pakistan is determined to fight back, but at the same time, they are waving a fake olive branch to take the credit for peace making. India does not see any merit in the offer and ignores it. PM Narendra Modi is going about his business of running the country and is continuing his election campaign. Those who engaged in high level diplomatic efforts believe that they have established peace by pressurising Pakistan to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, an issue, which was handled exclusively by the Indian Air Force. No politician of any kind was allowed to meddle in the matter. PM Modi did not even mention the issue till Abhinandan was released for fear that Pakistan will claim a quid pro quo for his release. In the meantime, fighting on the border continues with loss of lives every day even as we watch scenes of a proud India receiving its brave son. Amidst all these External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is seen explaining the evils of terror to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

This mind boggling situation seems to defy all theories of war on terror, peace making and diplomatic practice. We seem to be rewriting the rules in these areas. With the United States retreating from the war on terror they initiated, India has inherited the mantle of the global terror warrior state. This explains the near universal expression of support to India's battle against terror, though there is no clear definition of terror. One country's terrorists are another country's freedom fighters even today. Gone are the days when there was a near consensus in the wake of 9/11 that there are no good or bad terrorists. The US, which declared the war on terror in Afghanistan is now engaged in negotiations to hand over power to a Taliban dominated Government, after declaring that terrorism in Afghanistan is no more a threat to the United States. The US will realise sooner than later that the remaining heads of the terror monster will rise again with greater lethal capability, provided by new technology. If President Donald Trump had reviewed his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, it would have been an appropriate response to the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir. Leaving India holding the can of fight against terrorism may lead to elimination of terrorism in the region. India is taking on a new role without the whole-hearted support of the international community, which is divided on the definition of terrorism.

In normal circumstances, the parties to any conflict will give attention to any sign of the possibility of peace. Any little sign of peace will be explored to ensure that the war does not go out of control. It was in this belief that Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to release Abhinandan and to express readiness to a dialogue. India's decision to ignore these peace moves arose from its conviction that Khan was merely shielding the Pakistan army to continue its attack. If Khan's announcement was prompted by world leaders like President Trump, they are likely to be annoyed by the Indian decision and dilute their support for India. PM Modi could well have spoken to Khan and given the standard assurance that the matter would be considered. We could also have begun a conversation between the local commanders to eliminate the tension on the border. Wars are meant to ensure peace, not to perpetuate conflict. PM Modi's bitterness over the rejection of his peace initiatives in his early years as PM is understandable, but it is important not to lose sight of peace. We should stick to our established policy of no dialogue till the elimination of terrorism, but we should constantly look for signs of change in Pakistan. An appearance of seeking peace constantly should be an ingredient of war.

Diplomacy is the first casualty of war in modern times as decision making is in the hands of the same people who wage war and they have no time or inclination to engage in diplomacy. India did an excellent job on the diplomatic front, having briefed foreign governments at different levels and given credible evidence of Pakistani involvement in the terror attacks of February 14. As result, a clear message went to Pakistan that India had the support of the international community. But this support can be sustained only if the diplomatic efforts continue. The widespread reports in the western press seem to suggest that our claim about having dismantled the terrorist outfits inside Pakistan is exaggerated. No proof has yet been given of the extent of the damage inflicted. The rejection of the peace initiative from Pakistan also needs to be explained.

The present chaotic situation in which war, peace and diplomacy appear to be hampering each other is not helpful. These have to be disentangled and each should be pursued in parallel. The system of all decision making being concentrated in one person makes for consistency, but involvement of other actors at different levels helps when several issues have to be addressed simultaneously. The electioneering in the middle of all this creates the impression that all matters are being politicised.

The spectacle of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at the OIC in the midst of tall and hefty Islamic leaders added a touch of irony to the whole situation. OIC has been the most ardent supporter of Pakistan on Kashmiri militancy. Even our best friends in the OIC would join in the consensus on Kashmir resolutions put up by Pakistan and tell us privately that they did not endorse those resolutions. Would there be a change to this sad state of affairs? Most probably not, unless we appear to be flexible about some concerns of Pakistan. Some attention has to be paid to this in the midst of our many preoccupations. But OIC will continue to be the biggest adversary of India if India assumes the global leader of the war on terror.


T.P. Sreenivasan, (IFS 1967)
Former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA

Chairman, Academic Council and Director, NSS Academy of Civil Services,
Director General, Kerala International Centre.