Relentless vigilance is the price of stability

Relentless vigilance is the price of stability

By M.J. Akbar | 3 January, 2015
The challenge for Indian security services is that failure does not deter suicidal fanatics; for them, death is transition to something better than their experience of this life.

The safest prediction for 2015 is that the tension of actual or possible terrorism will continue to test our nerves. There are enough questions around the trawler that left Pakistan near Karachi, and was stopped by Indian security forces about 365 kilometres from Porbandar, Gujarat. The cover-up narrative, already in play in some sections of media, "explains" that the ship was a smuggling rather than a terrorist vessel. But why should smugglers prefer death to arrest? When cornered, those on board chose to blow themselves up rather than face arrest and interrogation by Indian police. India apprehends any number of Pakistani fishermen who enter our waters illegally; they do not kill themselves. They choose life.

Only those on a suicide mission prefer death. Certainly, smugglers are not in the business of self-destruction. They know that an occasional jail term is the price of their profession.

The timing of this mission, and its destination, Gujarat, tells their own story. The annual convention of overseas Indians is scheduled to be held in Gandhinagar between 7 and 9 January, to be followed by the Vibrant Gujarat summit. VIP guests include America's Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. But the most important visitor to India this year is going to be Barack Obama, who will become the first American President to visit India twice while in office, as well as the first to be guest of honour at our Republic Day celebrations. This is a measure of the personal warmth and political cooperation that Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have achieved over a short period. Those who do not want to see India at peace with itself have opened up conflict flanks from Kashmir to Gujarat.

The debate about what actually happened will play its course in Indian media, which is understandable in a free press. But it is pertinent to note that the success of intelligence is measured by what has been prevented, and our security systems were acting on information when they tracked the ship and then challenged it on high seas. This was not business as usual.

The challenge for Indian security services is that failure does not deter suicidal fanatics; for them, death is transition to something better than their experience of this life. Eternal vigilance has been called the price of liberty; in a new dimension, relentless vigilance has become the price of a nation's stability. The focus of Pakistan's long war against India, initiated just 14 weeks after its formation, has shifted from military acquisition of the Kashmir valley, since its armed forces have realised that this is impossible through conventional warfare. The thrust is now towards terrorism and the instigation of social instability wherever and whenever they sense an opportunity.

Only those on a suicide mission prefer death. Certainly, smugglers are not in the business of self-destruction. They know that an occasional jail term is the price of their profession.

This confrontation policy has added another layer to the tiers of power that constitute the Pak establishment. At the top, there is the permanent authority of the military. A former President and Army chief, Pervez Musharraf, has even suggested publicly that the Army's role in government should be institutionalised. He is advocating, with obvious encouragement from elements still in service, that Pakistan's unelected officers in uniform are given full control of internal and external security, which also means a veto over relations with India, Afghanistan and America. The one benefit of this potential arrangement is that it would preclude the need for a coup. Below the Army line sits, with various degrees of discomfort, the elected political class, which is essentially in charge of the economy, raising of revenues and policing the country. The third tier is a nexus between radical clergy, terrorist militias and armed forces, working through ISI, a convenient arrangement flawed by one contradiction.

This third tier gets all it wants in guns, cash and logistical operational support when it attacks India, or any interest perceived to be hostile to Pakistan. But when it ups the ante and seeks further radicalisation of the Pakistani state, it provokes the engineers and beneficiaries of the status quo. However, by their very nature, militant bands cannot be kept in disciplined line or totally leashed. Sometimes, fighters and even groups nurtured by ISI have to be sacrificed in order to pacify American anger or, increasingly, ease Chinese suspicions. This instigates blowback, as happened recently in Peshawar when militants took barbaric revenge by killing schoolchildren. Ideally, Pakistan's military-political elite would want jihadists to function when ordered as an attack column protected by the useful camouflage of deniability, and return to docility while waiting for further orders. But because you want something, it does not mean that you are necessarily going to get it.

2015 looks like being a year of great danger. Formal wars wreak havoc, but they begin and end. Undeclared wars are also unending. India will need steel in the nerve and some iron in the soul to protect itself.

Add new comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.