Women take India’s foreign policy to respectable heights
By Dr George Jacob
Kochi: If there is one ministry under the Modi-led NDA governing apparatus in India that citizens can truly be proud of, it is the External Affairs Ministry led by Sushma Swaraj.
Her determination and uncompromising diplomacy have stood in good stead in many a crisis, like when Indian nurses were stranded in war-torn Libya, and Indian priest Tom Uzhunnalil was abducted in Yemen. In both these crises, she managed to secure the captives’ safe release, much to India’s relief and honor.
She has also been instrumental in facilitating patients from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and even our not-too-friendly neighbor Pakistan visit India to avail quality, yet affordable medical care.
When the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government is being pulled up for its self-inflicted mess on the economic front, Indian foreign policy, captained by three women, has, to a great extent, provided a welcome reprieve.
It started when the country’s first secretary to the UN, Eenam gambir took on Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who raked up the vexed Kashmir issue at the UN General Assembly, citing ‘human rights violation’ in Kashmir. Replying to him, Gambir called Pakistan ‘terroristan’ that has become a synonym for terror.
“It is extraordinary that the state which protected Osama Bin Laden (the slain chief of one of the most ruthless terror outfits- Al Qaeda) and sheltered Mullah Omar (who was the supreme commander and ‘spiritual’ leader of the Taliban) should have the gumption to play victim, with regards to the state of Jammu and Kashmir,” shed the assembly.
Taking a dig at the prefix “Pak”, which means “pure” in Urdu, Gambir said Pakistan has long abandoned its aspirations to be a moral and virtuous nation. The quest for a land of pure has actually produced the ‘land of pure terror,’ she added.
Taking up from where Gambir left off, Swaraj took off at the UN. India’s foreign minister dismissed Pakistani prime minister’s accusations on Human rights violations on India’s part in Kashmir. “Look who’s talking” she ridiculed.
“We are completely engaged in fighting poverty; alas our neighbor Pakistan seems only engaged in fighting us.” She didn’t stop at that. “We set up IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and ISRO. What did Pakistan make? They set up Lashkar-e-taiba(L-E-T), Jaish-e-Mohammed(J-eM), Haqqani network, Hizbul Mujahiddeen”- all various outfits that manufacture terror, export it, and plan it’s execution.
She named Pakistan twice in her twelve-minute speech. This is something unprecedented, as countries not in ‘good terms’ do not refer to each other by name, as is the norm in refined diplomacy. But, when mutual respect, trust and patience dries up in bilateral relations between nations, diplomacy too tends to take on a certain degree of abrasiveness, operating through brazen verbal diatribes.
That is exactly what Swaraj did that day at the UN. The nation praised her for her no-nonsense and matter-of-fact approach, which took Indian foreign policy to respectable heights.
But why did these two women single out Pakistan at the world body?
Did Pakistan deserve the bashing at the hands of the Indian diplomat, and the foreign minister?
What wrong did Pakistan commit?
India had witnessed the third highest terrorist attacks in 2016, according to the data compiled by the US State Department. Iraq with 2,965 terrorist attacks and Afghanistan with 1,340 attacks were ranked first and second respectively, in terms of being at the receiving end of terrorism. This was followed by India that recorded 927 attacks and Pakistan with 734 attacks.
According to the US State Department, more than half of terrorist attacks in India took place in four states: Jammu and Kashmir (19 percent), Chhattisgarh (18), Manipur (12), and Jharkhand (10). In 2016, the number of terrorist attacks in India increased by 16 percent, and the number of deaths by 17 percent.
But, what has India’s western neighbor, Pakistan got to do with India being at the receiving end of terrorism, where an unseen enemy kills and maims innocent lives, audaciously and unexpectedly, catching an entire nation and its defense and policing machinery unawares?
A look at ten worst terrorist attacks India has been subjected to, perhaps would answer that question.
1. November 26, 2008, Mumbai terror attack (also called the 26/11 attack):
10 Fedayeen terrorists entered Mumbai, the bristling commercial capital city of India, from the sea, killing innocent people however and wherever they possibly could. A series of bomb blasts and gun fire lasted for four days, as a shocked nation and the world watched with terror in their eyes, the dastardly and one of the most audacious and blatantly daring intrusion and violation of a sovereign nation by agents of another, as the events were being telecast almost in real time on television . The terrorists captured Nariman House, Hotel Taj, and Hotel Oberoi Trident, apart from the chhatrapati Shivaji train terminus, Leopold Café, Cama Hospital, Metro Cinema and the office of the Times Of India. The attack that seemed to be aimed right at the heart of India took 166 lives, and injured 293 Indian and foreign nationals. One attacker Ajmal Kassab was arrested and 9 others killed by the police and NSG Commandos in a long battle. The attack was orchestrated by Pakistan-based terrorist organization, Lashkar-E-taiba(L-e-t), and masterminded by Hafiz Saeed, the cofounder of L-e-T, and chief of Jama’at-ud-Da’wah, and an internationally designated terrorist who operates from Pakistan.
2. March 12, 1993, Mumbai serial bomb blast:
A series of blasts took place in Mumbai in fisherman’s Colony in Mahim causeway, Zaveri Bazaar, Plaza Cinema, Century Bazaar, Katha Bazaar, Hotel Sea Rock, Sahar airport, Air India building, Hotel Juhu Centaur, Worli, Bombai Stock Exchange Building, and passport office. These attacks which killed 257 and injured 713 were coordinated by Dawood Ibrahim, the don of Mumbai-based international organized crime syndicate, the D-Company. Many Indian and Pakistani smugglers funded these attacks, which India believes had the blessings of the Pakistani Intelligence Agency, ISI. It is believed that training and recruitment of terrorists took place in Pakistan and UAE.
3. September 24, 2002, attack on Akshardam Temple in Ahmadabad:
Two terrorists, Murtuza Hafiz Yasin and Ashraf Ali Mohammed Farooq who belonged to the L-E-T and jais-e-Mohammed entered the Aksharam Temple at around 3 PM with automatic weapons and hand grenades. They fired indiscriminately on people, killing 31 and injuring 80. The two miscreants were gunned down by NSG commandos by night. A letter was found which stated that the attack was in ‘revenge’ for the 2002 Gujarat riots. This kind of blatant attack was never seen before in India, and was described as one of the deadliest attacks in India until then.
4. October 29, 2005- Delhi Serial bomb blast:
Just two days before Diwali, a series of three bomb blasts ripped through India’s capital city. Conducted by the Pakistan-based terrorist organization, Islamic Revolutionary Front, two bombs exploded in the main market of the city- Sarojini Nagar and Paharganj. The third one exploded in a bus in govundpuri. The Govindpuri attack’s casualties were minimized because of the passengers’ and conductor’s presence of mind, who had people evacuate the bus on spotting a suspicious bag inside the bus. Even then, in all, 63 people were killed and 210 injured.
5. July 11, 2006, Bombay train blast:
A series of 7 bomb blasts took place in Mumbai’s, (the new name of the city of Bombay) local trains on July 2006.This was the biggest terrorist attack after the 1993 blast in that city. All the bombs were planted in the first class coach of local trains inside pressure cookers! The bombs exploded at or in the near vicinity of the suburban railway stations of Matunga Road, Mahim, Bandra, Khar Road, Jogeshwari, Bhayander and Borivali. These blasts which killed 210, and injured 715 were carried out by the banned terrorist organization Indian Mujahedeen.
6. May 13,2008 -Jaipur Blast:
A series of nine synchronized bomb blasts ripped through Jaipur in a span of 15 minutes. A tenth bomb did not go off as it was defused by the forces. That one of India’s most popular tourist destinations was targeted came as a bitter realization to the nation. One of the bombs went off near Hawa Mahal, an iconic monument of India. bombs went off at Bari Choupar,Manak Chowk police station area, Johari Bazar, tripolia Bazaar, Choti Choupar, and Kotwali areas, killing 63 and injuring 210.The blasts were synchronized in such a way that possible safe places to which people would run to after each blast were planted with the consecutive blast, such that one of the worst terror attacks unfolded inside a numbed nation . Initial investigations by the police suggested the involvement of several Islamic militant organizations like the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-jihad-al-Islami, Student’s Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Pakistan-based L-e-T, and al-Queda.
7. October 10, 2008-Assam bombings:
On October 10, 2008, Gawahati, the capital of Assam was targeted. 81 were killed and 470 injured in a serial bomb blasts that involved as much as 18 blasts in crowded places like markets in Guwahati, Barpeta Road, Bongaigaon, and Kokrajhar. With no one claiming responsibility for the dastardly attack, investigations seemed to suggest the involvement of the National ‘Democratic Front’ of Bodoland(strange are the names terror groups, out to kill and maim absolute innocents take on. One wonders what kind of ‘Democracy’ the front was trying to espouse through terrorism; strange indeed are their ways!)
8. December 13, 2001- attack on Indian Parliament:
Five terrorists belonging to Pakistan-based L-e-T and jaish-e-Mohammed (one fails to fathom the crude mindset that goes into having an outfit whose very institution is to kill fellow human beings, named after the prophet (considered sacrosanct to Muslims) attacked the most important institution of Independent India-the Parliament. The enemy seemed hell-bent to have the very heart of India terrorized. That the five managed to reach the Parliament using fake stickers of Parliament and the Home Ministry exposed the chinks in the armor of National security, which the nation could ill-afford. As all the five invaders were killed, casualty was minimal with 6 policemen and 3 Parliament staff dying in the shootout that lasted for hours. At the time of the attack, the then Home Minister, L K Advani and Minister of state for Defense, Harin Patha were inside the building. That none of the terrorists could enter the building was a matter of great relief.
The attack was masterminded by Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist. He was later convicted in his role in the attack and judicially executed by the Indian state, and rightfully so. His mortal remains lie buried within the precincts of Delhi’s Tihar Jail. The attack on Indian Parliament surely remains the most daring, audacious and defying attack on Indian statehood.
9. February 14, 1998-Coimbatore bombings:
An Islamic fundamentalist outfit, Al Ummah conducted a series of 12 bomb blasts at 11 different locations in Coimbatore. The target of the blast seemed to be BJP leader L K Advani who was in the city that day for electioneering. As most of the blasts occurred in Hindu-dominated areas, the victims were mostly Hindus. Luckily, communal mayhem, which could have resulted in such madness did not materialize, much to the nation’s relief, and great disappointment to the brains behind the blasts.
10. October 1, 2001- J&K Legislative Assembly attack:
Suicide bombers, militants of the Pakistan-based jaish-e-Mohammed, used a car bomb to attack the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir in Srinagar. It killed themselves and 38 others.
Pakistan has also carried out by proxy attacks inside the Indian territory. The worst was the one on the western Air Command of the Indian Air Force at Pathankot on January 2, 2016. Six attackers dressed in Indian Army fatigues managed to scale the walls at 3:30 am. The guards could stop them only after they moved 400 meters inside and were about 700 meters away from an aircraft.
Far removed from the UN, the US Defense Secretary, James Mattis was welcomed and received by the Indian counterpart, Nirmala Sitharaman. The US had all along being nudging India to ‘participate’ in the process of rebuilding a war-ravished Afghanistan militarily than humanely.
Sitaraman conveyed to the visitor in no uncertain terms that ‘there shall not be any Indian boots on the ground in Afghanistan’, and that Indian engagement in Afghanistan would continue through medical assistance and contributing toward Afghanistan’s nation building through constructive means.
The Indian defense minister thus reiterated India’s reputation as a nation that has never been an aggressor ever, in her history, but has only been the victim of external aggression. The Defense minister held out a helping hand, only in terms of humanitarian aid, which contributes to nation building constructively, but held back resolutely, military involvement in a country already ripped apart by meaningless armed interference by foreign forces.
She lived up to Indian reputation as a peace broker, and a succor in times of need to impoverished and war torn nations. By doing so, Sitaraman joined Sushma Swaraj and Eanam Gambhir in taking Indian foreign policy under the Modi-led NDA to reputable and new heights.