I lived about a mile from the Taj. I worked for an engineering firm and freelanced as a copywriter for advertising agencies in Mumbai. Every time I got a new gig, I would celebrate by going to the Taj for a buffet or a breakfast. For a 23 year-old, it was a thrill to be able to afford the atmosphere of the Taj. To me, it was a place where aspirations found their destination. In those days, my wife to be was also a management trainee at the Taj, though we did not meet until later. For both of us, the Taj embodied the memories of youthful excitement and hopeful beginnings.
Now those memories have forever been clouded by the madness that raged this past week. We pray for those who have lost family members and wish the city back to its glamorous best.
The horrible carnage in Mumbai is sending depressing messages about the realities of the present age of terror. The first message is from the terrorists: “we have no moral conscience; in our pursuit of what we think is justice we will not balk from any form of evil that one can imagine.” The horror of this message is compounded by the daring and the spectacular fashion in which the operation was carried out. The terrorists are determined, brazen, motivated, and were in middle school when 9/11 happened.
The second reality is a verdict on the complete and utter failure of the wars on terror that the US and its allies have been waging since 2001. If this is what the terrorists are capable of after being incessantly hounded by the world’s major powers, then we should be preparing for a bleak future indeed.
The wars on terror that are being waged in South Asia have caused too many innocent deaths. The “targeted strikes” by US have killed hundreds of civilians in South Asia in the past few months. Many people are being tortured by law enforcement agencies. People have lost families, homes and businesses in riots by murderous gangs often protected by the government. And governments continue to avoid addressing root causes such as Palestine and Kashmir. Increasingly abuse of Islam, its values, its history and its symbols is being used as a weapon in the war on terror and this too continues to win more recruits for the extremists. All the above in conjunction with religious extremism contribute to more egregious forms of terror.
This is a wakeup call. There must be a significant rethinking in how we confront the challenge of terrorism. Current strategies have generally failed but for a few successes. The Saudis, for example, have succeeded in reducing terror inside Saudi Arabia through dialogue and re-education of youth. In Iraq, the US won over the Iraqis – the so called sons of Iraq – who had joined Al Qaeda through dialogue and political and monetary incentives. Why can’t the same creative approach be brought to South Asia?
In India even those who combat hate are often consumed by hate. Pragmatism evaporates when hatred reigns. But the US and NATO can try an alternative to their current failed approach.
The final question this carnage poses is to all Indians – Muslims and Hindus alike. What kind of India do they want? India is on the verge of a historical breakthrough. At its current rate of growth it will soon be a developed nation and a major world power. But in order to sustain the growth it needs internal stability. Without internal stability it will become a land of contradictions, always on the verge but never really there.
India will need to improve its ability to deal with terrorist threats. Intelligence gathering and operational performance are not on par with the threats it faces. It must also work to restore the faith of Indian Muslims in the state, so that they work with it rather than against it. If another riot in which thousands of Muslims are slaughtered, as they were in Mumbai in 1992-93 and in Gujarat 2002, is allowed by the government, then needless to say there will be more alienation and more radicalization of Indian Muslims and the problems will only grow.
Finally, India must find the way to work with Pakistan without resorting to another war that will only make matters worse. Rejecting outright President-Elect Obama’s recent offer to send President Clinton as a mediator to resolve the Kashmir conflict is not a commitment to peace. India is eager for US support and intervention in every other matter, why not in the case of Kashmir?
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.