Sunday, December 7, 2008

My beloved hometown

When I started this blog, I had told myself that I would not write anything political or anything related to current events around the world. But the recent terrorist attacks in my beloved hometown Bombay have made me go against my own directive. It makes my blood boil to just think about it.

Bombay has been no stranger to tragedies. Hindu-Muslim riots have been happening in India since the past many centuries. I witnessed my first one and I really hope my last one in 1992-1993. A close to a thousand people died. Then came the Bomb Blasts of March 1993. That was the first time that terrorists started using bombs to kill indiscriminately in an attempt to spread terror in Bombay. The blasts were supposed to be revenge for the riots which had taken place a few months back. 13 bombs in several areas of the city killed close to 300 people and injured hundreds more, most of whom had nothing to do with the riots. Those were the days when there were no cell phones. I still remember my brother and I waiting for my mother and father to come back from work. We were lucky they did. Many others were not.

People stayed at home for a day and then picked up their life from where they had left it 2 days ago as if it was all a bad dream. That was the first time when the press and the politicians coined the phrase 'spirit of Bombay'. Nothing, not even terrorists could break the 'spirit of Bombay' they said. Everyone felt good that they were defeating the terrorists by not getting cowed down. But the terrorists struck again in Bombay in March 2003 and then again in July 2006. Once again bombs were used and both the times it was on the suburban railways to cause maximum damage. People in Bombay reacted in more or less the same way that they had done before and life went on as normal after a day or so of shock. Once again the words 'spirit of Bombay' was thrown about in conversations, articles, speeches etc. It had started becoming a tad cliched. The government did not seem to care and the people had become desensitized. It was almost as if everyone was starting to accept periodic bomb blasts as normal.

Then came the events of 26th Nov 2008. 10 terrorists hijacked a shipping trawler off the coast of Gujarat, killed the crew and came to Bombay via sea. Starting off by killing innocents at CST railway station, Leopold cafe and Cama hospital, they ended up holding people hostage in The Taj, The Oberoi and the Jewish center at Nariman House. The standoff lasted approximately 60 hours and in the end the total people killed were about 200.

Right now, the common man is pissed off in India and rightly so. This is not the norm. Usually people back home have that 'these things happen, what can you do?' attitude. But this time, it is different. People are pissed off at the inaction of the Government and the security agencies, the self-promoting politicians (quite a number of whom have had to resign) who are just concerned about their votes and of course the audacity and inhumanity of the terrorists. Far too long, in the last 2 decades, terrorists have been creating havoc in the lives of the general people. But this time, it was not a bomb blast which got over rightway, it was a prolonged terror attack which took a part of a city hostage for almost 3 days. For the previous bomb blasts, the government has only reacted by apprehending those at the end of the terrorist food-chain, ie the actual people who set off the bombs and help setting off the bombs. Never have they addressed the issue at its roots nor tried to cut off the roots. But this time the anger of the people may force them to think differently.

Going back to the terrorists, a photographer Sebastian D'Souza who works in the Mumbai Mirror newspaper opposite CST station heard the shots when the attacks were happening there and he ran across to the station and captured one of the terrorists on camera. Call it coincidence or karma, this was the lone terrorist who was caught alive. And going by the treatment he is probably getting at the hands of the cops, I am sure he wishes he was dead before capture. The terrorists said they fought for Islam and many fools on either side believe it too. When this guy went into CST station and sprayed bullets indiscriminately, his bullets did not selectively choose non-muslims. You just have to take a look of the injured and the dead from the attacks at CST, The Taj, The Oberoi and Nariman House to see that it is a mixture of people from all religions. Majority of the dead/injured maybe Hindus, but there are quite a number of Muslims. I wonder what these sick individuals think about killing someone they say they are fighting for.

I don't think this should be dealt as a religious issue. Yes, the motivation may be religion, but the remedy is definitely not. It has been confirmed and accepted by almost everyone that all these terrorists have been trained in Pakistan. Of course, not by the Pakistani government, but by terror groups who have long operated from Pakistan with impunity. The Pakistan civilian government itself is harangued by terror groups. Bomb blasts keep happening there every now and then. The resurgent Taliban recently said that they would attack Pakistan and take over it. It maybe a little too ambitious but it is a threat.

Osama Bin laden (if he is alive) and his cronies operate fearlessly in the tribal areas of North West Frontier Province (NFWP), Pakistan's extreme version of the wild wild west. In a way, it has always been lawless, more like a state within a state. But add a resurgent Taliban into the picture and you have complete chaos and zero control by the Pakistani government. Off late, this is a place where pakistani policemen are quitting because they fear being caught and beheaded by the Taliban. Reading all this, you are just bound to feel sorry for the common people of Pakistan. And rightly so, because anywhere in the world, no matter what side you are on, it is always the common people who suffer the most, for the actions or inactions of a select few.

The fact that Pakistan itself is facing a terror crisis and the threat of a fast-growing religious fundamentalist base is very much an outcome of the short-sighted policies of its own leaders of yesteryears. General Zia ul-Haq, who overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Benazir Bhutto's father) in a military coup in 1977 and then had him executed was the one who started the Islamization of Pakistan, right from changing the law to an Islamic system to support for religious schools. This support for the madrassas and the so called different versions of jihadis (Mujahideen and the Taliban) went on during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The result was that the fundamentalist religious base kept growing over a period of years. And now with the Soviets out of Afghanistan, Pakistan being an ally (atleast on paper) with the US in Afghanistan, of course these religious fundamentalists are not going to disappear overnight. They are bound to hit back at the Pakistani government who they see as an entity betraying their own ilk in favour of a western power and that is just one of the many issues they have with the government. In some ways you could say that the Pakistani government created their own Frankenstein.

So it goes without saying that the tribal areas of the NFWP is a safe haven for terrorists and their training and operating camps. If the Pakistani government says that the Bombay (Mumbai if your wish) attacks were carried out by "non-state actors", they have a moral responsibility to reign in those non-state actors. If you are living with a murderer in your house, who stores his weapons in a part of your house, eats, sleeps and trains there, usually one would assume that if you are capable enough, you would try to get rid of the murderer yourself or you would ask for outside help to get rid of him. But if all you say is that you have no control over the murderer and so do nothing yourself nor ask for outside help, then anyone would assume that you are an accomplice of the murderer. It is as simple as that.

If the Pakistani government does nothing to get rid of these camps and eradicate this whole mess from the roots, "surgical strikes" is the only way to go. The US had done this recently a couple of times entering into Pakistani territory. India should do the same. It should not be officially called a war against Pakistan - just like the Kargil 'conflict' in 1999 was not a war. Even if it is not successful, atleast the terrorists will know that there is a chance that their acts of terror might have a direct repercussion on them, which hitherto has been sadly lacking.

It has been a long rambling post, so I will end it on a lighter note. Recently I went to this great Pakistani/Indian Restaurant in Sunnyvale with some colleagues. The food is just amazing and as authentic as you can get. There is always a huge rush during lunchtime even though the place is quite huge. All over the walls there are huge posters of Indian movie actors. So a colleague of mine asked me, "Why are all the posters here of Indian actors when the place is Pakistani-owned. Are there no actors in Pakistan?". I could not resist replying, "yes there are, but it seems they are all non-state actors".