Aasha Khosa/New Delhi
Fifteen years after 10 Pakistani Lashkar-e-toiba terrorists attacked Mumbai on November 26 killing 166 people; many things have changed in and for India. The 26/11 set the mood for India’s no-nonsense policy on terrorism and Pakistan; it changed the perception of common Indians about terrorism as a localised problem and they saw it as a serious threat to the country and their lives.
The live television coverage of Pakistani terrorists holed-in in the top hotels, the Chabad house (Jews' place of worship) and peeping out with their guns, NSG commandoes descending on the terrace of the house where terrorists had lodged themselves proved a boon – it made Indians become realistic about terrorism.
First of all, it buried India's casual approach to tackling the threat of cross-border terrorism and the romantic notions of Pakistan and India's natural friends. It also finished the careers of those lighting candles on the Wagah border and cursing New Delhi for not doing enough to befriend Islamabad.
In hindsight, it looks ridiculous but is true that the governments waited for 26/11 to realize the basic need for a pan-India anti-terrorism agency. That too was happening in a country that had gone through a painful and bloody insurgency in Punjab and was tackling another spell in Kashmir.
Setting up of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was the first tangible outcome of the 26/11; the second was a change in public perception about what Pakistan was up to for India and the third was the Indian government firming up the resolve to deal with terrorism as a global scene.
Also, the optics of 26/11 and how the Indian state and people dealt with it changed the perception of India being a soft state and unable to tackle major challenges involving firm and armed actions required on such occasions. I remember being asked by a foreign journalist who is married to an Indian and lives in Delhi if we had invited the Israeli commandoes to deal with terrorists!
She was referring to the scene on the TVs of NSG commandoes descending on the rooftop of the Chabad House in Nariman Point where the Pakistanis had killed a Rabbi and his wife. Their helper Samantha had miraculously escaped the House with their just-born child.
For her and probably the rest of the world, India was all about culture, dance, art, and festivities.
As the Army, NSG, and the Police took charge of fighting the terrorists at seven spots - a hospital, railway station, a restaurant, a Jewish center, and two luxury hotels, including the Taj Mahal Palace - the world saw the teeth of the Indian State through the television coverage of the events unfolding in Mumbai.
These teeth became sharper with Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister and the anti-terrorism policy of India firming up further. It was under this policy that Modi became the first leader to condemn the Hamas terrorists’ attack on civilians on 7/10. His government was also among the frontline states to send humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza who came under attack from Israel. There was no duplicity; it just showed India’s moral clarity to make terrorists from civilians of any people.
26/11 also saw a united India as never before. Images of common Mumbaikar standing stoically on the roadsides and offering food and tea to policemen fighting the holed-in terrorists, youngsters lighting candles and marching for peace of the killed people and helping each other broke the western stereotype of a divided India.
From that day, Indians have been most reverential to their fallen soldiers be it on the border or in action against terrorists. The outpouring of mourners for the cremation and funerals of soldiers fighting terrorists is organic and phenomenal.
As the 26/11 happened seven years after 9/11, one of its outcomes was that it further firmed up the global mood of taking on the terrorism-sponsoring States head-on. Thus began the cold-shouldering of Pakistan by the West and it was happening for the first time since its birth in 1947.
Pakistan’s framework that enabled terrorists to raise and route funds came under scrutiny by the global watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The country remained on the grey list of FATF for four years. In the meanwhile Islamabad’s credibility had already plummeted to a point of no return. The law of karma has brought Pakistan to almost the level of a failed state.
Following the public mood in India, the government took a hard stance on Pakistan with Modi’s famous quote “Talks and terror cannot go together.” Though Modi tried to break the ice with Pakistan a couple of times, he too had no option but to follow a policy of total indifference to Pakistan.
Even after this Pakistan didn't jettison its policy of using terrorists to wage a proxy war against India yet things had changed. Pakistan is today home to the third largest number of terrorists and terror groups proscribed by the United Nations Security Council. Behind this is a lot of data collaboration between India and the USA. The list of proscribed terrorists includes Syed Hafiz, the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks who is supposedly in jail for 31 years for terror funding.
Pakistan didn’t desist from staging grand terrorist strikes – all attributed to non-state actors (Read terrorists raised by the Deep State) like in Uri, Pathankot, and Pulwama.
It has taken a surgical strike deep in the Pakistani territory of Balakote by the Narendra Modi government to make the Pakistan army sit up and rewrite its rule book for war strategy. In this document circulated among its officers, the Army has admitted that the Balakote strike has changed the paradigm of war in South Asia. In simple terms, it means that the nuclear threat is not working against India.
After this, the outgoing army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa declared his intention to walk on the peace path with India and a ceasefire on the LOC. The latter is still holding.
Today, after the country reached brinks of economic collapse and the threat of terrorists and religious hardliners taking over the country, many sober Pakistanis are admitting in their podcasts on social media that India’s antagonism of Pakistan is justified because of Pakistan’s policies of using terrorism as a weapon of state policy.