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Sunday, September 23, 2001

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Standing up to be counted


By Atul Aneja

STUNNED BY the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, India offered unconditional support to the United States in the campaign against international terrorism. This basic position, however, has subsequently evolved and become nuanced in the light of internal and externally generated pressures.

India's total support to U.S. was evident from the day of the attack itself. The Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, in his letter to the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush, last Tuesday itself, had declared that India stood ``ready to cooperate with you in the investigations into this crime and to strengthen our partnership in leading international efforts to ensure that terrorism never succeeds again''.

At a press conference the next day, held after the Cabinet Committee on Security concretised India's disposition to the event, the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, clarified the national position further. The Prime Minister, he said, in his letter to Mr. Bush had stated that India's offer of assistance was ``unambiguous and unconditional''. At the press conference on September 12, he added that India was looking at rooting out and dismantling the `terrorist internationale' completely. ``We have to go to the root and address the system that promotes such symptoms,'' he asserted.

The Prime Minister in his national address on Doordarshan further elaborated the need for a comprehensive campaign against terrorism on September 14. He asserted: ``We must strike at the roots of the system that breeds terrorism. We must stamp out the infrastructure that imparts the perverse ideological poison by which the terrorist is fired up. We must hold Governments wholly accountable for the terrorism that originated from their countries.''

While it is assumed that an emphasis on global campaign would also cover the jehadi bases in Jammu and Kashmir, official India's references to the perpetrators of violence in the border State have been indirect and restrained. In fact, a direct reference to Kashmir in official statements becomes discernable only in the Prime Minister's address on September 14. ``For years, we in India have been alerting others to the fact that terrorism is a scourge for all of humanity, that what happens in Mumbai one day is bound to happen elsewhere tomorrow, that the poison that propels mercenaries and terrorists to kill and maim in Jammu and Kashmir will impel the same sort to blow up people elsewhere,'' he said.

Aware of the negative fallout of too close an identification with Israel on the domestic Muslim population, the Government has sought to underplay its relationship with Tel Aviv. The External Affairs Minister, in fact, made it a point at his press conference to explain that the presence of the Israeli National Security Adviser, Major General Uzi Dayan, in India on September 12 was purely coincidental. ``It was a pure coincidence that the National Security Adviser of Israel happened to be in New Delhi at the time of this benumbing attack. It is not with Israel alone that India has this security dialogue.''

The Government has also stressed that an anti-terrorist campaign was not against Islam. India, the External Affairs Minister said, did not recognise terrorism as a ``manifestation of the one particular faith. The noble faith of Islam was not synonymous with terrorism.''

The Prime Minister on his part noted in his speech on television that identification of extremist violence with any one religion would only further the terrorist agenda of fomenting hatred and division in society along communal lines.

Pakistan's alleged condition that it would cooperate with the U.S. against terrorism only if India and Israel were excluded triggered an energetic response from the Indian foreign policy establishment. Aware of the negative repercussions of being bracketed with Israel externally and internally, the Government has begun making a concerted attempt to reach out to the Islamic world. Mr. Jaswant Singh's conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Mr. Kamal Kharazzi, on September 19 is significant because of Iran's extensive reach over Shia populations across the globe, including India. Mr. Singh during the call made it clear that India favoured Iran's participation in a multinational coalition - a move that could help Teheran break out of its over two-decade-old international isolation.

While stating its unstinted support to the U.S., India since September 16 has been urging military restraint in the counter- terrorism drive. The emphasis since then is on combining diplomatic, economic and military pressure to dismantle the international network of terrorists. Besides, India has begun to stress the need for collective action by a ``concert of democracies'' to make the campaign effective.

The focus on ``jointness'' is being seen as a response to India's stepped up interaction with Russia in the last week and the exhortations by the former Prime Ministers, Mr. V. P. Singh and Mr. Deve Gowda, along with the Left leaders that the India should endorse only a ``legal'' military action after it has been cleared by the United Nations.

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