Course Correction

Following the horrific Mumbai terror attacks (around 200 dead and several hundred injured), that was staged by Pakistani based extremists, the Indian public and government reacted with concern and conviction tempered with caution – the hallmarks of a civilized society that was going to ensure justice was served while at the same time not bent on the blind and barbaric bombardment of the whole of Pakistan. The lone surviving Pakistani gunman was put on trial and India has demanded Pakistani cooperation in closing down the operations of the militant extremists.

Following a few rocket attacks from Gaza that killed three Israeli civilians and a soldier and damaged a couple of buildings, the Israeli Defense Forces, at the command of the Israeli regime, launched an all out aerial bombardment of Gaza followed by a ground assault with tanks and armored vehicles. At the end of the Israeli rampage, the resulting Palestinian death toll was around two thousand civilians killed (including many children and women) and widespread destruction of hundreds of buildings, major infrastructure, utilities, schools and hospitals. The Israeli government also blockaded Gaza preventing food supplies and medical aid for several days. The Palestinians in Gaza are still facing dire economic and medical hardship due to the unrelenting pressure from the rightwing Israeli government. More than thirty one Palestinian children (at last count) had been killed by additional IDF aerial missile strikes. Palestinians continue to be forcibly ejected from their homes in Jerusalem while Israeli settlements continually expand into Palestinian lands.

In this context, a couple of Mahatma Gandhi’s quotes are very appropriate: “Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.” and “The Roots of Violence: …Politics without principles”.

The United Nations, human rights organizations, peace groups (including Israeli peace groups) and many Jewish intellectuals around the world have all condemned the draconian Israeli response and labeled the invasion, extended blockade and continual occupation of Palestine as war crimes.

India was a long time supporter of the rights of the Palestinians and the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat inaugurated one of the first Palestinian embassies in New Delhi. Mr. Arafat had a good political and personal rapport with the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and he relayed intelligence reports to Rajiv Gandhi that someone was planning to assassinate him months before the assassination. Mr. Arafat attended the state funerals of both Mrs. Indira Gandhi (following her assassination) and Rajiv Gandhi (after his assassination).

Fast forward to the present day, as the UPA government of India took delivery of its first Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane, as part of a deal with Israel worth more than US$1 billion based on official estimates. According to new reports “The delivery is seen as part of India’s quest for air dominance over arch rival Pakistan as well as a milestone in growing military ties with Israel…The planes will also provide a deterrent to any threat from China on India’s eastern frontier, defense officials say”.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently theatres of conflict with external influences and some local elements fighting for control. Kashmir (both Pakistan and Indian regions) has experienced the destabilizing effects of the spillover from the Afghan and Pakistani wars. Over the past few decades, India has maintained a military presence of around two hundred and fifty thousand soldiers in Indian administered Kashmir to control the insurgency and external divisive influences. Thousands of soldiers have died and many more have been wounded. Some soldiers have been affected by the stress and become demoralized.

Faced with economic desperation, many Bengalis have crossed the Bangladesh border into India seeking a better existence and their arrival has led to tension and violence among the local inhabitants of several Northeastern states.

Out of a total population of around 1.1 billion people, the Muslims in India are the largest minority (nearly 13.5 % of the total) accounting for close to 140 million persons. This makes India home to the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. India is also the country with the largest Muslim minority in the world.

India is bordered by Pakistan (population of nearly 173 million comprising almost 168 million Muslims) and Bangladesh (population of nearly 154 million comprising almost 128 million Muslims). If Afghanistan (the other Muslim South Asian state) is also factored in (population nearly 33 million), this means almost half of the Muslims in the world live in South Asia.

India also has historical ties to Muslim countries in the Middle East, where many Indians earn a living and their earnings have contributed to the development of the economies of several Indian states. Indian and Asian Muslims outside South Asia have historical bonds extending for more than a thousand years in the past. Muslims have made significant contributions in many facets of Indian culture and the benevolent rule of the Muslim Moguls lasted for a longer period and predated British colonial rule.

Considering all the historical, religious, social and political implications, the UPA government has taken an erroneous decision to purchase AWACS from Israel and this is further compounded by the news, as reported in The Hindu, that Defense Minister A.K. Anthony opted for additional arms purchases from Israel over those developed indigenously by India’s own Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

In a recent speech the BJP leader, Mr. Arun Jaitley, has estimated that the government of India spends around Rs.45,000 crores (roughly 9.5 billion US dollars) annually on combating terrorism. According to AFP news service, Israel replaced France in 2007 as India’s second-largest arms supplier after Russia and is likely to grab the number one slot through a vast array of defense agreements it has already signed with New Delhi. The huge amount spent on anti-terrorism with the billions of dollars spent on defense purchases from Israel, which is almost universally criticized for atrocities against Palestinian civilians, is staggering when it is taken into account that India is still a developing country in many respects.

Despite sustained high GDP growth in India, a World Bank report has exposed the hype surrounding India’s success after liberalization. The World Bank report provides new estimates stating that not only is India home to roughly one-third of all the poor in the world, it has a higher proportion of its population living on less than $ 2 a day than even sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, the policy that Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand – the one Gandhi of truly iconic stature) advocated of “Be Indian, Buy Indian” has been consigned to the waste bin.

The longstanding moral principles that India pursued as a leader of the non-aligned movement have become tarnished by the government of India’s buying Israeli arms.

To reduce the risk of a repetition of external terrorism like the Mumbai massacre, the government of India needs to follow the following course of action:

1. Cancel all arms purchases with Israel and lead an international coalition to boycott all Israeli products until Israeli war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon are tried by the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and the long overdue state of Palestine becomes a reality.

2. Strengthen the strong ties with Arab countries and forge stronger ties with the Muslim countries in Asia. That will go a long way towards preventing disaffected elements in those countries from perceiving India as inimical to their way of existence.

3. Reduce the troop strength and scale back the operations in various Indian states and redirect the savings towards improving the welfare of the military service personnel.

4. Freeze all defense purchases of billion dollar sophisticated weapon systems and all other unnecessary offensive ballistic programs.

5. Cut back on the exorbitant spending for anti-terrorism and monitoring of citizens currently in effect – a lot of the money is wasted on bureaucratic oversight.

6. Spend the savings from anti-terrorism and defense cutbacks on improving the lives of lower segments of society and minorities (including Muslims). A prospering minority community is the best deterrent against external misguided militants searching for disaffected citizens to assist them in creating havoc.

7. Allow self-rule for all regional conflict areas. The onus to dissipate any violence or protests will fall on the shoulders of the local politicians and the central government will not have to spend time, money or resources in unfamiliar terrain.

8. India needs to ensure that South Asian countries all work towards the peaceful development of the region and do not engage in the aggressive and ruthless campaigns like the Sri Lankan regime waged against Tamil civilians. Nearly a hundred thousand Tamils have died over three decades and nearly three hundred thousand Tamils have become refugees in their own land. A separate state of Eilam should be promoted to ensure that the atrocities against Tamils are ended for good and Sri Lankan leaders must be held liable for war crimes.

9. China is not a threat to India – it is decades ahead in terms of development and is focusing its attention on expanding its influence around the world. India needs to let China, USA, European Union and other prosperous nations take care of aid to third world countries outside South Asia.

10. India should focus all its development aid on South Asian countries. Charity begins at home and as the World Bank has noted in its report many of the poorest persons in the world reside in South Asia.

Security is neither obtained by building walls with watchtowers bristling with weaponry, sensors, alarms and continuous monitoring nor for that matter by purchasing overpriced AWACS planes from immoral regimes. The best security is to be surrounded by prospering neighbors.

The Indian public and the Indian government need to press for war crimes charges against Israel and Sri Lanka thereby sending a strong message that aggression and genocide will not go unpunished.

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

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