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THERE is little denying that the attack on the Indian Parliament, fortunately unsuccessful, on 13 December came as a rude shock. Despite widespread talk of the likelihood of a terrorist strike on high-visibility targets, particularly post 11 September and the operations in Afghanistan, clearly our security establishment was caught napping once again.

The speed with which the Delhi police has claimed to crack the case, unearthing a vast network from Jaish-e-Mohammed, Laskhar-e-Tayabba and Al-Qaeda operatives all the way to the ubiquitous ISI of Pakistan, has raised more that a few eyebrows. Lucky breaks in investigation are not unknown and the foolishness of the terrorists in carrying around cell-phones with numbers of their contacts was a great help. Nevertheless, skepticism about the claims of having wrapped up the case remains high.

What, however, is far more disturbing are the reactions of substantial sections of our political class, defence analysts and editorial commentators. That rabble rousers from among the VHP/Bajrang Dal/RSS ranks would immediately use the opportunity to raise the ante and cry hoarse about a pre-emptive strike (even nuclear) on Pakistan is little surprise. What was less expected was the cacophony of jingoistic speech – the talk of taking out terrorist training camps across the LoC, the need to prepare for an all-out war, immediately turfing out officials of the Pakistani embassy in Delhi and so on – from otherwise responsible elements.

Alongside is the rubbishing of all those who plead for caution and sagacity, to intensify operations on the diplomatic front to put pressure on Pakistan while ensuring that the already tense situation does not slip out of control. Constant references to Israeli ‘machismo’ in targeting the Palestinian Authority or to the U.S. unilateral action post 11 September, other than ignoring the immorality of these actions underplay how close they have brought the world to a catastrophe.

It bears repetition that while every possible step must be taken to beef up security, protect sensitive targets from terrorist attacks and heighten vigilance on the border, a destabilised and weak Pakistan is hardly in India’s long-term security interests. In many ways the altered regional scenario post the anti-Taliban operations and the takeover of Afghanistan by a broad-based interim regime has opened up new possibilities.

For one, Pervez Musharraf has not only been forced to abandon his cherished Afghan policy and his one-time allies, the Taliban, he has also had to move against fundamentalist Islamist groups at home. Purging the Pakistani establishment, including the army, and its civil society of such elements is a complicated project, fraught with danger. This is precisely why both Indian nationalists and those who have Pakistan’s long-term interests in mind should nudge him along in his clean-up drive, not strengthen hardliners by intemperate speech and actions.

Equally, it would be remarkably short-sighted to instrumentally use the current climate of shock and anger to push through severely contested draconian legislations like POTO, raise the stakes in Ayodhya and, more generally, fuel the incipient anti-Muslim sentiment. Not only Gujarat, for sometime a laboratory of Hindu nationalist imagination, but even Goa, normally a ‘relaxed’ state have experienced communal flare-ups, fortunately limited. If 13 December becomes a key element in the BJP-NDA strategy for the forthcoming U.P. elections, branding all those who oppose them as anti-national, the political culture in the country may suffer a decisive setback.

Instead, given the altered situation in Pakistan, this is an excellent time to woo back Kashmiri militants, the home-grown variety, onto the path of peaceful negotiations rather than rely on the gun. Just imagine the impact of the Hurriyat constellation participating in a ‘free and fair’ election, if possible under the gaze of international observors, and the major plank in the Pakistani case would wither away. At the least, it might isolate the ‘foreign’ elements and reduce the level of violence in the Valley.

Fortunately, despite the predictable tough posturing, more by Defence Minister Fernandes and Home Minister Advani than the Prime Minister, the Indian establishment has so far behaved cautiously. It is likely that they have an eye on what the U.S. deems appropriate before unveiling their final action plan. Our opposition, instead of trying to score brownie points and hegemonise the patriotic ground, too must try and behave responsibly.

Consensus building in a society marked by serious fissures demands that our political class rise above partisan interests. Otherwise, few of us may celebrate the new year with any confidence.

Harsh Sethi