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Look Before You Leap

In the prevailing rage and incomplete proof, any reprisal would stymie efforts to enlist Western support
In human beings, fury and rage can be helpful emotions so long as they are transient. As the incensed citizens of Bombay, followed closely by the incensed citizens of our hitherto vibrant democracy, curse politicians, demand the rolling of multiple heads, roast the babus, blast the "system", threaten to stop paying taxes, contemplate the storming of Parliament coupled with the beheading of a few high-profile netas, disgust and despair reign supreme. Who can quarrel with the deadly cocktail of complaints?

Thanks to our ever-awake 24x7 news channels, the people of India have seen monumental incompetence, criminal negligence and extreme casualness in the face of disaster "live". I am on the side of the outraged. But please, we need to tread carefully.

Across the country prevails the clamour for "tough action" against the perpetrators of this barbaric crime. That the perpetrators and their evil handlers need to be "taught a lesson they will never forget" seems at the present time a reasonable response. I too favour exacting our pound of flesh. However, the retribution policy must be pursued in a cooler frame of mind when passions have settled, not in the heat of the moment. If the Pakistani state or rogue elements within it, or Al Qaeda, have masterminded, commissioned and executed the Bombay carnage, India is more than justified in seeking satisfaction.

Ever since 10 pm on the day of infamy when the 10-man invasion of the "city of gold" commenced, the Indian media and the Indian political establishment have pointed fingers at Pakistan. Each day more circumstantial evidence is produced to suggest the incontrovertible complicity of our estranged neighbour. I do not for a moment doubt the veracity of our case. But it is a work in progress.

Whether we launch a punitive raid, destroy jehadi camps in PoK, bomb Muridke and capture the head of Lashkar, or indeed declare full-scale war, we must remember two salient points.

One, we need to possess compelling proof, not to convince Pakistan, but the international community, especially the United States. Therefore, in the current state of enraged public sentiment and incomplete proof, to plan any kind of reprisal would greatly jeopardise our effort to enlist Western support. Once we have firm and complete evidence—which in all probability will be dismissed by Pakistan as fabrication—we should present it to the international community and, crucially, to our own people. This is not a plea for procrastination or masterly inactivity, but a plea for safeguarding our national interest. Look before you leap!

The second point to consider is the military might of our neighbour, which includes the dreaded bomb. India might contemplate a limited engagement (shoot and scoot); alas, such schemes have a habit of getting out of hand. Pakistan is close to being a failed state suffering from acute India paranoia. How it decides to respond to our limited action is perilously unpredictable.

Naturally, India cannot turn the other cheek once again. Nevertheless, we have options—political, diplomatic, economic and military—we can choose. But this tsunami of rage must subside before we do what we have to do.

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AUTHORS: Vinod Mehta
SECTION: National
SUBSECTION: Opinion
OUTLOOK: 15 December, 2008
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