March 30, 2020
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No Easy Answers

An insightful and well-meaning book, marred by poor editing

No Easy Answers
War By Slealth: Terrorism In India
By Vijay Karan
Viking Rs 300; Pages: 276
TERRORISM has been causing more havoc in India than in the West, and yet not much has been written on this subject in India. Vijay Karan's book is thus timely. He has a well-earned reputation for being a sensitive police officer, and anything coming from his pen merits attention. One may not agree with many of his views and conclusions, but his sincerity of purpose cannot but be lauded.

Karan has taken a broad view of terrorism and not confined himself to the subject in a narrow sense. He has commented quite freely on issues which may lie more in the realm of foreign and defence policies. Having spent long years in the Intelligence Bureau, he is well-qualified to comment on these issues. However, he would have carried more conviction if he had discussed some of the issues in greater detail and substantiated his comments with more facts. For example, he makes a rather sweeping statement that "a total nuclear ban on both countries (India and Pakistan) should reduce India's vulnerability to terrorism by Pakistan, as its options of conventional retaliation will definitely get enhanced". He could be criticised for taking too simplistic a view of this crucial issue concerning India's security.

He would like to "put Pakistan in the global dock by dragging it to the UN, with a self-contained chargesheet, properly documented, catalogued and substantiated with solid and irrefutable evidence, for waging this terrible war of terrorism on India". It is not the lack of diplomatic effort on the part of our foreign office that is responsible for its failure to put Pakistan in the dock. And his advice to the foreign office to give up "our phobia against internationalisation of 'Indo-Pakistani problems, arising out of superior Pakistani strategy in repeatedly , outmanoeuvering us", can be counter-productive. In the international arena, issues are not decided on morals and principles, but according to power politics.

The US, too, does not escape Karan's criticism, especially its pro-Pakistan and Afghan policies. He predicts that one day the US is going to rue its short-sighted policies, as the governance of Pakistan may pass into the hands of the 'rabids' and go the Iran and Sudan way or end up like Afghanistan. Hence, he cautions against what he calls "the US hypocrisy".

With his background, Karan is more convincing when he discusses the role of intelligence agencies in India and elsewhere in the world. "Today, intelligence agencies constitute the hidden government, disproportionately powerful and at times a law unto themselves...they observe no rules: for them the means do not matter, only the ends, or rather, their perception of the ends." He notes that institutional checks are needed to ensure that Indian intelligence agencies do not transgress their legitimate role. His comments on the functioning of the crisis management mechanism called the Core Group, comprising the cabinet secretary, secretaries of home, defence, finance and external affairs, and chiefs of intelligence agencies are not very flattering.

Later, a strong adherent of the "Kashmiriat ethos", he goes perhaps a little too far

when he says that the arrest of leaders like Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik was wrong. He is, apparently, not aware of the fact that Yasin Malik has been chargesheeted by the CBI, an organisation which the author once headed, in more than one murder case, including that of unarmed Air Force officers in Srinagar in January 1990. Surely, it is not the author's view that they are above the law, because they represent the so-called Kashmiriat, an omnibus phrase which means different things to different people.

On the Northeast his comments are well meaning, but he tends to oversimplify the problem. The problem has not been solved because "it has never been addressed strategically", he says. On the contrary many experts have rightly argued that the problem still remains after 50 years of independence because our policy-makers, sitting far away, have only looked at it from the law and order and strategic point of view. What the Northeast requires is not more but less strategic thinking.

Karan is also a little too harsh on the media. According to him, "the media can and does use even untruths and half-truths to make a story. This licence lends it so much unbridled power that everyone wants to manipulate it, thus spawning the professional media managers." The remedy does not lie in asking the media to desist from reporting anything except the bare facts in cases of terrorism; proper handling of the media is an essential component of an effective strategy to combat terrorism.

Karan's lament for the "breakdown of values and morals in post-Independence India" will find many sympathisers. Unfortunafely it has become a convenient alibi for the failures of our political institutions. It is not a coincidence that the stalwarts of India's freedom movement have been replaced by leaders with a "singleminded obsession for power and money". It is the weakness of the political system which allows such people to a rise through manipulation and intrigue.

Karan's is a serious book which does not make easy reading. It will disappoint those who are looking for reading an insider's account of the events. Poor editing does not make the task of the reader any easier. There is no excuse why the reputed publishers could not have done a better job of editing it. I would commend the book, not only because it has been written by a former colleague, whom I hold in high regard, but because of its many thought-provoking statements.

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