True, six casualties do not amount to a major terrorist strike. Be that as it may, for the government to maintain that a serious security lapse did not occur, indeed to maintain that the quick termination of the five terrorists shows how effectively the security network functions, is disingenuous. While the nation stands united behind the Prime Minister and his government in their resolve to "give a decisive answer", the citizens need not be deemed brain-dead. Questions will, and need to, be asked about the events of December 13: the ease with which the terrorists pierced the outer ring and got inside the precincts of Parliament, the ignoring of repeated and specific warnings from intelligence agencies and in the media. To pose these questions at "this grave moment" is not an act of treachery; it is a sign of maturity.
While the security lapses need to engage our attention, we must concentrate on the bigger issue. What should be the nature of our response? And who should our response be directed against? As I write on Friday afternoon, the perpetrators of the crime are in the process of being definitively identified. Some reports of Afghans or Al Qaeda or Laskhar are doing the rounds (Mr Jaswant Singh has identified Laskhar in Parliament) but these are early forays. Gut instinct and history tell us that Pakistan has masterminded this vile plot to derail Indian democracy and generally spread mayhem. It may well be so.
Pakistan is in a state of utter and near-terminal confusion as it confronts and challenges self-created demons. Does it suit its present rulers to open up a new front by taking on New Delhi in New Delhi? Could this be the handiwork of Pakistan-based jehadi groups currently out of Pakistan control and perhaps keen to embarrass the Musharraf regime? Could Mr bin Laden and his lieutenant Mullah Omar have thought up this ingenious (the white car, the sirens, the computer lessons, the fake ID cards) and audacious outrage?
I am not pleading for a clean chit to the General. I am pleading for consideration and deliberation before we choose to retaliate. Certainly, this is the time to press George W Bush. He was unusually energetic and swift when his "beacon of freedom" was attacked. Now that another equally important beacon has been attacked, India should remind him to urgently fulfil promises made to this country in respect to terrorism.
India must respond to December 13. The response, however, should not be knee-jerk, and it should not be determined by domestic pressure to "do something" quickly, but by its effectiveness and by national interest. We are too big and too mature a nation to indulge in spectacular but counter-productive acts of adventurism. Now more than ever, India needs cool heads and calm brains.