There is a huge wave of anger, frustration, and fear welling up in South Asia.
Will this wave peter out only to arise again after the next incident of terrorism? Will it spiral out of control, plunging our region into further chaos and doing even more damage than terrorism alone could have achieved? Or will it be channeled into a force that would move us to a better and more secure future?
To some extent the outcome will depend on what we, the citizens of South Asia, do or do not do today. Let me propose a two-step agenda: turning in and reaching out. In this post I will elaborate the first of the two steps.
We have to begin by asking ourselves a simple question: Are we against terrorism or not?
If we are, we have to be against terrorism wherever it exists, not just across the borders of our own countries. It is quite irrelevant whether Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or the ISI were implicated in the Mumbai carnage. The fact of the matter is that Pakistanis know terrorist training camps exist inside Pakistan; the government has abetted them at times and ignored them at others. Pakistanis against terrorism need to state, loudly and clearly, that they wish such camps to be closed down. Pakistanis need to march down the streets if that is what it takes to close down such camps.
Indian citizens against terrorism need to articulate, equally loudly and clearly, that there is no place for the likes of Bajrang Dal or the violent wing of Shiv Sena on their soil. Indian citizens need to direct their anger at the sources of violence in their own country.
If we do not stand up against terrorism in our own countries, we are not really against terrorism. We are using the anger stirred by terrorism to settle scores with some ‘Other’ whose antipathy is burned into our psyches by personal experiences, false renditions of history or indoctrination and which is inflamed by ignorance, intellectual laziness or dishonesty.
This is a very sobering conclusion. If this is so, then we are no different from the terrorists we are opposing. The emotional forces of hatred that are driving us are the same. We are not directly using the violence that terrorists have been employing but we are urging violence used on our behalf to settle the scores that deep down we wish to have settled.
Let us be clear if this is the case. Let us ask ourselves again if we are really against terrorism or not?