What India and world can learn from the rise of the citizen soldiers
While uniformed forces bear the weapons it is the civilian who is the frontline soldier, so poignantly seen in St Petersburg and Stockholm.
AVM Manmohan Bahadur @BahadurManmohan
The terror attacks in St Petersburg and Stockholm have re-emphasised the quasi-permanence of terrorism in daily life. The other day it was San Bernardino and before that were Uri, Pathankot and Mumbai.
As the world grapples for a solution for this madness, there is one country whose approach to terrorism offers a "weapon" in this fight — and every citizen can be a soldier in this battle.
Israel is admired the world over for its demonstrated ability to have withstood a multitude of adversaries.
One recollects reading in childhood the Leon Uris masterpiece Exodus, in which the never-say-die spirit of the Jews on board the ship tried to break the British embargo and enter the "Promised Land"; their tale represented the resilience of the Israeli state that the world has since witnessed.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi wings his way to Tel Aviv later this year, a historic first by a Prime Minister of India, it is perhaps befitting that we analyse what we can imbibe from that country, which is but a sliver of real estate when compared to India.
The exchange of tweets between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attests to deeper friendship in the coming years between the two nations.
One needs to move beyond military technology that Israel has mastered; India is buying armament, electronics, sensors, targeting pods and night vision devices from Tel Aviv — many produced in small entities which can pass off as large garages.
The Negev desert has been turned into an ocean of green farmlands. Not a drop of Tel Aviv’s sewage is wasted, as after treatment it is pumped to the farms in the Negev where drip irrigation minimises evaporation and feeds the plants.
Unlike popular perception in India, one hardly sees many gun-toting soldiers on the streets, though security is everywhere — discreet, watchful and on the ball. Every citizen is a soldier for the nation and that includes the ladies, girls and children.
It is not just the Israeli military at war but the civic society as a whole that confronts the scourge of terrorism; having seen terrorism from close quarters, it is the cumulative build-up of resilience of the Israeli civil society that has lessons for India’s social fabric to serve as a foil in our own counterterrorism effort.
Terrorism is not going away in a hurry, and that must be understood and accepted by us Indians. There is no gain saying the fact that as long as there is a political dispute or social discord, true or imaginary, forces inimical to the country would take advantage of the situation.
Killings of innocents and deaths of security forces in future cannot be wished away, and one dares say that they would continue to happen.
And so, even as the nation grieves for the civilian who dies in an act of terror, for the jawan who gets martyred in J&K or the policeman who valiantly lays down his life in the fight against the Naxals, it is the behaviour and demeanour of the civic society that becomes a key input in the shaping of the response of the state.
In a recent discussion in a New Delhi think tank, a noted Israeli academic specialising in terrorism bluntly told the audience that after a terrorist act, the quick springing back of the civil society to its "normal" ways is vital for two reasons.
First, it attaches a failure tag to the attempt made to spread terror among the lay citizen, thus overcoming the initial shock that the evil act would have caused.
Second, on a wider canvas, it greatly eases the government’s task by limiting and absorbing the damage caused to its image, which would have otherwise inhibited its response to the terrorist act.
Where do we stand? One is painfully aware of the emotional scenes that played out outside Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence in December 1999, even as negotiations were on post the IC-814 hijack; ladies wailing and rolling on the road only made the task of the government that much more difficult.
As LK Advani writes on his website, it made him wonder whether “the Indian society has become a soft society”.
The fact that the government had to request the spouses of Kargil martyrs to come out and reason with the IC-814 families, that it was not just the faujis who were soldiers in the fight but all citizens, did not cut much ice; in the event, Advani acknowledges, the pressure that came upon the decision-makers of the day resulted in the release of three terrorists. We are forced to deal with one of them to this day — Masood Azhar.
So, even as the nation’s fight against terrorism has continued down the years, the soul of Indian society has come some way since those traumatic IC-814 days. Are we still a soft society?
The jury is out even though Mumbai was back to normal soon after 26/11.
Bigger challenges may still confront us and we should be ready to show the stoicism of the Fukushima survivors (remember the orderly lines and no wailing?) and the grit of the Israeli civic society, which the Prime Minister may well experience in Tel Aviv.
In this fight, while the uniformed forces bear the weapons it is the civilian who is the frontline soldier, so poignantly seen in St Petersburg and Stockholm.
Begs the question, shouldn't these "citizen soldiers" be armed and able to defend themselves?