The fear may have its roots in real pain but the exaggerated mistrust supersedes it today. As the scars and memories of that horrific day weigh heavily on the minds of most Indians even after six years, the narrative of how-to-look-at-the-“enemy” is reshaped from there. November 26, 2008 delineated the bloodied line between India and its neighbour, the alleged “foe”, Pakistan, so deep that no amount of words seems to ever suffice. The Mumbai attack was so blatant, so ruthless and so methodical that it seemed like a scene from a horror movie. But it was too real… to ever be wished away.
The mayhem was immense, the killings too cold-blooded, and the audacity too incredulous. The one man caught, and later hanged, became the face of that carnage that altered the dynamic of one of the most alive cities in the world imperceptibly, irreversibly. Ajmal Kasab became the face of that new wave of violence, of raw barbarity against innocent, unarmed people that defy most conventional codes (the irony of that word here) of terrorism.
Kasab and his nine accomplices entered Mumbai on two inflatable boats from Colaba. The number of days the siege lasted: four. The number of coordinated bombings and shootings: 12. The number of people killed: 173. The number of people wounded: 308. The number of Indians affected: 1.25 billion.
And the wounds still bleed, the scars still show, the memories still haunt.
As per the testimony given by Kasab and David Headley, the attacks were masterminded by the Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan, and aided by three ISI/army (retired) officers (the charge denied by the ISI). The LeT head Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi has been jailed since 2009, but the case is yet to see any real development. The whats, whys, hows of that are the domain of legal experts, but the failure of Pakistan to formally penalise any of the alleged perpetrators of the Mumbai attack remains the one hugely uncomfortable, thorny issue between the two at-the-moment hostile countries.
And then came the outrage over a boat that was seen burning in the Arabian Sea at the “position 365km West-South West of Porbandar.” The hysteria in the Indian media set the mood for supplementary noise from regular Indians, and the voices of reason were like the meowing of kittens amidst trumpets of elephants.
Do I understand where the hysteria stemmed from? Yes. Do I consider it an expected reaction after the Mumbai attack? Yes. Do I think there is a justified fear of another attack while the so-called India-haters like Hafiz Saeed hold India responsible for the December 16 Peshawar attack? Yes. Do I believe the Indian media is the sole carrier of information – notwithstanding its veracity or lack thereof – when it comes to how-bad-Pakistan-is? Yes. Do I wonder if there’s more to the noise masquerading as reportage than pure nationalism? Yes. Do I lament the outright penalisation of Pakistan by the kangaroo courts held by many shrill talk show hosts and their shriller hyper-jingoistic panelists? Yes. Do I detect a lack of journalistic restraint and accepted fact-checking before declaring a doomsday scenario on TV screens, accessible to millions of Indians already suspicious of the “nefarious” agendas of their “bad” neighbour? Yes. Do I regard the Indian media as being instrumental in the perpetuation of hostility between Pakistan and India remaining on a boil? Yes.
Do I think maintaining this tone of misplaced jingoism by politicians would do any real good to India? No. Do I believe the voices of reason will ever be relevant in affecting a change in the Indian psyche that the very word “Pakistan” is not loathsome, and that the almost 99 per cent of the 188.2 million Pakistanis are just everyday people like them trying to get on with their lives? No. Do I see any silver lining of let’s-sit-and-talk amidst the babel of hate-filled, suspicion-worded jingoism of many mainstream politicians? No.
The boat titled “terror” met its death by fire, and along with it sank the hope of any real normalcy between Pakistan and India, any time soon. It’s irrelevant to most Indians what is being published/shown in their own media post the initial uproar about the boat. Why an Indian Coast Guard ship “capable of moving at 24-26 knots (44-48 kmph) needed to pursue a slow-moving fishing boat for an hour” is a question not many would bother to ask. Also ignored is the tiny technicality how it would have been enormously tough for the crew to set fire to diesel (the fuel that does not burn easily). Or the statement of a retired Indian Admiral, “It seems more likely that the warning shots hit the boat, setting the diesel alight.” That the boat did not explode as any vessel carrying explosives would in the case of a fire is something else that eludes many who are hell-bent on labelling the boat a “terror” plan, rather than what it could be: a smugglers’ vessel.
Ajai Shukla (Business Recorder) writes: “MoD officials also claim there were Pakistani communication intercepts, ordering the fishing boat’s crew to “end the mission”. If that meant sinking the boat and committing suicide, why did the crew set the boat alight rather than detonating the explosives on board, choosing a slow and painful end over a swift explosion?”
DNA reports: “Even senior intelligence agency wonder why the Coast Guard chased the boat when it was on the fringe of India’s exclusive economic zone…[which] extends up to 200 nautical miles or 370km. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a nation can chase or intercept suspicious vessels if they prohibit the host nation’s passage or if they loiter above or under the surface of the sea. That was not the case here, officials say.”
Pranav Kulkarni and Praveen Swami (The Indian Express) write: “…Forensic experts contacted by The Sunday Express noted that photographs of the burning boat showed its structure was intact, a fact inconsistent with the explosions burning munitions would normally set off. The flames also showed no signs of the white plumes characteristically associated with fires involving explosives.”
Manish Lodhari, secretary, National Fish Workers Forum, said the incident would likely have taken place far out into the sea.
Bhima Vaja, Captain, Porbandar-registered fishing trawler ‘Mother’, said:
“If any Pakistani fishing trawler crosses the boundary (IMBL), fishermen would be the first to come to know. We remain in touch by VHF… But I got no message about any boat.”
The boat was reported, destroyed and outraged about in India. All the reports came from India. The first, the second, the third. All with varying statements. Who will be the judge here? I will just say what I said to the host of an Indian talk show on January 1, 2015: In the bigger interest of even hoping for normalisation of relations between Pakistan and India, maybe the politicians, TV hosts and analysts could exhibit a little sabr (patience) before blaming our government, and the entire Pakistani nation whenever a suspicious boat blows up. Or shots are fired from our side. Don’t penalise the whole of Pakistan without thorough investigation. Do not just report on the assumption that all untoward incidents are Pakistan’s plans to harm India. Let the facts be clear before passing judgments. Try.
I know my words fell on deaf ears. And I know so will my written ones.