The times have changed, but the threats remain, indeed have taken new forms and multiplied because of ideological lunatics
The end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 have been marked by episodes of terrorism and violence which show no signs of abating. If at all, in fact this global turbulence seems set to increase, what with the fierce global determination to combat ISIS which is deemed to pose the greatest terrorist threat in the world.
Two coalitions, one led by the US and the other a 34-nation Arab one led by Saudi Arabia, have been set up to deal with the ISIS threat. Saudi Arabia itself is involved in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen, and with the latest confrontation it is having with Iran, one has to await developments to see how effective the coalition it is leading will be.
No doubt the most spectacular incident that marred the year’s end was the terrorist attack in Paris, at Bataclan in November last. At this popular spot frequented by masses of working people after they wind up their Friday evening’s chores at office, gunmen riding motorcycles and black cars suddenly appeared and went on a wild rampage that resulted in the deaths of nearly 130 innocent people, leaving the nation stunned. There was widespread immediate condemnation of this dastardly attack by leaders from around the world. And as usual, this was followed by a promise to deal severely with the perpetrators. The battle being more ideological than physical, it is going to take much longer than what is hoped for, namely a prompt determination.
The waves of the Bataclan shock had not quite died down when another terrorist attack took place – this time in a quiet community in California not far from Los Angeles. This was in San Bernardino, where a couple of Pakistan origin took to shooting the husband’s colleagues at a year-end party. This left about thirteen people dead, and an America already reeling under the constant threat of gun violence woke up to yet more of the same. Further shoot-outs there in all types of settings – domestic, police confrontations with racial undertones, school and college campuses among others – have led an exasperated President Obama no choice but to attempt gun control through an executive order which is yet to happen.
From the beginning of his mandate he has been concerned with this issue, and the gun lobby has been so powerful that it is only now, in the last year of his mandate, that he has been compelled to resort to this extraordinary measure. This must be seen against the reality that nearly 30 000 deaths by gun violence take place in the US every year – a country with 350 million people and 370 million guns whose sales apparently increase after shootings! This is a complex problem and it is also not likely to be resolved so soon, and we have surely not heard the last word yet, but it will be interesting to know what effect the executive order will have on the incidence of the shootings in this the last year of Obama’s mandate.
Another kind of violence took place in several cities in Germany on the 31st December, especially in Cologne, where people had gathered to celebrate, as the custom goes in almost all large cities in the civilised world. Hundreds of women were subjected to thefts and sexual assaults by attackers who were described as being of ‘Arab and North African origin’, which at the last count has included dozens of asylum seekers from among the recent wave of refugees that has flooded Germany. Over 500 police cases have been registered to date. The chief of police has had to step down for failure to protect the women, as well as for the withholding of timely information to the media in a bid, so it is said, to give a ‘clean image’ of the immigrants!
It seems that this has been the case in Sweden too, where similar attacks took place on that night. As was perhaps to be expected there has been a backlash, and Angela Merkel the German Chancellor has been heavily criticized for her too liberal policy of allowing nearly 1.1 million asylum seekers in last year, ignoring the social imbalance and coping difficulties which are being caused by this massive influx. A Russian source advances a figure of 50 million more refugees that will swamp Europe in a soon-to-come surge.
Further away in India, there has been an infiltration by Pakistani terrorists in a major airbase at Pathankot near the Pakistan border, resulting in the deaths of several Indian jawans. A combing operation lasting a few days hunted down and killed the terrorists, and former President Pervez Musharraf had the gumption to say that India should not overreact because attacks such as the one at Pathankot will keep happening!! The new bonhomie between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif has been exploited to seek a more mature response from the Pakistani side.
However, despite the best intentions of Nawaz Sharif, India fears that the Pakistani establishment will repeat the post 26/11 scenario of Mumbai, namely dilly-dally and make purely symbolic gestures to impress the international community without any concrete fallout eventually. But it is also a fact that there are glaring weaknesses in the preparedness of the Indian side, both as regards defence and offence, as has been repeatedly pointed out by seasoned analysts over decades. A country which is so vulnerable to attack from hostile neighbours has to be more serious about protecting its borders and its citizens: this is perhaps the one major lesson that emerges out of the Pathankot mishap.
Some clues about the terrorist situation in that region and the kind of robust response that such non-stop provocations demand come from President Obama’s last State of the Union Speech delivered two days ago. He said: ‘If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell. When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit. (italics added)
‘Our foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan… Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks… The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk…’
Indians look up to a similar commitment from their leaders. It is overdue since the India-China war in 1961, which was a failure and a betrayal of Nehru’s Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai policy.
The times have changed, but the threats remain, indeed have taken new forms and multiplied because of ideological lunatics. We do live in a very troubled and turbulent world indeed…
* Published in print edition on 15 January 2016