Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ensuring Security and Freedom

Short-term changes to our security ecosystem and long-term solutions will reinforce each other

The Mumbai terror attacks have evoked emotional reactions because they challenged our self-esteem and sovereignty. We need to review our security ecosystem because sea entry gives the attack connotations of an invasion that many countries have gone to war for.

But India must have policy responses at two different levels, because the short-term challenge is driven by external factors (the global terror network, India's changed perception and Pakistan) while the long-term challenge is driven by long-term factors (a sense of national Muslim grievance, inequality of opportunity and weak participation in India's growth for India's poor).

We know how foreign interference corrodes the fabric of society.

Few people know that the peaceful instincts of Kashmiris meant that nobody died in the valley from gun-shot wounds from 1947 to 1988 till General Zia-ul-Haz began devious meddling with Operation Topaz. While it would be delusional to blame the Kashmir problem on ourselves, the benifits of hindsight and age make us grudgingly acknowledge that poor employment and educational opportunities in the valley were fertile soil for strife exploited by Pakistan. An environment where youth do not have equality of opportunity and cannot escape their "opening balance" leads to a "dead end" view of life that has lead to problems in Pakistan, Palestine, India's North-East, Saudi Arabia, and other hotspots.

A long overdue revamp of our security ecosystem (unified border control, intelligence gathering, detention laws, innovative prevention, effective disaster response capabilities, specialized police training and weaponry) must address the frustration of policemen with a judiciary often incapable of prosecution.

This incident is different because the killing of Americans obligates the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to pursue the perpetrators and their masters. But the most important difference is that US President-elect Barack Obama has acknowledged India's need to reach and destroy the sources. This represents a radical change from US unwillingness to allow India the "hot pursuit" option that many of us advocated in Kashmir. This opens a window for surgical operations against targets such as Muridke near Lahore (Lashkar-e-Taiba headquarters), the Dawood apparatus near Karachi and terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir because we need to dry the swamp.

The long-term solution is different, as this attack couldn't have happened without local support. This support needs to be smashed, but we must acknowledge a sense of alienation among some Indians.

We missed our tryst with destiny because true freedom comes from equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity comes from the 3 Es (Education, Employability and Employment). Unfortunately, our 3E regime is broken: 57% of our youth suffer from skill deprivation; 58% of graduates make less than 6,500 per month; 93% of our people work in the unorganized sector for whom job security, social security and workplace safety are distant dreams; 1,200 employment exchanges last year gave 2,00,000 jobs to the 40 million people registered; 25% of government schoolteachers don't show up for work. The poor, minorities, and traditionally discriminated suffer disproportionately and this has dangerous consequences.

As Nandan Nilekani says in his exceptional book Imagining India:
"our failure to create opportunities can turn our demographic dividend into a crisis. We have already experienced these problems through the 1970s and 1980s when unemployment and the lack of income mobility for working-age Indians fed into criminality and extremist movements across India such as the extreme-left Naxalite and extreme right Bajrang Dal movements, as well as the rise of the underworld in major cities. Key players in Mumbai's underworld, for instance, were people belonging to discriminated groups and the impoverished underclass - Chota Rajan was the son of a Dalit sweeper, Abu Salim's mother rolled beedis for a living, Chota Shakeel grew up in a Bombay slum and Arun Gawil's father was a textile worker laid off during the mill strikes of the 1970s. While these circumstances do not exonerated their actions in the least, these are signs of how economic bitterness can create high social costs."
The crucible of our indipendence struggle was the minority rule of the British; 1,50,000 white people lorded over 340 million brown ones. Our Constitution guarantees that citizens are equal and everybody has a vote. Yet, after 60 years of indipendence, why do we tolerate a 3E regime that perpetuates inequality of opportunity? Creating a hostile envioronment for terrorism in India needs our security infrastructure to be supported by an equal opportunity habitat. This needs forming an education regulatory authority of India, revamping our skill system and reviewing labour laws. These changes need political backbone to take on insiders who lock out outsiders.

As any competent policymaker or entrepreneur knows, the short-term response to a crisis is often different from the long-term one. India must honor the memory of the brave policeman who died by revamping our security ecosystem and explore action against Pakistan with US support. But we must also create equality of opportunity for every Indian - Muslim, Dalit or poor. After all, an uneducated, unemployable or unemployed Indian is not a free Inidan.


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