What if Indira Gandhi had been shown this pic?

The cover of the 9 August 2010 issue of Time magazine. For a change, all four editions—US, Europe, Asia and South Pacific—have the same cover story.

Time‘s choice is doubtless provocative, one reason journalism exists.

Yet, such eagerness and such a desire to provoke isn’t visible on home turf, where squeamish self-censorship kicks into play each time news organisations ponder the possibility of printing the pictures of US marines killed while killing others , or the bodies of victims of 11 September 2001 attack on New York City.



The leakage of 92,000 secret military intelligence documents is sensational anywhere any time. When the documents pertain to the war against Taliban-Al-Qaeda, it is also disturbing because it shows (a) that America is in a trap and is unlikely to win this war, and (b) that India is in for trouble, big trouble.

Let’s not forget that the information now leaked is new only to us, the lay public.

To the top echelons of leadership in America, the facts were known all along. They also knew that the records had leaked. Two months ago, in May, the US Army criminal investigation command had arrested an intelligence analyst in the army and charges were filed against him early this month, well before the leaked documents hit world headlines.

The arrested man, Bradley Manning, is 22 years old. If he is indeed the man who leaked the secrets, he must have done so as a matter of conscience, appalled by the atrocities American troops were committing. This is a “problem” with American democracy. One man with conscience will always be around to do the unexpected.

Remember those pictures of Iraqi citizens being humiliated and tortured by fun-loving American soldiers? Earlier Vietnam war secrets were published by Daniel Ellsberg, another military analyst then working for the Rand Corporation.

The latest documents had much to reveal about Pakistan’s complicity in terror network in the region. This led to some patriotic drum-beating in India—as if Pakistan had been caught with its pants down and now America would be forced to act.

Nothing of the kind will happen.

America has been seeing Pakistan with its pants down for quite a while. For example, it said more than once in recent weeks that Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan. Blandly Pakistan denied it. And America let it rest at that. Pakistan is for America a pill that is too bitter to swallow and too sweet to spit out, a classic diplomatic trap.

Pakistan’s military leaders, especially the smart strategists of the ISI, know this very well, hence their audacious policy of helping al-Quaida and the Taliban. Some of the terror outfits the ISI trains and equips are fighting America. Knowing this, America goes on giving Pakistan one billion dollars in aid every year. That is how smart the ISI is.

By contrast, India gives America everything America wants—nuclear treaty clauses as stipulated by the American Congress, favouritism to companies like Union Carbide, virtual immunity clauses in the event of future industrial accidents, even a false declaration to ex-President George W. Bush that the people of India loved him.

What does India get in return? Repeated verbal declarations that Pakistan must do more to contain terrorism.

Why doesn’t America do more to contain Pakistan?

The fact is that today’s political dispensation in India has no clearcut strategy about countering Pakistan’s known terror tactics. It does not know how to call Pakistan’s bluff or how to tell America and its allies that enough is enough.

There are unofficial strategic experts in India who have been proposing covert action to counter Pakistan’s covert action. This makes sense in a volatile theatre where everyone is engaged in shadow-boxing. If India can mobilise the kind of strategic brilliance the ISI displays, it can hit Pakistan where it hurts. It may even get the tacit support of the CIA and M16.

What is required is an iron will on the part of policy makers.

Perhaps Indira Gandhi would have found that will.

If softness and diffidence continue in Delhi, eventually the Taliban will replace the Americans in Afghanistan, then the Taliban will have a say in the running of Pakistan, then Pakistan will become the operational headquarters of al-Quaida and all allied groupings.

When someone finally scores a hit in New York or London, the West will wake up—too late of course. What of Bombay and Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad? The ISI’s singleminded focus is India and that’s where the maximum danger lies.

Photo portfolio: The Big Picture