22 June 2017

Where is the data for India to make a case on terrorism from Pakistan?

Tara Kartha

It’s that time again during the term of a prime minister, when he has to prepare to call on the President of the United States, a country that is still seen as powerful enough to count as a desirable parti in times of stress. Apart from plans to buy a fleet of commercial aircraft guaranteed to catch the attention of an anxious industry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States is also expected to focus on Pakistan’s proxy wars against India.

As always when negotiating with the US, it is not only White House aides, bureaucracy and members of the Congress who matter, but also the think tanks and media who aim to influence policy at the Hill. Any diplomatic mission worth its salt aims to engage with these ‘expert’ groups and bring them into public debate preferably in aid of India, but at least not against its stated positions.

This is where the difficulty starts. Major think tanks in Washington have a very different view on terrorism in the region. For instance, a prestigious think tank while classifying conflicts, cites Afghanistan as a “‘civil war’’ on its interactive map. This flies against facts, given that almost the entire top Taliban leadership lives, strategies and more importantly, banks in Pakistan. A civil war is an internal phenomenon, and the term ‘Af-Pak’ itself illustrates the cross border pall under which the war is being fought. The only instance of cross border terrorism that is cited in Asia is oddly enough limited to sectarian conflict in Pakistan.

Other think tanks also have different views on what constitutes terrorism. One with an impressive ‘global’ database had put India at the eighth position on the top 10 countries affected by terrorism. This position was earned by taking into account attacks by Maoists in central India as well as those by Northeast insurgents. In relative proportion, terrorism in Kashmir was only an ‘also ran’ position. While the data is right, the context is wrong. The Northeast has long been classified as a classic insurgency. Indeed, it bears all its characteristics, apparent to any expert dealing with the subject.

None of this is to say that sections of the US government which matter are ignorant of the situation in India. The point here is that insofar as terrorism goes, there is little awareness or indeed much interest in our main terrorism plaint – that action should be taken against Pakistan as a terrorist sponsor. There is little interest in Pakistan’s actions in Kashmir, apart from the oft repeated fear that it occurs between nuclear rivals. The fact that Islamabad’s terrorist operations in Kashmir empower the deep state to play the same game in Afghanistan is hardly ever appreciated.

The trouble is that India does not make its own task any easier. In a world where big data lies at the centre of analysis and public policy, New Delhi has no data to offer. The website of the ministry of home affairs ‘updates’ on Kashmir is more than a year old, and it requires an imaginative reading between the lines to understand its annual report.

Think tanks in India are hardly any better. Most offer opinion pieces, without the backing of hard data. Where is the data that can show that districts affected by terrorism are less than 10 and that the whole of ‘Kashmir’ is not affected by terrorism. Barring one, no think tank offers updated information on the Jaish-e-Mohammad, at a time when India is working to get it notified as a terrorist group at the United Nations. Neither is there any precise coverage of the activities of the Lashkar e Taiba in Afghanistan, as a direct threat to US troops.

Today’s wars, and the diplomacy that has to back it are fought through the medium of the media. Data is put out that colours thinking, and its lack is often at the core of post-truth politics. In an information age, we are constantly being bombarded by a ‘world according to some’ data that also complicates the debate at home. It’s too late, besides being downright unwise, to hide behind bureaucratic red tape. Accept that he who provides the data, lives to close the file.

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