The choices available to those who claim they have no choice

By | October 29, 2023

Tom Friedman writes:

I am watching the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza today and thinking about one of the world leaders I’ve most admired: Manmohan Singh. He was India’s prime minister in late November 2008, when 10 Pakistani jihadist militants from the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, widely believed to be linked to Pakistan’s military intelligence, infiltrated India and killed more than 160 people in Mumbai, including 61 people at two luxury hotels. What was Singh’s military response to India’s Sept. 11?

He did nothing.

Singh never retaliated militarily against the nation of Pakistan or Lashkar camps in Pakistan. It was a remarkable act of restraint. What was the logic? In his book “Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy,” India’s foreign minister at the time, Shivshankar Menon, explained why, making these key points:

“I myself pressed at that time for immediate visible retaliation” against the jihadist bases or against Pakistani military intelligence, “which was clearly complicit,” Menon wrote. “To have done so would have been emotionally satisfying and gone some way toward erasing the shame of the incompetence that India’s police and security agencies displayed.”

He continued, “But on sober reflection and in hindsight, I now believe that the decision not to retaliate militarily and to concentrate on diplomatic, covert and other means was the right one for that time and place.”

Chief among the reasons, Menon explained, was that any military response would have quickly obscured just how outrageous and terrible the raid on Indian civilians and tourists was; “the fact of a terrorist attack from Pakistan on India with official involvement on the Pakistan side” would have been lost. Once India retaliated, the world would immediately have had what Menon called a “ho-hum reaction.” Just another Pakistani-Indian dust-up — nothing unusual here.

Moreover, Menon wrote, “an Indian attack on Pakistan would have united Pakistan behind the Pakistan Army, which was in increasing domestic disrepute,” and “an attack on Pakistan would also have weakened the civilian government in Pakistan, which had just been elected to power and which sought a much better relationship with India than the Pakistan Army was willing to consider.” He continued, “A war scare, and maybe even a war itself, was exactly what the Pakistan Army wanted to buttress its internal position.”

In addition, he wrote, “a war, even a successful war, would have imposed costs and set back the progress of the Indian economy just when the world economy in November 2008 was in an unprecedented financial crisis.”

In conclusion, said Menon, “by not attacking Pakistan, India was free to pursue all legal and covert means to achieve its goals of bringing the perpetrators to justice, uniting the international community to force consequences on Pakistan for its behavior and to strengthen the likelihood that such an attack would not take place again.”

I understand that Israel is not India — a country of 1.4 billion people, covering a massive territory. The loss of more than 160 people in Mumbai, some of them tourists, was not felt in every home and hamlet, as the deaths, maiming and kidnapping of roughly 1,400 Israelis by Hamas were. Pakistan also has nuclear weapons to deter retaliation.

Nevertheless, it is instructive to reflect on the contrast between India’s response to the Mumbai terrorist attack and Israel’s response to the Hamas slaughter. [Continue reading…]

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