Rahmat Ali died on September 11, the day of the worst ever terrorist strike. Rahmat was not a sharp-suited banker working on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. He had never heard of Morgan Stanley, Jardine Fleming, he hadn't even heard of Infosys. Far removed from global capital, he could never have even aspired for a work permit that would have got him a job in New York. Working as a small-time electrician, Rahmat Ali lived thousands of miles away from the Big Apple in the town of Surankote in Jammu and Kashmir.
But while he shared little in common with the thousands of people who died in New York, he was part of one important bond: Rahmat Ali too was a victim of a terrorist attack. Nothing quite as audacious as the attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon, but something much more basic: he was killed in a landmine blast near Surankote. Like so many others, Rahmat had become yet another statistic in the low intensity conflict that has been waged in the valley for over a decade.
Like Rahmat Ali, hundreds of innocent civilians have died in Kashmir and across the world in terrorist attacks over the years. Unlike New York, their deaths won't make the headlines because in some parts of the world, terrorism has become a way of life, and has taken various forms of oppression. In Palestine, for example, hundreds of young people have died in attacks by Israeli forces. In Baghdad, on the very day that New York was torn apart, eight civilians were killed in a bomb blast in the heart of one of the city's most crowded markets. In the Philippines in the same week, a group of tourists were targeted by terrorists. Egypt, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Iran, Kazhakstan: you name it, there is virtually no country in the world that has been untouched by the unseen hand of the terrorist.
What New York and Washington did was to give a face to this dark, macabre image. The sight of hijackers ramming passenger planes into the heart of the world's last remaining superpower - in front of a global audience of literally millions - brought the horror of terrorism into the houses of virtually anyone with a cable television connection. This was reality television in all its bloody, gruesome avatar. No one who saw even a fleeting glimpse of those few seconds of absolute mayhem could have been untouched by the sight.
Which is why the aftermath of the attacks have seen such a rapid emergence of a global consensus on fighting terrorism. The sheer horror of the attack has blurred all ideological divides. Twelve years ago, when the Americans wanted to refuel planes in this country during the Gulf War, there were several voices of dissent. No one was quite convinced that war was necessary or the right thing to do. Now, take any spot poll in the country, and you can be sure that the vast majority will support a joint Indo-US action. This is partly due to the fact that America is no longer some distant land, but for millions of middle-class Indians there's both an emotional and a business connection that transcends geographical boundaries. The waves of Indians who have descended on American shores have played a major role in diluting anti-Americanism in this country. Terrorist strikes by a group which is believed to also be responsible for terrorism in Kashmir has made this connection even more durable. Osama bin Laden is not just Washington's enemy number one, he is also a symbol of the kind of terrorism which has confronted this country.
And yet, once the emotional upsurge starts ebbing, and life and New York begin to slowly return to normal, there will be a need to ask some serious questions. Questions that are not framed in stark black and white terms but have the necessary shades of grey. Who, for example, created Osama bin Laden, armed and trained him for over a decade? Why again has it taken more than a decade for the links between the Taliban and Islamabad to be exposed? After all, there has been nothing secretive about the nature of support that Pakistan has provided the Taliban, yet Washington has never really put the squeeze on Islamabad till now. Similarly, why has it taken America more than ten years to start accepting that Pak-based militant groups which are operating in Kashmir have been beneficiaries of state-sponsored terrorism? For years, India has been demanding that Pakistan be declared a terrorist state, and groups like the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba be banned. There has been much rhetoric, yet when it has come to the crunch, the US administration has simply backed off from taking the hard decisions.
Hopefully, the events of September 11 should force the world's only superpower to realize that the time has come to take those hard decisions. Washington must realize that flawed policies in several parts of the world from the Middle East to South Asia have played a critical role in creating shadowy terrorist outfits. The White House will have to realize that you can't fight terrorism by taking a stand only when American citizens are attacked. Basically, America needs to accept that the life of Rahmat Ali is as precious as any other. Only then can the global fight against terrorism be won.
Published in NDTV. I too feel the same.. and many sent me mails why the heck this much publicity for the collapse of 2 towers. Is it because it happened in America?? Ok.. it is brutal to kill innocent people that way. But how many innocents were killed by Terrorists and Security Forces in Kashmir and still getting killed? Can anyone imagine? More than 60,000!! Their lives means nothing??