Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in 2014, India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said that India was able to cope with terrorism.
When asked to explain that, he answered:
"I very strongly feel that the threat posed by the ISI or some of the radicals can bleed this country but the inherent strength of this country is so strong that it is not going to degrade this country... I think there is plenty of proof about this. We have been able to maintain... Why is India a nation?
We don't have the same language, we don't have the same religion, we don't have the same dress, nothing. But still we are a nation because we are essentially a civilizational state. And this civilizational state has got tremendous capacity, tremendous resilience, to take on the losses. No other country will probably find that so many policemen have died in encounters against terrorism and it really doesn't matter.
The society takes it in the spirit. This capacity is a very, very high capacity. So they can bleed us, they can create some human tragedies... but if any country feels that India as a state will get degraded because of terrorism... it is not that fragile a state. Its inherent strength lies beyond the physical... that the newspaper items..."
After every big terrorist strike emanating from Pakistan, we hear anguished demands for retaliation, but the government does nothing. We are told that the government cannot go to war with a nuclear-armed Pakistan and can only use diplomatic means to corner it. These diplomatic offensives have never succeeded in preventing the next terrorist attack.
"No other country will probably find that so many policemen have died in encounters against terrorism and it really doesn't matter. The society takes it in the spirit."
But it is clear from Doval's statement that the Indian government doesn't really want to take difficult decisions to prevent terrorism from Pakistan. To be fair, Doval's view is shared by many hawks in the Indian strategic community. Responding with either war or talks, both are seen as giving into Pakistani blackmail. New Delhi essentially wants to do nothing, maintain status quo, and ignore "human tragedies" that terrorism brings from time to time.
Why Indians Don't Really Care
What's disturbing about Doval's explanation about India coping with terrorism is the distinction he makes between people and state, human tragedies and civilizational strength. It is as if the people are sacrificial lambs in service of the state's strategic thinking. "No other country will probably find that so many policemen have died in encounters against terrorism and it really doesn't matter. The society takes it in the spirit," to repeat Doval's words.
He is right, of course. Indians take terrorism deaths in their stride, because human life has a very low value in India (as it does in Pakistan, or many such developing countries). More people die of hunger, natural disasters, the summer heat, the winter cold, traffic accidents and diarrhoea than of terrorism. When Indians are outraged by terrorism, it is not the deaths but the identity of the terrorist they are outraged about. Terrorist strikes blamed on Pakistan / Kashmiris / Muslims appear like an act of war.
That outrage is served well enough with diplomatic huffing and puffing. Issuing statements against Pakistan, cancelling talks, reducing visas and so on, are good enough.
The Bad Example Of 26/11
Beyond the optics, the Indian government doesn't feel enough public pressure to actually do something about terrorism.
The Indian government doesn't have political incentive to actually tackle terrorism. After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which many portrayed as India's 9/11 moment, the Manmohan Singh government chose not to take military action against Pakistan. Six months later, Singh was up for a re-election.
The opposition Bhartiya Janata Party made national security the central election issue. Posters of Afzal Guru, convicted for aiding the 2001Parliament attack and waiting to be hanged, were put up across the country. The BJP and its leader LK Advani suggested the Congress government wasn't hanging a dreaded terrorist because it was soft on Pakistan, as part of its policy of appeasement of Indian Muslim voters.
Yet, Singh returned to power with even greater numbers for his Congress party. If even 26/11 couldn't make Indian voters punish the ruling party for inaction on Pakistan and terrorism, one doubts that the death of 18 soldiers in Uri will.
One result of the "do nothing" response is that the terrorists try harder every time, raising the bar to capture public attention. The terror attacks become more spectacular, as in 26/11, and they start hitting state targets, such as the Indian air force base in Pathankot or the army camp in Uri.
What If We Started Caring About Terrorism?
If India and Indians actually started caring about terrorism, if they stopped taking its human toll "in the spirit", what would they do? It's not as if war is actually an option. If it were, we would have seen it many times by now.
India's biggest option with Pakistan is the one it doesn't want to exercise: talk about Kashmir, try and settle the dispute. If we find Pakistani terrorists interrupting such talks, call Pakistan's bluff, tell the world who really doesn't want to solve Kashmir. But halting talks, or not talking about Kashmir, is exactly what the Pakistani deep state wants.
India's biggest option with Pakistan is the one it doesn't want to exercise: talk about Kashmir, try and settle the dispute.
Solving Kashmir would also mean looking to bring peace and calm in Indian-administered Kashmir. Unfortunately, the Indian government wants to pretend all is well in Kashmir, and there is no Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.
If we started caring about terrorism, we would start wanting to solve the Kashmir problem. But that makes us feel like we're giving in to Pakistani blackmail. That is not how we should read it. India can turn the tables on Pakistan, stop being apologetic and defensive about Kashmir. Trying to solve Kashmir is in India's own national self-interest.