Attacking Diplomatic Missions: A Comparison

On 23rd May, 2014, the Indian consulate in Herat was attacked by four heavily armed men. The identity of the attackers or the groups they have been affiliated with has not been ascertained so far.

All four eventually were killed after an 8-hour gun-battle between them and security forces. The Indian consulate is one of most guarded compounds in the city since Indian diplomatic missions have always been on the list of high-value targets for several militant and terrorist outfits operating within the area. No Indian was hurt in the attack, the militants couldn’t breach the compound and there were few casualties. For the militants, this mission was a horrible failure. But the concern here, isn’t the fact that nothing happened, the concern here would be the fact that nobody cared back home in India that an attack was underway on what was essentially, Indian territory. Reporting on the issue came quite late and was scant. Very few outlets covered the issue in depth and by perhaps the next day, it had already become an archive after the completion of the news cycle.

Afghan Forces Fight Back As Gunmen Attack Indian Consulate (www.nbcnews.com)

Afghan Forces Fight Back As Gunmen Attack Indian Consulate (www.nbcnews.com)

Very few people in India seemed to know that there was an attack underway, despite the fact that a gun-battle occurred outside the compound for a total of eight hours. What is worse is that, the issue has been completely forgotten by the media by the next day. Since then, there has been very little reference made to the attack and it is almost as if it never happened.

Let us compare this to the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi a few years ago.

Coverage of the attack was massive. People kept talking about it and questions were asked. Politicians and officials have been sacked over the issue of the Benghazi attack and the issue is still a pressing one. To be fair, the attack on the US embassy was more deadly. The American envoy to Libya was killed in the attack. Even then, what can be taken from this episode was that security was a major concern for the people. When attacks did happen to them, even abroad, they did respond to it, they did become aware about it.

US consulate attack (Image: www.telegraph.co.uk)

US consulate attack (Image: www.telegraph.co.uk)

So was the reaction to the attack minimal because of the severity of the attack where almost no major losses occurred? Or is it a culture of indifference that has been bred over the years?

Another case comes to light if a comparison really needs to be made. The Indian Embassy in Kabul was attacked in 2008. The blast resulted in the death of 58 people with the death of India’s defence attache and a seasoned diplomat. That was a severe attack by any count and comparable to the embassy attack in Benghazi, probably even bigger.

2008 Indian Embassy attack in Kabul (Image: indianexpress.com)

2008 Indian Embassy attack in Kabul (Image: indianexpress.com)

What was the backlash after that? Was it comparable to the kind of questions raised during the Benghazi attack? Probably not.

It did prompt an increase in security for Indian missions all across Afghanistan, but did it prompt the kind of debate that usually surrounds a terrorist attack on India? Not really.

Which is baffling because what is not understood is that the idea of a diplomatic mission is the fact that they are for all intents and purposes territory of India. The media made it sound like as if nothing ever really happened, when in fact, an incident has occurred which requires the full attention of the people.

The diplomatic mission of India is its link to the outside world. It is where Indians abroad are looked after and it is how people of other countries come to ours. The importance of the diplomatic mission is perhaps one of the most underrated of all our assets. Attacking a diplomatic mission is akin to attacking our Parliament, our legislatures, our executive office or our courts. It enjoys the same status. Even if the mission is situated in Afghanistan, what was attacked in Afghanistan was India.

And therefore, there can be no doubt that the attack was downplayed to a ridiculous degree.

At the outset, it sounds like this post is trying to exaggerate and increase paranoia surrounding the subject. That isn’t the intention. The intention is to show that there is a certain indifference to the security situation that needs to be adequately talked about. Reality doesn’t fade away because we shut our eyes.

What does this say about the Indian way of viewing such attacks? Have Indians become indifferent to terrorism? Has it become some form of a problem which India may choose to live with at some point of time?

Or is it the question of the media? Do they not find it fashionable to report on terrorism anymore? Do they feel that such issues are not to be addressed because they no longer have appeal? Are the human costs in the consulate attack not large enough to be reported?

Which still goes back to the assertion that there is no demand for such news, that maybe people don’t want to know about it. It simply isn’t in their interest to do so. Maybe both the people and the press have a part to play in the increasing indifference to security issues. All our money, resources, weapons, tools and knowledge about security becomes useless unless the public realizes the threats surrounding their lives.

Have we become like Iraqis or the Lebanese, or the Afghans for that matter, where terrorist attacks and violence is something we find to be normal course of events for the day? How is it normal to have a consulate attacked and the gun-battle lasting for well over eight hours and still people don’t know about it?

It isn’t a question of outrage. Outrage during attacks have never been helpful or productive. It is about the question of do we even keep track of the attacks that happen to us now. It is not about reaction, it is about ignorance.

If we have internalized the threat of terrorism to be an everyday reality in our lives, terrorism has already won.

 

 


Ashwath Komath
An article by:
Ashwath Komath

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