In a deal, which possibly only Israel could strike, one Israeli soldier was exchanged for 1027 Palestinian prisoners.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was waiting on the tarmac of Tel Nof airbase to welcome Gilad Shalit, as he walked a free man after five years of incarceration.
Sergeant Gilad Shalit, 25, had been taken prisoner in 2006 in a cross-border raid by Hamas militants, who had tunnelled their way into Israel from Gaza.
Many of the Palestinians, who got freedom in the barter, were those involved in planning and carrying out deadly bombings in Israel. Several of the victims’ families moved the Israeli Supreme Court against their release, but were only disappointed as their petition got rejected.
On the face of it, it looks like a highly unequal deal. One man in exchange for over a thousand!
No wonder chants of ‘Victory to Allah’ rent the air on the Palestinian side.
And even as Netanyahu wrote a letter to bereaved Israeli families to assuage their hurt, a recent poll by a leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth found that 79% of the people supported the prisoner swap.
That is the kind of value Israel accords to even a single citizen.
And now remember the WikiLeaks about an Indian Minister admitting to Americans that India’s huge population gives the country capacity to take in several casualties in terror attacks.
What a contrast, one would decry.
However, as much as we would like to laud Israel about the heart it has shown to secure the life of its soldier, one cannot but think about the flipside implications. Would these released Palestinian militants not wreak greater havoc now that they have been set free?
In the Indian scenario, the Kandahar hijacking of the Indian Airlines forced us into a humiliating bargain wherein ossified terrorists, including Maulana Masood Azhar, were freed in lieu of a loadful of passengers. Masood Azhar went on to revive the Jaish-e-Mohammad that planned and executed several deadly attacks in India, which claimed the lives of several of our citizens.
The Kandahar pact was criticized to such an extent that Advani, who was the then Home Minister, chooses to distance himself from the whole episode saying he was unaware of the government deliberations and not even consulted. That’s notwithstanding the fact that no one believes him!
Herein lies the dilemma of how much is too much.
Should the value of one citizen be larger than even national interest? Can a country risk to be seen as a soft state.
The Indian government says it thinks not. Because, a policy to deal with hijacking situations was later drafted and exchange of terrorists held as prisoners was ruled out in case such a demand is made by militants in the future.
Yet, India is seen as a soft state and Israel is not.
The core difference lies in how ably a country can strengthen and steel its internal security. The US like Israel stands out as a shining example in this regard. A decade after 9/11, there has been no major terror attack in the country. The UK too has successfully intercepted and quashed several terror plots in the making.
On the other, we keep mouthing how our “patience is not infinite” but go on to prove exactly the opposite. From 1993 Bombay blasts till 26/11 to the more recent attacks this July in Mumbai, we are still grappling to find the culprits and hand them comeuppance. (Please note that a decade is such long time that even the city’s name has changed. But its fate has not.)
Dawood is safely ensconced in the comfortable Clifton of Karachi and celebrates the weddings of his sons and daughters in Dubai, where the top brass of Pakistan are entertained in front of full media glare. We know Iqbal Mirchi is in London, but too far from our grasp. And Hafiz Mohammad Saeed continues to spew venom about India at public rallies in Lahore.
Contrast this with Israel’s strategy from the start. From the Munich Olympics massacre of 1972 when each of the conspirators was eliminated in his den, to the more recent hot pursuit of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, Israel doesn’t spare its enemies.
India needs a serious security overhaul before it can begin to sensitize about the value of every single life.
Once the issue of internal security has been resolved, one can mull the question of how far we can engage or negotiate with representatives of terror modules.
That said, deciding between the value of a single citizen Vs larger national interest will always be a tough tightrope to walk…be it any country on earth.