Nothing makes the mind concentrate as much as a crisis. As the Manmohan Singh government's latest anti-terror initiatives show, it took the ghastly tragedy of Mumbai to make it realize that its earlier desultory approach towards the 21st century's most serious menace would have to be abandoned.
Only time will show how far the new measures - a more stringent anti-terrorism legislative measure and a new federal investigating agency - will succeed in dealing with the threat.
Of the two, the second is more important because, as the inexplicable failure to act on the intelligence inputs on the possibility of a sea-borne attack on Mumbai shows, it is the shocking lack of coordination between the different security and intelligence units which enabled the murderous fidayeen group from Pakistan to sneak into India's financial capital.
Three factors were responsible for this deplorable lapse. One is the customary reluctance of state governments to concede to the centre any ground on the question of law and order. How dangerous this shortsighted propensity to safeguard their own turfs can be in the age of terrorism is now clear.
Even now, there have been a few dissenting voices, notably from Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, about accepting the jurisdiction of the national investigating agency.
The other factor is an inadequate appreciation of the nature of the threat. It is possible that terrorism wasn't seen to be any different from the earlier Khalistani threat in Punjab in the 1980s, which was expected to subside after a while due to lack of sustaining power. That it did may have confirmed the belief in the efficacy of delay.
Besides, as in Punjab, it was presumably thought that the problem could be solved through "fake encounters" or cold-blooded killings by police.
A third factor was extra sensitiveness on the part of the Congress and its allies towards Muslim sentiments although it had been proved time and again that the community was as much against the insensate acts of murder and mayhem as all other citizens.
This revulsion of Indian Muslims towards Pakistani jehadis was evident when the community refused permission for burying the fidayeen fanatics in its graveyards.
A sense of excessive loyalty of the political leadership to the party faithful may have also prevented urgent action. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain how a patently ineffectual home minister like Shivraj Patil was allowed to stay on till the bitter end.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also cynically contributed its bit towards any official move to introduce a tough anti-terror law by its specious propaganda about the government being soft on terror, thereby fostering a resistance within it about bringing in a new law lest it be seen a kind of retreat.
It was only when the BJP's terror card failed to yield any political dividends for the party in the latest round of state assembly elections that the government apparently felt, even if belatedly, that it could take the necessary step.
Besides, the BJP's forked-tongue attitude towards terror became abundantly clear when it went all out in support of the Hindu militants who were nabbed on charges of terrorism in connection with the Malegaon blasts. Evidently, the party tends to differentiate between one kind of terrorism and another.
But now that a federal agency and tough laws are in place, the focus moves to the international arena. After all, the laws cannot operate in a vacuum. The religious extremists have first to be arrested before they can be tried.
But the difficulty is that India is facing a unique situation, virtually unprecedented in the history of terrorism. It is not only the target of non-state actors, like America was when it was hit by Al Qaeda operating out of Afghanistan which did not have a government worth the name.
Instead, India is having to cope with non-state players who are acting in collusion with at least sections of the ruling establishment of a nuclear-armed Pakistan, whose army has been indoctrinated from Zia-ul Haq's time into nurturing an insane hatred of India.
Terrorism, therefore, has acquired an entirely new dimension for India. It is dealing with a country which is waging a diplomacy of jehad, in the words of a Pakistani columnist. Pakistan - or actually the Pakistan Army, for its civilian rulers are puppets in its hands - is also blackmailing the world into believing that things can get worse if the international community does not persuade India to hand over Kashmir on a platter to the jehadis.
And if someone believes that such a surrender will bring peace and happiness to the subcontinent, he is living in a fool's paradise, for it will only whet the appetite of the zealots for setting up an Islamic jannat on earth sans girls' schools.
Beyond the National Investigative Agency and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, therefore, the need is to tame Pakistan from where 75 percent of the terrorist outrages originate, as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said. But how can one control a country where the army and its intelligence wing, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is virtually hands-in-glove with the psychos, even if tacitly ?
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com