Sunday, July 27, 2008

India losing to terror

The country again wakes to a morning that is laden with the news of the increase in number of dead and injured in another bomb blast that took place in the country somewhere. This time it was Ahmedabad and one day before it was Bangalore. Who knows by the time I conclude this write-up another blast would have ‘rocked’ the nation.

Since October 2005 when a bomb went off in the crowded Sarojni market of Delhi, just a day before Diwali in which more that 60 people died, 11 more such incidents have rattled India. The most deadly being the July 2006 serial blast in Mumbai’s trains in which over 200 people were killed. And not surprisingly we cannot say that we have been able to solve the case or even figure out the identity of the perpetrators. In most cases the obvious answer that one gets from the investigative agencies is the SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India), the HuJI-B (Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh) or the HuM (Harkat-ul Mujahideen).

The country witnessed its first major strike in 1992 when the financial capital of India was rocked. It was aid that the fundamentalist behind the Mumbai attacks were avenging the demolition of Babri structure and the subsequent riots. Then also the think-tank of this country has talked of formulating counter-terrorism policies that would make future such strikes much harder.

In very simple terms Terrorism is violence, or the threat of violence, calculated to create an atmosphere of fear and alarm. Terrorist acts are intended to produce effects beyond the immediate, having long-term psychological repercussions on a particular victim audience. The fear created by terrorists may be intended to cause people to exaggerate the strengths of the terrorist and the importance of the cause, to provoke governmental overreaction, to discourage dissent, or simply to intimidate and thereby enforce compliance with their demands.

Terrorist actions are generally carried out in a way that will achieve maximum publicity. Unlike other criminal acts, terrorists often claim responsibility for their acts.

None of the two major political parties, the Congress or the BJP can escape blame when it comes to who stands tall on the criteria of which of the two countered terrorism efficiently.

In the early 2000 when the BJP led NDA was at the power the country saw two major terrorist strikes that will be forever embedded in our memory. The Hijacking of the aircraft IC 814 and the attack on the Indian parliament which till then was considered impregnable and unthinkable.

The Indian Airlines flight, IC -814, carrying 178 passengers was hijacked on 24th December 1999 after it took off from Katmandu. The aircraft landed at three different places (Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai) before it flew to Kandhar. No counter-hijacking action was taken while the aircraft was still in the Indian airspace. In fact the pilot of the craft deliberately delayed the departure of IC814 from the Amritsar airport and waited for more than half hour to give the Indian establishments chance to mount a takeover. His wait was in vain. Later the then national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra stated that while the plane was still in Amritsar he had given instructions to the security agencies to shoot at the tyres of the craft so as to make it immovable. He also very candidly admitted that his instructions were not heeded to; why? Even he doesn’t know.

Brajesh Mishra at that time was no ordinary man or a bureaucrat. He was the national security advisor and the closest confidant of the Prime minister, even LK Advani who at that time was the Home minister couldn’t boast of sharing the same intimacy with Vajpayee when it came to Mishra. And if he says that his instructions went ignored then we can well imagine the whole anti-terrorism machinery the country had at that time.

It can be termed as nothing but a diplomatic failure that Vajpayee led government was not able to take either Pakistan’s or Saudi Arabia assent for a commando-led operation to take control of the craft when it was still in their respective airspace. Surely a commando operation was more feasible in Pakistan or Dubai rather then Afghanistan as it was subsequently discovered.

The subsequent chain of incidents are well- known as the Indian government had to resort to a face-saving exercise and release 3 dreaded terrorist in return for the safe release of the passengers aboard the ill-fated aircraft.

The then foreign minister personally took the terrorist to Kandhar. The three were Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.

After his release Maulana Azhar set up Jaish-e-Mohammad in early 2000 which is accused of the deadly attacks on Indian targets, including one on the parliament in Delhi in December 2001.Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar after his release renewed the activity of Al-Umar Mujahideen in Muzaffarabad, close to the LOC, in recruiting and training of young Muslims to the independence war in Indian occupied Kashmir.Zargar while in custody revealed his enormous hatred for Non-Muslims especially Jews, Hindus and Christians and once famously said "If you want to end these terror strikes in the world then either accept Islam or wipe out Islam" .

The last of the freed terrorist who was once a LSE attendee, Sheikh Omar Saeed was later arrested by Pakistani police on February 12, 2002, in Lahore for his involvement in the Pearl kidnapping and sentenced to death.

The whole IC 814 incident the way in which it was handled is a terrible blotch on the BJP and India as a whole and is often used as an example of “how not to deal with hijack situations”.

Though the terrorist strike on the parliament was thwarted by the individual bravery of the sentinels yet it pointed out the glaring deficiencies in the over-all security setup of the seat of democracy and the weakness and failure of the intelligence gathering mechanism of the country. It was not the first time that the intelligence agency had failed us. Kargil was happening right below our nose and we were in deep slumber.

Since then the terrorist strike have increased at an alarming level and on an average a major terror strike is being carried out at a period of every 3-4 months.

Although the security agencies have been successful in busting quite a few modules, the most recent being the SIMI module which was taken out in Indore which led to the arrest of scores of SIMI operatives including the arrest of SIMI chief Safdar Nagori and the discovery of many nefarious designs, yet terror has no sigh of abetting.

Terrorist too are evolving and now have took a liking for soft targets and are shying away more and more from hard targets like military bases. Soft Targets are relatively unguarded or difficult to protect from terrorists, and therefore yield a higher probability for a successful attack. The recent blast in the markets of Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Delhi confirm this shift of pattern.

Similarly they have also adopted the serial bombing method which are more ‘productive in terms of the number of deaths and have a more deep impact psychologically. Also since the serial bombing doesn’t require huge amount of explosive device at a single place, they stand a much better chance of being undiscovered hence causing maximum damage.

After every such strike the political establishment wakes up and the President, the Prime Minister and the various political parties issue statements of condemnation. The Home Minister issues stern warnings that terrorism would not be tolerated and that the terrorists involved in the latest attacks would be brought to book. Ministers then visit the hospitals in the city where the terrorist attack has taken place to show their sympathy. And then it gets over.

Nothing concrete is done, some knee-jerk reactions at the state level; transfer of officials is the standard statutory method to mollify the public sentiments.

The country earlier had the stringent POTA laws. The POTA might not have been successful in deterring the hardcore terrorists but it had the desired effect on those minds that were still at the stage where they could be brought back in to the social mainstream. It deterred the gullible minds from taking the path that was both detrimental to them as well as the country.

But the law was revoked after the Congress came to power. In fact Congress in its election manifesto had said that it would revoke POTA if it came to power. It said that POTA was a draconian law and was aimed against the minorities. Agreed that there might have been cases of police excesses under the law but it should not have been done away without an alternative legal tool.

The minority appeasement policy that is followed by political parties in general and Congress party in particular has not helped either. A Former police commissioner of Mumbai said that the state minorities commission, civil rights activists and mohalla committee workers had cautioned the police against conducting combing operations, random checks and make preventive arrests. Time and again intelligence agencies have expressed helplessness in wake of political interference that has hampered the agencies from effectively investigating the incidents

The failure of the implementation of the finding of The Justice Srikrishna Commission report acts like a fuel to fire. It indicted 31 police personnel (from officers to constables) for abetting the rioters. But no action has been taken against the bigger leaders that have been named in the report.

The politicians play their game of linking the minorities to the terror strike. They stand on dais and scream of ‘stopping the state from alienating the minorities’, thereby giving the perpetrators an identity based on religion.

States like Maharashtra has its own set of stringent anti-terror law. The MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act.) which has been termed draconian by some rights activist but they conveniently forget that it’s this draconian law that has curbed the terror incidents in the state. Similar anti-terror laws passed by the Gujarat and Maharashtra are lying with the president office for the past 4 years for its necessary assent and it speaks volumes about the Center’s attitude on its mindset to tackle terrorism.

Terror strikes can never be rid of completely, but they can be minimized to a negligible level. Sets of effective steps are the need of the hour. A closer and increased co-ordination between the Center and the State on measures to curd terrorism is needed. Recently the Central government had issued a high alert warning to all the states asking them to step up vigil, but it seems that either they were not taken seriously or were completely ignored. Also it would be more effective if the special Anti Terrorist squads (ATS) that are present in most of the states work in tandem.

In the long-run political establishment should think of forming a special agency that would specifically deal with terrorism, something in the lines of the IB or the Vigilance agency, both who have a specific nature of job. The agency should be headed by a senior rank IPS officer and should be directly under the PMO so as to reduce political hindrance and interference. This will help in fixing responsibility and channeling of concentrated resources and efforts in the right direction so as to curb terrorism.

Political will to weed out terrorism is the foremost of all. If that is not present then even the best of counter –terrorism measures will be rendered ineffective. Stress should be led on intelligence based policing. Due importance has not been given to the intelligence branch and is most states it is used by the political parties to gauge to mood of the voters and the strengths and the weakness of their rivals.

In the morning of the 22nd of July when the confidence motion was to take place, the CBI chief gave a courtesy call to the prime minister residence. It is anybody’s guess that what the nature of the courtesy call was.

If such terror strikes are not curbed then the demand for a state supported attack into foreign territories and into Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to destroy the terrorist camps which till now are sporadic in nature will gain more recognition and appreciation and then the situation may get more trickier for the government

A lot of money is required to support intelligence gathering which unfortunately is not happening in this country. Similarly Sensitization of people and greater awareness on sustained basis in the battle against terrorism will pay a great dividend as the terrorist work while staying between us. Also religion and fanaticism should be looked through two very different perspective, they should not be mixed for anyone’s convenience.

Finally our resolve to spring back to life after every such attack is the most effective method that can be taken by an ordinary citizen to combat the evil designs of these terrorists.


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