India's Response To Terrorism - Are We Losing The War?
The country again wakes to a morning that is laden with news of the increase in number of dead and injured in another set of bomb blasts. This time it was Ahmedabad and a day before it was Bangalore. Who knows by the time I conclude this write-up another blast could have 'rocked' the nation.
Since October 2005 when a bomb went off in the crowded Sarojini 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 blasts in Mumbai's trains in which over 200 people were killed. Not surprisingly, we cannot say that we have been able to solve the cases 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 said that the fundamentalist behind the Mumbai attacks were avenging the demolition of the Babri structure and the subsequent riots. Then also the think-tanks of this country talked of formulating counter-terrorism policies that would make such future 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.
When the BJP-led NDA was in 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 until 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 Kathmandu. The aircraft landed at three different places (Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai) before it flew to Kandahar. No counter-hijacking action was taken while the aircraft was still in Indian airspace. In fact the pilot of the craft deliberately delayed the departure of IC-814 from the Amritsar airport and waited for more than half hour to give the Indian agencies a chance to mount a takeover. His wait was in vain. Later, the then national security adviser, 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 adviser and the closest confidante 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. 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 the Vajpayee-led government was not able to take either Pakistan's or Saudi Arabia's 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 is well-known as the Indian government had to resort to a face-saving exercise and release 3 dreaded terrorists in return for the safe release of the passengers aboard the ill-fated aircraft.
The then foreign minister personally took the terrorist to Kandahar. 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 and 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 Indian Parliament was thwarted by the individual bravery of the sentinels, yet it pointed out the glaring deficiencies in the overall 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 noses and we were in deep slumber.
Since then the terrorist strikes have increased at an alarming level and on an average a major terror strike is being carried out almost 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 sign of abating.
Terrorists too are evolving and now have taken 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 blasts in the markets of Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Delhi confirm this shift.
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 bombings do not require huge amounts of explosives 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. Then they move on to business as usual.
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 stringent POTA laws. The Prevention of Terror Activities Act (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 the 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. There might indeed 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 the 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 making 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 findings of The Justice Srikrishna Commission report after the Mumbai riots acts like 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 strikes. They stand on the dais and scream of 'stopping the state from alienating the minorities', thereby giving the perpetrators an identity based on religion.
States like Maharashtra have their own set of stringent anti-terror laws. The MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act) has been termed draconian by some rights activists 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 the necessary assent. This speaks volumes about the Centre's attitude on its mindset to tackle terrorism.
Terror strikes can never be completely eliminated, but they can be minimized to a negligible level. Effective steps are the need of the hour. A closer and increased co-ordination between the Center and the State on measures to curb terrorism is needed. Recently the Central Government had issued a high alert warning to all the states asking them to step up their 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, the political establishment should think of forming a special agency that would specifically deal with terrorism, something on the lines of the IB or the Vigilance Agency, both of which have specific responsibilities. The agency should be headed by a senior-ranked 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.
The political will to weed out terrorism is the foremost requirement. If that is not present then even the best of counter–terrorism measures will be rendered ineffective. Stress should be laid on intelligence-based policing. Due importance has not been given to the intelligence branch and in most states it is used by the political parties to gauge the mood of the voters and the strengths and the weaknesses of their rivals.
On 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's residence. It is anybody's guess what the nature of the courtesy call was.
If such terror strikes are not curbed then the hitherto sporadic demands for a state-supported attack into foreign territories and into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to destroy the terrorist camps will gain more recognition and appreciation and then the situation may get trickier for the government
A lot of funding is required to support intelligence-gathering activities 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 terrorists work while staying between us. Also religion and fanaticism should be looked through two very different perspectives, 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 undertaken by an ordinary citizen to combat the evil designs of these terrorists.
India's Response To Terrorism - Are We Losing The War?
- » Published on July 27, 2008
- » Type: Opinion
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