July 15, 2006

Tackling Terrorism: Soft state or absent state?

By Ram Madhav

The government knew about the activities of SIMI, its links with organisations not only in Pakistan but also in Bangladesh and Nepal; and the fact that Nepal is fast becoming a hideout for terror outfits.

Have you seen the visuals of the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts? One feels ashamed at sight of people—dead and injured—being carried on simple blankets and gunny sheets by ordinary citizens in a most rudimentary manner. Contrast it with similar visuals elsewhere in the world when such incidents happen. You will find blaring of eerie sirens from ambulances and police vehicles, stretchers, trained volunteers and doctors… everything in a matter of minutes.

One can understand our unpreparedness if the incident had taken place at a remote place. It happens in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country. It happens to that city, which has been high on the target list of the dreaded Islamic terrorists, and don’t forget that everyone in the government and outside knew about it.

The BJP slammed the government to be a soft state. A soft state may not act tough with the terrorists, but nevertheless it acts. Here is a State that doesn’t want to act. The Government is not just soft; it just doesn’t have the will at all.

“We had some clues. I don’t need to disclose all those things to you,” said the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to the waiting pressmen outside the PMO on the fateful day. See what he had to add, “We knew some such thing was going to come, but didn’t have any idea as to the place and time”. So don’t blame us. The terrorists have not informed us in advance about the place and time of their strikes. Is that what he meant?

In fact the Home Minister was not telling the truth. The government had full information about the possible targets when the IB picked up one Lashkar terrorist in Srinagar a few months ago. He was supposed to have disclosed to the IB that there would be attacks on buses and trains in Mumbai and Delhi. The IB has supposedly forwarded the information to the Home Ministry. The Maharashtra Police now say that they did not have any information at all from the IB.

The government has enough intelligence inputs to act. It knew that the strikes would increase as Pakistan moves closer to elections as it suits the General there. Many experts like former RAW official Shri B. Raman have warned it about the changed discourse of Al-Qaeda, which is now talking about the ‘Crusader-Jew-Hindu Nexus’. In fact experts say that the reason for choosing the first class compartments as targets instead of the normally-crowded general compartments was not because they are less crowded but because the target group for the Islamic terrorists—the C-J-H—travels in that class. The government knew about the activities of SIMI, its links with organisations not only in Pakistan but also in Bangladesh and Nepal; and the fact that Nepal is fast becoming a hideout for terror outfits.

Yet we are totally unprepared. It is because our political class singularly lacks will power in tackling this jehadi brand terrorism. In fact not a single leader is even prepared to call it Islamic terrorism whereas in the entire world it is recognised and tackled as one. Islamic, terrorism, for that matter any form of terrorism, is a war on the civilised polities. It cannot be tackled as a mere law and order problem.

Several things need to be addressed to curb this menace. War on terror calls for greater preparation. We need to equip our security agencies and intelligence networks with better training and infrastructure.

Failure of our intelligence agencies is monumental. The operation of the Mumbai magnitude in which 7 bombs were exploded in mere 11 minutes must have involved greater planning and preparation. The terrorists must have conducted even recces. But unfortunately our intelligence has failed to pick up the signals in time.

However, it is easy to blame intelligence agencies. We cannot overlook the fact that even the famed CIA and FBI had absolutely no clue about the 9/11 incident. But the case for modernising our intelligence and law and order machinery is very strong today. Police in the country, especially in states like Maharashtra that are high on the terror agenda, is doing excellent job with minimal resources and training. They deserve rich compliments for averting at least 10-12 major strikes in the last one year. Yet a lot needs to be done towards their training and modernisation.

The NDA deserves praise for its efforts in this direction. Under Shri L.K. Advani, the NDA government had sanctioned huge amounts for the modernisation of the security establishment in the country keeping in view the growing terrorist challenge. However, the UPA government has allegedly curtailed that budget by a whopping Rs 1600 crores.

For the constituents in the UPA, fighting terrorism is not a national security concern; it is purely a political and electoral concern. That is why laws like POTA have been repealed. The security agencies are today totally helpless in the absence of effective instruments like stringent laws and better infrastructure.

Islamic terrorism is not something just being imported from Pakistan. We should not ignore the fact that today there is a huge support mechanism available for Islamic terrorism to flourish in our country. Mushrooming madrasas have become breeding grounds for terror infrastructure in India. Deobandi Tabligi Jammat is the most virulent and violent terrorist group that is gradually spreading its tentacles all over the country. Many present and erstwhile SIMI activists are the leaders in this movement. They need to be ruthlessly crushed.

But we have a government that wants to repeal the 2001 ban on SIMI. Is it not a fact that the UPA Government had sought the opinion of the States over the lifting of ban on SIMI? Can the government disclose which states have supported that idea and which opposed it? There is a scramble for Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh between Congress and Samajwadi Party. Mayavati is also chipping in. Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav has gone to the extent of declaring SIMI men as patriots. Lifting of ban and withdrawing of cases on the SIMI activists who are involved in various crimes including fomenting communal riots is under active consideration by the Uttar Pradesh government. President of the UP unit of SIMI who was the main accused in many crimes and went underground five years ago surfaced last month in Kanpur with a claim that the atmosphere is “conducive” for him to surface in UP, whatever it meant.

The Maharashtra police is struggling to grapple with the serious situation. They used to be considered an elite and efficient force in the country at one time. Even till 5-6 years ago their professionalism used to be rated very high. But thanks to one Home Minister who became notorious for his underworld links and who used to literally auction police posts from constable to Commissioner of Police and make money, rot has set in about 6 years ago. Mumbai Police, for the first time, had to face the ignominy of arresting its one Police Commissioner days after his retirement in a non-bailable offence. Present Home Minister has the reputation as an honest and upright man. He should stem this rot and brace the force up to tackle these situations in a befitting manner.

What really affects the morale of our establishment is the public discourse on these issues. Our media immediately arrogates to itself the imagined responsibility of protecting secularism in the country and maintaining religious harmony. The whole discourse becomes Hindu-Muslim. Visuals are projected where Muslims are helping the victims as if that is any proof. Real issues are sought to be diverted by raising presumptuous and silly arguments like whether Shiv Sena is behind these incidents or whether Bhivandi is the provocation for it.

Actually these apologists for terrorists take their toll on the morale of the establishment. The police start thinking more about providing security cover to mosques and madrasas than actually pursuing the criminals and punishing them. One of the very first statements to emanate from the Union Home Secretary was that there was no connection between Srinagar blasts and Mumbai blasts. One of the earliest statements to come out of the government was that it would not derail the peace process with Pakistan.

Whatever some progressive TV channels and Islamist apologist intellectuals say for the sake of their bread and butter, these incidents ARE perpetrated by Islamic terrorists. They have their supporters all over India. This fact cannot be erased.

What the government should have done is to bluntly tell Pakistan that no further peace process until terrorism is completely stamped out. Mush-Bush alliance must be told by Bharat that it cannot be forced to sacrifice its own geo-security interests to protect the geo-strategic interests of that alliance.

Sadly, the UPA Government lacks that courage. That is why it “urges” Pakistan to do this and that. A government that lacks backbone is a bane for the nation.

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