AFTER the recent reprehensible twin-blasts in Hyderabad there has been a far more comprehensive and candid discussion than before on the apparently endless scourge of terrorism targeting this country. But what good would be this Niagara of words if it also goes the way of the previous outpourings of outrage following similar dastardly acts? In almost all analyses of the carnage at the Hyderabad park named after the Buddha’s birthplace, there is one common thread: investigating agencies and their political masters are “clueless” about all the numbingly vicious terrorist acts such as last year’s serial blasts on Mumbai’s suburban trains, to go no farther back than that.
Against this bleak backdrop, it is a small mercy that for the first time, the Union Government has shown a willingness, albeit gingerly and tentatively, to have a central agency to investigate federal crimes. “Let the concept floated … not be brushed aside. Let it be carefully looked into”, said Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. For a country that, next only to Iraq, is the worst victim of terrorism, this is a rather curious approach. India remains the only country of its size and awesome internal security threats without an appropriate instrument to combat them, largely because of the states’ “sensitivities” about their “rights”. Ironically, the Group of Ministers that oversaw the implementation of the Kargil Committee’s report had, in February 2001, rooted for such an agency, but nothing happened.
The only mechanism to “coordinate” such stray counter-terrorism measures the state governments take is a committee, headed by the Union Home Secretary and consisting of Home Secretaries of all states. It meets once in a blue moon because these overworked officials can barely cope with the daily avalanche of crises in their respective domains. Why is this function not devolved on their deputies, with a duty constantly to report to the “principals”, as is customary elsewhere? No wonder the country lacks a coherent nationwide strategy to cope with a problem that is literally a matter of life and death for it. In any case, state governments cannot possibly deal with the diabolical involvement of Pakistan and Bangladesh in the vile acts of terrorism across India.
From all accounts, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI) has been the principal perpetrator of the Hyderabad horror. At present largely based in Bangladesh and closely linked with Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Tayyba, Jaish-e-Mohammed et al, under the benign patronage of the ISI, it was born in Pakistan. The prime accused in this case, Bilal, originally belonging to Hyderabad, is known to be in Karachi. But, as in the case of the Mafia super-don, Dawood Ibrahim, Islamabad blandly denies Bilal’s presence on Pakistan soil. About the two other accused reportedly arrested in Bangladesh Dhaka remains coy.
After Andhra Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy’s doleful confession that the state government does not have the wherewithal to combat terrorism, especially that of foreign provenance, isn’t it time to appoint a committee of state chief ministers to recommend how best to defeat terrorism, together with accompanying crimes of smuggling of weapons, RDX and narcotics; circulation of counterfeit currency, money laundering and hawala; illegal immigration and so on?
The multiplicity of the brands of terrorism afflicting India is staggering. Apart from jihadi terrorism, there is the Naxalite terrorism that is, in fact, the most widespread and apparently the most immune from official counter-action. In the Northeast, a rash of ethnic terrorism has gone on longer than anyone can remember, and the horror of horrors is that the crimes of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), which is of relatively recent origin, hardly register themselves in the capital’s corridors of power.
However, it is the jihadi terrorism that understandably has become the most tormenting. Doubtless, the matter is delicate for it involves religion and arouses conflicting passions. Few are therefore prepared to discuss it objectively. Political correctness (or is it political calculation?) comes in the way. Polarisation of the polity worsens the situation. The BJP’s refrain of the Congress being “soft” on terror because of the “vote bank politics” is matched by the Congress’ counter-charge of the saffron party’s “communal and divisive agenda”. Each of them carries conviction only to the already converted.
Let there be no reluctance to recognise that there is some local support for foreign-inspired jihadis but only from a very small fraction of the minority community. Yet, Hindutva hotheads blandly blame almost all Indian Muslims, numbering nearly 150 million, which is not a digestible digit. Not many leaders of the Muslim community or organisations, for their part, take a strong enough stand against the merchants of terror, hate and murder. To play partisan politics with the grave problem and doing nothing even to comprehend all its ramifications is surely an invitation to disaster.
Come to think of it, in the ultimate analysis, jihadi terrorism, with its global reach, is a manifestation of the fight within Islam — between moderates on the one hand and the extremists on the other. The struggle is complicated by the bitter Shia-Sunni divide. Modernity is the only route to making any community moderate and enlightened. But how does one modernise those a huge majority of whom is abysmally poor, woefully uneducated and lives in festering ghettos?
At the same time, prompt, drastic and effective action has to be taken to prevent terrorism to the extent possible and punish it when necessary. Examples of other countries might be worth studying and following. The humongous surveillance and security measures the United States has adopted have doubtless made life difficult for visitors and citizens alike. But that country has so far averted any terror attack after 9/11. Britain has demonstrated that closed circuit TV and other advanced technology, if properly utilised, can be of great help in detecting and deterring the potential troublemakers.
Sadly, this is precisely where our worst and totally unpardonable weakness comes in. It is, to put it bluntly, the incredible incompetence and limitless corruption that have made the nearly entire Indian administrative system, not just the police, dysfunctional. At a time when indiscipline by MPs disrupts Parliament on most days, and measly cheques issued from the Prime Minister’s Rs.3,750–crore Vidarbha “package” continue to “bounce”, what else can you expect? It is unrealistic to believe that while governance in all other areas has gone to the dogs, any counter-terrorism agency to be set up on some distant date would be a paragon of efficiency, competence and integrity.
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