Cheap talk won’t defeat terrorism
Contrary to popular belief, Pakistan and its jihadi establishment have long been active in southern India. But they didn’t manage to do much damage because they couldn’t find the local hands necessary to carry out successful attacks. B Raman argues that the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1991 and the communal divisions that sprang from it has helped the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba find local recruits, trigger sleeper cells that were established years ago, and carry out attacks such as the ones in Hyderabad and Bangalore. He is not wrong. The damage caused to religious harmony has created willing foot soldiers for the likes of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. But this does not sufficiently explain why the Lashkar-e-Taiba did not or could not attack Bangalore in the decade and a half since the Babri Masjid was brought down. Even the more recent Godhra outrage occured four years ago. So why did the number of major jihadi attacks outside the proxy war theatre of Jammu & Kashmir quadruple last year? This, despite all the comings and goings of the ‘peace process’ with Pakistan.
Most people were shocked that jihadis attacked a city as far down south as Bangalore. But regular reports of Naxalite violence in the vicinity of Mangalore and Udupi on the Karnataka coast hardly ever registered in the national media or among the public. There is no equivalent of Babri Masjid or Godhra to explain this. Yet, perhaps for the first time in Indian history, armed groups are now able to terrorise large areas of coastal Karnataka. Like the Bangalore attack, this too happened due to the UPA government’s general lack of resolve to tackle terrorism — whether carried out in the name of god or in the name of the people — with any seriousness and due to a consequent absence of a coherent national security policy to prevent such attacks.
Subterfuge instead of strategy
The UPA government and its coalition partners found it politically expedient to protest against and later repeal a tough anti-terror law. If the argument against POTA was that it was put into effect without sufficient thought, then it is equally true that the UPA decided to do away with it with even less thought. Instead of improving that controversial law to address concerns about individual rights and institutional safeguards, the UPA threw away a useful tool, leaving police and security forces unequipped. The situation would have been redeemable if the UPA government had evolved a robust anti-terrorism strategy that would fill the gaps left by repealing POTA. Instead, a clueless Shivraj Patil stumbles from one crisis to the other and to this day has no real idea how to prevent the spread of terrorism.
It’s not only about Kashmir
But as the BangaloreGuy wrote in a guest post last week, to defeat the terrorists it is necessary to take the battle to the source. And it is here that the UPA government has failed spectacularly. It has persuaded into making concessions to Gen Musharraf and the Hurriyat with the hope that this will somehow solve the problem of terrorism. It is debatable whether this approach will lead to an end to the violence in Kashmir itself. What is certain, however, is that this will not cause the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba to suspend their war against India. Owing to the dynamics of the ‘peace process’ with Pakistan, India now finds itself with no credible options to take the fight to the jihadi establishment. And the UPA government is unwilling to confront Musharraf. Before the October 2005 earthquake, Musharraf was merely asking the jihadis to keep a low profile. After the quake, the jihadi establishment exerts de facto control over large parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. He has projected this as fait accompli. The Indian government has allowed itself to be convinced by the faulty logic that terrorism must not be allowed to disrupt the ‘peace process’. The logic is faulty because it is terrorism that is disrupting the peace. Gen Musharraf has no incentive to deliver on his promises to stop terrorism as long as he is convinced that India will not retaliate against even serious provocations. The ISI’s stations in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal have become more active. It is shameful that the Indian prime minister and his national security advisor now have to humbly request Musharraf to rein in the jihadis.
The point is unless India injects a degree of unpredictability in its response, Musharraf will continue to play the game he knows so well. This is as much a danger for India as it is for the United States and the West. Another of the UPA government’s failures is its inability to effectively engage the United States on the urgent need to act against Pakistan’s jihadi establishment.
Okay, we’ll try shouting “Boo!”
The jihadis have opened a new front by attacking Bangalore. Unless the Indian government acts decisively there will be more such attacks. In a sad testimony to the priorities of India’s political class, days after an unprecedented attack on the centre of India’s new economy the issue that it is concerning itself with is the tapping of one politician’s telephone. After each one of last year’s terrorist attacks on Indian cities, Dr Manmohan Singh and his ministers gave speeches and issued statements on how India would not be beaten by terrorism. They probably believe that the Lashkar-e-Taiba will be scared away by such fine rhetoric.