The UPA government’s spineless national security strategy

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.

16 thoughts on “The UPA government’s spineless national security strategy”

  1. Pingback: Opinions
  2. Agree with you that UPA’s handling of Pakistan and internal security has been a disaster. But then the previous government despite their “hardline” position too made monumental errors:
    – the IC-184 episode
    – legtimizing the Musharraf regime with the Agra talks who was then an international post-Kargil, pariah post-9/11

    OTOH, certain state governments like Karnataka too should be taken to task. Consider:
    – there have been repeated warnings from central government intelligence which was mostly ignored by Karnataka
    – consider the Hyderabad police were able to arrest terrorist in advance and people there feel the tough police presence

  3. I agree with you on the fact that there is a general lack of political will within the UPA to address terrorism and the pakistani flavour of it with a firm hand. The UPA has failed in its mission towards protecting national security.

    But the issue of naxalist violence is way different from that of islamic terrorism promoted by islamic jehad structure. In my opinion the problem of naxalism because of extreme poverty and supply of arms is a much bigger threat to national integrity than islamic terrorism.

    Naxal spread to chikmagalur, uttar kannada and dakshin kannada is attributed not just to the designs of naxal groups, but also the failiure of the state and civic society to address the deep rooted socio-economic issues of the land.

    It should be noted that naxal violence spreading from Nepal (aristocracy) to bihar (extreme caste violence against dalits), Jarkhand, Chattisgarh, MP (alienation of tribals and state violence agaisnt them), Andhra ( sever poverty and absense of land reforms) has spread now to karnataka (the coffee collapse). If we need to stop naxal movements on its track (which we should) we have to have strong police action combined with socio-economic developement.

    The recent spread of islamic terrorism to the south can be cited to the desperation of pakistani/saudi/kashmiri funded groups as their home turf has been effectively targeted. Strong intelligence and millitary action can prevent and reduce such mishaps. But I doubt if it can be eliminated without bringing developement to these communities.

    good post.

    vasu

  4. Splendid post, Nitin. Especially the rebuttal to folks who say that the attacks in South India had to happen some time or the other and that there’s nothing new in them happening now. I shudder to think that our approach to counter terror might go softer than this government – after all, the supposedly hawkish BJP forgave spectacular attacks on the Parliament and such high-value targets. This government is not even pointing fingers at Pakistan lest it harm the “irreversible” peace process.

  5. Cynical nerd,

    Yes I agree. In fact, the manner in which the Vajpayee government caved in to the IC-814 hijackers did lasting damage to India’s ability to deter terrorist attacks. Not to mention that Masood Azhar promptly set up his own outfit that killed far more people than were on that plane. So too the ‘peace process’. The Vajpayee government conducted a major u-turn without any form of public debate or consensus. Poorly considered decisions which have been criticised on this blog. So too the Karnataka government. I suppose the Hyderabad government only managed to apprehend terrorists this time because they were on guard after the Bangalore attacks. It’s the same government which actually conducted negotiations with the Naxalites and asked the cops to back off when they were about to arrest the entire Naxalite leadership.

    Nothing in my post exonerates the BJP when it was in power, or in its current role as the opposition. Indeed, by taking the route of stalling parliamentary proceedings and asking for the PMs resignation at every opportunity it has failed to demand a proper debate on national security.

  6. Vasu

    If we need to stop naxal movements on its track (which we should) we have to have strong police action combined with socio-economic developement.

    Sure. If the state fails to deter individuals and groups from resorting to violence, then anyone with a grievance (and many without one) will have an incentive to take up arms. The socio-economic conditions in coastal Karnataka didn’t change overnight, yet naxalite violence started in Dec 2003 and early 2004. At that time, some people found that they could resort to violence and the government didn’t really care that they did.

  7. Nitin: That’s was’nt aimed at this post. In fact, I failed to compliment it!

    It is just that every government left or right does not stand firmly in the face of terror. Ofcourse, Shivraj Patil’s statements puts everyone else to shame. I would like to add though:
    – during the IC-184 episode, there was a heavy mobilization of media led by NDTV. During one instance, Brinda Karat (a NDTV board member) was literally provoking the already agitated relatives. The govt. had to give in the face of such sinister internal forces.
    – at the end of his term, Shri Vajpayee got the Nobel Peace Prize bug I suppose and made a deal with the Chief Terrorist Musharraf!

    About Karnataka: I was referring to the police forces. Does it have a counter-terror police? I clearly remember they used to seek special forces from Tamil Nadu. Nothing wrong with that, but I think Bangalore is now among the big boys and it should behave like one investing more in its security/intelligence forces.

    Vasu: Plz let us know if you are going inundate this thread with your long rants. What next, reservation for naxalites and jihadis to address the socio-economic injustices done to them. Thanks.

  8. Nitin,

    Indian security policy is a contradiction in terms.

    I think the general idea is to *roll over and play dead* or *Bend Over*.

    Regarding Naxalism, while poverty is a necessary condition it is not sufficient one, which is provided by Maoism. Naxalism doesn’t stand only for removal of oppression, it stands for removal of feudal oppression and imposition of proletriat totalarianism.
    While poverty is the fuel , the spark are ignited minds from JNU and other temples of communism.

    Regards

  9. With regards to Naxalism, no one is stopping the naxalites, who kill, kidnap, and maim people for extortion in name of the fighting poverty, from forming a political party and implement their wonderful ideas for eradicating poverty. If one forgets, India is a democracy. With popular support anyone or any party can come to power.

    For Naxalites poverty is an excuse. They have no cure for poverty. They want a revolution so that they can destroy democracy and impose a dictatorship like Stalin or Mao. If Nepal or India comes under their control they will follow the same path that Russia/Soviet, China, and Cambodia has followed with millions killed and generations destroyed because of social experimentation.

    Please don’t fall into the poverty illusion when it comes to Naxalites. It is a dangerous phenomenon and right minded people should see the hypocrisy of Naxalism in a democracy.

  10. To be fair, the absence of the POTA does not leave the government toothless. The Special Forces Act and the Emergency Powers Act continue to be in place in the N.E states. Similiarly, preventive detention laws allow for most of what POTA did except that there is some degre of supervision by the magistrate.

  11. Hi,

    I am not convinced that a policy of overtly aggressive behavior vis-a-vis Pakistan will yield anything more substantial than what is currently being achieved. The NDA Govt. (imo deliberately) exhausted the options for public hostility towards Pakistan. Advaniji’s statements about Jinnah reflect new thinking about Pakistan in all segments of the Indian polity.

    I said this elsewhere too and it bears repeating here, as long as the very same Americans who pour billions of dollars worth of contracts in Bangalore and Hyderabad continue to view Musharraf as a viable actor in Pakistan we cannot realistically expect GoI to act against Musharraf.

    The casualties in Bangalore though regretable are minor and no critical infrastructure has been destroyed. If say the Infosys office had been attacked with several truck bombs and hundreds of people killed – things would have been very different. I am not advocating waiting for that to happen – perhaps that is why in every discussion since the events of IISc, I have been shouting myself hoarse about improving local security and surveillance.

    Sadly my view does not seem to resonate with most Bangalore people. I fear these people don’t understand that in the absence of improved local security they will suffer horrendous losses in the event that Pakistan based groups retaliate to an Indian punitive strike. Given the diffuse nature of the terrorism problem in Pakistan, it is quite likely that a we will not succeed in eliminating the terrorist group responsible and a substantial portion of the group will remain active inside India.

    Shri. Raman’s article points to the presence of increasing infiltration in the South. This is likely to alter the communal balance in the region. Improving local security – as opposed to random offensive missions – imo are a logical thing to do at the present time.

  12. CynicalNerd,

    Looks like you have a habit of carrying over perceptions beyond the scope of one debate. One need not be blinker viewed while looking at people. Different topics, different opinions.

    I was merely stating the reasons why naxalism has actually gained people support, though I think its much bigger threat to india than that of jihad.

    I think more than due attention is paid to terrorism coming from the islam camp than that coming from naxal violence. Are we going to really close our eyes, till our cities are hit ?

    Nithin,

    not to give the impression that I am talking of ideology, it is commonly held perception by everyone (including government) that lack of economic developement and free flow of arms are the two most reason for spread of naxalism. The flow arms following where developement has vanished and society has collapsed. Disbanding of the coffee board and the collapse of the coffee industry in Karantaka, has led to suicides of 100s of farmers and ruin of many thousands. Only after this happened that the naxals moved in with their weapons. To view this as a law and order issue is going to cost this country a lot of lives.

    vasu

  13. CynicalNerd,

    Looks like you have a habit of carrying over perceptions beyond the scope of one debate. One need not be blinker viewed while looking at people. Different topics, different opinions.

    I was merely stating the reasons why naxalism has actually gained people support, though I think its much bigger threat to india than that of jihad.

    I think more than due attention is paid to terrorism coming from the islam camp than that coming from naxal violence. Are we going to really close our eyes, till our cities are hit ?

    Nithin,

    not to give the impression that I am talking of ideology, it is commonly held perception by everyone (including government) that lack of economic developement and free flow of arms are the two most reason for spread of naxalism. The flow of arms following where developement has vanished and society has collapsed.

    Disbanding of the coffee board and the collapse of the coffee industry in Karantaka, has led to suicides of 100s of farmers and ruin of many thousands in malnad and chikmagalur. Only after this happened that the naxals moved in with their weapons. To view this as a law and order issue is a big mistake.

    I dont think, islamic terror would be such a big threat (it grabs media attention) as these terrorists donot have ideology and depend on relegious indoctrination to carry out their attacks. Whereas naxalism professes an ideology which is both appealing and attractive cause for people to fight for.

    vasu

  14. CynicalNerd,

    :).. I just dont know what to say. you make me laugh.

    Nithin,

    not to give the impression that I am talking of ideology, it is commonly held perception by everyone (including government) that lack of economic developement and free flow of arms are the two most reason for spread of naxalism. The flow of arms following where developement has vanished and society has collapsed.

    Disbanding of the coffee board and the collapse of the coffee industry in Karantaka, has led to suicides of 100s of farmers and ruin of many thousands in malnad and chikmagalur. Only after this happened that the naxals moved in with their weapons. To view this as a law and order issue is a big mistake.

    I dont think, islamic terror would be such a big threat (it grabs media attention) as these terrorists donot have ideology and depend on relegious indoctrination to carry out their attacks. Whereas naxalism professes an ideology which is both appealing and attractive cause for people to fight for.

    vasu

  15. What Osama Bin Laden is saying is not much different from what Mao said.

    Communists are all time leader in indoctrination, Nazis were overrated in propaganda skills

    Regards

Comments are closed.