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30 November, 2008

Wake Up call for India

Dr Girish Bhaskar

India watchers were not entirely surprised by the horrific terror attack by Islamic extremists in the bustling financial capital of India, Mumbai. In the past Mumbai has had two major terror attacks each killing hundreds of people. Within the last one year Islamic terrorists have created havoc in many parts of India including Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Hyderabad and New Delhi. While the Central government has condemned these cowardly acts in strong terms, it has been reluctant to take stringent measures lest it will upset the significant Muslim community in India. Meanwhile terrorists quickly learned that they can strike anywhere in India with impunity and extract maximum publicity.

As the national elections are nearing, security threat to the country will become the most important topic for public debate. The opposition BJP has made inroads in the State elections and is seen as more determined to deal with terror threat than the current Congress-led coalition group. While the Indian economy has done well in spite the global economic slowdown, without internal security, the investment climate in India can rapidly deteriorate.

What the latest Mumbai attack has shown is that the State police are not well equipped or trained to deal with terror strikes. That such a brazen attack took place in eight different locations of a major city raises questions about the intelligence gathering ability of the State and the Central governments. What is clear is further terror attacks are likely unless the government gets serious in dealing with the recurring menace. Indonesia, a large Muslim country, has been successful in keeping the home grown terrorists in check by establishing a federal anti-terrorism force.

To begin with, the State governments should build a professional police force. It is not that the State governments lack adequate police force. Their approach to maintaining law and order leaves much to be desired. Every major city must have a well trained rapid response force which is trained to deal with modern warfare.

Considerable time is wasted in pressing the services of the national security guards from the Central government. Security cameras should be made available in all important locations. If the Mumbai railway stations had proper security checks, unnecessary deaths in the busiest Mumbai city railway station could have been avoided.

Whenever Islamic terrorists strike India, the government is quick to point the finger at Pakistan. India’s efforts to prevent extremists from Pakistan entering the country have so far been a failure. While strong condemnations of attacks are routinely made through diplomatic channels, the government has not gone aggressively in pursuit of the terrorist training camps inside Pakistan. Such lukewarm responses only help to embolden the enemy. Not all the Islamic terrorists are from Pakistan. In recent years Pakistani terror groups have been successful in recruiting disaffected Indian Muslims to their cause. In a recent encounter by the Indian military in Kashmir with the infiltrators, some of the killed terrorists were identified as Muslims from the Malabar area of Kerala. The State police had no clue regarding the recruits from Kerala.

One major factor that has hobbled the major political parties in India in taking a tough approach to the terror menace is the Muslim votes they need to get elected. Perhaps the government should seriously consider giving proportional representations to Muslims in Parliament and the legislative assemblies based on the population. This will help avoid the reluctance of the politicians to take bold measures to deal with terrorism.

Without taking drastic measures, India’s Islamic terror menace is not going to go away. People expect the country’s political leadership to take all steps to prevent terror attacks. Compounding the problem is the growing Naxalite strikes on security forces in recent months in various States. The government’s lackluster response also is creating an opening for Hindu fundamentalists to take law into their hands. India’s rapid economic growth depends on ensuring a peaceful and stable India. The challenges ahead are daunting. But only a strong political leadership can take on such challenges head on.

Dr. Girish Bhaskar, a physician based at Lake City, Florida, is a regular commentator on Indian and US affairs.

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