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12 September, 2011

Living with terror

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A global survey of terrorist threat in 2003, two years after the demolition of New York’s World Trade Center, placed India in the ninth position. Ahead of it were Colombia, Israel, Pakistan, the United States, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Iraq, in that order.

A recent study puts India at the very top, along with nine other countries, including Afghanistan and Indonesia. Pakistan, with 13 others, is one rung below. The United States is in the third rung, with a dozen others.

India’s current high rank is the result of a series of terrorist strikes that have taken a heavy toll, mainly in New Delhi and Mumbai. The most daring of them was the 2008 assault on selected targets in Mumbai by a sea-borne gang from Pakistan, which left 172 dead.

Actually India has been living with terror for long. Low-intensity terror has been part of the war disaffected tribesmen in the northeast have been waging against central authority since the colonial period. Left extremists working among tribesmen in several states, too, have been employing terror. Both these groups generally target security personnel.

High-intensity terrorism directed against civilians is a comparatively new phenomenon. More than 250 persons were killed in serial blasts in Mumbai on March 12, 1993. It was an act of reprisal for the demolition of the disputed 450-year-old Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh by Vishwa Hindu Parishad volunteers in the presence of top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party three months earlier. Over 200 persons died in another serial blast in that city five years ago.

Last week’s explosion near the Delhi high court, which resulted in 12 deaths, has set off a debate on the nature of the terror threat and the inability of the official machinery to deal with it effectively.

As sensation-mongering news channels built up the blast into a strike of WTC proportions, the government, embarrassed by a row of failures, went into defensive mode and the BJP, hoping to cash in on the ruling coalition’s discomfiture, launched an offensive.

The public’s disillusionment manifested itself in the heckling of Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and media persons by grieving relatives of blast victims outside a hospital.

Critics often contrast the peace that has prevailed in the US after it set up a new inland security set-up following the WTC attack with the continuing terrorist strikes in India.

The BJP attributes the failure of the official machinery to the Congress-led government’s softness, dictated by electoral considerations.

It argues the government made a grave mistake in abandoning the tough Terrorism and Destructive Activities Prevention Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA).

The argument is fallacious. The scourge of terrorism was there even when these two measures, dubbed “lawless laws” because of their total disregard for human rights, were in force.

Congressmen lose no opportunity to point out that the BJP was heading the government when Pakistan-based terrorists hijacked an Indian passenger aircraft in 1999 to force the release of their colleagues who were in jail.

A senior BJP minister had escorted the freed terrorists to Kandahar in Afghanistan to ensure the safe return of the passengers.

India operates in circumstances vastly different from those of the US. It has to contend with a neighbourhood that is unstable and harbours hostile elements. Terrorists targeting the country from outside can hope to muster some support from disaffected sections within.

The upsurge of communal sentiments complicates the situation. Some terrorist activities which were first attributed to Muslim groups were later found to be the work of a Hindu gang.

The public generally view Hindu extremism and Muslim extremism as sworn enemies but the fact is that each helps the other to grow.

The authorities are clueless about the perpetrators of several attacks. Clearly they face two major handicaps: absence of actionable intelligence required to prevent attacks and lack of reliable information needed to track down the culprits and bring them to book The remedy lies in strengthening people’s co-operation.

There has been speculation that the latest attack was the work of elements seeking the release of Afzal Guru, who is awaiting execution in connection with the 2001 attack on the Parliament House. His early execution will no doubt please the BJP which has been demanding it.

Ironically, it may not displease Muslim fundamentalists altogether since they will have gained a martyr. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 12, 2011

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