Homeland Security

Rain of terror on India
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Issue Vol 23.3 Jul-Sep2008 | Date : 07 Jul , 2011

The terrorists are carrying out a murderous war against India, but India is unable to declare a war on terrorism. We are among the biggest victims of terrorism, but we seem to be making the weakest effort to combat this menace. Every time a terrorist attack occurs, condemnation follows, punishment is promised and appeals for communal harmony are made.

Financial compensation is offered to the victims or their families. Explanations are offered that attacks on ordinary people in public places who make soft targets show that the terrorists are under pressure. It is solemnly said that the state will show zero tolerance towards terrorism.

if the public feels, rightly or wrongly, that the government is not gearing itself to the challenge sufficiently because of electoral considerations or political differences with the opposition, the result is more frustration and demoralisation.

It is almost as if a well-rehearsed script is being followed. After each incident the statements are the same, creating the frustrating impression that the authorities do not feel obliged to move beyond words to action. What the public wants to hear from them are announcements of concrete measures to deal with terrorism, not expressions of outrage and denunciation of these “heinous” acts.

The hope is repeatedly belied that in the interregnum between incidents, the authorities would have taken some hard decisions to ensure public safety. But, incident after incident, the same platitudes are aired and no new credible anti-terrorist plan of action emerges.

At issue is not the capacity of the government to provide foolproof protection against terrorist attacks.  The Israeli example shows that even the most vigilant and robust of governments cannot guarantee total immunity against terrorist attacks. Israeli reprisals against terrorist attacks are swift and brutal; they have gone to enormous lengths in protecting their population from violence, but murderous incidents continue to occur sporadically. Suicide bombers have created havoc in Iraq; the Taliban in Afghanistan are on that track too. The reality is that those prepared to commit suicide in staging terrorist attacks cannot always be thwarted.

At issue is the apparent lack of an organised, purposeful, coherent and comprehensive response at the governmental level to the gravity of the challenge that faces the country. If despite the best efforts of government terrorist strikes occurred, the sense of solidarity between government and the public would only reinforce national action against this menace. But if the public feels, rightly or wrongly, that the government is not gearing itself to the challenge sufficiently because of electoral considerations or political differences with the opposition, the result is more frustration and demoralisation.

The motivation of the terrorists is also to slow down Indias growth, to delay the ascension of India to the rank of the worlds most powerful economies.

At one level, the government is in a genuine quandary. The political management of our multi-religious society, with a long history of communal tension and conflict, is not easy. Our democracy, the peace of our society, the maintenance of economic growth at the current high levels, the confidence of external investors in the long term stability of the country, all require the nurturing of communal harmony. The motivation of the terrorists is also to slow down India’s growth, to delay the ascension of India to the rank of the world’s most powerful economies.

The image of India’s economic success has to be tarnished. Already the belief in international circles is that India is bogged down by too many internal problems for it to be able to act credibly as a global power. For India to count as a force on the international stage, it has to be internally strong. In this context the one obvious fracture in Indian society has to be prevented from widening.

India’s vulnerability has unfortunately increased because of external factors. The rise of the phenomenon of jihadi terrorism presents India with an acutely complex challenge. India has a large Muslim population, the second or third largest in the world. How to insulate this section of our society from radical Islam gathering force all around because of the failure to resolve long standing conflicts in the Arab world and the disastrous extension of the core conflict to Iraq? This challenge has become all the more daunting as the epicentre of religious fundamentalism and global terrorism is now located in our region-in the frontier areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both al Qaida and the Taliban are functioning not far from our western borders.

In between, we have no buffer. On the contrary, Pakistan is most responsible in putting India into the cross hairs of radical Islam. It has used jehadi terrorism as state policy towards India for years. Pakistan has asserted its Islamic identity to bilaterally confront us as well as to mobilise the Islamic world against us on a religious platform. Its diplomacy towards India has been unabashedly Islamic in colour and content. It has unremittingly tried to amalgamate the cause of Muslims in J&K to that of the Palestinians, besides always listing the neglect by the international community of persecution of Muslim Kashmiris by India, along with other “Muslim” causes, as one of the root causes of terrorism.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Kanwal Sibal

Former Foreign Secretary of India

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