Homeland Security

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

Arab allies of the West have also been targeted, as was the case of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad. India not only does not fall into any of these categories; it has, on the contrary, a history of supporting Arab causes and Palestinian aspirations, besides being free of any colonial baggage or legacy of interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries. To perpetrate an act against India that displays such extreme animosity is not easily comprehensible.

Pakistan considers Afghanistan as its strategic hinterland and is deeply opposed to any strong Indian influence there. We had played a part in thwarting a full Taliban victory in Afghanistan by supporting the Northern Alliance in its redoubt in the north; later, after the eviction of the Taliban from the country we maintained close contacts with the members of the Alliance in the government. We have developed very good understanding with Karzai, which contrasts with the tense relations between him and the Pakistani leadership.

Faced with a series of terrorist attacks that have been very costly in human terms, we have failed to develop a national consensus on how to defend ourselves. We are not agreed on the nature, source and causes of this threat, much less on how to counter it.

Our assistance projects in Afghanistan are well targeted at the grassroots needs of the people in the areas of health, education, transport, infrastructure etc. and have earned us much goodwill. We have established our presence in the Pashtun areas too by opening consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad, in the teeth of Pakistani opposition. The Pakistani side sees these consulates as platforms for intelligence operations inside their country, in FATA and in Baluchistan. Pakistan is paranoid about India positioning itself to take advantage of its vulnerabilities in the western part of the country.

The most recent statements in Washington by Pakistan’s Interior Minister accusing India and Afghanistan of fomenting trouble in this region testifies to this.

Pakistan’s strategy in Afghanistan also is to clandestinely support the Taliban while claiming that its rise is a consequence of Karzai government’s lack of delivery and loss of grass root support. Pakistan needs a political force in Afghanistan that can protect its long-term interests there and counter the growing Indian influence. It needs to protect itself against Pashtun nationalism and any untoward development on the Durand Line issue. As the Taliban are a Pashtun phenomenon, Pakistan’s support for this group would appear well calculated. Such support is also coherent with the rise of Islamism in Pakistan itself. With the Taliban providing a political base, Pakistan can hope to implement its strategy of playing a pivotal role in Afghanistan and Central Asia and satisfy its regional ambitions outside the Indian sphere of influence in South Asia. The development of the Gwadar port and proposals to link Central Asia through the Karakoram highway to it reveals the scope of Pakistan’s ambitions.

Pakistan, the Taliban and the al Qaida see the mounting Indian presence and influence in Afghanistan, especially in the background of our past opposition to the Taliban and our support to the Northern Alliance, as injurious to their interests. With improved India-US relations they may have concluded that Indian ambitions in Afghanistan need to be contained. Hence, the dramatic attack on the Embassy and reports that our road projects, which give Afghanistan strategic flexibility by providing access to the sea through Iran, are likely to be specifically targeted in the future.

India must understand the dimensions of the existing terrorist threat and what the future portends for us. Unfortunately, we are not preparing to equip ourselves with the means and the mentality to meet this challenge. Faced with a series of terrorist attacks that have been very costly in human terms, we have failed to develop a national consensus on how to defend ourselves. We are not agreed on the nature, source and causes of this threat, much less on how to counter it.

For long we maintained the position that the resumption of bilateral dialogue with Pakistan was contingent on it abjuring the use of terrorism against us as state policy. This position was given up faced with pressure to restart a dialogue and the reality that Pakistan would not completely give up the instrument of terror. This might have been a pragmatic recognition of the situation, but it was the first signal to Pakistan that limited terrorist activity against India would be tolerated. “The next signal of our weak political resolve to combat terrorism was our acceptance that both India and Pakistan were victims of terrorism. Because Pakistan itself became a target of terrorists, even though for reasons unrelated to India, and its involvement with terrorism began to recoil on it, we absolved Pakistan of its responsibility in promoting terrorism against us.” We equated the sponsor of terror with the victim of terror.

By accepting the fiction that terrorists targeting India were not in Pakistan’s control, and indeed were common enemies of both countries, we gave to Pakistan the deniability that it had always sought. The creation of a Joint Terror Mechanism, with terrorist acts in J&K out of its ambit, was another investment in the hope that Pakistan’s co-operation would obviate the need for us to take hard decisions ourselves to combat terrorism.

By accepting the fiction that terrorists targeting India were not in Pakistans control, and indeed were common enemies of both countries, we gave to Pakistan the deniability that it had always sought.

In responding to the terrorist threat, all democracies face the dilemma of how much civil liberties should be curtailed in order to give less freedom to terrorists to operate. Faced with a national challenge, US, UK, France and Spain, to name a few democracies, have introduced special anti-terrorist legislation, as normal laws are not considered enough to deal with an abnormal situation. In India this issue has got caught in the coils of party politics and electoral considerations. On the ground that earlier the special laws were misused by politicians to settle political scores or were used principally to target one particular community, the need for such legislation is disputed.

The existence or non-existence of such legislation has become embroiled in the non-secular versus secular debate. If the argument is that existing laws are sufficient to deal with terrorism and the problem lies only in their effective application, then some way should be found to apply them effectively and demonstrate the validity of this assertion. On the contrary, even when the highest court in the land has pronounced its judgment in specific cases of terrorism there is political reluctance to act. We have to find a way to neutralise the political party calculations that are complicating our ability to deal with terrorism on the basis of a national consensus.

India has no Federal Investigative Agency dealing with terrorism. It is absurd that in a vast country like ours, with so many constituent units, no central authority exists to combat a national challenge. The states are said to be chary of diluting their responsibility for law and order in favour of the centre, fearing central interference in their affairs. This kind of political distrust within the political system and partisan priorities show a failure to appreciate the dimension of the terrorist problem facing the country as a whole. Our terrorism experts cite the need for our agencies to be equipped with better technical capabilities, more human and material resources and, above all, special legal powers to combat the increasing capabilities and sophistication of the terrorists. But the political class is unresponsive.

India sponsored some years ago in the UN the draft of a Comprehensive Convention to Combat International Terrorism. We expect the international community to join hands in combating this menace and enact domestic laws to curb it. We push for an international consensus on this issue and tightening of the legal responsibility of States to deal with this threat. Yet, at home, we are neither creating such a consensus, nor equipping ourselves with the legal means to confront the problem we face. That is why like the monsoon, terror is raining on us.

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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

is the former Indian Foreign Secretary. He was India’s Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia.

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