Features, Uncategorised

India’s fight with Terror

November 28, 2008. 1.52 pm

The last 40 hours or so, as one watches the images of the horrific happenings in Mumbai on television, one is shocked, dazed, speechless, confused, angry, sad, scared, hurt, helpless and vulnerable. As one struggles to put together some perspective to it all, what is even more disturbing is the alarming regularity with which various parts of India are becoming prey to terrorist attacks. In particular, this year alone, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Malegaon, Modasa and Delhi have all borne the brunt of various serial blasts resulting in a colossal amount of human life senselessly lost.  And we’re not even talking about Kashmir where lives are lost every day. Or the blasts in Hyderabad and the attack on the Samjhauta Express in 2007; not forgetting the dastardly bombings of Mumbai’s local trains, the blasts in Varanasi and Malegaon in 2006; or even the serial blasts in Delhi in 2005.

Each time, the government and intelligence has been caught unawares and dare one say, napping. Clearly there is something wrong here for this to happen not once or twice but so many times. True, terrorism today has spared no one and a terrorist attack could catch anyone off guard but one feels that with each passing incident, no concrete lessons have been learnt. BB Nandy, a former deputy chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in an interview to the BBC following the Jaipur blasts, had said, “The intelligence agencies rarely chase up leads to get more specific intelligence and when something like Jaipur happens, they refer to their old report to save their jobs.”  How true his words appear even as one saw commandos being dropped down by helicopter onto the roof of Nariman House to end the ‘siege on Mumbai.’

Terrorists today do their homework and are getting more and more sophisticated. Consequently, one has to move along with technical advancements to be able to face them and overcome them. Looking at the television footage of ATS chief Hemant Karkare trying on a rusty, old helmet and an inadequate bullet proof vest was a joke. Little wonder then that our law keepers were caught like sitting ducks in the line of fire. As one has seen, these latest attacks on Mumbai have gone beyond setting up of bombs in crowded public places. These are frontal assault techniques on innocent citizens being labelled as Fidayeen meaning death defying. This often entails confrontations for long hours between the terrorists and security forces, the latter handicapped by trapped civilian presence in these areas. Fidayeen attacks are common in Kashmir and are said to have been introduced there by organizations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba whose headquarters are in Pakistan. What’s horrific about this fidayeen assault on Mumbai is the huge scale it is being played out against and that too in areas like prominent luxury hotels and tourist spots attacking foreigners, otherwise thought secure.

After every such attack, several questions are raised, the blame game starts, and if an ‘Islamic’ hand is found behind the act (already there is enough talk of the Pakistani connection), the Muslim community in India finds itself under scrutiny as it prepares itself for a possible backlash from increasingly aggressive Hindu right-wingers.  My father, looking at this widening religious chasm, used to remark sadly, ‘Mazhab Hi Sikhata Aapas Mein Bair Rakhna.’ A common refrain often heard is “All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.”  So where do outfits like the LTTE, ULFA, the Baider-Meinoff group or the IRA fit in all this?!

The ‘strong condemnation’ of the attack by the ruling party be it the Prime Minister or Home Minister sounds hollow and unconvincing while the opposition leaders, finding an opportunity to hit out at the ruling party, are no better. The honourable Mr Advani has made a statement that this is an extension of the 1993 Bomb blasts in Mumbai.  What he conveniently fails to recall, of course, is who was responsible, indirectly or otherwise, for those retaliatory blasts in the first place! And after labelling Hemant Karkare a villain just a few days ago for his role in investigating the Malegaon blasts, the BJP today conveniently hails him a hero and a martyr.

The political solution is not that easy for the rot has set in much too deep. We all talk about the Government being accountable for failing in its job. We talk about wanting security of life. We talk about the common man having had enough. We talk about ‘Jaago re’ and ensure we vote for the right people. But whom do you vote for when each political party and candidate is just as bad as the other? Who and where are these suitable candidates?

Clearly, the time has come for us to try and find answers as to what we can do practically and concretely to make a difference. Otherwise, nothing will change and we’ll sit glued in front of our television sets as we watch the next assault on our security; if we are not among the next lot of victims, that is.

NB: This piece was written when the terror attack on Mumbai entered its 40th hour. Thankfully, the last terrorist has also been dealt with, almost 60 hours after it all began.

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  1. Random thoughts:
    1.There is a huge scope for improvement in our security coverage and machinery but are we as citizens ready to accept the checks and balances in the freedoms we enjoy which is an inevitable fallout of such arrangements? a friend, who was in Tel Aviv recently was telling us about the security check at the airport that took more than 20 minutes for every passenger. Even then terrorist attacks are pretty commonplace in Israel. Imagine the logistics required and the ensuing chaos of such a bandobast at VT or Howrah station…
    2. Much as we revile our politicians and the rot in our system and body polity I think we should guard against extreme sentiments demanding/wishing for a police state or army rule (no disrespect to our heroic and efficient jawans) that such faithlessness often generate. All democracies are vulnerable to fidayeen attacks because of the freedoms they guarantee. One must remember the internal chaos in Pakistan that makes it an exporter of terrorism is largely due to the fact the country never had a consistent democratic government and system.
    3. One man’s terrorist is another persons freedom fighter – so true!. Behind every fidayeen lies a young man driven to desperation by the his perceived sense of discrimination and injustice and brainwashed into believing that senseless violence is the only path to salvation. Yes it is the time for us to be proactive at our personal levels by raising a voice of dissent against divisive attitudes, discrimination, injustices and misconceptions created by a narrow interpretation of history and heritage that is the root cause of this cult of death and violence. Lets idolize Salim Chisti and not Osama, lets villify Pravin Togadia and Sadhvi Pragya and the khaki clad senile ideologues of the RSS and think of the teachings of Sant Tukaram, Sri Chaitanya and Ramakrishna … Only then perhaps peace will have a chance!

  2. Boorback,

    I agree with you. Even with all the anger one has seen against the government in the wake of this tragedy in Mumbai, a police or army state can never be an alternative to a democratic one. It’s just that the situation has become so complicated thanks to how deep the political malaise has spread. We need some new, dynamic blood infused into our political system and fast.

  3. Clearly balancing our freedoms and liberties against our security and safety is one of the toughest challenges which any Government and society faces these days. So a police state is not the answer – but if you look at a number of cities like Madrid or London which faced devastating attacks by terrorists, they have managed to harden their secutiry without turning themselves into unbearable places in which to live. Does that make them completely secure ? No, because nowhere is completely secure and ultimately people ho have no respect for their own lives will certainl never have respect for anyone else’s. But I disagree profondly that these Islamist [not Islamic but Islamist] terrorists are no different from the IRA etc. Islamists ARE different from the IRa, Bader Meinhof etc because they do NOT have political aims. They state that their primary objective is a world which is ‘Dar-al Islam’, a a society which lives solely by the codes of the Koran, as there was under the Taliban in Afghanistan. And that, I’m afraid, is not an aim about which most of us are prepared to negotiate or which most of us would wish to tolerate. Iraq, Kashmir etc are very much secondary objectives.

  4. Where do we go from here?
    Candle light vigils, black clothes, and all the rest of the (well intentioned) “remembering our martyrs” stuff. Five days down all will be forgotten, the victims, the heroes and the villains. Resurgent as we are we will rise again and prepare ourselves for the next tragedy.
    I WILL NOT and this time around I hope and pray that there are a billion other indians who will not. What can I do – at this point of time I have no idea – but when the red that I am seeing clears maybe I will know and hopefully wiser people would come up with something before that. The monsters who did this to us must go – maybe the means that we employ may not be the best, but today every Indian (our Nero like politicians as well) must believe – that above all this is for India. And we will not let any one off the hook ever again – this time included.

  5. Shilpa: You are a bit simplistic in your assessment. The very idea of Dar Ul Islam is a political one – what can be more political than an ideology that wants to establish a certain type of society?! Punjab da Puttar is right in not differentiating between various terrorist groups – all posses a political ideology and are prepared to shed the blood of innocents in order to achieve. I wouldn’t – and I know of many – who would loathe living in a Stalinist paradise as envisaged by the Baider-Meinhoff gang!

    Punjab da Puttar: You are justified in venting your anger and frustration at our political class. Many others too have shown such reactions but there seems to be an extreme tendency in many who seem to have lost faith in the political system of India. That’s pretty tragic and that is exactly what these terrorists really want. While we are justified in our anger at the over elaborate security our failed politicians hog for themselves at the cost of common citizens, one must also remember the posts of a PM or President or the leader of the opposition etc. etc. are symbols of the Indian state which is a functioning democracy (with all its imperfections and inequities). It would do immense damage to the image and prestige of India if it’s PM or top leaders are soft-targets of terrorists!

    Watching TV, one also is alarmed by the rise in anti-Pakistani rhetoric and sentiments. We must understand that it is a miniscule but very powerful section of the Pakistani society – the Armed forces, ISI and the Islamist fanatics that are not only waging a war on India but also against the saner and democratic elements of Pakistani society. Let’s not forget that Benazir Bhutto was recently killed by terrorist bombs and the Marriot Hotel was recently ravaged by huge explosions! One must realize that more chaos Pakistan sinks in to, the more is the trouble for us!

  6. Punjab da Karan – – while our masses live in such abject poverty that their votes can be bought so cheaply and while we continue to allow people with criminal records to stand for public office, our political system will continue to be a form of organised crime, populated by semi-literate, venal scum. We can only change that slowly

    Slowfade – saying that an Islamist society is undesirable is hardly the same as saying that any other totalitarian regime IS desirable ! We’ll have to agree to differ on the issue of whether all terrorist groups are the same. They are all hideous, yes. But Bader Meinhof, the IRa etc were all pretty tightly organised groups with relatively narrow political aims broadly within contained geograpghical parameters. Islamism is espoused by a wide diaspora of tenuously connected groups with an all-encompassing aim – to establish a theocracy that crosses all national, social, geographic and other borders, tolerates no other ways of thinking, and ordains every single aspect of your public and private life. A rather different league of horror – and one that rather minimises opportunity for discussion or negotiation.

  7. I’m sure we ALL agree ALL forms of terrorism are unacceptable. I was pointing out irresponsible statements like the one quoted (All Muslims are not……) that people make and what’s worse, even the educated class today drop with alarming regularity today. And when you mention the other groups to them, they go, “Oh yeah, we never thought about that.”

    We vociferously speak out against the Taliban today and want them wiped out. But we forget who provided them with arms in the first place and helped them grow. We have to understand that when we create terrorist organizations, the day their aims differ from ours, they won’t spare us either.

    Yes, change in a huge country like ours will always be slooow. But one can only hope the anger one is seeing in people against our politicians today starts to translate into something positive at least. But again, if concerned citizens of the country who can make a difference do not start getting involved, then I’m afraid all this energy we’re seeing is wasted. In that case we deserve what we get. And we have no right in deriding our leaders for we are as bad as them.

  8. Shilpa: You’ve rightly pointed out that Islamism aims to ‘to establish a theocracy that crosses all national, social, geographic and other borders, tolerates no other ways of thinking, and ordains every single aspect of your public and private life’. But isn’t that a hallmark of all totalitarian ideologies (be it Stalinism or Maoism or Nazism) that aim at establishing a autocratic regimes without space or scope for ‘discussion and negotiation’. In Stalinist / Maoist states we had the local party bosses doing the work of Mullahs and of course there was the KGB or NKVD when all else failed. And of course all Socialist or Communist ideologies claimed to have a universal application and relevance although certain extreme practitioners of Stalinist/Maoist thoughts like the Baider -Meinhoff were limited in numbers and their geographic domains. Puttar is right in pointing out ALL forms of terrorism are to be condemned. I feel all terrorist groups, different they be in their basic tenets are undemocratic and totalitarian by their very nature – after all you would not take up a gun and massacre innocents if you believe in dialogue and discussions and respect for ideological differences.
    Puttar: Yes, change in a country like ours torn apart by numerous problems and contradictions will be very slow and painful indeed. But all we can do is to keep the faith – may be all this pain would lead to a better India.

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