It may surprise many to know that the problem of terrorism has persisted for nearly half the period of the life of independent India.
Since the closing years of the 1970s, India has been in the vortex of foreign-sponsored terrorism, which has claimed nearly 80,000 lives, both civilian, and of security forces — in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, north-eastern states, and in the rest of India. There is no country in the world which has been a victim of terrorist onslaught for so long, and which has suffered such enormous loss.
If a menace has continued for so long, it means that its perpetrators have a definite purpose, a definite goal. If we correctly assessed right in the beginning that the goal of terrorists and their patrons abroad was not only to threaten the common man and the civil society, not just to create ordinary law and order disturbances, but to endanger the very unity and security of the nation. What is happening in India today?
History will not pardon us if we fail
In the history of nations, it is important to know what challenges they face. But it is far more important to know how they respond to these challenges. Nations oblivious to the threats that eat into their vitals run an imminent danger of losing their ability to protect themselves. The warning bells are loud and clear that, even though the nation’s internal security today stands seriously threatened, our response lacks political will. India does not have a seamlessly integrated counter-terrorism strategy backed by resolute operational capabilities.
There is one more thing to be said about internal security challenges. These do not manifest suddenly, nor do they mature overnight. The ominous signals they send over a prolonged period of time can be noticed unmistakably. However, if we choose not to notice them, or are incapable of taking self-protective action, history will not absolve us.
In the last millennium, India suffered many a blow. In the last century, India suffered blood-soaked Partition on account of a pernicious ideology. Therefore, all political parties and all sections of our society should so conduct themselves that no evil power, external or internal, can set its eyes on destabilizing, debilitating and dividing India.
Terrorism: Invisible enemy’s low-cost, asymmetrical war
For such strong protective force to emerge, it is necessary to know that in today’s world, failure to protect internal security has emerged as the most potent threat to the unity and integrity of nations, to the stability of their polity and to the protection their constitutional values. In the post-World War period, failure to deal with internal security challenges, as opposed to foreign aggressions, has been responsible for the degradation of a large number of nation-states. Most States when confronted with serious internal threats thought it to be a passing phase and allowed the drift to reach a point where retrieval was no longer possible.
Quite often, the adversarial forces won not because of their own strength but because of the weaknesses and mistakes of the regimes that were hit. Thus, history has a big lesson for us and it would be tragic if we failed to learn from past mistakes, both of our own and of others.
An important lesson that we in India should learn — this lesson is indeed globally relevant — is that conventional wars are becoming increasingly cost-ineffective. As instruments of achieving political and strategic objectives, their outcome is unpredictable and, often, counter-productive. Hence, foreign aggressions today come disguised as proxy wars in the form of terrorism and other forms of violence. The enemy targets internal fault-lines for furthering his strategic and political objectives. Even less powerful nations are able to exercise this low-cost sustainable option, giving rise to the new doctrine of asymmetric warfare.
We can see this clearly from what both Pakistan and Bangladesh have been doing to us. Neither can match India’s military strength. Yet, both have been threatening India with cross-border terrorism.
This warfare is waged by an invisible enemy, for whom the civil society is both a source of sustenance and the target. The enemy exploits the liberties, freedom, technological facilities and infrastructure to his advantage, making even the more powerful, better equipped security agencies feel helpless.
Maligning of security forces: A dangerous new trend
Maligning the security forces is often a deliberate ploy employed by the civil society supporters of terrorist outfits. Unfortunately, it sometimes influences the thinking of even well-meaning human rights activists. However, it should not be forgotten that our security forces work under extremely difficult circumstances. The rest of society can sleep peacefully only because of the diligent service rendered by our police, paramilitary and armed forces. I fully agree that innocent persons should not be harassed and penalized. But let us spare a thought for this question: What will happen to our society, to our nation, if the morale of our security forces is allowed to be weakened?
Stigmatising any faith in the fight against terror is wrong
Friends, no campaign of terrorism that has continued for so long can be without an ideological motive. Recognizing the anti-India ideological driving force behind terrorism, and evolving a proper nationalist ideological response to it, is critical to achieving long-term success. Here I would like to state two things emphatically. Firstly, no religion and no religious community can and should be blamed for the criminal acts of some individuals belonging to that community. Stigmatizing any community in the fight against terrorism is wrong, counter-productive, and must be condemned.
At the same time, it is equally important to recognize that religious extremism of a certain kind provides the ideological fervor and outward justification for terrorism and separatism. After all, religion was indeed misinterpreted and misused to construct the two-nation theory, which had disastrous consequences for India, for both Hindus and Muslims. The ideology behind the ongoing war of terrorism against India is a continuation of the separatist ideology that created Pakistan. Which is why, the anti-India forces in Pakistan have sponsored cross-border terrorism as a deliberate policy to achieve Kashmir’s secession from India, and also to weaken India in many different ways.
In recent years, an important new experiment has been introduced into this policy of cross-border terrorism. A section of Indian youth, misguided and exploited by their mentors abroad and radicalized by an interpretation of Islam that is propagated by Al Qaeda, have been inveigled into the vortex of terrorism. SIMI and Indian Mujahideen have emerged as the face of indigenised terror. Their literature speaks volumes about their aversion for the very idea of a secular, plural and democratic India, and also about their resolve to destroy India, as we know it.
TADA, POTA or Nothing
Without TADA, some of the culprits in Rajiv Gandhi’s murder case could not have been chargesheeted. TADA had already ceased to exist.
One of the first acts of the UPA government in 2004 was to repeal POTA. As a matter of fact, the war against. The government’s weak-kneed approach, as was inevitable, proved fatal in course of time. It not only emboldened the extremists groups, but also brought down the efficacy of country’s security apparatus.
POTA remained in existence from September 2001 till December 2004. During this period, only eight incidents of terrorist violence, including the attack on Parliament and on Akshardham temple in Gandhingar, took place in India’s hinterland, leading to 119 deaths. Contrast it with what happened after POTA was repealed: The footprint of terrorism has grown alarmingly larger in the past four years. Jammu, Ayodhya, Varanasi, Samjhauta Express in Haryana, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Malegaon, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Guwahati and, in the latest attack, serial terrorist attack rocked Agartala in Mumbai just some days ago. During this period, more thank 800 persons have been killed and 2,411 injured, depicting a five-fold increase in those killed and injured. It is the same country, same people, same police and same intelligence agencies; what then explains this unprecedented increase? The answer is very simple: Weak laws have emboldened the terrorists and appeasement has failed to change their intentions.
Party or Nation
The Hindu reported on September 13: “In what is seen as the UPA government speaking with different voices over the need for states enacting tough anti-terror laws, the Union home ministry has not taken kindly to the suggestion of the National Security Adviser M K Narayanan favouring the Gujarat government’s proposal to have its own law to deal with terrorist activities and organised crime. The NSA’s suggestion was contained in a letter which he recently wrote to the home ministry. He reportedly saw no reason to turn down the request of the Gujarat government to have an anti-terror law. He also reportedly cited demands by a number of senior police officers both at the central and state levels for enacting a comprehensive, tough anti-terror law. Mr Narayanan did not see anything wrong in supporting such a demand.”
The Administrative Reforms Commission, appointed by the government under the chairmanship of senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily, strongly supported the need for stringent anti-terrorist law. Speaking to the media on September 17, he said “a strong anti-terror law with equally strong safeguards to prevent its misuse is needed.”
On September 24, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi said, “There should be a strong law to deal with terror. A powerful law, not a failed law. POTA is a failed law.”
In spite of these pronouncements, what is the net result? “No, no, we do not need a new law. Existing laws, if strengthened, are enough to fight terror.”
How can India be safe under a government that has no mind of its own, that speaks in so many voices, and that is led by a prime minister who has an office but no authority? It is difficult to find out who runs this government and who takes the decisions.