Living with terror

Published : Oct 10, 2008 00:00 IST

At the Bangalore City railway station, security checks put in place after the blasts in New Delhi on September 13.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

At the Bangalore City railway station, security checks put in place after the blasts in New Delhi on September 13.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Our intelligence agencies clearly do not know enough to forestall an attack; they have not been able to penetrate terror networks and cells.

THOSE who were responsible for the bomb blasts in Delhi must be congratulating themselves on a job well done. Ahmedabad was also a success; Bangalore was obviously not well planned and had little effect; and Surat was a major failure, apparently because of defective timers. Television coverage and the newspaper reports must have been all that they could have wished for.

What a strange, perverted lot of people they must be, their minds corroded with hatred. In an anguished piece that appeared in a leading journal, one of our most distinguished analysts of current affairs, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, said: These groups allude to jehad. But what sort of jehad is this, characterised by rank cowardice and bereft of even the diabolical martyrdom that usually characterises such visions? His anger and distress are understandable, but the answer to his question, rhetorical though it is, is actually very simple.

Yes, at one level these groups whoever they are do want to kill and maim as many people as they can and are themselves too craven to do so openly. But that is not the real and only intention, that is not the jehad they talk of. What they have been trying for years on end now, and several times in recent years, is to prove that the two-nation theory on which Pakistan was founded is right. The two main communities in the subcontinent, Hindus and Muslims, cannot, they want to demonstrate, live together.

They have to establish this; if they cannot, then the reason for Pakistan to exist goes, and that, to them, is a great danger as groups may emerge that will break the country up. It is already a failed state at almost all levels; if the raison detre for its existence becomes doubtful, internal chaos could ensue.

Unfortunately for these groups, they have not been able to establish that argument. There has been no mass uprising of one community against another, not of the kind they seek. True, there was communal violence in Mumbai some years ago, and then the terrible pogrom in Gujarat. Both caused widespread revulsion among the population in general, and peace was restored.

This underlying reason is what keeps the bombers active; it would be wrong to think of their actions as retaliation, revenge, or anything so superficial. Both communities know that revenge and retaliation are never complete, and that they will not resolve anything. But the persistence through the years points, unmistakably, to a deeper motive through Varanasi, Ayodhya, the attack on Parliament House, the repeated bomb blasts in Mumbai and Delhi, the blasts in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, the failed attempts in Surat, the blasts in Jaipur and in other places.

One can notice, too, that there are no suicide bombers involved in these murderous attacks on ordinary people. The modes have varied but have not involved the use of fanatics who will kill themselves for a greater cause. Precisely because they are planned attacks, which seek a reaction that has been worked out in some office somewhere, they have decided that suicide bombers would be risky in that their identities and their networks may be revealed. The masterminds have also realised that unlike sophisticated devices, home-made devices are not easy to trace and the funds needed to make them are easy to get, given our virtually open border. This much is fairly evident to most of us.

What is a real and alarming concern is that our intelligence agencies appear to be clueless. They claim that they knew various things but it is apparent that they knew virtually nothing of any value.

Contrast their repeated failures, which seem to have become a part of their way of working, with the detection in the United Kingdom of the network that planned to carry liquid explosives in fruit juice bottles onboard aircraft.

The network may have been of British nationals of South Asian origin, but they would have been using a language not familiar to the U.K. police and intelligence agencies. Besides, to infiltrate such a network would have needed total familiarity with ways of speaking and the places they would visit, and so on.

Yet, they did infiltrate the network and learn about the plan. Even though the chief plotters became aware that they had been infiltrated and gave the orders to Go, now, the security agencies acted immediately and grounded all flights. All liquids being carried by passengers were taken away initially, then, gradually, flights were resumed and a few liquids, including milk for infants, were allowed. Meanwhile, the key plotters were rounded up. They, including their chief, have been tried and sentenced.

It may be argued that the British police and intelligence have far better equipment; for instance, they have closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras that work, whereas the ones we use do not. The answer is simple. One has to get the equipment, and, more importantly, learn to use them effectively. Unfortunately, the malaise is a little more complicated and more dangerous.

From what one has read of the manner in which the security services functioned in Britain and in other countries in the Western world they had unwavering commitment, not to a political party but to their country and its security. No one doubts that at the senior levels in the security organisations of our country there is that kind of commitment, but it is sadly not universal and over the years has been tainted by petty loyalties to political leaders. So a Director of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) on retirement is made a Governor or given some other comfortable sinecure. What message does that send to the other officers and men in the I.B.?

Besides, what does security mean to the police at the lowest level? One reads that in a place where there has been an incident security has been, to use that dreadful phrase that is now common journalese, beefed up. This was what was reported by a television news channel, and the accompanying visual footage was of three morose constables sitting on three chairs with lathis in their hands. This was when bombs had just been put in dustbins. What would these worthies do? More pertinently, what did their superiors think they would do? Obviously they were there so that the officers could tell their bosses that security had been (to use bureaucratese now) strengthened.

There have been some strange efforts made by the security agencies to claim that they were able to foil the Surat bomb attacks; the fact is that the bombs were found, and not by them alone, because they did not go off and people noticed them. It is surely not that they were able to penetrate the terror network and, on the basis of information gathered from the members, retrieve the bombs.

This is the truly frightening aspect of what we are facing today. The intelligence agencies simply do not know enough to prevent bomb attacks. There is little comfort to be had from seeing policemen rushing to places where bombs have exploded and people have been killed and maimed. In all these years, they clearly do not know enough to forestall an attack; they have not been able to penetrate terror networks and cells.

A senior police officer once told this writer, in Kolkata, that they were able to break the Naxalite movement in the 1970s because they were able to penetrate their communications network. That was the turning point, he said. One can only hope that there will be such a turning point, before more innocent lives are lost.

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