The battle against terrorism will have to be fought by the police and other security forces and it cannot be won without the assistance of a vigilant public.
ARE Indian terrorists playing their cards wrongly? Have they run out of strategies? When will they strike again? These are the questions that should dominate any analysis of the three senseless explosions in the capital on October 29 , which left 60 persons dead and nearly 200 injured. Terrorists thrive on perpetuating fear in the community, so that disaffection against a lawfully established government mounts. By this token, those who committed the despicable act in Delhi seem to have failed. There was undoubtedly unmitigated suffering, and there were poignant scenes that most of us will find it impossible to erase from memory. Many bread-winners were snatched away from scores of families, who can never reconcile themselves to the tragedy that struck them most undeservedly. Amidst all this, Delhi appeared to have taken the whole episode in its stride, with the city springing back to life almost the next day. Criticism against the government for any sloppy relief operations was muted, and an all-round determination to fight the terrorist was in ample evidence, rather than any wilting of spirits. In such a case, what did the criminals who perpetrated the horror gain? Almost nothing, except some satisfaction which flows directly from an abominable, vulgar and transient sadism.
As for strategy, I am inclined to believe that terrorists all over the world have run out of ideas. Indiscriminate violence, such as the rude interruption of a wedding reception by a suicide bomber at a hotel in the Jordanian capital Amman, rules the day. If you buttonhole even the most articulate follower of Osama bin Laden, you will find it difficult to get an intelligent articulation of what he was fighting for and where he and his associates were heading. A vague reference to liquidating all `infidels' will be all that we can get out of him. Current expert thinking points to a fragmented movement that is at the mercy of local hoodlums. President Bush and his coterie have undeniably given cause for great indignation in the Muslim world. But this could hardly be the provocation for taking Muslim lives in Baghdad, Amman or Srinagar, even if this was inevitable while striking at American targets. It is now more than well established that the jehadi cause will hardly sell in India, and bin Laden, except in small pockets, will never be the poster-boy he is in parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and West Asia. One assessment sees the situation as a reflection of the dynamic shift in India's external relations with the U.S. This could lead to a greater international Islamic front (comprising among others Al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed) in India. Whether the Delhi blasts were an indication of this is a matter of speculation. I would like to wait for more evidence to buy the theory.
By all accounts, there were no suicide bombers in the recent Delhi explosions. This is different from what happened in London and what occurs on a daily basis on the streets of Baghdad. Progress towards mutual understanding between India and Pakistan and the initiation of confidence-building measures have robbed the terrorist of whatever justification he earlier had to strike at New Delhi. Naturally, acting in a near vacuum, he was not able to think of a strategy or devise tactics in pursuance of it. This is why, unlike in the past few months, I am now inclined to treat the violence in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country as more of a law and order problem, than one that cries out for a long-term strategy. This is not to underestimate the need to maintain continued vigilance and equip law enforcement agencies with more sophisticated weapons and gadgetry. .
It is not difficult for terrorists to repeat the Delhi blasts. In any democracy, soft targets are easily available in their thousands. However, the fact that the frequency of major attacks in India is small should be of some comfort to all of us. It is definitely indicative of the high quality of law-enforcement in the country. I am not speaking on the basis of any briefing by official agencies or other available evidence when I say that the response to terrorism by security organisations has been commendable. One may fault them for their continued inability to procure advance intelligence that could help avert incidents and save precious lives. Yet you must remember this is a common failing of intelligence outfits all over the world.
Much has been done proactively in this country that has been noticed but has unfortunately gone unsung. After all, public servants need motivation. This cannot come from medals or increased salary alone, but rather from demonstrative endorsement by the public and unstinted cooperation in what should be a collective endeavour.
As I write this, there is a nation-wide alert following information that terrorists were planning to hijack an Indian aircraft. There is also the fear that one or two of them may actually blow themselves up once they get access to an airport or aircraft. This is absolutely credible given the propaganda advantage they will gain if they succeed in their diabolic plans. It is in areas such as this that public assistance to law enforcement is vital. I have seen this happening in the U.S. in the days following 9/11. If a passenger was found skipping the security drill in one or two details, eagle-eyed others in the queue pointed this out to the security staff and insist that the offending fellow-passenger be screened thoroughly. On the face of it, such conduct could be considered bordering on the impolite. In the context of the current delicate global security situation, it is better to be impolite rather than leave civilian security vulnerable to anti-social elements. It is this obsession with security that should be instilled in the mind of the average citizen, if we have to make arrangements at public places foolproof. One can hardly take exception to what may appear to be an attempt at indoctrination. It is only through such a process that we can raise a new generation of citizens to whom observance of basic norms of security is a way of life and not a drudgery that can be dodged when not being watched.
The extradition from Portugal to India of Abu Salem, a prime suspect in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, is symbolic of the kind of international cooperation that investigating agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) can receive. This is no small victory for the CBI, which had been pursuing the matter relentlessly. It also indicates how the Bureau can produce results where there are no politics involved. One should not, however, forget the enormous legal wrangle that is associated with such matters, leading to valuable loss of time that takes the edge off the battle against terrorism. Incidentally, I am surprised there is no public indignation over the lon-rawn-out trial in the case. Hearings were concluded more than a year ago, and the judgment is yet to be delivered. Can the most dastardly crime in post-Independence India brook such delay in dispensing justice to the more than 200 victims? It is in such matters that one would like to see High Courts proactively supervising subordinate judiciary who should in turn extract accountability from their lower formations. It is equally distressing that the media are unexcited by such hard facts of judicial delay.
It is for this reason that I will not advocate too much reliance on the judiciary in the campaign against terrorism. Because of the many constraints of law, it can play a low-key facilitating role at best. Essentially the battle will have to be fought by the police and other security forces with the direct assistance of the public. This is the only deterrent that we can build into the system. Nothing else will work. I am sceptical of the utility of law, after the fiasco involving the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Trends all over the world suggest a legislative disinclination to enhance police powers in the area. Tony Blair's proposal for a three-month detention of suspects by the police without charge was voted down in Parliament. Some of those who voted against the motion included members of his own party. This is the hard reality of current politics. An average street-level politician will not fight your battle with the terrorist. It is you citizens who will have to be alert and tip off the police whenever you stumble on strange discoveries. Ultimately, eternal vigilance is the price of life and liberty.