Tackling terrorism

Published : Sep 26, 2003 00:00 IST

The security forces' extreme preparedness and effective retaliation can quell terrorists but terrorism can be checked only when it is made less attractive for the youth, who are haunted by unemployment.

THE explosions at Zaveri Bazar and the Gateway of India a few weeks ago did not stir the nation as much as the Bombay Blast-I 10 years ago did. As the latter was more gruesome, resulting in five times more casualties, it had possibly a traumatic impact on all sections within the country and attracted international attention. Also, the blasts of 1993 came at a time when terrorism was not yet a fully blown phenomenon.

Public reaction to the recent Bombay Blast-II has in contrast been subdued as explosions have now become the order of the day and the community seems prepared to take them in its stride. However, the wicked men behind the recent attacks in Mumbai must have been sorely disappointed that they could not succeed in spreading panic or provoking communal passions. This is a welcome trend, indicative of a nation that is mature and stable, one that is determined to let the terrorist know that he cannot hold us to ransom. The Mumbai Police also deserve to be complimented for handling the aftermath effectively, and for nearly solving the dastardly crime in incredibly quick time.

Equally heartwarming has been the Border Security Force's (BSF) resounding success in Jammu and Kashmir. The killing of Ghazi Baba was a signal achievement. The terrorists' initial tactics to spread confusion by trying to prove that it was not Ghazi Baba but somebody else who had been liquidated was promptly scotched by BSF's Inspector-General of Police (Kashmir range) Vijay Raman. I was impressed by the forthright manner in which he countered the false propaganda with regard to Baba's identity. His television interviews were a convincing exercise at projecting the might of the BSF vis-a-vis the outlaws on the border. We need many more officers like him who can portray the determination of security forces to go after the Lakshar-e-Toiba (LeT) and other outfits. This is one sure way of hitting back at terrorists.

ON the subject of media attention to modern terrorism, I have a few observations. Media coverage is no doubt imaginative and comprehensive. However, the fly in the ointment is that it sometimes tends to be too dramatic and superficial. As a result, distortions are not infrequent. In the absence of his or her own resources and in an anxiety to impress the average reader, the reporter often laps up unquestioningly anything that the law enforcement agencies offer by way of generalisations. This is analogous to features on survey results publicised by pseudo-research bodies on the eve of elections, which give meat to sensational headlines. At such times, anything is grist to the mill, and seldom are questions raised about the credentials of an organisation that claims to have steered a poll or the methods adopted to arrive at the conclusions touted by it.

The Mumbai Police gave some statistics a few days ago to prove how the profile of an average terrorist in the country was fast changing. They sketched more than 20 suspects arrested in connection with the six bombings in the city since December last. For instance, one of them, Dr. Bashid, was a MD in Forensic Sciences from the Aurangabad University. His father was a professor, and one brother an engineer. Yet another arrestee holds a Master in Business Administration (MBA) degree from the Pune University. He had graduated from a well-known Mumbai college where he also captained the cricket team. The others cited by the Mumbai Police included a computer technologist, two chemical engineers and an aeronautical engineer.

What the Mumbai Police were trying to say was that most of the perpetrators or abettors of terrorism were highly educated and sophisticated youth, and hence the problem of countering terrorism was becoming more and more complex. We already know that the 19 men who caused havoc in the United States on September 11, 2001 were all well-educated and were very different from the poor illiterate persons who used to blow themselves up in West Asia in their struggle against Israel. Osama bin Laden's following reportedly comprises men from varied specialisations in the areas of science and technology.

Viewed in this perspective, the Mumbai Police's account no doubt gives some food for thought, although one should avoid reading too much into it. The data are interesting. I am sure many unsuccessful movies will be made out of them. But do they provide any clues to dissecting the terrorism of our times, especially what motivates the typical terrorist? I am afraid they do not.

The terrorist is fundamentally a deviant, not very different in his mental make-up from the one who commits conventional crime. He may not exactly be actuated by the greed that drives most criminals, but he is certainly one who shares with them a marked resentment, if not downright hatred, for the existing order of things, which both feel is unjust and discriminatory. I am not making a value judgment of their motivation. I am only dwelling on the limited point that education does not radically alter perceptions of the world. It only gives an added tool to express one's contempt for the existing scheme of things. Or else, how would you explain crime and gross dishonesty in high places that is becoming more and more strident in the political and corporate worlds? White-collar crime is on the increase the world over, and the educational background of those who commit the traditional crime is also tending to be very impressive. Hence, I am not at all swayed by the information that the Indian terrorist now comes from the better educated class, just as I will not, if the burglar violating my home proves to be one who holds a college degree. When the educational composition of the community at large is improving, one can naturally expect more criminals who are literate coming to police notice. This is as simple as that.

MY prediction is that terrorism is going to be increasingly attractive to those passing out of the portals of higher education. This is owing to the fact that India now creates a huge reservoir of talent and knowledge that lacks direction and remains largely unutilised in constructive activities. We pride ourselves as the country with the largest skilled workforce. This is a matter of gratification, but we hardly realise that it is dangerous tinder that we are sitting upon and with which are stuck for quite a while. Our appalling inability to create huge numbers of meaningful jobs to engage the burgeoning pool of technically educated youth in productive avocations, and the disdain that a majority of our young men and women have for self-employment combine to provide a fertile ground of recruitment for terrorists. It is the lamentable absence of a stake in life that is driving many to join militant outfits of various hues with the veneer of an ideology.

I can see another source from which we are going to recruit terrorists. It has been well established that democracy is hardly the palliative to social inequities. When it does not help to raise minimum living standards of a large chunk of the population in reasonably quick time, there is premium on wild behaviour. The situation is compounded by a state of the polity that does not permit individual dissent and which fosters authoritarian regimes based on charisma and the support of a majority who are like dumb driven cattle. Specific interest groups that have no say in the running of the government and are frustrated that there is no hope for bringing reason to bear upon a well-entrenched ruling clique also open them to being drawn to the terrorist fringe. If popular elections are rigged and doctored, perpetuating the rule by a single political party, desperation on the part of the excluded party waiting in the wings for a chance to rule, could lead to people leaning towards terrorism. This is why frequent turnovers of governments are welcome, though they may not be desirable from the point of view of political stability.

Governments all over the world are now extremely sensitive to the danger posed by the spreading tentacles of terrorism. They have done a lot to improve technology so that it matches terrorists' technology. India is not lagging behind in this. The government may not be able to give every detail to the public. From all accounts of the encounters with terrorists, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, one can discern extreme preparedness and effective retaliation by the security forces. While this is encouraging, what is being done to make terrorism less and less attractive to the youth? This is a difficult question to answer. Sustained firmness over long periods of time, using mainly the state machinery, will only aggravate the problem. Educational institutions and opinion leaders in the society who are apolitical can possibly help.

Religion has a tremendous hold over minds in our country. Every religion has leaders who can boast of a huge following. If these can come under one roof at all levels after sinking their differences and with a resolve to highlight the evils of terrorism, future generations can by and large be expected to spurn violence to realise their aspirations. There is already some enlightenment among Hindu and Muslim leaders in the form of a willingness to discuss the Ayodhya issue across the table despite their respective strong and unyielding positions. These deliberations have been marked by a refreshing absence of acrimony. If this is extended to the task of tackling disorder in society, India would have won half the battle. This is not a pipe dream because, in the final analysis, no religion preaches violence.

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