A year after the attack

Published : Jan 17, 2003 00:00 IST

A YEAR after the terrorist attack on Parliament House in New Delhi, events seem to have gone the way of a Bollywood film. The villains have, at least pending appeal, been sentenced to death; former Chief of Army Staff General S. Padmanabhan has certified that cross-border terrorism has declined; Indian troops posted along the Line of Control (LoC) in preparation for war were able to make it back home in time for Deepavali. But, again, like a Bollywood film, this narrative requires a colossal suspension of disbelief. In the real world, things have not quite gone as planned since December 13, 2001. The challenges India could face from terrorism in 2003 could be quite unprecedented in their scope and significance.

Twelve months ago, the Union government responded to the December 13 attack with a mobilisation for war unprecedented in its scale since 1971. Operation Parakram, a massive forward deployment of troops on the western border, was made on the basis of two key assumptions. The first was that the world had been transformed after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The U.S., Indian strategists assumed, would now be unwilling to tolerate the Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism directed at India. Secondly, the Indian military and political establishment believed that the threat of military action would give teeth to diplomatic efforts to force Pakistan to de-escalate its offensive in Jammu and Kashmir. It was believed that `coercive diplomacy' would force Pakistan to shut down terrorist training camps and stop supporting infiltration into India.

What did actually happen? The Union Home Ministry's own figures leave little to the imagination. From September 11, 2001 to December 12, 2002, there were 3,940 terrorism-related violent incidents. In these incidents, 604 security force personnel, 1,197 civilians and 2,412 terrorists were killed. These numbers were similar to those seen in the whole of 2001, when 621 security force personnel, 1,014 civilians and 2,043 terrorists were killed in 3,970 violent incidents. The death roll shows, quite clearly, that neither the events of September 11 or December 13, nor Operation Parakram did anything to deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors in Pakistan. Indian responses to major terrorist strikes after December 13 themselves established the point. Operation Parakram was intended to signal that the attack constituted a tolerance threshold and that further major terrorist assaults would lead to a full-blown war. In the event, India proved unable to respond militarily to the welter of large-scale killings seen through 2002.

Official India responded to this situation by inventing triumphs where none existed. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections held in September and October 2002 were advertised not only as free and fair but as an achievement of Operation Parakram since they took place in the face of terrorist violence. In fact, the Assembly elections of 1996 as well as the subsequent Lok Sabha elections in 1998 and 1999 were considerably less violent than this round. Over 88 political activists were killed in the build-up to the elections in 2002, including former State Law Minister Mushtaq Lone. By contrast, 75 lives were lost in 1996, 45 in 1998 and 53 in 1999. The elections in these years did not see the assassination of major political figures. As in the past, Pakistan-based terrorist groups did little to hide their intentions. On July 2, the Muzaffarabad-based United Jihad Council demanded that the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) intensify its anti-election campaign. Following this, major groups such as the Hizbul Mujahideen, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad began targeting political activists and candidates. Al-Umar and the Jamaitul Mujahideen even set up assassination squads named the al-Madina Regiment and the al-Jabbar Raiding Force.

The point here is not that the 2002 elections were poorly managed, but that India's forward deterrence strategy did little to stop the state sponsors of terrorism from doing whatever they wished to do. Notwithstanding Padmanabhan's claims of reduced cross-border terrorism, the evidence suggests that nothing of the kind has really happened. For one, a gross reduction of cross-border infiltration should have led to at least some decline in the level of violence, since there would be fewer terrorists to replace those killed. However, the Union Home Ministry's estimates, based on data compiled by the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the armed forces, suggest a more nuanced ground situation. Overall, infiltration was somewhat lower in 2002 than in 2001. However, this drop occurred between January and March, when heavy snowfall closed mountain passes. Then, after Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf's ambiguous promise to end cross-border terrorism, made on May 27, infiltration fell again. By August, however, it resumed, rising to higher-than-usual levels by October.

Senior leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have been busy congratulating themselves on securing convictions in the Parliament House attack case. Their excitement is perhaps justified in a limited way, for the state's record in delivering justice to victims of terrorism leaves more than a little to be desired. Writing in the authoritative South Asia Intelligence Review, in November, analyst Ajai Sahni pointed to the stark facts. "It is useful," he argued, "in this context, to take a quick look at the judicial record in Jammu and Kashmir: over 33,693 persons have been killed in the conflict in the State (since 1988 and till December 22, 2002); this includes 12,203 civilians and 4,575 security forces (SF) personnel. For these and many thousands of other crimes, precisely 13 convictions have been secured over more than 13 years of terrorism in the State eight of them on relatively minor charges, such as illegal border crossing or illegal possession of arms and explosives, and only five, in a single case, involve an act of terrorism resulting in death. Not a single sentence of death has been awarded in any case of terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir since terrorism took root in the State in 1989."

But death sentences will not deter continued cross-border terrorism many of those who cross the LoC know they have made a journey without return tickets. A serious counter-terrorism strategy is needed, an issue no one in either New Delhi or Jammu seems to have time to address.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment