Terrorism

The deadly phenomenon

Print edition : February 06, 2015

Pakistani militant Mohammed Ajmal Kasab at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station in Mumbai during the November 2008 terrorist attack. A trial court convicted him in 2010 and he was hanged on November 21, 2012. Photo: AP

National Security Guard (NSG) commandos coming out of the Taj Mahal hotel premises in Mumbai on November 28, 2008, after completing the operation of exterminating all the terrorists. Photo: Vivek Bendre

“If we are to defeat terrorism, it is our duty, and indeed our interest, to try to understand this deadly phenomenon, and carefully to examine what works, and what does not, in fighting it,” Kofi Annan had said when he was United Nations Secretary-General. Right from its inaugural issue in 1984, Frontline has sought to understand the phenomenon of terrorism in its different manifestations by closely studying its operational and organisational dynamics as well as its ideological and political roots. From time to time, the articles in the magazine had also analysed the counter-terrorism manoeuvres the establishment and come up with. In the past 30 years, several organised forms of terrorism with different ideological and political thrusts have emerged in the subcontinent. The majority of them advanced religion-oriented extremism, signifying the “Fourth Wave of Terrorism” enlisted by the political scientist David C. Rapoport in his seminal article “The Four Waves of Terrorism”. The terror incidents that rocked India in this period —the Mumbai serial blasts (1993), the Kandahar plane hijack (1999), the terror attack on Parliament building ( 2001), and the coordinated shooting and bombing of select targets of Mumbai for four days in 2008— have had direct or indirect connection with this form of terrorism and invited global attention and condemnation. An element of competing communalism, too, was perceptible in some of these incidents. The Mumbai blasts have been widely perceived as a direct response to the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Much of the focus in Frontline’s early years was on religious terrorism advanced by the Sikh extremist groups on the basis of their call for a separate Khalistan. The inaugural issue had specifically addressed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as a fall out of the Khalistan movement and Operation Bluestar ordered by her to remove armed militants from the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. The concerted security measures adopted by the Punjab Police, under the leadership of senior officers such as K.P.S. Gill and Julius Rebeiro, helped curtail the movement in the mid-1990s. Frontline’s coverage of the rise and fall of the Khalistan movement addressed the political, security and defence implications of the movement.

The period also saw the Sri Lanka-based Tamil separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have an impact on the political climate of India. The LTTE was instrumental in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who was Prime Minister between 1984-89.

One separatist/militant activity, with predominant religious dimensions, that has got globally discussed is the one that has kept Jammu and Kashmir in a vice grip. Islamist militant groups that operate at the global level have taken part in this movement in India’s border State. Frontline’s reports and analyses of the separatist movements unravelled many facets of the Kashmir imbroglio.

Another form of “Fourth Wave” militancy in India is the Hindutva terror advanced by offshoots of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar, such as Abhinav Bharat. The operations of the “saffron terror” groups were entirely secretive and they made no public claims or responsibility to attacks. So much so that many of their attacks, which visibly harmed the minority groups, were accounted for in the name of other outfits, including the Islamist militant groups such as the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. The Abhivan Bharat was active in the mid-2000s, and its terror strikes were exposed months and sometimes years after they were carried out.

Overall, Frontline’s coverage of these sensitive issues has sought to fulfil the fundamental task identified by Kofi Annan: careful examination of how terrorism emanates and impacts and what works against it and what does not.

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