Second part of strategic analyst B Raman's column, in which he takes a close look at the security scenario in the New Year.
Cover-up is another part of our national culture. The report of the committee which enquired into the debacle of 1962 was never released and debated in Parliament and public.
The report of the Kargil Review Committee was released and acted upon, but never discussed in Parliament. There now seems to be an attempt to avoid a comprehensive enquiry into the terrorist attack of November 2008, similar to the enquiry by a bipartisan National Commission in the US after the 9/11 terrorist strikes and the enquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament into the London explosions of July 2005. With all eyes on the forthcoming elections, nobody wants a post-mortem.
The public should not accept this and should mount pressure on the government and the political class for a thorough enquiry. The argument that a public enquiry could demoralise the agencies and its officers should not be accepted. Thorough enquiries were held into the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and the reports released to the public without worrying about any demoralisation. Why should we be worried now?
The police in the affected states have arrested many of the perpetrators of the jihadi terrorist strikes of 2008 -- operatives of the IM as well as Ajmal Amir Kasab, the Pakistani who was captured alive during the attack in Mumbai. Their interrogation has given a wealth of nuts and bolts details of tactical significance -- what is their background, how did they gravitate to terrorism, where and how were they trained, who trained them, what kind of explosives they used, where they procured them etc. But they have not brought out much information of strategic value which could enable us to make a quantitative analysis of the threat facing us in 2009 and prepare ourselves to counter it.
Who are the real brains behind the IM? What is its command and control like? Does it have any strategic objective or is it purely heat of the moment reprisal terrorism? What are its external sources of funding? What are its external linkages -- with the ISI, the Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations and with the world of organised crime? The involvement of the world of organised crime in acts of terrorism, which became evident in March 1993, continues to be one of the defining characteristics of jihadi terrorism in the Indian hinterland as could be seen from the suspected association of Riaz Bhatkal, an underworld character, with the IM.
Home-grown jihadi terrorism, which has struck us repeatedly since November 2007 in the name of the IM, is an iceberg. Till we are able to identify, measure and blow up this iceberg, more such terrorist strikes involving serial explosions in important cities are likely. Was the disaster which struck us in Mumbai in November 2008, the LeT tip of an Al Qaeda iceberg? It will be very unwise to presume that it cannot be so. There is an Al Qaeda iceberg which is on the move from the Pashtun tribal belt of Pakistan to areas outside as seen from the explosions outside the Danish embassy in Islamabad in June 2008, and outside the Marriott Hotel in September 2008. It is time we come out of our denial mode that what is happening in Pakistan cannot happen to us. It can.
We still do not have a coherent policy to deal with Pakistan, which has been a State sponsor of terrorism in Indian territory and with Bangladesh as a facilitator. Our approach to Pakistan's sponsorship continues to be marked by the kabhi garam, kabhi naram (sometimes tough, sometimes soft) syndrome.
India has been a victim of indigenous terrorism without external sponsorship as well as terrorism externally sponsored -- from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Before 1979, we were also victims of tribal insurgencies in the North-East supported by China, which is no longer supporting them after 1979. One of the reasons why Indira Gandhi decided to support the independence movement in the then East Pakistan was because the ISI was giving sanctuary to terrorists and insurgents in the Chittagong Hill Tracts from where they were operating in North-East India. The creation of Bangladesh ended this sponsorship in 1971, but it was revived by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1975. We are still struggling to cope with it.
One of the lessons of the post-World War history of State-sponsored terrorism is that it never ends unless the guilty State is made to pay a prohibitive price.
STASI, the East German intelligence service, was behind much of the ideological terrorism in West Europe. The collapse of communism in East Germany and the end of STASI brought an end to this terrorism. The intelligence services of Libya and Syria were behind much of the West Asian terrorism and the Carlos group, then living in Damascus, played a role in helping ideological groups in West Europe. The US bombing of Libya in 1986, the strong US action against Syria which was declared a State sponsor of terrorism, and against Sudan, where Carlos shifted from Damascus, and the prosecution and jailing, under US pressure, of two Libyan intelligence officers for their complicity in the bombing of a Pan Am plane off Lockerbie on the Irish coast in 1988 brought an end to State sponsorship of terrorism by Libya and Sudan. Syria has stopped sponsoring terrorism against the US, but continues to do so against Israel.
There are any number of UN resolutions and international declarations naming State-sponsored terrorism as amounting to indirect aggression against the victim State. Unfortunately, there has been no political will in India to make Pakistan and Bangladesh pay a heavy price for their sponsorship of terrorism against India. Once a firm decision based on national consensus is taken that the time has come to make Pakistan and Bangladesh pay a price, the question as to which organisation should do it and how will be sorted out. The problem is not that we don't have an appropriate organisation, but we don't have the will to act against Pakistan and Bangladesh. Our policy of kabhi garam, kabhi naram towards these two countries is encouraging them not to change their ways.
We must take action instead of depending on the US or other members of the international community to do so. Every country is interested in protecting the lives and property of only its own citizens. This is natural. It is the responsibility of the Government of India and the states to protect the lives and property of our nationals. There are many good things we can learn from Israelis such as their passion for up-to-date databases, all their agencies countering terrorism acting as a single team without ego clashes, turf battles and the tendency to pass the buck, public support for their counter-terrorism agencies, high investments in research & development of new technologies for counter-terrorism etc. India has remained a nation of dogs that bark, but not bite. We have seen it after Mumbai too. It is time we emulated Israel and become a nation of dogs that don't bark but bite ferociously.
At the same time, some methods employed by Israel such as over-militarisation of counter-terrorism will prove counter-productive in a pluralistic, multi-religious state such as India. We have produced many good intelligence bureaucrats, but we have produced very few good intelligence professionals. Our counter-terrorism experts tend to be over-simplistic and superficial in their expertise, are not innovative and try to deal with technology-savvy modern terrorism with methods and thinking which are not equally modern. The terrorists operating in India tend to be more nodern and innovative in their thinking than the counter-terrorism agencies. Increasing their numbers and budgets alone will not produce results unless, simultaneously, there is also a change in their thinking and methods.
2008 was not totally gloomy for India. There was gloom in the Indian hinterland. But there was also sunshine in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time in 19 years as seen from the spectacularly successful election held in the state in which over 60 per cent of the voters participated defying threats and intimidation from the terrorists and calls for boycott from their political mentors.
There is terrorism fatigue in J&K as there was in Punjab when P V Narasimha Rao was the prime minister. Rao was bold enough to lift President's rule and hold elections disregarding advice from senior bureaucrats not to do so. The elections in Punjab marked the beginning of the people's alienation from the Khalistani terrorists. People in J&K are tired of violence and of the difficulties which they had to face as a result of security measures for nearly 19 years. They want normalcy, but this need not mean the beginning of the end of their feelings of alienation.
The feeling of alienation will not end just because of the spectacularly successful elections. They will end only through meaningful measures by the Government of India and the new government headed by Omar Abdullah to address the legitimate grievances of the people and to fulfill some of the past promises to give greater powers to the state -- almost near autonomy, if not total autonomy. The elections also show that the mainstream parties have retained their political base despite 19 years of terrorism -- much of it directed against them -- and that the political base of the political mentors of the militancy such as the Hurriyat is as small as it always has been. Farooq Abdullah used to describe them as mohalla leaders and not state leaders who are afraid of elections because they know that elections could expose their limited following. He is probably right.
While keeping our fingers crossed in J&K, we have reasons to be proud of what our intelligence agencies and the security forces have achieved in J&K after 19 years of sustained and well-calibrated counter-terrorism. They are capable of achieving similar results in the Indian hinterland in 2009 if the systemic and individual deficiencies are identified and removed instead of being covered up, if they work in a coordinated and united manner as they did in J&K, if they receive the right political leadership, if Pakistan is made to pay a price for its sponsorship of jihadi terrorism and if we pay due to attention to the legitimate grievances of our Muslim co-citizens in hinterland India instead of dismissing them off-hand as imaginary. Some of them are not. Some of our Muslim youth have real causes for anger against the Indian State and society. We must take note of them and address them. Otherwise, we will drive them into the hands of the ISI and the likes of the LeT, the JeM and Al Qaeda.
To be continued
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)