Guest Column | Chinks in the Armour

India remains vulnerable to Jihadi brand of terror

Radhavinod RajuRadhavinod Raju

The United States, the United Kingdom and India are three democracies which have faced, and in our case, are continuing to face jihadi terrorism. There have been one odd individual acts of terrorism in the United States inspired by al Qaeda affiliated rabble-rousers like Awlaki, currently based in Yemen. Barring a few unsuccessful attempts in the US and United Kingdom, there have been no major terrorist attack since 9/11 and 7/7. However, in India it has been a different story. There have been two major attacks already, in Pune and Mumbai post 26/11, even though several concrete steps had been taken on ground to strengthen security and counter-terrorist measures following public outcry in the wake of 26/11. Let us try and identify some of the reasons for our vulnerability to jihadi terrorism vis-à-vis that of the United States and the United Kingdom. The ISI and the Pakistan Army are cooperating (at least, till recently) with their United States and British counterparts and helping them in neutralising threats in their respective homelands from the jihadists, especially inspired by al Qaeda. This has, however, not prevented the ISI from encouraging the Taliban factions, especially the one led by the Haqqani group based in North Waziristan, from attacking the International Security Assistance Force based in Afghanistan to protect its strategic concerns in Afghanistan. It is not known whether the attacks that killed President Karzai’s brother and the other deadly attack in Kabul recently, were carried out by this group to show Pakistan’s ire at being left out of the talks being carried on by the United States secretly with representatives of the Quetta Shura of the Taliban. If this indeed is correct, then more attacks can be expected till the Pakistanis find a way to be a part of the on-going talks, on which they have invested so much capital. These attacks could also have been mounted by the Taliban, led by the Quetta Shura, in retaliation for the Americans’ targeting of their middle-level leaders in recent battles with the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The Americans have the capability to twist Pakistan’s arms as none other; they can stop the flow of aid to the Pakistan Army which will have a strong impact on them. The recent arrest of Ghulam Nabi Fai, an American of Kashmiri origin who has been playing the ISI’s game vis-à-vis Kashmir in the United States, is another instance. The timing of the arrest would show that the Americans have decided to apply pressure on the Pakistanis in different ways to bring them to heel, after their high profile protests in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad and subsequent steps taken by their government at the behest of the army, to reduce American presence in Pakistan.

India unfortunately has no such leverage. We are the prime targets of the ISI and the Pakistan Army since Partition and subsequently the separation of Bangladesh. The defeat of the Pakistan Army in the 1971 war has only added to the fury of their officer cadre against India. They not only eye Kashmir, but envisage an eventual break-up of India.

The ISI has invested heavily in training disgruntled Indian boys, a large majority of them from Kashmir, but sizeable numbers from other parts of India as well. In wake of the international pressure on Pakistan, following 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, and the subsequent Headley disclosures which emphasised the role of the ISI in these attacks, the ISI had to lie low.

But they have arsenal in form of highly trained cadres to mount attacks in different parts of India whenever it suits them, and still deny any role in the attacks.

Indian investigators and intelligence agencies have established that the Pakistanis were keen to get disgruntled Muslim youth in South India to engage in acts of sabotage in the Eighties. The ISI even tried to bring militant Sikh and SIMI activists together during this period, but without much success. Destruction of the Babri Masjid and the following anti-Muslim riots gave the ISI its first breakthrough. Action of the Indian State in protecting Muslim lives and properties, and in bringing to book perpetrators of communal violence against the community, left much to be desired, and is certainly a reason for the loss of faith of the community in the State and the criminal justice system of India. This has encouraged small sections of the community’s angry youth to take up arms against the country, and thus become pawns in Pakistan’s game. Blasts in the RSS office in Chennai, the Coimbatore serial blasts of February 1998, and other similar blasts were manifestation of this anger, exploited to the hilt by the ISI.

The Gujarat riots of 2002, in which hundreds of innocent Muslims were massacred by Hindu right wing hoodlums with the state refusing to go to their protection, would be a watermark in the Muslim anger against the Indian State, especially that of its youth. The usual argument that it is economic necessities which drive youth to militancy has failed here. After the 2002 riots in Gujarat, one can see angry educated youth of the community taking up arms against the State due to the State’s failure to give justice to the community. Research work done in Hyderabad among members of the community shows that the Muslim youth is wary and angry. In fact, many are of the view that the fate of the Muslims generally in the world is in dire state, due to US and her Western allies. The invasion of Afghanistan and later, Iraq only added to this narrative. This is where the ISI and its cohorts like the Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba stepped in. The Indian Mujahideen became a reality, through the connivance of the ISI, though they took time to claim their arrival till 2008, with serial blasts in major Indian cities. And now we learn that there are doctors and engineers among the militant youth.

The British police and the Americans have established de-radicalisation processes to wean away misguided youth in their communities. Police have firm channels of communication with the community, and work closely with community leaders to keep watch over radical elements. They try and wean those boys who are amenable to reason, and watch carefully over the incorrigible elements, using all means including scientific, technological, and most importantly — human. Both US and UK have well established criminal justice systems, where everyone is equal before law. A US citizen was executed recently in Texas for hate killing, in the wake of 9/11, when two innocent South Asian youth were killed, and another injured in indiscriminate firing by him. One may or may not agree with the death sentence that has been carried out, but one has to respect the US system which provides equal and fair justice to its citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, nationality, religion or colour.

In our country, none have been punished for destruction of the Babri Masjid, none, for the anti-Muslim riots that followed the destruction of the Masjid, and in the case of the Gujarat riots, the Supreme Court of India has to go after the state government to properly investigate and prosecute cases relating to riots of 2002. Muslim youth arrested in connection with blasts now known to have been engineered by radical Hindu elements are still languishing in jail. We need to look at the grievances of the youth of the aggrieved community, and ensure steps to remove the feeling of alienation that has grown in them. We have to make extra efforts to recruit them in our police services, for only they can get us the best possible human intelligence regarding unlawful activities in the community, or ISI’s efforts aimed at us. Kashmir is today under control because the Kashmir police has become the driving force in the anti-militancy drive of the government. In the initial years of militancy, when the Kashmir police was kept out of the counter-insurgency grid, the results were bad, with allegations of human rights violations often been made against the security forces. This was set right once the Kashmir police was brought into the mainstream, with spectacular results, especially in targeting militant leaders.

Whether it is Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata or Chennai, or any of the other major Indian cities that are likely to be targeted by the jihadis, neither the Special Forces, nor the technical intelligence alone will be sufficient to thwart these attacks. Special Forces will be useful only when operations like the Abbottabd one will have to be mounted. When terrorists slip into densely populated areas, quietly leave their deadly cargo, and vanish, of what use are Commandos? If they do not talk on phones and mobiles before and after attacks, or use the internet or other communication equipment, what are we going to do with these sophisticated tools in times of terrorist attacks? The good old method of setting up sources and lines of communication with the affected community, building trust in the community, creating stakes for the community in India’s success story, and giving them justice through an equitable criminal justice system alone will bring permanent end to jihadi terror in India. If we can assure the community of fairness and justice, no amount of cajoling by the ISI would help them in taking our youth on the wrong path.

(The writer recently retired as the first chief of NIA. Earlier, he was the additional director general of police, Jammu and Kashmir)


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