First Person | Spot the Terrorist

While India laments international terrorism, the home-grown ones flourish

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

In the third week of September, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), affiliated to the University of Maryland and contracted by the United States’ State Department, published the latest trends on terrorist violence worldwide.

No surprises there in the global terrorism incidents of 2015. The most prolific terrorists in the world predictably were the Taliban which carried out 1,093 strikes killing 4,512 people. Islamic State was no less. In 931 strikes, it killed 6,050 people. Boko Haram, active in north-eastern Nigeria and parts of Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon, was the deadliest. In 491 attacks, it killed 5,450 people. Sure enough, START labels these regions, along with Pakistan as areas worst affected by terrorism.

The unpredictable part of the report was the fourth-ranking terrorist group worldwide: Communist Party of India (Maoist), or simply the Naxals, who the government of India still refers to as Left-Wing extremists. According to START’s data, in 2015 alone, the Maoists’ carried out 343 attacks, killing a total of 176 people. Of course, not a patch on the figures worldwide, but these were the maximum casualties inflicted by any group in India. The same statistics point out that of all the violent incidents in India, 43 per cent were carried out by the Maoists.

Yet, is this what we think of when we hear the word terrorism? Or when the Indian government makes executive interventions on terrorism at international forums? Or when we urge the United Nations to define terrorism so that it can be fought collectively and globally? Or when our government urges world leaders to delink terrorism from religion while ‘isolating sponsors and supporters of terrorism’?

Religion, really? Maoists are godless people; they don’t believe in religion. Then how will delinking religion from terrorism help us fight them? Oh wait. When the government of India calls terrorism ‘one of the greatest human challenges’ (as Prime Minister Modi said during his speech in Turkey’s Antalya at the G-20 Summit last year), it is not talking about the Maoists at all. It is talking from its party’s position of ‘not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims’, even when the statistics show otherwise.

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) does not have the omnibus term terrorism in its annual report. It has a chapter on internal security with sections on Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast, LWE and terrorism in hinterland. The annual report for 2015-2016, mentions only one incident of terrorist violence in mainland India. This was in Gurdaspur district, Punjab on 27 July 2015. Seven people were killed in this incident and 19 were injured.

There were a total of 208 incidents in Kashmir, in which 17 civilians were killed. Of course, since there is an active insurgency in the state, 39 security personnel, including of the Indian Army, and 108 militants were killed too. In the northeast, there were a total of 574 incidents in which a total of 46 civilians were killed. Again, being insurgency-afflicted region, 46 security personnel and 149 insurgents were also killed. Interestingly, the insurgents in Kashmir are referred to as terrorists by the report, while the north-eastern ones are called extremists. Could the nuanced difference be a factor of religion or Pakistan’s support? Never mind China’s support to the north-eastern insurgents.

In the Maoists-affected areas, there were a total of 1,088 incidents in which 226 people were killed. Of course, the government figures are higher than the ones listed by START, but we’d rather believe our government than a US research body. Anyway, the interesting part is yet to come. Despite these figures, MHA insists that there is a visible improvement in the situation in the 10 LWE-affected states. The situation was much worse in 2014-2015 (and still the government didn’t think it was a big problem). The improvement, according to the report, ‘can be attributed to greater presence of security forces across the LWE affected States, loss of cadres/ leaders on account of arrests, surrenders and desertions, better monitoring of development schemes in affected areas and insurgency fatigue among the Maoist cadres.’ The government has deployed 116 battalions, about 1,39,200 personnel (at the conservative rate of 1,200 per battalion) in the LWE-affected areas.

Given that these figures are from MHA’s own report, it’s unlikely that the government doesn’t realise where the biggest internal security challenge lies. Why does the government then continue to fan the fear of Pakistan-perpetuated jihadist terrorism as the biggest national security threat?

It is true that the top three proscribed groups listed by START are Islamic and the West has broad-brushed their activities as jihadist violence. But another reality is that all three have agendas of their own and within their areas of interest; namely Afghanistan, Levant and western Africa. India is not that area, no matter how much we raise the bogey of IS. The figures listed by START pertain to violence perpetrated by these groups in their areas. Their violence seldom goes beyond their region, media overkill notwithstanding.

Here’s another sobering figure: According to European Union’s law-enforcement agency, Europol, of the 152 terror attacks in Europe in 2015, only two were ‘religiously-motivated’; and at least 84 were carried out by ‘ethno-nationalists’ or ‘separatist groups’. Yet, in India we continue to conflate terrorism with one religion. If this is not politics, what is?



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