First Person | Two Shots in One

For the government of India, casting terrorism as the main threat serves more than one purpose

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

In the early years of the last decade when the global war on terrorism (GWOT) was underway, it appeared that the biggest threat facing the world was indeed terrorism of the jihadi variety. The audacity of the 9/11 attack had convinced most people, including this writer, that driven by the Islamic fervour and tempted by the lust for paradise and the pleasures lying therein including 72 houris, Muslims en masse were signing up for the global jihad.

In those few years, uncountable number of books were published on the subject of jihad, few written by notables, many by wannabe experts and mostly by Islamaphobes who saw in this an opportunity to claim, ‘See, we told you, this is an evil religion’. In this competitive expertise on Islamic terrorism appeared a book in 2011 called The Missing Martyrs by Charles Kurzman.

In the opening chapter, he posed a provocative question, ‘why there are so few Muslim terrorists?’ He wrote, ‘…if there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, many of whom supposedly hate the West and desire martyrdom, why don’t we see terrorist attacks everywhere, every day?’

Of course, Kurzman was addressing the West. In India, this realisation was already there. Which is why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at the height of GWOT famously said in a 2005 CNN interview, “I take pride in the fact that, although we have 150 million Muslims in our country as citizens, not one has been found to have joined the ranks of al Qaeda or participated in the activities of Taliban.”

Yet ironically, today when the world has recognised global terrorism as a fleeting moment in history, and terrorism itself as a minor challenge, India has curiously cast terrorism as the biggest threat facing the world. At the recent G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again said in his address that, “Terrorism is the biggest threat to humanity. Not only does it claim the lives of the innocents, it negatively affects economic development and communal harmony. We have to stop all mediums of support to terrorism and racism.”

Interestingly, the ambitious agenda of this meeting of world’s 20 most influential leaders did not include terrorism. The 20 biggest economies were looking at such issues as ‘the global economy, trade and investment, the environment and energy, innovation, employment, women’s empowerment, development, and health.’

What’s with Indian government’s obsession with terrorism? Honestly, in the last decade, how many incidents of terrorist violence have taken place on the Indian mainland to merit this kind of focus over everything else? According to ministry of home affairs’ annual report for 2017-2018, the internal security of India has been divided into categories like ‘terrorism in the hinterland of the country; Left-wing extremism in certain areas; Cross-Border terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir; and Insurgency in the North Eastern states. The same annual report lists the number of casualties from the previous year in each of these sectors.

In 2017, there were a total of 908 incidents of violence in the LWE areas leading to 263 deaths. In the same period, the Northeast India saw 308 incidents, including 106 fatalities of which 57 were the ‘extremists’. The ‘hinterland of the country’ saw no terrorist incident to merit a sub-category in the report.

In J&K, where the government insists that Pakistan is fanning terrorist violence, there were a total of 342 incidents in 2017, in which 333 died, of which 213 were terrorists and 80 were the security forces.

Going by these statistics, J&K appears most volatile. But those with a sense of history would know that the violence levels in the state were so low in 2005-2014 that Kashmir attained near normalcy in terms of security. These people would also know that it is foolhardy to club the state of J&K with the presence or absence of ‘terrorist violence’ in the rest of the country simply because Kashmir is a bilateral political problem between India and Pakistan. The ebb and tide of violence in the Valley depends on the state of bilateral relations between the two countries. When India and Pakistan were in dialogue, there was hardly any violence in the Valley. In fact, for the security forces, Kashmir was a prized posting!

So why does the government of India go on and on about terrorism? Two reasons. It naively believes that talking about terrorism would help continuous finger-pointing at Pakistan and eventually may lead to its isolation globally. This has not happened so far, and is unlikely to happen any time in the future. Yet, government carries on like a stuck record.

The second reason is more sinister. The focus on J&K and the violence there gives it the colour of religion and the tag of jihadi terrorism. This facilitates Islamophobia on the mainland. It creates an enemy within against which the Hindu nationalists can be galvanised. By demonising an entire community, it lends a subtle justification to violence against them. For the first time since the beginning of the insurgency in Kashmir, Muslims in the mainland are retrospectively being held accountable for the atrocities against the Kashmiri Pandits. Hence, Muslims feel insecure, apologetic and grateful for being alive.

Terrorism is not a bogey. It’s a strategy for redefining the idea of India by negotiating new terms of engagement between communities.


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