Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Battling Terrorism

Lessons for India in homeland security

by ND Batra
From The Statesman

India has much to learn how comprehensively and efficiently the United States of America goes about managing its homeland security by keeping a hawk-eye on the Islamic jihadi menace.
Last week, two men from Georgia ~ Syed Haris Ahmed, 21, a naturalised American of Pakistani origin and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, 19, an American by birth and of Bangladeshi descent ~ were charged with planning attacks against the World Bank headquarter in Washington DC, the US Capitol and other civilians targets. Both were accused of preparing for violent jihad in the USA and abroad after undergoing “rudimentary paramilitary training”. One of them, Sadequee, was earlier charged for having gone to Toronto last year to hobnob with “like-minded Islamic extremists”.
Clearly these two Muslim young men had not actually committed any violent act but were found to be planning and conspiring to do so. Following the preemptive policy of dealing with terrorists, US Attorney David E. Nahmias said: “We no longer wait until a bomb is built and ready to explode.” Similarly, the plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago was at a stage “more aspirational than operational”, according to the FBI, when the plotters were apprehended in June this year. Preemption is preventing acts at the inspiration, aspiration and thinking stage before they become a concrete reality that leads to the kind of train bombings in Mumbai that killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more on 11 July. However, when reason takes precedence over anger and dismay, it becomes possible to see with clarity that to a great extent most disasters could be anticipated and even prevented.
The concept “what’s anticipated can be prevented” would especially apply to a crucial aspect of India’s homeland security, that is Islamic militant terrorism of which the Mumbai outrage was the latest manifestation. If the worm, jihadi terrorism, has already made its home in India and could surface on any street, as was recently pointed out by a senior Indian journalist in a Wall Street Journal piece, the case for India’s homeland security to be modelled on the US system where since 9/11 not a single terrorist attack has taken place is very strong. Al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorists have not given up on the USA, and they keep trying.
Uncle Sam sleeps with one eye open. Early this year, Congress renewed what to most liberals would be a draconian anti-terrorism law, The US Patriot Act.
The Department of Homeland Security’s constantly changing red, yellow and green alerts have made life a trifle uncomfortable. Personal liberties have been affected, especially in big cities, though most of the USA is as free as ever. Airline travel security checks take longer. But on the whole, there is no fear psychosis in the USA. You wouldn’t feel afraid of walking in the streets of New York or elsewhere; living in America is safer than living anywhere else.
The US homeland security doctrine is coherent, pragmatic and ethical. And it has a simple premise: Choose the lesser evil. It is better to put a few thousand people in jail ~ yes, some of them might be innocent ~ than let terrorists strike, which might push millions and millions of people into a state of perpetual fear.
The Patriot Act, which allows intelligence and law enforcement authorities to go into places of worship, investigate the working of charities and snoop on telecommunication of suspected militants is not what a free society should do. But it is a lesser evil than letting Islamic militants take advantage of constitutional freedoms to commit mass murders.
From Pota to its successors, Indians think up marvellous schemes but lack the will to implement them. A mantra is no substitute for action.But there’s hope. Contrary to popular expectation, India showed remarkable composure in the face of the dastardly acts in Mumbai. Sure the Sensex wobbled for while but it stabilised, reinforcing the hope that economic recovery and growth is on a firm footing.
There was some tough talk by politicians but the fire did not spread. Which is no guarantee for the future, of course. Of course a similar pattern of attacks has been taking place in Pakistan too, though it is between Sunnis and Shias. If the pattern is the same, the same underlying force, Sunni Wahabisim, must be operating in both countries. In that case, India and Pakistan have a common enemy, though unfortunately they don’t see it that way. That’s why the continuation of dialogue is so important because with the course of time, perceptions would change. When terrorists’ bonds with local people become weak, it would be easy to gather intelligence, and isolate and annihilate terrorists’ networks. That’s what is being done in the USA ~ destroying the infrastructure that supports terrorists’ networks.
Simi and LeT would cease to exist if they are isolated from the local people. Indian Muslims must feel reassured that India is their country and that their children have a future. That kind of social and cultural re-education is important. India’s two-pronged strategy for fighting terrorism should be: Ruthlessly implement a no-holds-barred policy of dealing with militants. Secondly, continue pursuing peaceful settlement with Pakistan through a policy of cool and cautious engagement at multiple levels, including trade and widespread official and people-to-people contacts.
The first step necessitates widespread human and digital intelligence gathering and the rigorous enforcement of terrorism laws already in place.
The second step requires sensible diplomacy with total control over hotheaded political rhetoric. Flaming tongues can sear hearts.
Dealing with Pakistan is not easy, especially when the Pakistan government does not have full control over what is happening there. Apart from the continuous simmering rebellion in Baluchistan, some powerful sections of society in Pakistan, including the ISI, are feeding and supporting the Taliban to re-establish their hold in Afghanistan. And they are not done with Kashmir, regardless of the opening of bridges and India’s generosity in giving millions of dollars to earthquake victims.


  1. By now we all have a fair idea about how poverty and exploitation go hand-in-hand. And who are the ground-level terrorists if not misdirected young men and women picked from poor insecure muslim populations?

    Keeping this in mind, India should also realize that Bangladesh is a threat beyond imagination. In spite of having gained their independence because of India, that country has become a breeding ground for grass-root terrorism. India would probably be making a big mistake by concentrating only on Pakistan.

    I request you, Professor Batra, to write an essay expounding this line of thought!

  2. The attack is pretty much a rebellion event even it is sad.

    US and India are at very different situation. US faces attacks from people from outside because US foreign policy. Attacks in India come from inside due to the failed government. There were not only attacks from muslims, but also attacks from Hindus.

    The solution for India should be very different with US. India gov should remove all Hindus extremists such as RSS and then treat Muslims more equally and let them to feel India is their own country. Otherwise, I cannot see the end.