Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Not for girlie-men

Fighting terror is not for wimps

From The Statesman

Mr KPS Gill, a most highly regarded former policeman, told the Ladies Study Group in Kolkata last Thursday (11 December): “If 10 terrorists can hold the entire city of Mumbai to ransom for three whole days, I must admit that whoever is training these boys, handpicking them and motivating them, is definitely doing a good job.”

Not only have the Pakistanis done an excellent job in turning out superb commando-style terrorists but also they have used some of the most modern means of communication including GPS surveillance, Google Earth, satellite phones and voice-over-Internet-Protocol phone services.

Imagine a virtual war-room somewhere in Pakistan where every movement of “these boys” are being monitored in real time, as if the Houston ground control was monitoring a space shuttle flight. In comparison Operation Blue Star ~ pardon me Mr Gill ~ must have been child’s play, however tragic.

Do not underestimate the Pakistanis. They have created the indestructible Taliban and a ruthless secret service, the ISI, which through lethal, self-multiplying cells and self-sustaining charities rules Pakistan and casts its deadly shadow beyond its borders ~ what UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on his recent visit to Pakistan called “the chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of the UK and other countries around the world”.

Sometimes I feel that Indians simply live in India but do not care much for India. For example, in 2007 when there was a terrorist attack in Hyderabad, an Indian minister said something unforgettable and unforgivable, “Do you want us to keep vigil on all the chaat-eating people? How many chaatwallahs can we guard?” If these girlie-men surrounded by 24/7 bodyguards had taken care of the rakeriwallahs, rikshawallahs and chaatwallahs, they would not have to fight this day to protect the poor rich people who throng the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Trident; and the unfortunate Jewish visitors who simply love India.

Only by protecting the lowly can you protect the mighty.

Terrorism has to be fought with anticipation, intelligence and persistence as the Europeans and Americans have been doing. Every now and then the US Homeland Security authorities revisit and update their plans to meet new contingencies. In 2006, for example, authorities had discovered a plot to blast and cripple the underground tunnel system that connects New Jersey with New York City. The discovery was not accidental. The security forces were on the lookout for terrorists in order to pre-empt any attack. Apart from the federal homeland security department, every state has contingency plans. The federal government and state governments work closely to fight crime and terrorism.

Do you remember what happened in India in 2006?

Indians forget and they pay for their forgetfulness. Americans don’t forget anything, whether it is Pearl Harbour or the 9/11. Americans commemorate and learn from history.

In the US and increasingly in Europe, there has been a big shift in thinking about terrorism. The policy has been to eliminate terrorism at the neonatal stage by establishing an early awareness system. The working principle is: what is anticipated can be prevented. Preventing terrorism at the inspirational and “aspirational” stages is the goal. Following the pre-emptive policy of dealing with terrorists, US Attorney David E Nahmias says, “We no longer wait until a bomb is built and ready to explode.” For example, the plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago was at a stage “more aspirational than operational”, according to the FBI, when the terrorists were nailed down in June 2007. Europeans are doing the same thing.

Consider what happened in Brussels last Thursday, when, according to the International Herald Tribune (IHT), the Belgian police arrested 14 people on the mere suspicion of suspected terrorist links. Six of them were charged with being member of a Belgian branch of Al-Qaida. What prompted the pre-emptive measure was a two-day European Union meeting, which could have been the target. The IHT quoted the federal prosecutor in Brussels, Mr Johan Delmulle, as saying, “We don’t know where the suicide attack was to take place. It could have been an operation in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but it can’t be ruled out that Belgium or Europe could have been the target.”

Instead of waiting for an uncertain event becoming certain and then taking action, Europeans are now following the American strategy of preemption. On the contrary, Indians do not do anything even when they know terrorists are going to attack.

In a remarkable piece, replete with irrefutable evidence, published in IBN-Live, Mr Arun Shourie, a former editor-in-chief of the Indian Express and BJP Rajya Sabha MP, said the government knew about the threats and did nothing. Mr. Shourie understands that India need not be throttled by its enlightened doctrines when law-enforcement authorities try to locate and destroy terrorist cells functioning openly or clandestinely in their own backyards. Mr Shourie, I am sure, will make a terrific terrorism czar.

The security doctrine is simple: eliminate terrorism at the “aspirational” level, as the Belgian police did. The US security laws allow intelligence and law-enforcement authorities to monitor places of worship, activities of charities, communications of suspected militants, and even their shopping patterns.

Superb intelligence-gathering, preemptive and preventive measures and anticipatory disaster plans could go a long way in eliminating terrorism, if India wants to take terrorism as seriously as Europeans and Americans do.

The 2007 US National Strategy for Homeland Security emphasised that “we cannot simply rely on defensive approaches and well-planned response and recovery measures. We recognize that our efforts also must involve offense at home and abroad”. The US strategy “provides a common framework” through which not only do the federal, state and local governments work together, “the private and non-profit sectors, communities, and individual citizens” are also actively included in homeland security operations. Like the US, India should create a culture of preparedness that permeates all levels of society ~ from individual citizens, businesses, and non-profit organisations to federal, state, local and tribal government officials and authorities.

Post script. By saving the country from terrorism, India would lift millions of its Muslims from fear, which would let them give their best as some of them are doing in Bollywood, sports, and myriad other productive enterprises.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

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