Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Attacks on India continue….. how we should respond

This post has many passages (in italics) which are lifted from my July 14th post which was titled: The blasts will happen again – So how should we respond??? Just like I had written, the blasts have happened again – this time in Delhi. “After all the anger and feelings of deja vu have died down, a few truths will emerge. First, and most ghastly though it is, the truth is that these blasts will happen again. And again. They will happen all around. In Delhi and Pune and in every major business and power center of India. Second, this is not a political issue, but it will almost certainly become one. Third – and I believe the most important truth – is that the country has to respond smartly. For starters, it has to strengthen the NIA – National Investigative Agency – with more funds, more officers, more intelligence, more technology, more partnerships globally.....this last truth is the only one that will give us relief over a longer period of time. The first two are useless factoids of today’s disturbed world.”

As a country, we fail to understand that the fundamental reasons for these repeated blasts remain. In my mind, security is a “culture” issue. We have to be alert all the time. We have to be paranoid about our security. The security apparatus at the parking lots, at the multiplexes and malls, at important institutions, at the airports and railway stations have to work all the time. Typically, as Indians, we are jolted into alertness for a few days after a blast; but very soon we go back to living our routine lives. I see this all the time. Just recently, at a multiplex in Bombay, the car in front of me was let go without a search of its boot simply because the boot refused to open. And even when the boot is open, the search is usually nothing but a sham. It is this culture that makes us vulnerable to repeated attacks.

We also have a problem with the security apparatus that we have in our country. Let’s be clear. The security apparatus is a joke. The biggest problem is with the structure of the law and order apparatus as envisaged in the Constitution. “Law & Order is a state subject under our Constitution. As a result, different states have different police forces; hardly any of them have any access to good technology; hardly do they talk to each other; and hardly do they occupy the kind of high position they should in a society which is besieged by terrorism. Most cops at the state level are happy to take their “hafta” from hapless citizens for minor violations of traffic etc.....none of them is motivated enough to take a determined stand against terrorism. That’s why the NIA, a “federal” outfit, was set up after the 2008 Bombay blasts. The NIA has been modeled on the FBI in the US or the MI5 in the UK. Its mandate is limited to acts of terror against the country – either physical attacks like we saw yesterday – or the more devious kinds – fake currency, drugs, etc.”  Unfortunately, it looks like the NIA is also all at sea. They have hardly been built into the strong outfit that it needs to be. Political indifference and bureaucratic lethargy have made it into another weak institution. As a result, the feeling of despondency is even more. With every passing blast, when the NIA fails to solve the mysteries and arrest the people responsible, people lose hope.

Must of our problem of terrorism comes as a result of the fact is that we live in a troubled neighbourhood. “We are surrounded by countries which are hotbeds of terrorism. Pakistan obviously is the global headquarters of terrorism.” But the problem is also with Bangladeshi outfits as well as with Chinese ambitions. In addition, the problem of Kashmir is the biggest spout of terrorism: “The unsolved Kashmir problem is like honey for the terrorists from Pakistan. Till the time the Kashmir problem is solved, it is unlikely that the terrorist attacks against India will stop. But Kashmir is a huge issue. It’s an emotive issue for both Pakistan and India. Neither side has visionary leaders who can find a middle ground that will eliminate the problem. Neither country is ready for a middle ground. Both want to keep the entire cake for themselves. Neither wants to realize that the cake has got spoilt (in a manner of speaking) and is harming both of them. But such is the world of conflicts.”  What should be worrying to all of us is that most big conflicts take a long time to be resolved “It takes decades....sometimes resolve outstanding issues. It’s been 64 years since the Kashmir conflict started......Till the Kashmir problem is solved – and let’s be ready that it won’t be solved for another 60 years – we need to prepare ourselves to face the attacks that emerge as a byproduct of the issue. The LeT, the IM, the HuM and the several others Pakistan and India based terror outfits are bound to thrive. No matter what we do, we cannot kill them completely. The “junoon” that exists amongst their members is bound to create many more soldiers from amongst the dead. We cannot solve the terror problem.....we can only mitigate it.”

But mitigating a problem can be good enough as well. The Khalistan problem had been festering since the time of independence till it became a full blown conflict in the 1970s and 1980s. But the problem was successfully mitigated in the end. Not everyone was happy with the solutions, and there were too many losses of lives. But it’s heartening to see the valiant Sikh community was eventually fully integrated as a proud part of our country. Victory is always possible. All it needs is the will to fight. That is unfortunately what is missing in us as a people.

This lack of will is apparent also from the way we handle those terrorists who we do arrest. Kasab, Afzal Guru are all examples of this malaise. I am not a supporter of capital punishment and believe that a life sentence is a much more severe form of punishment for those arrested for heinous crimes. There are others who believe that capital punishment is a must in a disturbed environment like ours. We can keep debating this, but till the time we do have capital punishment, why don’t we hang those who have been convicted? Why are there so many cases of clemency lying with the President? As soon as enough time passes, and public sentiments become weak, the President pardons those who have been sentenced to death. We should act quickly to show our resolve. Not acting emboldens the terrorists.

These are the points I had suggested then. They are worth looking at again.

  1. Recognize that terror attacks will continue for a long long period of time. There is no need to agonize about them. Or to give sermons and lectures in the media.
  2. Strengthen the NIA. Give it all the money that it needs. Tie-up global relationships. Give it the best resources. Give it a clear mandate to fight terrorism and nothing else.
  3. Simultaneously upgrade the police forces in each state. This is a thought which needs more discussion – should internal security be made a central subject? We’ve seen the need for this in our fight against the Naxalites also. We’ve see how each and every state government responds differently to the same problems – making it a highly inefficient style. It’s definitely worth a discussion.
  4. Prepare our institutions to be attack-ready. Procedures need to be defined when terror strikes. Why should injured people file an FIR before being treated at hospitals? Why should hospitals not have the capacity to admit the injured? Why should our administration not know how to communicate with our people? Why should our transport system break down? Why should we be confused about whose responsibility it is to take over?
  5. Most importantly, prepare our people to be ready for war. What should they keep their eye on? Today, we look for unidentified suitcases.....but terrorists have gone far ahead. Do we need to be trained in schools and colleges to spot signs of terror? I think so.
  6. And lastly, let’s behave responsibly as a nation. Let politicians not squabble. Let the media not report irresponsibly. The papers today have stuck to reporting the tomorrow, I can bet they will be full of politics. Let’s please understand that the situation will be no different if a different party rules India. It’s not about politics. The attack is on the concept called India.

The real truth is also a repeat of what I had written on July 14th. But then July 14th  was not even two months ago. And the truth remains unchanged. “The real truth is that in spite of all the feelings of gloom today, I think we can fight terrorism. We have the resilience to stand united and fight. What we want now is a strong leadership. And an even stronger determination. Let’s not get demoralized.....”

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