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A Vote Against Terror

A Vote Against Terror

Author: K Subrahmanyam
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 30, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/4330802.cms

Introduction: To preserve democracy, the free world must defend it

Many state governments in India recently indicated their inability to provide optimum security for simultaneously holding cricket matches and ensuring free and fair elections in the prevailing security situation. It is a peculiar characteristic of India's political culture that the presence of hundreds of thousands of security personnel is required to enable citizens to exercise their basic democratic right without fear of intimidation and violence. Here, we shall look at the specific issue of the threat of terrorism.

The US think tank STRATFOR, which extensively interacts with US intelligence agencies, has released a report that says jihadi groups had targeted and may continue to target Indian Premier League players and matches. India is used to holding free and fair elections successfully in the face of the terror threat in J&K. The recent assembly polls there were a success in terms of voter turnout. Latest reports from Kashmir refer to the Lashkar-e-Taiba's (LeT) massive attempts at infiltration. The forthcoming general elections will perhaps be the first countrywide exercise of democratic rights to face the terror challenge. India has been vulnerable to terrorist attacks by infiltrators from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal operating independently or with local help. But the majority of past outrages have had external links and inspiration.

Many US academic and semi-official studies on the 26/11 Mumbai attack link it to a larger plan to get Indian troops deployed on India's western border along the lines of Operation Parakram following the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. The deployment did not happen, with India exercising extraordinary restraint and calling upon Pakistani authorities to investigate the Mumbai attack in light of evidence made available by it. International investigations, including Pakistan's, have established that the terrorist conspiracy originated on Pakistani soil and involved a number of Pakistani nationals. International strategists widely believe the Pakistani army has a vested interest in provoking Indian troop concentration on India's western front so as to use this as an alibi to not participate in the anti-al-Qaeda/Taliban campaigns as demanded by the US and NATO in their strategic review plans.

What will happen if there is a terrorist outrage just before or during the elections? Can India exercise the restraint it showed in November 2008? Pakistan's plea may be that it is not in a position to control non-state actors. There are already reports about Indian intelligence agencies intercepting at least five conversations between LeT cells in India and their handlers in Pakistan. In the event of a terrorist outrage before or during elections, the Indian electorate will expect the government to act swiftly and decisively. This should be explained to the world's leading democracies. The latter should be requested to step up surveillance both signal and satellite imagery of Pakistan so that they can provide evidence, to the extent available, on transborder communications and other activities in the event of a terrorist act.

The government should consider taking into confidence all major political parties and arranging regular briefings on the security situation. Many political parties display money and muscle power in the run-up to elections. That sometimes provides a congenial climate and cover for terrorist activities. There is scope for two-way communication between security services and political parties about such suspicious activities. These consultations should be institutionalised. The less political violence and muscle-flexing on the streets during the poll period, the less strain on the security services and the more prepared they are to deal with terror-related contingencies.

There must be an informal code of conduct among political parties regarding a national, non-partisan and non-parochial approach to terrorist incidents. Politicians must resist the temptation to politicise the terrorism issue for electoral ends. Police and paramilitary forces employed on election duty must be on high alert. The armed forces too must be extra-vigilant regarding the threat of infiltration and the need to respond to unexpected contingencies.

Inviting international observers to witness and monitor elections to certify their fairness is today a widely accepted practice the world over. India does not need international mentoring given its record of free and fair elections dating back to 1951. But it faces a new threat from terrorist organisations that loudly proclaim that democracy is un-Islamic, that have targeted India and been provided asylum and training facilities in Pakistan, facts denied by the latter till recently. Pakistani authorities have now themselves entered into agreements with such extremists in Swat, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and other places who openly declare democracy to be un-Islamic.

The situation calls for a new type of international monitoring to prevent terrorist intervention in the election process of the world's largest democracy. To demonstrate their commitment to political freedoms, democratic countries must warn Pakistan that any terrorist intervention in the democratic process by elements from that country would invite sanctions. If the international community is unwilling to act in defence of democracy, India will have no option but to defend its democratic rights as effectively as it can. A certain amount of consultations in this regard among political parties will add credibility to the country's stand. The monitoring arrangements mentioned earlier can be implemented without deployment of foreign personnel on Indian soil and will not involve any infringement of Indian sovereignty.

- The writer is a Delhi-based strategic affairs analyst.

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