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We Are Sitting Targets

We Are Sitting Targets

Author: B Raman
Publication: The Times of India
Date: July 29, 2008
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Editorial/We_Are_Sitting_Targets/articleshow/3299388.cms

India continues to bleed at the hands of jehadi terrorists, indigenous as well as from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Not only has the indigenous component been on the rise, the religious dimension of the jehad has assumed predominance over the political, economic and other elements. It seems the recently-initiated attempts of clerics and other leaders of the Muslim community to condemn the resort to terrorism is not yet having any impact on younger people. The blasts in Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad are a symbol of the failure to dissuade younger Muslims to give up the path of terrorism.

Young religious radicals of the community are determined to keep up their jehad. Whereas in the past their jehad was motivated by domestic grievances, considerations of global Islamic solidarity against the perceived enemies of Islam have become an additional motivating factor. They view the US and Israel as the main enemies of Islam. Since India's relations with the US and Israel are improving, we have to face the fallout of the jehadi anger.

The blasts are ominous for India. They mark the success of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in its efforts to Indianise the jehad by creating Indian versions of organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. They are now manned increasingly, if not totally, by Indian Muslim recruits and are being projected as the Indian Mujahideen.

The Indianisation of the jehad serves the ISI in three ways: it could aggravate the communal divide; it keeps the jehad going with limited Pakistani involvement; and Islamabad escapes pressure from the US to act against the jehadi set-up in its own territory.

Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad are only the beginning of this process. There is a danger of the Indianised jehad spreading to other areas. If it succeeds, it would not only add to political instability, but would also come in the way of our attempts to compete with China.

The atmosphere of insecurity would also cause nervousness in the foreign business and investor community.

The growing jehadi terrorism is a bleeding ulcer. The solidarity of the jehadis is, however, not confronted by the solidarity of the political class and civil society. We are frittering away our resources and energy in divisive debates marked by partisan point scoring. A disunited political class, clueless in the face of terrorism, cannot provide leadership to the counterterrorism community, which has been lurching from one failure to another.

There is very little understanding of the techniques of counterterrorism at the political level and very little appreciation of the need of the agencies for special legal powers, better technical capabilities and more human and material resources. Every country gets the counterterrorism mechanism it deserves. We have what we deserve - sometimes competent, but more often not, counterterrorism machinery. The beneficiaries are the terrorists and the ISI which is behind them.

The recent blasts were the outcome of colossal intelligence failures at the central and state levels. There is a reluctance to admit the failures, which would be the first step towards improvement. Revamping the counterterrorism capabilities of the agencies would call for better human and technical resources, better language skills and induction of more Muslim officers. There is a need for a special package of measures to achieve this.

The weaknesses and unsatisfactory record of our intelligence agencies have been a long-standing problem. Our record in successful investigation and prosecution used to be good, but it has been deteriorating due to a lack of special powers for detention and interrogation and for the collection of technical intelligence. If these special powers are not given, the slide in the quality of investigation and prosecution will continue.

Jehadi terrorism is a pan-Indian pheno-menon, striking at different places at different times. The terrorists have a common command and control; the investigative agencies do not. The investigations are being done in a piecemeal and isolated fashion with no one-point reservoir of data and no central mechanism for coordination, control and monitoring. The setting up of a federal agency for investigating terrorism cases would provide that common nodal point, but our shortsighted political leaders prefer not to have it more for partisan than for professional reasons.

Terrorism of various hues has become a perennial threat to our national security. The determination and the will to tackle that threat are missing. Only voter pressure and the danger of losing elections if one is perceived as soft and inadequate in dealing with it will improve matters. Voters should use the coming elections to send a clear message to politicians that they will be judged on the basis of their record in dealing with terrorism.

Indianised jehad is assuming a transnational dimension. The young recruits or volunteers of today are more and more motivated by pan-Islamic issues like the US war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there is no evidence to show that the Indo-US nuclear agreement had anything to do with the surge in terrorism, the increasing US and Israeli presence in India could induce Al-Qaida and pro-Al-Qaida organisations to target their nationals and interests in India. This has to be guarded against.

Al-Qaida as an organisation is not yet present in India. But many supporters of Al-Qaida are there in our midst. They would be only too happy to act as its Trojan horses.

- The writer is a Chennai-based former intelligence officer.

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