( Written for “Times of India” of July 29,2008)
India continues to bleed at the hands of jihadi terrorists, indigenous as well as from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The percentage of the indigenous component has been increasing. The religious dimension (Muslims vs infidels) of the jihad has been assuming predominance over the political, economic and other dimensions. The recently-initiated attempts of the clerics and other leaders of the Muslim community to condemn the resort to terrorism is not yet having any impact on the younger elements.
The blasts at Jaipur,Bangalore and Ahmedabad mark the failure of the wiser elements to dissuade the younger elements to give up the path of terrorism. Young religious radicals of the community are determined to keep up their jihad. Whereas in the past, their jihad was motivated by domestic grievances, considerations of global Islamic solidarity against the perceived enemies of Islam have become an additional motivating factor. They perceive 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 fall-out of the jihadi anger against them.
The blasts have an ominous dimension for India, which has the second largest Muslim population in the world. They mark the success of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in its efforts to Indianise the jihad by creating Indian versions of organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al-Islami. These are now manned increasingly, if not totally, by Indian Muslim recruits. They are being projected as the Indian Mujahideen.
The Indianisation of the jihad serves the ISI in three ways: it could aggravate the communal divide; it keeps the jihad going with limited Pakistani involvement; and Pakistan escapes pressure from the US to act against the Pakistani jihadi set-up.
Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad are only the beginning of this process. There is a danger of the Indianised jihad spreading to other areas. If they succeed, they would not only add to the political instability, but would also come in the way of our attempts to catch up with China economically. Nervousness in the foreign business community will be an outcome of an atmosphere of insecurity.
The growing and spreading jihadi terrorism is a bleeding ulcer. The solidarity of the jihadis is not confronted by the solidarity of the political class and the 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 counter-terrorism community, which has been moving from one failure to another.
There is very little understanding of the techniques of counter-terrorism 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 counter-terrorism mechanism it deserves. We have what we deserve--- sometimes competent, but often not so. The beneficiaries are the terrorists and the ISI behind them.
The 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. Re-vamping the counter-terrorism capabilities of the agencies would call for better human and technical resources, better language skills and more induction of officers from the Muslim community into the agencies There is a need for a special package of measures to achieve this. One should have the courage to let heads roll when a comprehensive package fails to produce results.
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 now 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.
Jihadi terrorism is a pan-Indian phenomenon---- striking at different places at different times. The terrorists have a common command and control. The investigative agencies do not have. The investigations are being done in a piecemeal, isolated fashion with no one-point reservoir of data and no one-point mechanism for co-ordination, control and monitoring. The setting-up of a federal agency for investigating terrorism cases would provide that common nodal point, but short-sighted political leaders prefer not to have it more for partisan political than professional reasons.
Terrorism of various hues has become a perennial threat to our national security. The determination and the will to tackle that threat is 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. The voters should use the forthcoming elections to send a clear message to politicians that they will be judged on the basis of their record in dealing with terrorism.
Indianised jihad is assuming a trans-national 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 Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organizations to target their nationals and interests in India. This has to be guarded against. Al Qaeda as an organization is not yet there in India. But many supporters of Al Qaeda---Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims--- are there in our midst. They would be only too happy to act as its Trojan horses.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,New Delhi, and , presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )