The Mumbai terror attacks have been referred to as India’s 9/11 so many times I’ve lost count. In such circumstances its easy to reach for emotions and hyperbole to make sense of it all, but I would prefer to be a bit more dispassionate.
There are two broad elements to a response: intelligence led counter-terrorism, and political diplomacy.
1) Saying ‘we never negotiate with terrorists’ is a naive idea when its unclear who the terrorists are. In every such situation you have to wean away the moderates and non-violent agitators while minimising the danger that violent extremists can cause. This means winning hearts and minds. There are legitimate reasons for anger against the Indian govt: the Gujarat riots and subsequent failure of justice, discrimination against Muslims generally and human rights violations in Kashmir. These need to be resolved for human rights reasons anyway, regardless of whether its portrayed as ‘appeasement’.
At the same time, its also worth stating that: there’s no reason why Muslims should be angry at ordinary Indians for what happened in Gujarat and; its not just Muslims who are discriminated against – the Dalits are generally in a worse situation (and there’s more of them).
2) Public engagement is key. After every such terrorist attack recently, Hindus and Muslims have made a public show of coming together and actively speaking out against such atrocities. That does a lot to build confidence at ground level. We’ll have to see how Mumbaikers respond in coming days.
3) India’s traditionally antagonistic stance towards Pakistan has almost vanished, especially since both Manmohan Singh and Asif Zardari want peace. Besides, Pakistan faces a similar threat of terrorism, with bombs going off weekly, from the same terrorist networks. It’s in their interests to work together… though less in the case of Pakistan because it needs some groups to keep harassing India over Kashmir. Zardari, to his credit, is trying to get the Pakistani establishment to fight violent extremists in Pakistan. Unfortunately though, he has little credibility to follow this through. In the end, India cannot defeat these terrorists without Pakistan’s help.
4) But I’m not in favour of negotiating with the Taliban. Sooner or later these people are going to want to assert their version of Islamic rule without democratic means. I do however see value in trying to split the Taliban by bringing over the more moderate ones so they can be absorbed and kept at arm’s length.
The current govt repealed the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was frequently used to lock up hundreds of people without explanation (pre-charge detention? 180 days – chew on that Jacqui Smith). That was a good move, but the government still hasn’t got a proper strategy in place.
1) There’s a very good chance that the long-discussed US style ‘Dept of Homeland Security’ will be established. This is a good move since India’s intelligence services haven’t had much success in combating terrorism. In this, I hope they pump in more money and bring in expertise from the UK, USA and Israel.
2) They will have to put more money into border control, especially at ports (which is how the Mumbai attackers came in).
3) They’ll be accused of being soft on terrorism by the right-wing BJP so its inevitable some stronger anti-terrorism laws are passed. This should be resisted because there’s too much potential for human rights abuses without a case for what they’re needed for.
There’s also no doubt that hardline Muslim groups want to use terrorism as a way of separating Hindus and Muslims, and there seems to be no real strategy or intelligence in dealing with the problem.
Now the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has to find one, and quick.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Current affairs,South Asia,Terrorism