Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Terror needs fearless tackle (August 13, 2006)

By Swapan Dasgupta

It would perhaps not be outrageous to suggest that had the authorities in Pakistan been as forthcoming with information to India, as they were to the British Intelligence, the July 11 carnage in Mumbai may have been averted.

The heinous plot unearthed last Thursday to cause mid-air explosions on trans-Atlantic flights from London was to have been executed by middle-class Britons of Pakistani origin. From all accounts, it didn’t have the blessings of the Pakistani state. At the same time, there was an undeniable Pakistani connection which can be traced to the burgeoning jihad industry which operates part covertly and partly with the full knowledge of the ISI. Islamabad is always concerned that deracinated would-be jihadis carrying British passports will target the West and put the Musharraf regime on a sticky wicket. It is more indulgent if the army of rabid theologians can motivate enough young Muslims into inflicting a ‘thousand cuts’ on India instead.

It is unrealistic to believe that the attitude of Pakistan towards India will change in the short-term. Despite well-meaning attempts to project Them as People Like Us, there is such a visceral hatred of Hindu India in that country that an event like the Mumbai bombings will see the cigars and vintage Port being brought out in the Officers Mess of the Pindi cantonment.

It is not that the Bush Administration and the Blair Government are unaware of the many faces of Pakistan—the nuclear supermarket run by A.Q. Khan was, after all, unearthed by British intelligence. Bogged down in Afghanistan and beleaguered in Iraq, the Anglo-American alliance feels that it is best to not open another front and, instead, ensure that Musharraf’s dealings with it is above board. By passing on crucial information to British Intelligence about the jihadi plan to target trans-Atlantic flights, the ISI has won many brownie points in the West. This is also calculated to undermine India’s feeble diplomatic attempt to target the infrastructure of terror in Pakistan.

How should India respond to Pakistan’s calculated duplicity? A knee-jerk response would involve questioning President Bush’s sincerity in fighting the “Islamic fascists” when it comes to Pakistan. This is the response Pakistan would love, since it will portray India as unreasonable and petulant. If the British, the argument is certain to run, are looking inwards to grapple with the unique problem of “home-grown” terrorists with “Muslim sounding names”, why isn’t India doing likewise?

It’s a fair question. The post-July 11 inquiries have so far yielded suspects who are Indian by birth. Some members of terrorist modules may have travelled to Pakistan to be trained in arms and explosives but, like the 25 people arrested in Britain, they are “home-grown” perverts. The Laskar-e-Toiba originated in Pakistan but it now has branches in India which are run by Indian Muslims. Subversion has struck roots in our own soil and we can no longer blame terrorist attacks on Pakistani paratroopers.

Since the 7/7 bombings, Britain has come to terms with its Muslim terrorist problem. Despite the howls of protests by do-gooders who like to believe terrorism is a function of “alienation” which can be resolved by wiping Israel from the face of the earth, the British police have been given a free hand to do whatever is necessary to protect the lives of innocent civilians. The Indian Government, however, remains in a state of denial and vulnerable to political pressure.

The protests by some MPs in Parliament that Muslims are being targeted by the police led to an intervention by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In a speech to party MPs a fortnight ago, she, in effect, suggested that the Government be hard on terrorism and soft on suspected terrorists. The unmistakeable message to the police was to go slow.

Outside powers can assist but India will have to fight its own battles. Can we do so by preventing the police from doing its job fearlessly? Are sectarian vote banks more important than confronting this assault on our very nationhood? It’s time to reflect.

(Published in Sunday Pioneer, August 13, 2006)

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