Special to Globe and Mail Update
July 28, 2008 at 11:27 PM EDT
Seventeen bomb blasts in a
10-kilometre radius in 70 minutes on
Saturday in Ahmadabad. Nine blasts in Bangalore, outsourcing capital
of the world, on Friday. A country on the edge of panic.
The world shares in Indians' pain, anger and determination to face
down the terrorists, to not give them the triumph of being cowed or
the satisfaction of fomenting communal hatred and bloodletting. For
security from acts and the fear of terrorism is indeed indivisible,
and the world is the battlefield.
We have been here before. In 1993, twin attacks on Bombay's financial
centre and Air India building were dress rehearsals of a sort for the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York. Then, the world ignored how
India and Southwest Asia had joined the front line of global
terrorism. No longer.
The most immediate tasks will be to help the victims, tighten
security, plug the fatal intelligence gaps and prevent outbreaks of
violence against Muslims.
Chances are high the perpetrators will turn out to have pan-Islamic
links with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India, Pakistan
and Bangladesh or similar groups. All the more reason to insist that
not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslim.
Before the Iraq war, the leading practitioners of suicide terrorism
were Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers: Hindus. The most ruthless terrorism in
1980s India was perpetrated by Sikhs. Europe, including Britain, has
had its share of Christian terrorists. If anything, India's 140
million Muslims are a salutary negation of the facile thesis about
Islam's incompatibility with democracy.
In a billion-strong country with an 80-per-cent Hindu population, the
Prime Minister and army chief are Sikhs, the previous president was a
Muslim and the power behind the throne is a Catholic of Italian
origin — profound testimony to the pluralism and accommodation of
India's complex and adaptable power-sharing arrangements. Democratic
politics, political freedoms, civil liberties and religious tolerance
must be protected at all costs.
But India earned its reputation as a soft state that can be
intimidated into meeting terrorists' demands. Jailed terror suspects
are released in exchange for kidnapped kin of political leaders. In
December, 1999, in a day that will live in infamy in the annals of
international terrorism, foreign minister Jaswant Singh personally
escorted three terrorists to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in order
to secure the release of passengers from a hijacked Indian Airlines
flight. One of the freed terrorists was later implicated in 9/11. In
response to an attack on Parliament in December, 2001, India
mobilized its defence forces for a year along the border with
Pakistan at great expense, only to send them back to barracks with no
actual action — war-mongering without war.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the anger and disdain of the
people for the tough rhetoric followed by no action of successive
governments of all parties.
To break out of this trap, India must eliminate the corruption and
politicization of the police forces and their antiquated training and
equipment, as well as criminalization of politics. The number of
parliamentarians with pending criminal cases is alarming. Terrorism
thrives and prospers in such conditions.
India habitually points the finger of criminality at Pakistan, whose
offers to help with the investigations are repeatedly spurned. Some
foreign footprint — training, financing, arming — is likely. But for
a foreign government to be able to infiltrate groups of Indians and
recruit them to the terrorist cause indicates failures of
intelligence and interdiction, on the one hand, and disaffection
among sections of the population, on the other.
The intelligence agencies function as autonomous fiefs with little
oversight and virtually no accountability for failures and lapses.
This is matched by the flaws of the criminal justice system, which is
rudimentary and lamentable by the standards of mature democracies.
Justice has neither been done nor seen to be done with respect to the
large-scale atrocities against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. They
spawned a crop of angry and twisted young men whose rage can be
channelled into lethal terrorist violence.
India also needs to be tough on the causes of terrorism. Poverty is
not a direct cause, but it is an incubator of terrorism and a root
cause of corruption. New Delhi needs to implement reform in order to
maintain rapid economic growth. It also needs to solve its long-
running territorial conflicts — more than 90 per cent of suicide
terrorists aim to compel military forces to withdraw from territory
they consider an occupied homeland. India's terrorism problem is
specific to Kashmir, not generic to Muslims.
External involvement in Kashmiri militancy is not absent, however.
The world must coax or coerce regimes that are tolerant of export-
only terrorist cells to confront the menace. One group's terrorist
cannot be tolerated as another's freedom fighter.
The blowback phenomenon has returned to haunt the West, which
supported jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It also consumed
Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. Pakistan remains in danger of tearing itself
apart from the inside because of armed elements espousing a variety
of foreign extremist causes. These South Asian neighbours must pool
resources to root out the tyranny of terrorism throughout the region.
Ramesh Thakur is distinguished fellow at the Centre for International
Governance Innovation and professor of political science at the
University of Waterloo.