Terrorism as an ideology or a strategy seems to be fundamentally flawed, despite the spectacular fracas which it causes. The Baader-Meinhof gang which gained prominence in the 1960s and 70s in Germany, for example, announced its dissolution ‘after a long lull’ in April 1998. Its leaders Baader, Ensslin and Raspe had committed suicide in 1977. In fact, ‘while it initially enjoyed some sympathy from the left, the group found itself increasingly isolated as the years went by,’ noted a BBC report. There was no concrete achievement politically; similarly, for the Irish Republican Army, whose days of prominence are now a matter of the past. All that these groups ‘achieved’ was the killing of many innocent civilians and some of those they specifically targeted.
And yet, the hydra-headed monster raises its head again and again. After a few sporadic attacks in Spain and the UK, it appears to be lying dormant in Europe for the moment. The two countries most threatened by terrorism following the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York are the US and India, with a predominance of homegrown elements in the latter. Although the US relied heavily on Pakistan’s Musharraf after 9/11, giving the country massive financial, intelligence and logistic support, it did not get the expected return on investment, as it were. It had to rely on its own sources and resources to track down and eliminate the self-confessed perpetrator of 9/11, Bin Laden, in the backyard of a major Pakistani military base in Abbottabad. The tacit collusion of the officialdom was not excluded in this regard though this has never been admitted.
However, as well-known US commentator Fareed Zakaria pointed out in a recent article on the state of Al-Qaeda, Bin Laden’s outfit, ‘Al-Qaeda Central… based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is battered and broke. But the idea of Al-Qaeda remains vibrant in other places – notably where the government is extremely weak and cannot actually control territory. Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are not flourishing in hotbeds of Islamic radicalism like Saudi Arabia. They thrive instead in Yemen, Somalia, Mali, northern Nigeria… Other groups, like the ones in Africa, look like local warlords using the (Al-Qaeda) labels to burnish their brand.’
The carry-home lesson is that it’s only strong governments which can lead the battle against terrorism. Perhaps this is like stating the obvious. After all, the aim of terrorists is to disrupt the normal life of a country and thereby destabilize the state – as its energies and resources become consumed in coping with the profound and extensive damages that come as a consequence, to people, assets and infrastructure in the affected countries.
Thus it was that US government decided to tackle the problem head-on by setting up the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11. There have been many criticisms against that organization, but along with the crack team SEALS that comes directly under the US President’s purview, the DHS seems to have been fairly successful in preventing any major attack on the US mainland since 9/11, nipping in the bud terrorists who were planning attacks. There was the Pakistani-born US citizen who targeted Times Square, and the Nigerian-born student at the London School of Economics who had strapped an explosive device to his thigh in a New York bound flight. The unfortunate Boston Marathon massacre is a sad, dark spot, but the young guy behind it was promptly apprehended and is currently awaiting trial through the due process of law.
It follows therefore that to stem the tide of terrorism, firm actions from a strong and united government and people are needed. In India, however, for one the law takes too long a time – as in the case of Ajmal Kasab who participated in the 26/11 attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai; and secondly, after that attack there has been an inordinate hassling about setting up a National Counter Terrorism Centre, a single and effective point of control for all counter-terrorism measures. That attack had betrayed gaping holes in India’s intelligence network with respect to the collection and coordination of intelligence and action between various agencies of the State and Union governments. The Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned and he was replaced by the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who stated that one of his first tasks was to establish a strong federal counter-terror agency that could co-ordinate with the states effectively by integrating intelligence inputs from them. The NCTC was mooted as that essential apex body.
It is still to see the light of day. Analysts lament the absence of an Anti-Patriotic Act, which would strengthen the hands of the Central Government in dealing with terrorist matters. There have been strong criticisms too of the government’s interference in the functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Intelligence Bureau, and the Supreme Court of India came down heavily on the government on this issue recently.
Nevertheless, in the past couple of weeks the dedicated officers of the various agencies have been able to make some spectacular arrests of terrorists who were on the run and who were closely linked to the ISI of Pakistan. The role of the National Intelligence Agency in coordinating the arrest has been extremely significant. Now imagine how much better would the control of the situation have been, as in the case of prompt and strong action taken by the US to beef up its resistance machine to potential acts of terrorism, if the NCTC of India came into being and became operational, and the much-needed, updated judicial and legal structures and infrastructures were promptly put in place by the State?
The sooner the better it will be for India towards developing that much needed strong response of the state to terrorism. Otherwise the risk is that India would continue being seen as a weak and vulnerable state (vide Zakaria’s remark above), incapable of taking strong decisions and actions to preserve its territorial integrity and protect its people. Surely neither the government nor the Indian people want that.
* Published in print edition on 30 August 2013