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A Subtler Intelligence
It takes more than lock-up interviews to tackle Islamist terror

Asif Ibrahim, the Intelligence Bureau chief, says the terrorist challenge from the Indian Mujahideen (IM) remains “undiminished”. And the prime minister warns of terrorist threats to disrupt elections. How do we meet the challenge of alienated Muslim youths getting radicalised on our own soil? Here’s what the IB chief offered as a solution: “We will rigorously pursue the leads emerging from investigations to neutralise the IM network.” I seriously wonder if that isn’t self-contradict­ory. If determined pursuit alone were to work, why would the IM challenge remain “undiminished”?

The IM cannot be stopped with surface-level policing. Its recruits grow on the soil of Muslim disaffection. And the violence of policing—especially if mistargeted—itself contributes to it. Don’t blame Pakistan alone for it. India shares the blame. It is just that Pakistan is naturally eager to tap aggrieved Muslim youth. Rahul Gandhi expressed concern over Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) allegedly talking to Muslim youth in Muzaffarnagar after the recent riots there. Why would these youths be talking to the ISI if our institutions had provi­ded full safety to Muslims of the region and immediately addressed the friction that led to the rioting? We should never give room for the erosion of the minorities’ sense of belonging.

The Muslim community is deeply alienated. It does not know where to look for support. Every ‘secular’ political party has cheated Muslims, the Congress above all. Secularism is like a hill stream that cascades on the slopes of political rhetoric but dries out on the sands of governance. Then there is the alarming spread of aggressive Hindutva forces. On one side, attackers; on the other side, no protectors. Muslims feel cornered. The isolation is made worse with stigmatisation. There is a school of thought that is predisposed to seeing them and projecting them as a community of blood-thirsty savages. Some are taken in by that sort of propaganda.

Muslims hate the IM for bringing the community a bad name. But a major grievance of Muslims is that, instead of working to diminish their sense of stigma, the police is working to worsen it. Had the police prosecuted real terrorists instead of picking up innocents and putting them through torture in lock-ups, long-drawn legal processes and time in jail, the community would have felt happy. Instead, the community feels hurt. A boy who is picked up can’t get a job, can’t get a wife. The whole family gets ostracised.

Our cops shoot with one eye shut, and our fight against terrorists has been exactly like that­—often random groping in the dark with sharp tools, done with no thought to who it wounds. Anti-terror operations are therefore seen by the community as anti-Muslim, even Islamophobic. There is no communication between the police and the community. Both feed upon stereotypes of each other. This has eliminated scope or any eagerness on the part of the community to support the police in its anti-terror efforts.

The wall of distrust between the police and the Muslim community must be broken down. Home-grown radicalisation cannot be reversed without partnering with the community. The fight must be broadened, from being intelligence-based to being commun­ity-based. One way to regain the trust of the community is to focus on quick grievance redressal and conflict resolution. In Muzaffarnagar, the conflict over a girl’s alleged harassment flared up into a communal riot. Had the police built up strong links in the community, the whole thing could have been resolved—or at least contained without a violent flare-up. Prevention not done, the IB chief has to go in pursuit of a cure. He still is moving in the wrong direction: that of treating the symptom. Admittedly, there are complexities in building trust: Muslims will not cooperate if the police intend only to increase the number of informants. They would be willing to be allies, not spies. The police can start building such an alliance by addressing their local grievances and concerns effectively.

There are hopes for building such an alliance. The Deoba­ndi clergy, highly influential with one band of the faithful, has issued a national fatwa against terrorism, declaring it un-Islamic. Other Muslim sects and schools too have denounced terrorism. Top Sufi cleric Syed Kichhauchhawi has been asking Muslims to hand terrorists over to the police. Several clerics have braved threats from the IM. The police must establish a partnership with Muslim clerics and social organisations for conflict resolution at the grassroots. The bonding—when the community sees the police is quick, even-handed and respects human rights­—will not only make the ground infertile for radicalisation but also build community vigilance for any indicators of terror activities. And most of all, as the first Muslim IB chief will agree, a little more active recruitment into the forces won’t harm anyone.

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