Sunday, Jul 03, 2022

On Barks And Bites

The keys to an effective answer to pan-Islamic terrorism lie in New Delhi and not in Washington DC, London or elsewhere. RAW, which was rendered toothless in 1997, urgently needs to have its biting teeth restored.

"Talk to us on Jammu & Kashmir on our terms; otherwise, you will continue to bleed."

That is the message from Islamabad underlying the brutal massacre  of 28 innocent slum-dwellers, all Hindus, by terrorists near Jammu on July 13, 2002.  The massacre has elicited the standard responses -- a tongue-in-cheek condemnation with a reiteration of the call for dialogue by Islamabad; a forthright condemnation by the USA, the UK and the rest of the international community with an admonition to Pakistan to put a stop to terrorism directed against India; and a plethora of Indian statements, which conceal behind a facade of bravado, our reluctance to come to terms with the ground reality in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), which dictates a policy response based on a steely determination to make the state-sponsor of terrorism pay a prohibitive price for continuing to use terrorism as a weapon against India, unruffled by the pressure from the USA.

The ground reality is that since 1993 -- and more particularly after the formation of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front For Jehad against the USA and Israel in 1998 -- the Kashmiri militancy, which started in 1989 due to indigenous causes, has ceased to be the main source of the acts of Islamic terrorism in Indian territory -- in J&K as well as outside.

 The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), who are now behind most of the bloodbaths in J&K, are not, repeat not, Kashmiri organisations.  They are Pakistani Punjabi organisations, motivated and run by Pakistani Punjabi Islamic (mainly Deobandi) clerics, who acted as the surrogates of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment in Afghanistan till recently and had kept the Taliban regime propped up and who are being used by that establishment to keep India bleeding without the Pakistani Army getting directly involved and hurt.  Even in Pakistan, they are called the Punjabi Taliban.

The HUM is a founder-member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front and its leader Fazlur Rahman Khalil was a co-signatory of bin Laden's first fatwa of 1998 against the USA.  The others joined the Front subsequently.  These are pan-Islamic organisations, whose agenda is not just confined to J&K.  They look beyond J&K to the whole of India and talk of their determination to "liberate" the Muslims in the rest of India too.

All the suggestions for standard policy palliatives, which emanate with tiresome routine, from many analysts such as free and fair elections, an economic package, better governance, greater powers to the State administration etc will not put an end to their terrorism. Pan-Islamic terrorism is not due to political, economic and social grievances.  It is due to a conviction that Islam cannot co-exist with other religions and that to kill in the interests of Islam and the Shariat is a religious obligation and not a sin, even if the killing involves the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  Such pernicious ideas were the unique products of Pakistan's Deobandi  madrasas.  One does not find them in the statements and writings of the fundamentalist clerics in the rest of the Islamic world, except those who had been infected by the Pakistani madrasas.

It is not as if Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani military dictator, and his cabal do not understand the dangers which these elements pose to their own country; yet, they continue to use them against  India.  In their calculation, their policy of using them serves two purposes.  It keeps India bleeding till battle fatigue sets in.  It keeps these fanatics dying for their cause in Indian and not Pakistani territory.

The Pakistani military-intelligence establishment has always calculated -- and rightly as seen till now -- that so long as it created the impression of co-operating with the US against terrorists posing a danger to US nationals and interests, Washington's actions against Pakistan for its India-directed terrorism  would be confined to friendly admonitions and nothing more.

Direct military strikes by India  would not end the motivation and depredations of pan-Islamic irrationals.  On the contrary, it would add to their feelings of martyrdom and aggravate their irrationality. Coercive diplomacy would not be effective either, so long as Islamabad thinks that Hindu India would continue to bark, but would never bite.

Unless we start biting, we will continue to totter from one pan-Islamic bloodbath to another.  Biting does not mean moving thousands of troops to the border and starting a war.  One can smile and smile and yet bite till it hurts.  One can bite stealthily and carry our counter-terrorism actions to the breeding ground of terrorism, without having to use our Armed Forces.  Biting does not mean indulging in our own brand of terrorism.  It means exercising our right of self-defence against a State-sponsor of terrorism and his terrorist groups in the most appropriate manner.

The keys to an effective answer to pan-Islamic terrorism lie in New Delhi and not in Washington DC, London or elsewhere.  The first step is the revamping of our national security management apparatus.  The National Security Council (NSC) and the National Security Advisory Board, which were set up with so much fanfare in 1998-99, only to gradually fade out of the national security calculus,  have to play an important role in finding answers to pan-Islamic terrorism.  The recommendations of the Task Force on the revamping of the intelligence apparatus need to be implemented on a crash basis.  The Research & Analysis Wing, which was rendered toothless in 1997, urgently needs to have its biting teeth restored.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.)