Monday, Aug 08, 2022

Tackling Terrorism

There is a need to keep our sense of outrage alive and to work on a daily basis to communicate this outrage to the political leadership, but equally important is greater vigilance, cooperation with enforcement agencies, and a determination not to fue

It is interesting to note the giddy veering of India's political rhetoric from belligerence in the immediate wake of the Mumbai blasts, to conciliation just a couple of weeks later. Interesting, but not surprising.

This has long been the pattern of political postures under successive regimes in Delhi, and it reflects a high measure of political indifference to the course of terrorism and the continuous loss of life in terrorist and insurgent strife in the country.

It is my contention that politicians will pay attention to the rising tide of terrorist and insurgent violence and the Pakistani conspiracy to destabilise India through sub-conventional war, only after public security and terrorism becomes major electoral issues, and when parties find that they are at risk of being voted out of power, if they are perceived as having failed to take the right stand on these issues. Regrettably, politicians themselves are not going to bring these knotty problems to the centre of the democratic discourse. It is easier to manipulate caste and communal vote banks, or to purchase votes through bribery and blandishment, than to secure a mandate on complex issues such as terrorism and insurgency, and then be committed to demonstrating successes in resolving these. Thus, other than the opportunistic noises that political parties make against incumbent governments after each major terrorist incident, there appears to be a fairly wide consensus that a measure of discretion in the discourse best serves political expediency on this thorny problem.

It is, consequently, the people who will have to force national attention on terrorism by making this continued neglect politically unsustainable. But there are difficulties here as well. I have repeatedly and approvingly written about the resilience of the Indian people, the manner in which they return to normal lives within days, indeed, often within hours, of a major terrorist incident. This is, at one level, the best response to the terrorists, a clear message that their senseless violence can achieve nothing. On the flip side, however, this 'resilience' creates the very spaces for the country's political leadership to ignore the problem and return to the petty and partisan squabbles that dominate Parliament, and the numbing routines that dominate governance, from day to day.

It is necessary, here, to do two apparently contradictory things at once. To return to 'normal life' as soon as humanly possible after a terrorist strike; but also to keep our sense of outrage alive and to work on a daily basis to communicate this outrage to the political leadership, even as we translate it into small but significant acts at the personal level that will make future terrorism more difficult - greater vigilance, cooperation with enforcement agencies, a determination not to fuel the problem with our own communalism, with our own contribution to the enveloping exploitation and discrimination that characterises attitudes towards the poor, the weak and the dispossessed; and, crucially, greater understanding.

This last - understanding - is the most important. It is the incomprehension and ignorance, not only of the masses, but of the country's elite, its 'intellectuals', administrators and political leadership, that has allowed the most unforgivable rubbish to dominate the discourse on terrorism, and that has contributed directly to mechanisms and actions that help paralyse the state in its responses to terrorism.

Even today, after decades of dealing with the problem, the establishment in this country continues to discuss terrorism in politically correct slogans. We have people who have no understanding of the dynamics of terrorism engaged in a continuous and systematic denigration of police and paramilitary forces and the Army from purported 'human rights' platforms, and many of these people are part of organisations that are no more than overground fronts of the terrorists themselves. But worse, we have entirely respectable and eminent figures in the 'establishment' mouthing utter rubbish about 'root causes'.

I recall the first time I heard about 'root causes' in Punjab was not during the course or peak of terrorism, but after the scourge had been defeated. A learned professor at one of Delhi's most renowned universities (part of that renown is now tainted with notoriety because of the proximity of many of its luminaries to Left-wing Extremism in India and Nepal) where I was speaking, interjected with a question regarding the 'root causes' and the neglect of the 'people's demands', which had led to terrorism. I asked him what these demands and root causes were in Punjab, one of the India's most affluent states, and how they had been addressed - since terrorism had ended now. Having 'studied' the subject from a safe distance he obviously had no idea and sought to wriggle out of the discussion by saying I should know what these demands and causes were. But I knew of no 'root causes' in the Punjab, and no justifiable demands that could explain the slaughter of innocents.

I know only of the limitless ambition and corruption of politicians who sought to harness religion and religious identity to grab power through mass murder. And I know that the problem of terrorism in Punjab was resolved by the thousands of unsung heroes in the state who stood together to crush the terrorists.

These included not only the police, the paramilitaries and the Army, but also many local politicians who stood on a common stage, at great personal risk. In the initial phases, when they held meetings in the villages, people were afraid to come out; but slowly they responded, as sheer courage and determination won them over. These leaders included people from all the major political parties operating in Punjab, who overcame their partisan antipathies and agendas to speak with one voice on an issue of national security.

The understanding that is necessary can come from painful experience, or it can come from due diligence. Realising that there was a crisis of comprehension in the country, I started the Institute for Conflict Management nine years ago, and it has put into the open source a vast quantity of data, information and analysis that can allow any person with a reasonable intelligence and education to gain an understanding of terrorism, its threats and what needs to be done. It is crucial that those who are concerned about terrorism, arm themselves with this information and bring their own perspectives on the subject into greater conformity with the objective realities of the ground. It is only after such awareness is widely shared by and disseminated through the general public that it can begin to exert pressure on the political establishment, and the media and the public intellectuals have a natural and necessary role in this process.

K.P.S.Gill is former director-general of police, Punjab. He is also Publisher, SAIR and President, Institute for Conflict Management. This article was first published in The Pioneer.