Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Fountainhead

The Muslims do not have to, and should never be asked to, prove their loyalty and good faith any more than any other citizen of India. It is a communal trap that feeds the community's sense of siege, marginalisation and alienation. What we are experi

The Fountainhead

Despite some evidence of a minimal policy response to the crisis generated by the latest spate of terrorist attacks across India — in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi — the reality remains that the reaction is still largely confined to shrill and partisan denunciation of largely symbolic policy proposals. What has been missed is a progressive marginalisation in our calculus of what Pakistan's Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI), the prime mover in all this, is trying to do. The overwhelming discourse has now focused on the supposed 'indigenisation' of so-called jihad, and on a range of measures, including harsher laws and the creation of new agencies for their implementation, which would be directed principally against our own citizens.

An incoherence of ideas continues to advance a false construct of 'Islamic' or 'Islamist' terrorism, while the reality is that, in both Afghanistan and India, what we are experiencing is, quite simply, ISI terrorism. This reality is, in no way, diluted by the fact that some of the perpetrators of terrorism are Indian citizens, with affiliation to extremist organisations created on Indian soil.

It is crucial that this reality be factored into our policy framework. While the improvement of security and intelligence on Indian soil is necessary, it is useful to recall the Irish Republican Army's admonition: "Remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always." Unless the fountainhead of terror is capped, there will always be a module that gets lucky, especially when the targets they seek are the softest and most vulnerable.

The core question, then, is, how does India tackle the ISI and the enduring Pakistani intention of harnessing terrorism to secure its own strategic goals? It is necessary to understand the precise contours of Pakistan's intent and objectives: the ISI and its terrorist proxies in India seek to recruit increasing numbers of Indians to carry out their dictates. To this end, they have created a network for ideological mobilisation and recruitment, both in India and abroad. They have also created networks of exfiltration, training and infiltration that allow recruits to be 'processed' on Bangladeshi or Pakistani soil, and redeployed in India after their 'preparation' has been completed. The ISI provides safe havens within Pakistan and platforms outside the country to terrorist groups.

It provides finances and other aid to these groups require across India. The ISI helps coordinate relationships and operational collaboration between various terrorist groups.

It also helps create fake human right groups who abuse the legitimate processes available in the country to embarrass security forces and induce paralysis in the intelligence and enforcement apparatus.

It helps build up a political and intellectual constituency in the media, legal and non- governmental fraternities, which will run to the defence of terrorist groups. It assiduously seeks to legitimise terrorist actions internationally by projecting 'Muslim grievances' and 'Indian atrocities' through its diplomatic channels, and through intellectual and non-governmental proxies. In all this, the ISI appears to have a life of its own, independent of the political scenario in Pakistan. Whether a military dictatorship or a supposed democratic dispensation presides in Islamabad, this enterprise continues uninterrupted.

This strategy of the ISI has had, at best, very limited success. Indians have responded in a mature manner, and have not flared up in the aftermath of major terrorist strikes, except on occasion — despite often provocative reportage by the electronic media. It would, however, be a mistake to be complacent on this count. A section of the political spectrum — and the media — has tended to demonise particular communities, and communal attitudes do find acceptance among significant segments of the population. Such attitudes may, at some time, cross the threshold of tolerance — and this would be the saddest day for the country.

Worse, there are many aspects of current policy and practice that worsen the communal situation. After each major incident, there is an expectation of immediate arrests of perpetrators, and this has, on more than one occasion, goaded the police into indiscriminate arrests or detentions.

There is also a proclivity, even among the most secular, to expect Muslims as a community to 'oppose terrorism'. But this is a communal trap that feeds the community's sense of siege, marginalisation and alienation, even as its leaders start apologising or issuing public statements and fatwas. It is no more the duty of Muslims to oppose terrorism and to cooperate with counterterrorism efforts of the authorities than it is of any other community. The Muslims do not have to, and should never be asked to, prove their loyalty and good faith any more than any other citizen of India.

The ISI's strategy of subversion and terror in India has been enormously sophisticated, and our responses will have to be far more sophisticated, if they are to be effective. This is a protracted war, and no quick solutions are available. We have to develop the assets and infrastructure for a war against ISI terror over a time frame of two to three decades. Wherever ISI centres exist, these should be targeted covertly. Tactically, we must make the ISI insecure in Pakistan itself. Through direct policy, diplomacy and collaborative initiatives with other countries, unbearable costs must be imposed on Pakistan, eventually forcing it to abandon terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

KPS Gill is a former DGP, Punjab. This article first appeared in the Times of India