India: The threat of terror

Posted in India | 19-Jun-06 | Author: Siddharth Srivastava

"In the past few months India has been at the receiving end of the worst attacks"
"In the past few months India has been at the receiving end of the worst attacks"
NEW DELHI: In the past few months India has been at the receiving end of the worst terrorist attacks. These include bomb blasts at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi in March (that killed 30) and at the famous Jama Masjid (mosque) in New Delhi aimed to ignite social tensions by polarizing society along communal lines. These followed the December storming of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, serial bomb blasts (killed 71) last October in New Delhi timed to Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights), attempt to storm the Ram temple at Ayodhya in July and innumerable strikes in Indian Kashmir.

Had the terrorists managed to damage the shrine at the Ram Janambhoomi (birthplace of lord Ram, one of the most revered Gods) in Ayodhya, there was the possibility of communal riots being unleashed across the country. The makeshift temple of Ram stands at the spot where the Babri mosque once stood. Hindu fanatics destroyed the mosque in December 1992.

Last month, in one of the worst attacks by Islamist militants in Indian Kashmir, 35 Hindus were selectively killed, due to their supposed hand in helping security forces. Terrorists have been picking on soft targets such as school children and tourists as well.

The situation could have been worse. Police across India claim to have busted several attempts by terrorist outfits, most notably the dreaded Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), to orchestrate attacks. The police in Mumbai, claim to have pre-empted an attempt to strike the ancient Ellora caves which is a heritage site comprising Hindu, Jain, Buddhist temples and monasteries. Police claim to have seized several AK-47 assault rifles and 30 kg of RDX and 2,000 rounds of live cartridges from the three LeT suspects who have been arrested.

The police in Mumbai followed a tip-off by two LeT members, reportedly from Pakistan and Bangladesh arrested in New Delhi, that also resulted in security forces killing Abu Hamza, the leader of an LeT breakaway group, on May 8, in a shoot-out in south Delhi. According to reports the two arrested terrorists were planning strikes at the communally sensitive state Gujarat, where Hindu-Muslim riots recently erupted in the city of Vadodara, over the razing of a religious structure (dargah) by municipal authorities. The police in Indian Kashmir also claim to have gunned down one of the main conspirators behind the March 7 Varanasi blasts in an encounter.

The Source

Frontline, a reputed Indian magazine, recently explored the causes and contexts of Islamic terrorism in India. It examined the threat of the LeT from the west and the emerging menace of the Bangladesh-based Harkat ul-Jihad Islami. ``In its own publications, the Lashkar is remarkably clear: the destruction of a state it sees as a predatory Hindu-fundamentalist entity, and the creation of a caliphate that would stretch from China to Spain. To see low-level acts of terrorism in Bangalore, Hyderabad or New Delhi as trivial acts of violence is to miss their point: any of these pinpricks could, in the Lashkar's imagination, prove to be the decisive moment when the jehad is transformed into a general communal war that will tear India apart. No great imagination is needed to see that this is no fantasy: the wages of the Indian state's decades-old failures to contain Hindutva fascism are depressingly evident, and will be with us for decades to come.’’

Siddharth Srivastava is WSN Editor India: "The battle against terrorism will take plenty of time to be won"
Siddharth Srivastava is WSN Editor India: "The battle against terrorism will take plenty of time to be won"
Indeed, the specter of the LeT cannot be ignored. The LeT, known to be violently anti-Shia, has a history of orchestrating attacks in India. Some of the bold attacks include an attempt to storm the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001 that triggered a military standoff with Pakistan and brought the neighbors close to a fourth war; India also holds the LeT responsible for killing of 37 and injuring more than 80 Hindu devotees assembled for prayer at the Akshardham temple in September 2002 in the state of Gujarat.

Like the al-Qaeda the LeT cadres are generally not mercenaries out to make a fast buck riding the cash-laden terror industry, but indoctrinated youths driven by the desire to kill in the name of a distorted Jehad. The LeT derives most of its cadres from Indian Kashmir as well as Pakistan and the mercenaries are usually renegade mujahideen from Afghanistan.

The question, of course, is dealing with the threat of terrorists who are able to infiltrate our lives and cause havoc at whim. At one level it is easy to blame the security and law enforcing agencies. It is very well documented that once there exist people willing and convinced enough to blow themselves up in order to kill others, including young children, there is only that much that the security people can do. They cannot monitor every possible nook and corner of a crowded market place. There are some indications to show that the Sarojini Nagar (in New Delhi) bomber blew himself up.

Indeed, the scourge of terrorism has moved beyond an India-Pakistan or a Kashmir issue that can be tackled at a country-to-country level. Terrorists now feed on an angst that envelops and binds them, wherever they might be placed. Their aim is to disrupt peace and the tenets that belong to a civil society. It is the warped logic of revenge over a Muslim child being killed in Iraq by killing a Hindu child in India. The question to ask is: why is a Muslim child being killed in Iraq. Only a worldwide crackdown and thrashing out of issues that face the global community can ring solutions.

India restrained

There was a time not too long back when a terrorist strike of the dimension that have been happening would have impinged on India’s relations with Pakistan. However, the events of the last couple of years have proved that there are vast swathes in both the countries that want peace and look at terrorists with similar misgivings. The vested interests in the Pakistani army and extremist elements thrive on a proxy war aimed at bleeding India, but there is an equal constituency that wants the two countries to forget the past animosity. One of the favorite stories that scores of Indian who travel to Pakistan return to tell is about shopkeepers who do not charge once they are told of the origins of the buyer.

New Delhi knows that an enduring solution in Indian Kashmir is only possible by engaging Pakistan. While India blames Pakistan as the root of such strikes, New Delhi has been trying to stick by the principle it has set itself of divesting terrorism from peace talks, as the only long-term solution.

"Trade between India and Pakistan has almost doubled"
"Trade between India and Pakistan has almost doubled"
The situation is quite delicate, even as the Opposition parties have begun to accuse New Delhi of turning India into a soft state. The challenge before the Manmohan government is to ensure that the latest violence do not result in a security overdrive that resulted in the alienation of the people of Kashmir in the past. There are over 500,000 Indian troops out of an Army of 1.13 million that are deployed in Jammu & Kashmir at the moment.

There are several indications to show that people in the terror-ravaged state want peace and look forward to earning their livelihoods, especially tourism badly hit by terrorist violence. Last year Kashmiris braved the fear of terror, bullets and biting cold for an opportunity to have a say in municipal (local body) elections that were held after a gap of 25 years between January 29 and February 10. Assembly elections held in 2002 are widely seen as free and fair. New Delhi is also implementing a $ 5 billion development package for Indian Kashmir that was announced in November 2004 by Manmohan.

Indo Pak Peace Process

New Delhi has all along held that one litmus test that neighbor Pakistan has to pass in order that the peace process takes on a higher momentum, is to control militant infiltration that peaks during summer months, when the snow melts. With LeT operatives being nabbed across the country, it does not augur too well.

Recently, defense minister Pranab Mukherjee claimed that 59-terror training camps are still active in Pakistan. ``Pakistan should demolish terror infrastructure and send a strong message to militants that they no longer enjoy the Pakistani establishment's support.’’ ``Al-Qaida is a threat to India," Mukherjee said. ``It does not matter whether they (militants) are in the neighborhood or in the region.’’

The killings and arrests throws one of the biggest challenges to the ongoing Indo-Pak peace process and have occurred even as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh contemplates turning the Siachen glacier, the highest point of military cross-fire between India and Pakistan, into a ``peace mountain,’’ by withdrawing troops. Manmohan is also planning a visit to Pakistan this summer and has been holding talks with separatist Kashmiri leaders, though not very successfully. The visit, according to officials, will depend on the New Delhi’s assessment on infiltration levels, which do not sound good.

In the recent past, there have been clear signs that New Delhi is keen to move beyond the current parameters of establishing road, rail links, easier visa norms, establishing diplomatic missions, playing cricket and exchange of prisoners to deeper issues that have continued to hinder relations, apart from Kashmir.

"New Delhi knows that an enduring solution in Indian Kashmir is only possible by engaging Pakistan"
"New Delhi knows that an enduring solution in Indian Kashmir is only possible by engaging Pakistan"
These include demilitarizing the Siachen glacier and arriving at agreements over Sir Creek (disputed territory bordering Sindh and Gujarat) and Baglihar dam across the river Chenab river in Jammu and Kashmir, on which there are differences in the design. Reports suggest that India and Pakistan could reach an agreement on Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield. Islamabad has for long insisted that India withdraw the more than 4,000 troops stationed in one of the most inhospitable conditions, with many more soldiers dying due to the weather than bullets. New Delhi, it seems is readying itself to make concessions on Baglihar and Sir Creek.

Recently, for the first time in over four decades a Hindi movie has had a commercial release in Pakistan. Mughal-e-Azam (an all-time great Bollywood film) has premiered at Lahore and followed by a more recent love story weaved around the Taj Mahal

Indeed, there is a growing constituency for peace in both the countries. Trade between India and Pakistan has almost doubled to cross the $ 1 billion-dollar mark this year. A study by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), has said that if peace talks between the two countries holds, two-way trade could reach $10 billion within five years meaning India.

The thinking is to encourage people-to-people interactions that cover territories and issues beyond Kashmir, touted by Pakistan as the core issue between the two nations that needs to be resolved. While Musharraf has talked about self-governance and demilitarizing Kashmir, the efforts of the Indian establishment is to move ahead on other spheres which are not as tricky and intractable. New Delhi has already rejected proposals on joint management (with Pakistan) and demilitarization of Indian Kashmir.

There is no doubt that India’s patience is being tested. India has to stick to its resolve. The battle against terrorism will take plenty of time to be won.