Terror strikes India, Once More

Posted in Terrorism , India | 21-Aug-08 | Author: Aparna Pande | Source: INDOlink

An injured bomb blast victim waits for an ambulance outside a hospital in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad July 27, 2008.

Serial blasts rocked Ahmedabad on July 16 killing fifteen and injuring over 100. Preliminary reports have indicated that the 15 blasts were set off in seven different areas.

The state police intelligence department and Indian television stations claim to have received an e-mail on Saturday from a group called the Indian Mujahideen which warned “Ahmedabad and Gujarat is the next target of serial blasts. Stop the blasts, if you can.” Experts point out that an organization with the same name had claimed credit for the Jaipur blasts two months ago.

Preliminary reports by the police from the various sites indicated that the source of the blasts were gelatin rods kept in tiffin boxes and tied to bicycles left behind in heavily crowded areas.

The Indian government reacted by calling the blasts "deplorable" and reiterated the normal official reaction by maintaining these blasts were set off by people "bent upon creating a communal divide in the country." "Anti-national elements have been trying to create panic among the people of our country. Today's blasts in Ahmadabad seem to be part of the same strategy," Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters in New Delhi.

The attacks in Ahmedabad come a day after seven synchronized small bombs shook Bangalore, India's ‘Silicon Valley’, killing two people and wounding at least five others. Bangalore is home to 1,500 companies such as India's Infosys Technologies and offices of global groups such as Microsoft, IBM and Intel. On Saturday, the police also defused an eighth bomb near a popular shopping mall in Bangalore.

These blasts are seen as attempts to hit India economically and to deter foreign investment as well as incite fear. The serial blasts in July 2006 on the commuter rail network of India’s financial capital, Bombay, had a similar aim.

Ahmadabad, a crowded and historic city and the capital of Gujarat, is sensitive to religious tensions. In 2002 it was the scene of one of worst incidents of rioting between Hindus and Muslims in recent years. The violence killed about 1,000 people, mainly Muslims. The 2002 riots were triggered by a fire that killed 60 passengers on a train packed with Hindu pilgrims. Hindu extremists blamed the deaths on Muslims and rampaged through Muslim neighborhoods, although the cause of the blaze still remains unclear.

India has been the target of terrorism for decades. From the 1990s onwards, however, on average India has had over 4000 fatalities every year. The highest was over 5000 in 2001 and though the numbers have declined from 2004, this year India has already had over 1300 dead (not including the recent Bangalore and Ahmedabad blasts).

Well-planned bombings have thus struck regularly at several Indian cities, from Hyderabad to Jaipur to Bombay to Ahmedabad and Bangalore, in what officials and analysts claim have been attempts to provoke violence between Hindus and Muslims. So far, those attempts have not succeeded.

With national elections scheduled by the end of this year the opposition parties, like the B.J.P. (Bharatiya Janata Party) have seized on attacks like these to criticize the coalition government led by the Congress Party. After the Bangalore attack on Friday, the B.J.P. issued a statement accusing the government of having a “lackadaisical attitude.”

According to Indian analysts and intelligence investigators the serial bombings in Ahmedabad and Bangalore demonstrate that the Students Islamic Movement of India’s (SIMI) networks are still active. SIMI is a radical jihadi organization whose goal is the establishment of an Islamic state in India. These analysts believe that since 2006 the SIMI has apparently liased with Islamist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Lashkar e Taiba and the Taliban, to secure logistics assistance.

Most of the bombings were low intensity blasts and the reasoning behind this, according to intelligence analysts, is that it shows the involvement of locals, mostly sleeper cells; the aim being destabilization and creation of a fear psychosis rather than annihilating a city or an area. Despite the frequent incidents of terrorism in India, India has not done too badly. Even at the height of terrorism in Punjab, Punjab continued to play its role as the granary of India and Sikhs continued to remain a part of India and India also had a Sikh President. Despite the surge in jihadi terrorism it has not succeeded in disrupting India’s communal harmony. India has emerged as one of the leading IT powers in the world. Indian economy continues to grow at eight plus per cent and foreign investment flows continue to remain high.

After every terrorist attack in a tourist resort or large city, whether Bali, Mombasa, Casablanca or Sharm-el-Sheikh, there was an exodus of tourists from there along with large-scale cancellations of air and hotel bookings. Though we can take solace from the fact that this has not happened to that extent in any Indian city; yet it should not make us complacent either.

The aim of a terror attack is to scare people; the job of the government is to reassure people. Every time there is an attack the Indian populace has responded in a very mature way and defeated the purpose of terrorism by moving on with their lives. The international community has also continued to believe India will take care of the problem.

However, India needs to do more. The opposition has demanded a restoration of the controversial terrorism bill, POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) claiming that there were fewer terror attacks during the NDA government’s years than there have been during the present Congress rule.

Many intelligence analysts have demanded that just as a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was set up in 2002 similarly a new federal Intelligence Agency needs to be set up to coordinate the activities of all intelligence and police agencies across India.

What is the right solution one cannot say, but is there a need for the various agencies of the government to sit together and come up with some solutions- Yes.

Aparna Pande is a doctoral candidate and lecturer in political science at Boston University.