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Column: Terror in Civilized Face

…it’s time to really think of unthinkable to tackle terror. Besides being careful in granting visas to all foreigners, India needs to be alert about those staying here for longer time, or, those going to Pakistan or other terror haven after visiting India. At foreign policy level, too, India has to seek extradition treaty with all such countries opposed to terrorism…

Saurabh Dharmeshwari

The latest case of terror involving two gentlemen – David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana – has trotted out a new trend of global Jihad, that is, substituting a Muslim name by Christian one, getting citizenship of the US or any European country and leading a gentlemanly, luxurious life for cover of clandestine terror activities. It contrasts sharply with our view of terrorists. We conventionally think of terrorism in terms of bomb explosions and attacks by armed militants, our focus exclusively on enhancing and upgrading security as a solution. The astonishing findings in Headley-Rana case, emerging day by day, call for an equally serious thought to the other side of terror strikes, too. The planning and preparation by terrorists prior to a strike.

India has been wary of not accepting local links to terror at policy level. I personally advocated this line because of: one, not hurting minorities; two, not strengthening Islamabad’s counter-argument that militancy in India is not Pakistan-sponsored.

This is where domestic, American, and Pakistani angle to the case comes in for an earnest rumination.

The domestic angle. For long, even before Headley first came to India in 2005, our security experts have been warning that terrorists have set their sight on India’s economic upsurge as their main target, solely to drive foreign investors away, and for the purpose, can anytime hit atomic stations, power plants, dams, airports, and coastal cities like Mumbai. Their intents, as we’ve been enlightened time and again, are showcasing terrorism in the country as homegrown to shatter India’s image globally and to heighten tension internally. India has been wary of not accepting local link to terror at policy level, though there exist its adequate leads and evidence behind some of the attacks. I personally advocated this line because of two very significant reasons: one, for not hurting minorities (for every Muslim is not a terrorist, as theory goes); two, for not strengthening Islamabad’s counter-argument that militancy in India is homegrown, not Pakistan-sponsored.

Investigators have not ruled out local hands in 26/11. Headley, now coming into sight as a key plotter of Mumbai attacks, visited and stayed in India as an American national, opened a branch of Rana’s immigration service in Mumbai as a cover, led luxurious life and moved in a high society. He undertook surveillance, videotaping and photographing locations of future terror attacks and their routes. It’s unbelievable. I remember wading through a special report on Maoism, a month or two before 26/11, in a national magazine titled as ‘Laal Salaam in Corporate Sector’, which rivetingly began with a piece of imagination showing educated, well-bred but dissatisfied BPO employees as part of Maoist movement. More or less, Headley turns out to be such a real life character. As for Jihad.

Though it’s still unknown whether his stay in India – with totally unsuspected lifestyle – was backed by some local elements, or, he carried out his activities on his own, India needs to allot more space to domestic angle in its planning and preparation to fight against terror, in down-to-earth way, of course. ‘Laal Salaam in Corporate Sector’ the special story also reported that for forwarding their movement from villages and jungles to the cities, the Maoists (in Karnataka) wanted to translate dissatisfaction of educated urban class into a mass movement against state and thus to infiltrate into mass media, legal organizations, civic and students’ body, even police and military, and modern firms like IT and BPO.

No doubt, it was absolutely Utopian of them if they thought they could do so. And such chances in the case of Jihadists and terrorists are still less. Nonetheless, it doesn’t alter the fact that terrorists are eying on an undercurrent of discontentment in Indian Muslims, a discontentment that is perceived essentially a consequence of their backwardness and rising Hindu nationalism.

Of late, a few American Muslims were arrested for alleged extremists activities. The US quickly recognised terrorism as home grown as well, no matter people might have constitutional rights, education and affluence. Uncle Sam is gravely bothered about that. Nihad Awad, director, Council on American-Islamic relations, has admitted that at least a small number of American Muslims romanticized extremist views, which are grounded on misconceived notion of defence of Muslims in conflict with the West. The Council is considering a plan to initiate a nationwide campaign to counter such attitudes.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attributed training and monitoring of homegrown terrorists in the US to Pakistan, and American Muslims are committing themselves not to back and to fight extremist attitudes. I think India has good reasons to quash all its reservations about identifying terror as backed by a handful of misguided locals. Government has to realize that like the West, there’s an undercurrent of Indian Muslims being silently in conflict with Hindu nationalism. Well, most of them see any occasional local link to terror attacks as a security failure and at the same time are averse to a tough law for security checks (let alone draconian TADA, POTA etc).

Government needs either to engage both Muslim and Hindu leaders in fighting terror and checking extreme Hindu nationalism. Or, two different laws have to be made for the purpose.

For tackling terror domestically, government has limited options. It needs either to engage both Muslim and Hindu leaders in the process, Muslim leaders contributing to counter even the slightest militant views in the community just like American Muslims and coming forward to expose anybody sheltering a terrorist, and Hindu leaders ensuring that Hindu nationalism doesn’t become threatening. Or, laws have to be made and followed strictly. Two laws. To tackle both terror and extreme Hindu nationalism. Liberhan Commission, of late, has already called for a law to separate politics and religion. It may be refined to hold Hindu nationalism from getting threatening. That’s the one. Secondly, reformed versions of laws like TADA or POTA have to be brought in.

Talking of upgradation of security to avoid terror strikes which is our exclusive way of dealing with terror, we’ve badly failed on this count. No solution has been thought of properly guarding the porous border, with maritime security being yet not adequate even after 26/11. Yes, some steps have been taken, NSG deployed in every major city, private companies allowed to hire paramilitary forces for security etc.

I believe it’s time to really think of unthinkable to tackle terror after Headley-Rana case. The two visited India as the US and Canadian citizen. India needs to be very careful in granting visa to any foreigner from now on. Check their background and Indian connection carefully and their purpose of visit, particularly so if they are staying for a longer period. Headley went to Pakistan every time he visited India. So be wary of those foreigners who, immediately after visiting India, go to Pakistan or any other suspected haven of terror (Afghanistan, Dubai).

For Headley case has American and Pakistani link, India has to make some efforts at the level of foreign policy, too. FBI didn’t fully cooperate when Indian investigators went to Chicago to quiz Headley, leading us to suspect whether he was an American terror puppet turned disobedient and consequently facing fire. India ought to achieve an agreement with all such countries which oppose terrorism that they have to cooperate with investigators of other countries if a suspected terrorist is arrested. India should work for extradition treaty with all terror-opposed countries so that terrorists have fear of getting tried and punished for their crimes.

Currently, India has extradition treaty neither with the US nor Pakistan.

(The views expressed by the author are personal.)

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