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Combating Terrorism I

Arun Shourie


 

 

    What if Osama were caught in India? A debate would explode: should he be tried under evidence act? POTO?


    From our experience over the last 20 years the following emerge as self-evident axioms.

    • The technology of inflicting large-scale violence is becoming easier to obtain, and -- per quotient of lethality -- less and less expensive. This in turn yields three lemmas:
    • The target country has to be equipped to counter the entire spectrum of violence: to take the current examples from the United States -- from aircraft being used as missiles to anthrax;
    • It is almost impossible in an open society to block a determined lot from acquiring the technology they want by blocking the technology itself -- the only practical way is to be a leap ahead of the technology the terrorist acquires;

    All this is certain to cost the target country a great deal -- but that is the price one has to pay to survive in the world of today; to cavil at it is no better than an elderly couple that grudges the locks they have to put on doors in a city marred by crimes against the elderly.

    As the technology of violence has become more and more lethal and as it has been miniaturised, the final act can be done by just a handful, indeed just by an individual acting alone. That individual can bide his time. He can choose his place. He has to succeed just once. For that reason, it is not possible to completely insulate a country from the depredations of the terrorist. Superior intelligence is obviously the key to making things more difficult for the terrorist. But just as important is what the targeted society does in the wake of the attack: overwhelming, and visibly overwhelming reprisal alone will deter others from emulating the terrorist who gets through. Potential recruits, as well as the controllers of organisations and countries that backed him, must be personally touched by the retaliatory measures.

    While the final act can be executed by even a single individual, terrorism as a means cannot do without an extensive network: from nurseries that indoctrinate youngsters and forge them into lobotomised killing machines, safe-houses, couriers, informers, suppliers of weapons and explosives, to those who will carry on businesses to earn the money needed for ammunition and arms, and the rest.

    By now there are very many groups that have taken to terrorism. They are increasingly intertwined: in India, as well as the world over -- look at the range of locations from which persons were picked up in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The knitting together comes about in many ways. Groups in India are encouraged by agencies hostile to India to coordinate their activities: for instance, the ISI has been putting Naxalite groups, the various groups operating in the Northeast in touch with each other.

    Often the groups are brought together by ‘‘natural’’ factors: for instance, both groups may be running drugs -- they may become couriers, suppliers, customers of each other; they may be securing arms for an arms supplier -- and through him they may get to know each other; they may be using the same agents or routes for money laundering....

    Among the technologies the terrorists have mastered is that of using the instruments of mass media. They use these to arouse sympathy for their cause -- look at the shrewd way in which Hamas in Palestine, the Taliban in Afghanistan generate revulsion at what their opponents do by giving selective access to Western media to photograph civilian casualties. They are as adept at using the mass media as Greens and other activists for creating the echo-effect that so often leads policy makers to desist from taking stern measures.

    ‘‘They are wrong-headed,’’ many in Punjab used to say of Bhindranwale and his men, ‘‘but you can’t deny their idealism, their readiness to die for what they think is right.’’ The reality is altogether different. Terrorism has become lucrative business: in the Northeast, for instance, joining one of the terrorist organisations is a sure way to rake in a minor fortune -- the proceeds from the ‘‘taxes’’ the organisations collect, the ransom they extract from kidnapping. The terrorists strive hard to cover their loot under the cloak of ideological, even idealist rhetoric: recall the religious rant of the terrorists in Punjab, and the reality behind it -- what they were doing to young girls across the state, the properties that their leaders had amassed. Just as the terrorists strain to hide their loot, the State and society must bare the truth about them.

    To de-fang the terrorist the country has to move on many fronts: their sources of money, those who give them facilities to stay and stage their operations, their sources of weapons and explosives, the network of their couriers. And the moves against these multiple targets have to be carried through simultaneously. For these measures to succeed, all institutions of the State have to act in the same direction, indeed they have to work in concert. For the police to capture terrorists and for the courts to function the way our courts do, for them to go on using norms devised for quieter times, for the Army to track down caches of explosives while the Customs men let in RDX -- is to hand victory to the terrorists.

    The lemma is inescapable: we cannot have a flabby State, a somnolent society and a super-efficient anti-terrorist operation. That no one gets convicted for the Bombay blasts for eight years is certain to encourage scores to sign up. Customs officers who take bribes for letting in gold one day are certain to overlook arms consignments tomorrow. Police personnel who let Bangladeshis smuggle themselves across the border in return for bribes will constitute no obstacle to agents of the ISI making their way into the country.

    Imagine what would happen if Osama bin Laden slips out of Afghanistan. If he made his way into Iran or China, the international alliance would be confident that he can be executed without any one knowing. If he went to one of the Central Asian countries, the allies would be confident that, if they wanted him for trial, he would be handed over. If he escaped into Pakistan, the allies would be confident that Pakistan could deliver either solution -- hand him over or have his vehicle fall off a cliff in an accident.

    But what if he escaped into India? Acrimonious debates would explode. Should he be tried under the Indian Evidence Act or under the provisions of POTO? By ordinary courts or a Special Court? Is the Government not acting under American dictates as to what we should do? His rights as an undertrial... Another hijacking... fulsome focus on the wailing of relatives of the passengers... Released in exchange for letting the passengers go...

    Not just the formal institutions of the State, society must act to that end -- that is, the overwhelming number of individuals must be acting in concert independently of or in support of what the State is doing. The State apparatus on its own can no longer stem the Bangladeshis’ demographic invasion. It can only be staunched by creating that atmosphere in the Northeast which will convince the potential infiltrator that he better stay away from this region, as it is hostile territory, a territory in which he is certain to lose life and limb.

    Not just society in general, the ordinary, individual citizen too must be acting in concert with the authorities. The passenger who kicks up a fuss when he is frisked at an airport, the house-owner who insists that being advised to inform the neighbourhood police station about the new tenant is an intrusion into his private affairs -- such individuals unwittingly help terrorism: on the one hand, the terrorist has an easier time establishing the safe-house from which he will carry out his next explosion; on the other, the average policeman is discouraged from doing his assigned duty.

    For any of this to happen, the balance of discourse has to be reversed, literally reversed in India. Under POTO, the terrorists’ lawyer is to have the right to meet him during interrogations. Under it a policeman doing his duty can be tried on the charge that he misused his authority and he can be imprisoned for up to two years -- even if he is not convicted in the end, rushing from court to court, as the Punjab policemen are doing today, will be enough. Such are the provisions, and yet the Ordinance is being pilloried out of shape. Esoteric distinctions are being made: the Ordinance provides that the terrorist’s property can be seized. ‘‘But that should be property acquired by him from the proceeds of terrorism. It would be unfair to seize property that he or his relatives may have acquired by legitimate means.’’ How will we fight terrorism with this mindset?

    Temporary expedients will boomerang: giving handsome amounts to the SULFA cadre, giving them jobs, allowing them to retain weapons -- these steps have resulted in Assam now having not one set of extortionists -- ULFA -- but two. For the same reason, were the USA, for instance, to do what news reports suggest it is considering doing -- delivering a package of 7 billion dollars to a society and State as heavily Talibanised as Pakistan -- it would only be compounding the problem -- for neighbours of Pakistan in the immediate future, and for itself eventually. Events have repeatedly thrown up this lesson, and yet few heed it. One reason surely is that those who have a resource -- say, money -- or are particularly good at one thing -- say, technology -- instinctively think that that particular resource is what will do the trick.

    The terrorist must be defeated at every turn, in every engagement. While contending with the IRA youth, Mrs. Thatcher rightly said, ‘‘Publicity is the oxygen on which the terrorist lives.’’ Success is the food on which he multiplies: the strikes against the World Trade Center Towers will live in terrorist mythology for decades, they will lure recruits to lethal organizations for long. If the terrorist is able to execute an operation successfully, he, his organisation, their sponsors must be subjected to punitive retaliation of such an order that all of them down the line feel the costs of having inflicted the violence they did. In this matter, we must remember:

    There is no kind way to prosecute a war; war is death and destruction, it is blood and gore. Those who recoil from what war entails should mobilise the people at the first sign of extremist ideology so that the terrorists are forestalled, and the State does not ultimately have to move against them -- in fact, the kind who shout the loudest once war begins are the very kind who in the preceding years have lent a verisimilitude of legitimacy to the fabrications of such groups.

    No war has been won by deploying ‘‘minimum force’’ -- the quantum that liberals concede when the terrorist leaves them no option but to allow that something just has to be done. Wars are won by over-powering the opponent with over-whelming force. And so it must be in the case of terrorism, and of the States that sponsor it: not ‘‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’’; for an eye, both eyes, for a tooth, the whole jaw.

    The next lesson too is so obvious that its disregard can only be taken to be deliberate: it is a fatal error to judge what needs to be done in an area or in times infested by terrorists, by standards honed from normal places and quieter times. No judge, no human rights organization that today gives lectures about the conduct of the Police in Punjab has set out how the Police was to prosecute the war when the entire judicial system had literally evaporated: magistrates were in mortal dread of terrorists, witnesses -- even those who had seen those dearest to them being gunned down in front of their eyes -- would not, they could not come forth to testify without risking their lives. Far from falling prey to such specious assumptions, such habitual hectoring, we should beware of the oft-proclaimed device of extremist groups and movements: to use the instruments of democracy to destroy democracy. We should bear in mind Hitler’s ‘‘legality oath’’ -- he had sworn that the Nazis would use only legal means to attain power; he stuck to the oath. We should declare openly: yes, we will heed the rights of terrorists -- but only to the extent to which they heed the rights of their victims.

    Their access to arms, to money etc. is important, but even more consequential is the ideology of the terrorists: this is what fires them, by internalizing which they become killing machines; this is what beguiles ordinary by-standers into supporting them. More than anything else, this ideology must be exhumed. To accomplish this, there are four things to shun, and six to do.

    Shun pseudo explanations. ‘‘Unemployment, specially among the educated youth’’ -- each time terrorism erupts, it is attributed to some figment such as this. Unemployment was no higher in Punjab than elsewhere in the early 1980s. Terrorism erupted there and not in, say, Bihar, because Pakistan saw and seized the opportunity that the lunacy of our local politicians had presented: to gain a leg over the Akalis, the Congress leaders had patronized Bhindranwale; he went out of hand; Pakistan took over the bunch around him.

    Similarly, unemployment is no less in Punjab today than it was then, but there is no terrorism -- because Pakistan’s design was crushed. What spurred terrorism in Punjab, what spurs it today in Kashmir, in the Northeast is not unemployment -- but opportunity: we have created an open, unobstructed field for the enemy. A country seeing that the one it views as its enemy has blinkered its eyes, that it has tied its hands, shackled its legs, sealed its lips -- as we have -- shall not let the opportunity pass: victory is at hand, it will convince itself.

    For the same reason, shun pseudo-remedies. ‘‘But we must get to the roots of their anger,’’ many an analyst writes today. And deduces that India, Israel or Russia just must make some concession or the other on Kashmir, Palestine or Chechnya. But the ‘‘anger’’ has not been triggered by issues of this kind. It is the result of indoctrination, its roots lie not in Chechnya and Kashmir but in what is drilled into their wards by madrasas.

    Similarly, on the assumption that it is inadequate development which is fueling terrorism in an area -- say, Kashmir or the Northeast -- governments are apt to conclude that the remedy is to pump more money into the region, or give further incentives for industrialists to set up shop there. The money just goes to the terrorists. The people, and even more so the rulers of the area, sense that terrorism brings lucre: they develop an immediate, mercenary reason for keeping the area in ferment. Crushing defeat, not more money, is the remedy.

    Beware of rationalizers. They come in two sets: the liberals, and the professional propagandists. The latters’ efforts are well known, though liberal societies invariably underestimate the sophistication of their techniques, as well as their gall: in reading their tracts, for instance, the average person is liable to think that he has insulated himself by discounting their claims a bit; confident that he has taken the requisite prophylactic, he becomes all the more susceptible to the 100 per cent fabrication.

    The liberal apologists are much more destructive: they are more numerous; as they are ‘‘people like us,’’ their formulations and rationalizations are more readily believed. ‘‘No religion teaches the killing of innocents,’’ says the liberal apologist today — a cliche that turns on what is meant by the word ‘‘innocent’’, a meaning the liberal never spells out with reference to the text. For instance, is the person to whom the doctrine of that religion or of that group has been offered, and who does not embrace it, ‘‘innocent’’? Innocent not in the eyes of the liberal apologist, but in the eyes of that religion or text. ‘‘God says in the holy book,’’ the liberal bleats, ‘‘‘To you your religion, to me mine’’; God declares, ‘There is no compulsion in religion’.’’ But that is but a microscopic fraction of what the text says. Nor does the liberal ever recall the very specific context in which such stray phrases occur in the text. Recall the efforts of the apologists for Communism to whitewash the reality with essays about the ‘Early Marx’, about the ‘Paris Manuscripts’.

    Shun political correctness. Few things have prevented the West from waking up in time to the dangers that Islamic terrorism today constitutes for it as notions of what is politically correct. These notions have stifled scholarship, they have stifled discourse. They have led the West to shut its eyes to the ideology by which the terrorists were being fired up. The verbal terrorism by which notions of what is correct and what is not the dominant intellectual group in India -- the leftists -- has enforced the norms has disabled the ruling groups, and, through them, the country, to the point of paralysis. Standing up to that verbal terrorism, liberating discourse from those notions is the first requisite of fighting the war against terrorism in India.

    Part II - ‘A State that’s patronising terrorists should wake up to the consequences; in any case its immediate neighbours must’


    Indian Express
    December 12, 2001




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