As Home Minister Shivraj Patil began work on a 10-year plan to strengthen the Intelligence Bureau on Friday, there was something missing from the ranks: Muslims.
It is a vacuum felt day after day in the battle against terrorism – like last month in a night-time raid on a north Mumbai neighbourhood. Dozens of police officers swooped on the maze of narrow lanes, looking for a top terror suspect, as residents watched terrified from half-open windows.
Police had information that Abdul Subhan, the alleged planner of the Sept. 13 New Delhi blasts, was hiding in the Muslim majority neighbourhood of Mograpada. Shortly after, it was all over.
Police realised they had been misled – and that they did not have the kind of local intelligence required.
“We have zero penetration in the community. That is where they (terrorists) have an edge, which makes all the difference,” a senior Mumbai police officer said, declining to be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media.
From the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency, to the domestic Intelligence Bureau, down to the neighbourhood police stations, Muslims form a fraction of the forces. Even the elite Indian Police Service has only four per cent Muslims, according to the government-appointed Sachar Committee.
The disconnect has now created a huge blank wall between police and information from Muslim neighbourhoods that is crippling the nation’s fight against terrorism. Local police are even unable to read radical Urdu pamphlets from religious zealots.
“Muslims would be able to better appreciate the idioms, nuances, psyche of the community. After all, in Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmiri officers – Hindus and Muslims – have been a tremendous asset,” former R&AW chief AS Dulat told HT. “We could do with more (Muslims) in the security set-up) … We should seek them out.”
But AK Doval, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, rejected that view. “I consider clubbing national security with sectarianism as a faulted discourse which borders on anti-nationalism,” Doval told HT. ““It (being a Muslim) does not give him an edge. It is a mistaken belief, not borne out by practical experience.”
It was unclear whether Muslim participation was on the agenda of the security meeting chaired on Friday by Home Minister Patil, to assess how to better run and equip the Intelligence Bureau over the next ten years.
Intelligence officials insist that the problem isn’t that Muslims aren’t interested. “Why, if the Brits can find them in England, it should be certainly possible to find them in India, the country with the world’s second largest Muslim population,” said an officer, refusing to be named as he’s not authorized to talk to media.
Community leaders say many Muslims keep away from the forces because of deep-rooted hostility. “There is a lot of rage within the community as it feels that every time there is a blast or any terrorist activity the police targets only them,” said Maulana Mustaqim Ahsan Azmi of the Jamiatul Ulema e Hind.
In many areas like Jamia Nagar in New Delhi, Muslims reportedly refuse to report small crimes to the police for fear of being harassed or implicated in bigger things.
“Only in some cases we get information from the community,” said Maharashtra’s Additional Director General of Police Anil Dhere, who until recently was heading the State Intelligence Department.
The Indian Mujahideen referred to the Mograpada raid in Mumbai in an e-mail to the media, slamming the police for mistreating people during the raid.“Members of our own community started pointing fingers at us that we have turned insensitive,” said a Muslim Inspector rank officer. “In such circumstances, how can we gain their trust and create inroads when we are only seen with suspicion?”
But some change is showing. Maharashtra plans to have at least 10 per cent representation for Muslims in the police force against the present four per cent, officials said. And days after the botched-up raid in the Mograpada neighbourhood, a senior anti-terror officer visited them and said a word rarely heard from India’s police. “Sorry”.
(Tomorrow: Young guns)