When a government fails to prevent, identify or neutralise terrorists, it indicates inefficiency and systemic inadequacy. But when terrorists refuse to own responsibility of an attack, the causes are much more complex and sinister. Terrorism is violence for a cause and terrorists always want the world to know about their existence, their cause(s) and the power they wield. So when they strike but don’t seek publicity then they are working as a proxy.
There are strong indications that the July 13 blasts in Mumbai were a joint operation of the Indian Mujahideen (IM), certain underworld groups and external forces. If this is true, then the triple blasts were an early warning of some serious internal security threats that India may face in the near future.
The reasons behind this observation are as follows: After 26/11, the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi) — IM is only a front to mislead the security agencies — has been aggressively organising themselves. Thanks to India’s soft policies, security agencies are reluctant to initiate any action against anti-national elements unless and until a criminal case is possible.
The repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, (Pota) has emboldened Simi and put the law-enforcing agencies on the backfoot. In a meeting after the September 13, 2008, attacks in Delhi, the Simi leadership decided that the organisation should take advantage of the favourable environment to recruit people for jihad. They also decided to refrain from sporadic acts of terror till they strengthened themselves enough to make big strikes. While they strengthened their relations with Pakistan through the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the underworld, their role was by and large confined to assisting the Pakistan-based terrorists. Their (Simi/IM) new strengths, good ground knowledge and local contacts are worrying. India’s inadequate laws, ill-equipped police force and the absence of political will to deal with the threat have only increased the problem.
Simi/IM is only a motley group of youth recruited and motivated by Pakistan for indigenisation of terror in India. It has negligible support among the Indian Muslims and all Muslim outfits have denounced their ideology and activities. Other than a vague slogan for jihad, it has no specific political demands or any cause. Its genesis lies in post 9/11 predicament of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), when the agency realised that in the changed global environment it needed a tactical shift in its strategy of using terrorism as an instrument of State policy.
To save themselves, they made Simi their front organisation. Using Dawood Ibrahim, CAM Bashir, a Simi leader from Mumbai, was called to Dubai in 2001 and the process of converting a radical Islamic youth organisation into a Pakistan-controlled terrorist outfit started. However, Simi’s terrorist performance fell far short of Pakistan’s expectations and many were accused of making money without doing much. But 26/11 forced Pakistan to resurrect it.
The ISI rated 26/11 as a successful covert operation but the exposure of its nationals made the overall cost unaffordable. So it re-doubled its efforts to re-organise Simi, hoping to increasingly use the group for direct actions rather than the support role they were playing. Last week’s Mumbai attacks is a manifestation of this effort: Simi is being accessed, financed and controlled through locations in West Asia and the underworld is being primed to enhance its striking capabilities. The group is also emerging as a converging point for the ISI, crime syndicates, radicalised local youth to bleed India. If Pakistan and the radical forces supported by it succeed in their nefarious designs of indigenising terror, it could lead to violent communal conflicts, a long cherished objective of Pakistan. To thwart this, our response should be imaginative and well calibrated.
The next set of problems emanate from the fact that our counter-terrorist doctrines, structures and systems have evolved around the threats from foreign terrorists. Apprehending domestic problems, the government has always denied that there could be local participation. But this reality needs to be accepted so that the intelligence agencies can include domestic players in their coverage. This acceptance will also increase the role and responsibility of the district and local-level intelligence units of the states that are in a state of neglect. The National Intelligence Grid is also a welcome step and needs to be pursued on a war footing.
In the emerging scenario, the government must increase their contacts with the religious, social and civil society Muslim leaders and deny any space to foreign-inspired subversive elements. It is important that while taking firm actions against anti-national elements, the innocents are protected and collateral damages are avoided. Last but not the least, political parties should stop politicising terror since it can be catastrophic if we have to face its indigenous variant.
The Mumbai blasts are an early warning for a more serious long-term internal security threat. We have many things in our favour and the nation is capable of meeting the threats. But to do this, the political parties must start looking at the problem from a national — and not an electoral — perspective.
( Ajit Doval is former chief of the Intelligence Bureau and currently director, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi )
The views expressed by the author are personal