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Protection begins at home

Since today’s terrorists are more organised than their counterparts a decade ago, new conceptions of safety and security should be followed, writes Sudhir Hindwan.

india Updated: May 15, 2008 21:58 IST

Tuesday’s serial blasts in Jaipur and the earlier terrorist strikes in Lucknow, Varansai, Faizabad, Ludhiana, Ajmer and Hyderabad have all sent out a message that the targets of terrorists have widened over the years. During the last few years, the series of violent incidents in Kathua and Pulwama districts in Jammu and Kashmir and the attack on the Swaminarayan temple in Gandhinagar have not only demonstrated the deadly striking capabilities of today’s subcontinental terrorists, but they have also confirmed that jehadis have declared war against the Indian State.

Such attacks — worldwide — have not only exposed the chinks in the armour of security and intelligence networks but they have also robbed the confidence of nations in controlling the menace of terrorism. Whether terrorism is unleashed at the local, regional, national or even the international level, it cannot survive without cross-national support and collaboration. The procurement of large quantities of sophisticated weapons by the jehadi forces in Kashmir shows the level of ‘outside support’ to the terrorist cause in the state.

British analyst on organised crime and political violence Alison Jamieson believes that the distinction between terrorism and organised crime has become blurred. Recently, Italian organised crime expert Ernesto Savona stated that the goals of the two were different but the modus ‘instrument’ is the same. “The terrorist’s goal is an ideological one and organised crime’s goal is financial. But the instrument is same. They both need money and arms,” he said.

In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers engage in drug trafficking to finance their struggle. In Chechnya, the secessionists were heavily involved in drug distribution, while in North-eastern India, guerrillas kidnap tea planters and ask for ransom to help fund their fight for ‘independence’.

Since today’s terrorists are well-organised and sometimes more professional than their counterparts a decade ago, new conceptions of safety and security should be followed. A vigilant and assertive police and paramilitary network should replace the old one. Many of the important suggestions and recommendations of the various committees are not in tune with existing circumstances.

The widening gap between various governments regarding evolving a common strategy for suppression of terrorism needs to be viewed in the context of the potential of threat that it holds. Even the European Convention on Suppression of Terrorism is restricted by Article 5 and Article 13, which refuse the extradition of a terrorist on many grounds. In an environment where terrorist violence is endemic and the world stands hopelessly divided on various laws, all countries should shun their national prerogatives to deal forcefully with terrorism.

A few years ago, an international conference was organised in Washington by the Jonathan Institute. Some of the important suggestions made were: the concept that ‘one man’s terrorist can be another man’s freedom fighter’ must be done away with; the local population should cooperate with the law enforcement machinery even at the cost of personal difficulties; prompt and strict decisions should be undertaken for tackling terrorists psychologically.

The London Economic Summit Conference organised by Nato States and Japan proved to be another landmark for the eradication of terrorism. It was concluded there that unless we attack the roots of terrorism, only superficial relief would be visible, with terrorism increasing in the total quantum of its impact. While it is desirable to allow the police and the armed forces to employ better informed judgment about local problems, there is, of course, a danger that this attempt of the government could dilute the benefits to those deemed ‘deserving’. And in the process, this could annul any possibility of negotiations.

Many governments have formulated reform measures to improve the situation. But terrorists interpret these steps as a sort of ‘surrender’ by the State to international criticism. In such a situation, the role of the military and the security forces has become crucial as most of their operations in terrorist-affected areas require a multi-layered approach.

Although military actions have normally been accorded the highest priority for the maintenance of security, sometimes such actions damage the deep layers of social and individual interests. Creation of awareness and organisations of public support against terrorist acts — especially in a country that has had a long history of terrorist attacks like India — will be of immense use.

Sudhir Hindwan is strategic affairs analyst based in Chandigarh.