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The wages of sin, the sin of being in denial

The terrorists arrested some weeks ago in Mumbai, three of whom were IT experts well-placed in multinational companies, pose a new dimension of the threat, writes B Raman.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2008 22:34 IST
B. Raman

The war of civilisation between Muslims and the infidels has begun on Indian territory. So said the first statement issued in the name of the so-called Indian Mujahideen (IM) in November 2007 after the three orchestrated explosions in three towns of Uttar Pradesh outside local courts.

We saw the latest round of this war reaching Mumbai on Wednesday night as terrorists literally took control of the city and targeted, with frightening precision, hotels preferred by the rich of the country and foreign tourists, stations, a hospital and many other places scattered across the business capital of India.

It is not just 9/11. It is not just March 2004, Madrid. It is not just London 2006. It is an act of terrorism, the likes of which the world has not seen before.

The mind boggles as one tries to think and figure out how the terrorists could have planned and carried out terrorist strikes of such magnitude, territorial spread and ferocity without our intelligence and police having been able to get a scent of them. The iceberg of jihadi terrorism has struck not only Mumbai, but also the Indian State.

The iceberg moved from Uttar Pradesh to Jaipur; from Jaipur to Bangalore; from Bangalore to Ahmedabad and Surat; from there to Delhi; from Delhi to Assam and to Mumbai — despite the claims made by the Mumbai Police some weeks ago of having discovered and crushed a plot of the IM to carry out strikes in Mumbai.

The government of Manmohan Singh reacted to the repeated warning signals of this moving iceberg since November 2007, in the same way as the Bush Administration reacted to reports about the plans of al-Qaeda for an act of aviation terrorism in the US; in the same way Megawati Sukarnoputri reacted to reports of the activities of the Jemmah Islamiyah; and in the same way that Khaleda Zia reacted to reports of the plans of the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen.

In other words, the Government of India simply did not react. It was in a total denial mode. I had written again and again: hand over all the investigations regarding the IM to a central investigating agency for a coordinated investigation instead of their being investigated by the police in a piecemeal manner in different states ruled by different political parties.

From a localised threat, jihadi terrorism has become a pan-Indian threat with a pan-Islamic ideology. Deal with it with a pan-Indian strategy, I had said. There was no reaction.

The terrorists arrested some weeks ago in Mumbai, three of whom were IT experts well-placed in multinational companies, pose a new dimension of the threat. Seek the help of the US, I had said. No reaction. I drew attention to an article of Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist, which spoke of Indian Muslims going to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban against the US, and which also said that India is one of the routes being used by foreign jihadis going to Afghanistan.

In October, when I had come to Delhi for a seminar, two European Union diplomats sought an appointment with me for a discussion on the IM. They expressed their surprise and concern over the fact that the Indian intelligence and police seemed to know so little about the IM despite arresting and interrogating many perpetrators of the previous blasts.

Is the IM the name of an organisation or of a movement? Is it one or many organisations in different states acting, like the International Islamic Front (IIF) of Osama bin Laden, as a united front — autonomously where they can and unitedly where they should? Who constitute its command and control? Where are they? In India or outside? Nobody knows for certain.

I could not sleep the whole of last night. One question that kept bothering me again and again was: how safe are our nuclear establishments and material? Till now, we were greeting with glee Pakistan's incompetence in dealing with terrorism. We can no longer do so. We have become as clueless as Pakistan.

B. Raman is former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, and heads the Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.