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Unite for terror-free future

In India the response to terrorism is gravely affected by electoral considerations and the near-breakdown of the law and order machinery, writes Brajesh Mishra. See full coverage.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2008 22:05 IST

Terrorism is not new to India. What is new is that today it affects the entire country. Second, it is perpetrated by groups of people driven by parochial ideologies and, at least in one case, aided and abetted by foreign agencies, governmental and non-governmental.

In India the response to terrorism is gravely affected by electoral considerations and the near-breakdown of the law and order machinery.

I have been fortunate enough to live in many foreign countries during my diplomatic career. In most of them I witnessed that in moments of national crises people from all walks of life came together, barring, of course, the fringe elements.

In our country a national crisis is seen as an opportunity to begin the blame game. Whether it was the Kargil conflict and the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft during the NDA regime or the very grave terrorist attacks during the last four years, politicians just cannot resist the temptation of putting all the blame at the door of the ruling party.

Recently, even members of the ruling party at the Centre have asked for a judicial inquiry of the conduct of the Delhi Police, which is directly controlled by the Union Home Ministry! And all this for electoral advantage. Is it the way to deal with a national crisis?

Then there is the appalling condition of the law and order machinery. It is seriously impaired by political interferences in recruitment, postings and transfers. Training of policemen is perfunctory and the system is riddled with corruption. No wonder people at large have no respect, much less faith in the police. And today even the judicial system is adversely commented upon. Therefore, people do not generally co-operate with the system, resulting in lack of specific intelligence about the plans of the terrorists.

What can we do now? Obviously, prevention is better than cure. Although we may not prevent each and every incident of terrorism, if we can obtain specific intelligence as opposed to general intelligence, most of the incidents can be stopped. In order to do this, our intelligence gathering capabilities have to be increased. This is possible through up-gradation of technical competence as also human competence. But, while it is not difficult to acquire/upgrade technical competence, it is going to take time to upgrade human competence, which has degraded over the last several decades, due to many factors.

Increasing human competence for intelligence requires several steps. First, political interference in intelligence and police matters must be stopped completely. Second, after intensive training, competent people must be posted at the street/mohalla level, because that is where specific intelligence will come from. Occasionally, one may get information from tapping telephones, but terrorists are intelligent enough to avoid them. So, gathering of intelligence at the mohalla level assumes greater importance. Third, there must be co-operation from the public at large.

For this, the public must be educated. The police force, which has lost the confidence of the people, has to regain that confidence. Today, people are afraid to go to police stations to give information or even file a case because they feel that they will be implicated in the case by the police who are under pressure to produce results.

There is a dire need for politicians of the national political parties to view terrorism as a national crisis. For the ordinary citizen, it maters little who is in power when terrorist incidents take place. And all governments have faced this problem. Unless political parties can unite behind a common counter-terror agenda, they cannot lead the people-at-large to fight terrorism.

So, it is a long battle. It requires overhauling of law and order and intelligence machinery to make it competent and free of political interference and corruption as also enhancing our retaliatory capacities. More importantly, it requires establishing a political consensus on how to respond to these outrages so that the next attack does not occasion the familiar political finger pointing.

Brajesh Mishra is Former National Security Adviser, India

Tomorrow: Social activist Aruna Roy.