Why Not To Gloat Over Kasab
Barely five days before the fourth anniversary of 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving Pakistani terrorist, was hanged in Pune’s Yerwada Jail. The operation, for a change, was carried out under utmost secrecy. Post-execution, the media went berserk with the story; Congress claimed it as the last nail in the coffin of terrorism and the BJP upped the ante by demanding immediate execution of Afzal Guru, the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist who was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court for the attack on Parliament in December 2001. Kasab’s execution was portrayed as final victory over terrorism and public euphoria was palpable.
In India, the discourse on terrorism gets skewed and mired in petty interests during the opening narrative itself. Politicians snipe at each other, recounting how the other party has failed in handling the issue; Centre and the states fight over each other’s limits and power; bureaucrats and intelligence agencies squabble over their “turf” like wild animals and the media treats it like any other story. The populace, burdened with routine activities to keep home and hearth going, runs the risk of being targeted once again. Except that the time and place changes, most other factors remain a constant and the cycle continues.
Handling of the hijacking of Air India’s flight IC-814 by NDA regime in December 1999 remains Bharatiya Janata Party’s soft underbelly. Congress does not lose any opportunity to remind BJP as to how Jaswant Singh, the then Minister for External Affairs, had personally escorted three dreaded terrorists to Kandhar to secure release of 193 passengers and crew. In response BJP gets shriller and accuses Congress of going soft on terrorists and feeding them ‘biryani’ in jails instead of executing them. In no time, a vicious war of words breaks out between the two main political parties, which are supposed to provide political strength to the nation’s resolve to fight terror. The opinion of other parties, which are so vociferous on other mundane issues, is seldom heard. This happens in the Parliament; on the TV channels and on the streets, where, of late, we want to dissect and decide all serious issues.
When it comes to dealing with terrorism, there exist ‘two nations’ within India. The north-east, Jammu and Kashmir and all those states falling within so-called Naxal-affected “Red Corridor” constitute the “peripheral India”. National capital and other metropolitan cities constitute “mainland India”. This division is evident in our thinking and sensitivities as terror attacks on “peripheral India”are mere statistics for the policy-makers and do not perturb us. Politicians do not squabble over such incidents because they do not see gaining any political mileage. For media, such attacks do not ginger up their sagging TRP. So, we as a nation remain blissfully ignorant to the dangers of terrorism and ordeal of citizens living in those areas unless it hurts our comfort zone—the “mainland India”. That is why all our efforts to counter terror are city-centric and VIP-centric. If we care to look at the post-26/11 casualty figures of civilians, security personnel and terrorists, the indicators clearly establish that the epicenter of our war against terror is in the north-east, Jammu and Kashmir and Naxal-affected states, which account for almost cent-per cent casualties of all casualties the nation suffers.
Kasab was a foot soldier of Lashkar-e-Taiba like the other nine terrorists who were killed in encounters. He was in our custody and had a fair trial. Even Pakistanis were of the opinion that he deserves to be hanged for his crimes. To carry out death sentence is one of the functions of the State.What is so earth-shattering about his execution that Congress wants to be complimented for? Perpetrators of 26/11 are still roaming freely in Pakistan. If the government of the day could carry out a Geronimo-like operation to remove Hafiz Saeed or Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi or Dawood Ibrahim or Syed Salahuddin from their safe havens in Pakistan and bring them to justice, the accolades and mileage Congress was expecting would have been justifiable.
There are other terrorists on whom the government is yet to take a call. Rajiv Gandhi’s killers Murugan, T Suthendraraja and AG Perarivalan; Beant Singh’s killer Balwant Singh Rajoana; Raisina Road bomber Devinder Pal Singh Bhuller; mastermind of attack on Parliament Afzal Guru, all are on death row, but political sensitivities come in the way of their execution. Tamil politicians root for Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. The SGPC and Akal Takht bestow honours on the killers of General AS Vaidya and Beant Singh and intend erecting a memorial at the Golden Temple for those who died during Operation Blue Star including the terrorists, while Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP—the ruling alliance in Punjab—look the other way. The All Party Hurriyat Conference leaders openly warn the government against executing Afzal Guru.
In our counter-terrorism strategy (if, there is one) there are many glitches. Our police forces are under-staffed (civil police by 29.5 per cent and armed police by 16.7 per cent). Police is still equipped with World War II vintage Lee-Enfield bolt action .303 rifles. Its modernisation is much behind the schedule. All acquisitions and force accretions in police are ad hoc, spurred by terror incidents and personality oriented. If it was not for the Army and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) the police would not have been able to face the challenge of terrorism.
We have created islands of security for VIPs, but citizens remain vulnerable. Our prophylactic security remains poor. Inadequate security and porous borders and coastline make infiltration and movement of terrorists easy. Acquiring fake identity is easier than obtaining a valid identity. The network of sleeper cells is well organised to provide administrative support to the terrorists.
We seem to be obsessed with top down approach in national security, rather than revamping the setup at grassroots level, more attention to reorganisation at the upper echelons of hierarchy has been paid with little effect. There are many new agencies which have been raised in the past but the good old police thanas are still crying for attention.
Our cities, teeming with millions, provide instant anonymity to terrorists. Public places are extremely vulnerable. One can still enter railway stations, congregations, rallies and other crowded places without being questioned. Unless the police and intelligence agencies have a network of informers and a state-of-the-art technological support, to trace a terrorist in the sea of humanity is near impossible. Despite much publicised initiative, our intelligence setup remains ineffective.
The idea of safe cities is still in the embryonic stage. We do not have adequate police strength, inspiring leadership, technology and wherewithal for surveillance in over-populated cities and ghettos. Citizens remain indifferent and do not cooperate. To many, safe cities are all about lots of CCTV cameras and other gizmos, whose acquisition will grease many palms. Safe city is achievable provided police is proactive, intelligence is sharp, citizens are responsible and the city is organised and not an overpopulated chaos.
Institute for Economics and Peace’s recently released Global Terrorism Index—2011 places India fourth, ahead of Yemen, as the most affected country accounting for 11 per cent global terror incidents.
If it is customary to take stock of the situation on every anniversary of 26/11, then the extradition of two of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists—Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who handled 26/11 attacks from a control room in Karachi and Fasih Mahmood, suspected to be involved in Chinnaswamy Stadium Bengaluru blast and terror strike at Jama Masjid in 2010—from Saudi Arabia is a matter of more satisfaction than Kasab’s execution. This diplomatic success with Saudi Arabia, whose preference for Pakistan vis-a-vis India is only too well known, is remarkable.
The incidents of terrorism have gradually receded in all three regions of the country. This has been mainly possible due to sustained operations by the Army and CAPFs. But the terror infrastructure in the neighbouring countries is still intact. What is more worrisome is the growth of indigenous terror groups like Indian Mujahideen and Student Islamic Movement of India. We would address national security concerns better, if we can fast-track police modernisation, create an understanding between Centre and states and have political unanimity on matters of security, secure our porous borders and coast lines, create an understanding among South Asian nations on terrorism rather than gloating over Kasab’s execution. An immediate requirement is strengthening of our intelligence apparatus, data banks and data sharing between various intelligence agencies and state and cetntral governments. It also needs to be perceived that the concept of national security encompasses the whole nation, and not just Lutyen’s Delhi.
By Colonel US Rathore (Retd)
(The writer is a defence and security expert and threat and risk analyst)