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State of insecurity

The BJP claims that terror can be fought with legal weaponry, though their own record with POTA proves otherwise.

The recent terrorist attacks in Ahmedabad and Delhi have revived the debate on terror and the state’s inability to deal with it. The BJP’s strident position is that combating terror requires the revival of the POTA and the UPA’s obduracy in not doing so shows that it is soft on terror: that this government neither has the political will nor does it wish to arm itself with legislation that effectively deals with terror. For the BJP, every terrorist attack is an opportunity to politicise the tragedy for possible electoral gain.

We need to differentiate between combating terror and dealing with terrorists, which require separate strategies. Dealing with terror requires an institutional response and dealing with terrorists requires a legislative response. This subtle distinction is lost on the BJP. The BJP’s ideological position is that if you deal with terrorists by reviving the POTA, the fight against terror will have been won. The argument therefore runs that a government which does not revive the POTA is soft on, and unable to deal with, terror.

To demonstrate the flaw in this argument, let us examine whether the NDA, which enacted the POTA was able to deal with terror more effectively than the UPA. The facts somehow do not speak in favour of the NDA. Men may tell lies, but statistics don’t. Here are some facts :

1. Between 1999 – 2004, while the NDA was in power, total civilian casualties from terrorist acts were 4,405 whereas between 2004 – 2008 (till September 11, 2008), these were 1,623.

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2. Security force personnel killed on account of terrorist acts during the same period of the NDA dispensation were 2,590; during the UPA dispensation (till September 11, 2008), the number is 1,235.

3. With reference to Jammu & Kashmir, the number of incidents of violence peaked with 4,500 incidents in 2001 and reduced to 1,000 in 2008. The number of civilians killed peaked at 1,000 in 2002 – 2003 and is less than 100 today.

Apart from this, while the NDA was in power, the number of overall terrorist incidents was much higher. None can forget the brazen attack on Parliament. It was providential that terrorists could not succeed because of the bravery of our security personnel. Neither the POTA nor the then Home Minister, allegedly tough on terror, could stop these attacks. During NDA’s rule, terror strikes targeted the J&K Legislative Assembly, Red Fort, Raghunath Temple, Chattisinghpura, Akshardham, Kaluchak and Amarnath Yatris. Terrorism was in full play despite the POTA: a convenient instrument in the hands of certain chief ministers in BJP ruled states, who terrorised common citizens and targeted members of a particular community. Could it ever be argued that the NDA government was tough on terror, when having proclaimed zero tolerance towards terrorism, they let loose Maulana Masood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and had the then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh escort them to Kandahar in their safe passage to Pakistan. The consequence was that Maulana Masood Azhar formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist organization, which targeted the Parliament in December 2001, besides targeting innocent victims in India. By that one act alone, the NDA government demonstrated their softness towards terror despite the POTA. Omar Sheikh went on to claim the life of Daniel Pearl, with his barbaric execution. Besides, the NDA remitted sentences of five Latvian nationals and Peter Bleach of UK; all convicted in the Purulia arms drop case, which was essentially a case of waging war against India.

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Clearly the fight against terror should not be confused with the necessity of appropriate and effective legislation to deal with terrorists. The harshest of laws are not an impediment in the way of terrorist organisations in spreading terror. Terrorism postulates that a terrorist is willing to sacrifice his life for whatever cause he espouses, since his aim is not to avenge a personal grouse through violent means, but to terrorise the community at large, to have it pay attention to his perceived mission. No laws, no matter how harsh, can stand in his way. The most powerful nation in the world with the most modern technologies at its command cannot stop terrorist activity in Iraq or prevent American soldiers becoming victims of such attacks.

Unfortunately, throughout the NDA regime, no institutional measures were taken to combat terror in the form of reforming organisational structures of the security forces, improving intelligence systems, ensuring flow of information to and from the states or empowering our security forces with the latest equipment or for that matter improving forensic capacities. It is clear that they had no strategies to deal with terror when they were in power. They ended up attacking a particular community and used provisions of the POTA to persecute and prosecute some of them, believing that through this process, they were effectively combating terror. The conceptual confusion that when you deal with terrorists through laws like the POTA, you effectively combat terror, still continues.

Combating terror requires institutional change. The UPA government has tried to bring that about by setting up a Multi Agency Centre (MAC) as well as recommending a Joint Task Force on Intelligence (JTFI). These institutional arrangements would allow various security agencies to share information. These mechanisms need to be strengthened. Besides, we need to invest hugely in building human resource capacities within our security personnel : establishment of specialised forces with unique skills to deal with terror and forensic abilities, which can prevent incidents of this nature. Also, any attempt to combat terror can never be effective without a very proficient intelligence network, which uses the most modern electronic devices and management systems for collection and sharing of information coupled with emergency measures, which allow an effective response to terrorist acts. We need to use technologies like night vision cameras, which have a range of 5 kms and integrate them with the CCTV network. Satellites can be of aid in setting up monitoring systems. Information relating to terrorist activities must seamlessly flow from one agency to another. None of these steps can ever be effective without strengthening state security and investigation agencies and a free flow of information between them and Central agencies. Civil society also needs to be conscious of security issues and of its duty in collaborating with security forces to ensure safety of civilians.

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Unfortunately, this institutional framework is not yet fully in place. We need investments in hardware and in building capacities. The UPA has taken several steps in this direction. The battle is long and arduous. The journey is not without pitfalls. The UPA has the political will. Remember, both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi were victims of terror. Political parties should not use every terrorist attack as an opportunity for partisan politics.

The writer is Union minister for science and technology and ocean development

(To be concluded)

First published on: 23-09-2008 at 01:02:03 am
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