A credible counterterror strategy needed
The brazen Mumbai terrorist assaults are just the latest example of how the world’s largest democracy is increasingly coming under siege from the forces of terror.
The attacks, which bear the hallmark of al Qaeda, are also a reminder to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama that even as he seeks to deal with the financial meltdown, the global war on terror stands derailed, with the scourge of terrorism having spread deeper and wider.
International terrorism threatens the very existence of democratic, secular states. Yet the U.S. occupation of Iraq not only helped fracture the post-9/11 global consensus to fight terror, but also handed a fresh cause to Islamists and gave a new lease of life to al Qaeda.
The Obama administration will need to bring the anti-terror war back on course by building a new international consensus.
The Mumbai attacks were exceptionally brazen and daring, even when viewed against the high level of terrorism now tormenting India. Indeed, since 9/11, the world has not witnessed terrorism on this scale or level of sophistication and coordination.
The most troubling questions arising from the latest terrorist attacks – the eighth in a spate of attacks in India in the past five months – relate to why the country has become an easy target for terrorists.
Transnational terrorists, including those tied to Al Qaeda, are waging an open war on India, yet the Indian leadership is unable to declare a war on terror.
What the country needs is a credible counterterror campaign. But what its harried citizens get after each major terrorist attack are stock platitudes, such as a commitment to defeat the designs of terrorist forces. Empty rhetoric is eating into the vitals of internal security.
Indeed, after the government’s ritual condemnation of each attack and the standard promise to defeat terror, India puts the strikes behind it and goes back to what now defines it – partisan politics and scandal. That is, until terror strikes again.
Worse, the fight against terror has been increasingly politicized and got linked to communal, electoral and vote-bank considerations.
Combating terror demands at least four different elements — a well-thought-out strategy, effective state instruments to implement that strategy, a credible legal framework to speedily bring terrorists to justice, and unflinching political resolve to stay the course.
India is deficient on all four.
Unlike other important victims of terror in the world, India has no published counterterror doctrine. And a retiring Chief Justice of India was compelled to remind fellow citizens that, “We don’t have the political will to fight terrorism”.
Weak leadership, political one-upmanship and an ever-shifting policy approach indeed have spurred on more terrorism. Not a single case of terrorist attack in recent years has been cracked, yet in the Malegaon bombing probe, the nation has witnessed the bizarre spectacle of authorities deliberately leaking tidbits of information on a daily basis.
Indian system has become so effete that terrorists have again exposed the woeful lack of adequate training and preparedness on the part of those tasked to fight terror. Such was the level of police ineptitude that several high-ranking law enforcement officials, including the anti-terrorism squad head, were killed soon after the terrorists struck. As a result, the army had to be called in to deal with the situation.
Against this background, India serves as an exemplar of how not to fight terror. In fact, through its forbearing approach, the country has come to accept terrorist strikes as the ostensible products of its unalterable geography or destiny.
Its response to the jihadist strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts has been survival by a thousand bandages. Just as it has come to brook a high level of political corruption, it is willing to put up with a high incidence of terrorism.
Turning this appalling situation around demands a new mindset that will not allow India to be continually gored. That in turn means a readiness to forge a bipartisan consensus to do whatever is necessary to end the terrorist siege of the country.