The terror strike near the Delhi High Court yesterday should now confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that India will have to live the reality of terrorism for a long time. These strikes can no longer be dismissed as mindless but ones which are carefully planned and targeted. As in all acts of terrorism, the method is to create maximum indiscriminate casualties to harvest as much “shock and awe” as possible so as to create public disorder apart from demoralising and ultimately dislodging the government. Few in places like Manipur would have failed to notice the difference between this kind of violence and those of the nationalistic brands of violence perpetrated in insurgency prone areas. The latter are area specific, have definite targets and cannot afford to alienate the people amongst whom they operate, while the former are just the opposite. This not withstanding very often there has been a tendency to generalise the response to these types of violence with the sweeping argument that if the ultimate outcome of any ideology is violence, they can and should deserve only the violence of the state as retaliation hoping in the end to defeat them. Tough draconian laws result and deemed to be fit for application to either.
This attitude precisely has been a big flaw in the policy push in matters of insurgency, although many in the policy making circles have now come to realise these are two categories of radical expression of dissent, and essentially different from one another, thus calling for different responses of the establishment. What then must be the difference and how are these differences to be demarcated? We have a simple answer to this question. Just a revisit to the genesis of these problems should be a good starter. In other words study the history of these problems and then tackle them at their roots. In the case of the various insurgencies, substantial works have already been done not just by the government but also by various non government organisations, NGOs, working in the area of Human Rights, thanks to interest taken by the international community following the explosion of ethnic conflicts everywhere in the world but primarily in Eastern Europe towards the end of the 20th Century. Today, it is not uncommon to hear even military officers, including a former chief-of-the-army-staff, that insurgency is a political problem and can have no final military solution. Even such admissions are miles achieved in the search for a solution to insurgency, although this new thought is still to be put into practice to the extent desired. The opposition to the repeal or restructuring of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, to make those covered by it accountable for their actions to the civil court of law is demonstration. Hopefully, things will change in the near future, and things do seem a little more optimistic with a recent statement by the Union home minister, P Chidambaram that a consensus is being sought to effect such a reassessment.
What about terrorism of the variety which has been attacking Indian cities choosing crowded places to ensure maximum casualties? What is its history? Often these dark and destructive assaults are explained away as merely the proxies of Pakistan and its supposed policy of destabilising India by bleeding it white “through a thousand cuts”. Can this be everything about the phenomenon? Would these proxies have such reach as to be able to strike practically anywhere in India, from Mumbai to Guwahati and Banglore to New Delhi if they did not have any local support system in India? Impossible! The question then should be, what are the causes of such bitter resentment against the Indian establishment amongst a section of the Indian population? The answer to this should be the route to a lasting resolution to this problem. But this is easier said than done. As has been pointed out by experts, events like the pre-election rath yatra of L.K. Advani in 1993, which ultimately built up the ground for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the pogrom against Muslims in chief minister Narendra Modi’s Gujarat in 2002 etc should be brought back under the scanner in the identification of the roots of terrorist ideologies and equally the reason for the support for them on the ground. Here too, a military solution may not be the ultimate solution, instead, it may be justice for grave injustices committed in the past which may in the final analysis be the deal clincher. In the mean time, the immediate strategy should also not be less retaliation and more pre-emption of terrorist strike plans so as to prevent the strikes. At this moment, the latter is where India’s preparedness has been lagging behind. Every time an attack happens, it is generally agreed amongst policy pundits and vocal debaters on the 24-hour satellite television channels that India’s intelligence departments must pull up their socks, only to repeat what they have said after a few months in the wake of a new terrorist strike.