Monday, July 18, 2011

Systems exist to detect terrorist plans; but we focus on cabinet shuffle tricks

The cabinet reshuffle – essentially a defeatist's exercise – had raised major issues concerning the morality of coalition politics and the Government's very approach to governance. The ensuing public discourse reflected serious worries across the political spectrum about the way the country was going. Presumably that debate could have at least led to a clearer understanding of how not to handle high responsibility.

But suddenly debate is disrupted, life itself is derailed and everybody's attention diverted by the most despairing reality of our times – terrorism. Whether the latest Mumbai strike is the handiwork of Indian Mujahideen or Lashkar-e-Taiba, whether it is provoked by the occasion of Ajmal Kasab's birthday or Hillary Clinton's imminent visit may all be issues of importance to investigating agencies. What towers above them all, however, is that terrorism persists despite the proven historical fact that it achieves nothing.

Nazi terrorism against Jews achieved nothing for Germany. Jewish terrorism against Palestinians achieved only the isolation of Israel. Velupillai Prabhakaran's terrorism decimated even Tamil leaders who did not join him. Rajapakse's terrorism against Tamils has made him a potential war criminal in the eyes of the world.

Pakistan's parallel government run by the army and the ISI made terrorism a state policy for many years. The result is that the country is stuck in history unable to move an inch forward. There are many educated, liberal groups in that country. But they are also stuck as any move in favour of tolerance and issues like women's rights invite summary punishment from hardliners.

If repeated failures by terrorists to achieve their goals have not blunted the edge of terrorism, the reason must be sought in the vicegrip religious fanaticism has on the human mind. Al Qaida and Taliban have exploited this factor diabolically, sending many young believers to their death in return for a “martyr's” place in paradise. Funding agencies in Saudi Arabia play a key role in popularising hardline religiosity in traditionally tolerant Islamic societies.

What do they hope to achieve? Will Taliban's pitiless system of beheadings, stoning and flogging targetted mostly against women ever become acceptable in, say, the Muslim societies of the Mediterranean? Does Saudi Arabia believe that it can win the allegiance of other countries like it has won Bahrain's? The fanatics are playing a game that can have only one result: Creating counter fanatics.

India is already witnessing this. Repeated terror strikes by Islamist forces have persuaded some radical Hindutva elements to reply in the same coin – a new departure for what has been a famously inclusive sanatana dharma. It may look like a human reaction, but it is in fact a setback for traditional values. Never have two wrongs made a right.

What we need is one right that will prevent more wrongs. We need an efficient intelligence gathering model that will detect terrorist plans in advance. That the US and the UK seem to have achieved this to a considerable extent suggests that the technologies, the gadgets and the systems exist. We need a network of dedicated professionals who will master counter-terrorism technologies and put them to effective use without political interference of any kind.

Which brings us back to the Government's approach to governance and the correlation between efficiency and make-believe cabinet shuffling. Mumbai has been attacked half a dozen times by now and we have a Crown Prince saying that it is impossible to stop all terrorist attacks. Our Home Minister says the terrorists “worked in a very clandestine manner”. How nasty of them. Couldn't they at least send an SMS to the Home Ministry detailing their plans?

Our security systems, like our investigating agencies, are politically controlled. The portfolios of our ministers are decided without taking performance or corruption levels into account. Naturally, we are left with a government that can only ask the people to remain calm after disaster strikes. Perhaps the people have remained calm for too long.