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9/11: India, still waiting for peace

On September 12, 2001, a day after 9/11, the Times of India published a story titled, “India hopes US will now pressurise Pak.” At the time, this relayed a common national sentiment – India may finally get the United States to become a close ally against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, and help India in eradicating terrorism.

Ten years hence, neither has the US taken a position against Pakistan, nor has India prepared itself better to fight terrorism and insurgency on its home ground. A massive explosion at the Delhi High Court this week left at least 14 dead and some 60 injured. It served as a horrific reminder that India continues to be at the receiving end of terrorism. This is the third major terrorist attack in Delhi since 9/11, following the one on Parliament on December 2001 and another at the Sarojini Nagar Market in October 2005. Mumbai has seen similar attacks with the serial blasts in March 1993, train bombings in July 2006, the 26/11 attacks of November 2008 and coordinate attacks of July 2011. Many more such incidents have taken place across the country in smaller cities like Jaipur and Pune.

Yet, rather than designing and executing ways to secure our borders, we remain enamored with the effects of 9/11 and anniversaries of attacks in London, Madrid, and elsewhere. The government’s response is the same – they had some intelligence, law enforcement was in a state of alert, but there was no actionable intelligence, and of course somewhere along the chain of command between the Home Minister and the constable on the street, our counter-terrorism strategy was never converted into skills or systems that would prove useful. The usually communicative, media-friendly politicians have no comment to give, reflecting only their incapability or worse, indifference. The media gives it due importance for 24 hours, then in the absence of any new information from the government or the public, moves on to other news-worthy items.

While 9/11 did not get the US to change their position, it did force them to change their rhetoric. Having become a victim of the international terror network, it no longer described India’s terrorism as a response to domestic events – the tearing down of the Babri Masjid, unresolved problems of Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, the Godhra outrage – all of which were used emphatically in the earlier decades. Of course, a position against Pakistan is still unlikely given the reality of U.S. objectives in the region. But considering that the U.S. is leaving the Af-Pak region even more militant than before 2001 with direct implications for India, the refusal to acknowledge the role of the state in organizing terrorist incidents across the border is egregiously insulting.

Where India has had over 15 attacks in the last 5 years, most of which remain unresolved, the U.S. has managed to protect its homeland and not allow a single terrorist attack on its soil since 9/11. One planned for New York in 2010 was foiled successfully by the law enforcement agencies reflecting the swift and effective response by the anti-terrorism units. The Washington Post reported last year that more than 1,200 hundred government organizations and almost 2,000 companies were working on programmes related to counter-intelligence, homeland security and intelligence in the U.S. These are mostly geared to preventing outsiders coming into the US and undertaking terrorist attacks in pursuance of political objectives overseas.

Do we even need anything comparable when many of our incidents are perpetrated by our own people indoctrinated and trained usually in Pakistan? Even if by some miracle we were to attain such organizational structures, our poor coordination abilities would derive us no benefit.

That explains one part of our failure. We still seem to think that hi-tech gadgets, such as CCTV’s will somehow hide the lack of coordination and training that has seeped through our system. Our Home Minister is often in Washington and continues to look for coordination with the U.S.’s Homeland Security department.  But imitating American-style security by purchasing sophisticated equipment won’t work without the security apparatus and training that goes with it.

The other part is the denial that terrorism has increasingly become a home-grown issue and that there is little political will to fight this battle across the three-tier legislative system of central, state and community governments. Groups such as the Indian Mujahideen and Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) have become entrenched in the criminal and undercover terror network, and we don’t have a deep counter-intelligence team that can camouflage themselves within communities to pick up alerts at the design stage or swift teams that can foil attacks before the bombs go off. The dangerous political polarity, a paralysed ruling coalition, a fractured opposition, a popular distaste for a corrupt polity and complicit bureaucracy, and a slowing economy, has handicapped any progress towards this issue. If the terrorists are more agile, sophisticated and meticulous in their planning now, and Indian forces remain under-trained, ill-equipped and tactical, then, unfortunately, we are simply worse off than we were in 2001 by sheer relativity.

The 9/11 attacks transformed our world too. The revenge invasion and devastation of Afghanistan and later Iraq changed our neighbourhood completely. An already hostile Pakistan became even more implacable with stepped-up military aid and political backing from Washington. Although now the West is coming to terms with the duplicity of Pakistan, it is still not able to get off that tiger. When the West leaves Afghanistan and Iraq, according to its own political timetable and as dictated by its economically straitened circumstances, India will have to deal with the consequences.

Are we prepared? Look at what’s around us: an economically weakened U.S. and E.U. but militarily aggressive NATO, a much-strengthened and aggressive China, a dangerously weakened and unstable Pakistan, the risk of the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and heightened Shia-Sunni strife in the Gulf. These are playing out simultaneously and close by.

As this article goes to print, the National Integration Council is meeting for the 15th time since it was first established in 1962 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to fight the evils of communalism, casteism, regionalism, linguism and narrow-mindedness. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s public statement that India must strengthen its investigative agencies and intelligence apparatus is clear. But with the dangerous developments in world affairs and lack of progress at home, his statements just don’t seem reassuring.

Neelam Deo is Co-founder and Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations; She has been the Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast; and former Consul General in New York.

Akshay Mathur is Director, Research and Analysis & Fellow, Geoeconomic Studies, Gateway House.

This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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