Conventional wisdom has us believe that terror events cannot be normally prevented. Thus breaking out of the interminable cycle of terrorism is appearing increasingly difficult for the Indian state. Yet ironically terror acts are preventable as well as predictable. The United States has been singularly successful in preventing a repeat of 9/11 on the Home Land. Britain, Germany and Denmark have done well to intercept terrorist modules before they could act. We need to draw useful lessons from these success stories and attempt to replicate the same. A few salient issues are flagged herein.
The key to countering terrorism is political consensus. While the Democrats may disagree with George W Bush's policy on Iraq, there is basic consensus in the United States on the need to focus on a holistic approach to combating growth, sustenance and manifestation of terrorism within the country and abroad. This consensus is sadly lacking in India as is evident with polarization in the aftermath of Jaipur, where the debate has shifted to POTA and Ms Sonia Gandhi's visit to the Pink City, rather than a joint centre-state approach to combating terrorism. The horizontal political divide is supplemented by a vertical administrative one between the centre and the state. A combination of this effect is seen in the case of SIMI, wherein despite ban under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967, some states are even now reluctant to take action against it.
Another important facet is acknowledging terrorism as a strategic threat targeting identity of our country as a pluralistic nation with composite culture. Today terrorism is not just impacting the geographic or identity margins of the country but its heart, the political seat of power, Delhi, the commercial capital Mumbai, the IT hub, Bangalore, the religious node of Varanasi and now the tourist centre of Jaipur. This strategic attack can no longer be tackled by episodic half measures but needs a focused response from the State which is all inclusive. An expert committee on the lines of the post Kargil Subrahmanyam Committee needs to be formed to examine the threat and our response so far and suggest measures thereof.
Profiling terrorism as a strategic issue would also facilitate greater involvement of the masses both through moral condemnation and constant vigilance to support the police. Awareness will breed cooperation and patience to undergo the rigors of body check, support intrusive KYC rules by banks to target money laundering, reporting of unattended objects and record visitors to cyber cafes. These seemingly small acts will contribute immensely to the counter terrorism effort.
Lack of a scientific study of terrorist activities in the country also implies that strikes, their locations and magnitude have not been anticipated. Studies undertaken in Britain and the United States have established that terrorist acts being random, 'black swan', extreme events follow power laws and not bell curves. Black swan events also denote that their very unexpectedness creates conditions for them to occur. Jaipur which fobbed intelligence agencies validates this theory. When applied to the Indian context it would imply that in areas where militancy is prevalent, relatively minor incidents will occur with greater frequency, while in the hinterland, these will take place at longer intervals but with a higher intensity.
The frequency of strikes and casualties incurred over the past year in India would substantiate this theory. As would be evident from a look at the MHA Annual Report 2007-08, in the hinterland a major event has occurred at an interval of one to three months, Mecca Masjid and twin blasts in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007 and August 25, 2007, Ajmer on October 11, 2007 and Shingar Cinema in Ludhiana on October 14, 2007, Faizabad, Lucknow and Varanasi in U.P. on November 23, 2007, CRPF Group Centre at Rampur (U.P.) on January 1, 2008 and now Jaipur serial blasts on May 13, 2008. The question of location can also addressed if one maps the shadow of antagonist terrorist groups such as the Lashkar e Taiyyaba, HUJI (Bangladesh) and SIMI which are evidently acting in concert. Given that SIMI activists had been apprehended in Madhya Pradesh, retaliation could have been expected in a BJP ruled state, Rajasthan or Gujarat, where there are adequate support structures for these organizations.
Finally it is the local police be it at Jaipur or Varanasi who have to translate the general warnings, which Gujarat Chief Minster seems to have dismissed as, unpredictable met reports to enhance surveillance, locate, identify and neutralize terrorist modules and sleeper cells. For an alert police with eye to the ground, locating such cells is routine. After apprehension of the SIMI network in Madhya Pradesh, vigorous follow up by other states including Rajasthan would have possibly unraveled the cells which seem to have meticulously organized the 5/13 strikes with a success rate of 87.5 percent.