On March 12, 1993, twelve bomb blasts in Mumbai which killed 257 people heralded organized urban terror in India. We did not tackle the problem effectively then. We are not tackling it effectively now. We respond in conventional mode. We seek tighter police performance and better intelligence inputs. This is not enough, given the scale of terror.
It is no use looking up to America to learn how the war against terror should be fought. America itself is failing. To succeed, we must fight our war against terror in our own way, to end it on our terms. That’s a tall order. But war implies threat to the nation’s independence and survival. The response therefore must be commensurate. To succeed we must clearly understand three aspects -- the dimension of the challenge, the identity of the enemy, and the minimal steps required to win. Consider these three aspects in that order.
With one third of the country under Maoist control, with terrorist strikes unabated in Kashmir and the North East, and with serial terrorist strikes continuing to spread across metropolitan cities, the enemy has expanded its war to a critically dangerous dimension. Of late, the enemy has achieved a new level of success. Terrorist penetration of the political and administrative system is now so widespread that terrorism in future may require no external aid. It may gather strength on its own momentum.
To identify the enemy we must begin by recognizing that only a mastermind can coordinate diverse terrorist movements having a single aim and result. In assessing terrorism in India it is delusional to distinguish between separatists, revolutionaries and jihadis. They all serve the same master. Knowingly or otherwise they pursue the same goal: to weaken India to the point of capitulation. Just one indicator should substantiate this. Responsible intelligence inputs confirm that LTTE cadres imparted training to Kashmir and North-East militants. Since there is no apparent ideological affinity among these groups, their coordinated action would imply a common command and a common aim. The overall larger aim may have little to do with the local demands that are touted. The larger aim is a full-fledged subversive assault on the Indian State. It is launched through separate groups attacking different points for differently voiced demands. But the enemy is external. One need not reiterate the fact that neighboring South Asian countries have sent terrorist infiltrators, provided arms and sanctuary to them on their own soil, and served faithfully the strategic interests of India’s biggest neighbor.
How is this to be countered? Not by hot pursuit, not by TADA or POTA, and not by giving the police free rein to shoot whom they please. To fight terrorism that has advanced so far, India will need to do nothing less than overhaul its system’s working. That implies revolutionary change of political culture. To appreciate this, consider two recent discoveries. Huge consignments of rockets were seized in Andhra Pradesh. The sheer quantity indicated that they were meant for Maoists spread across Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The rockets were manufactured in Tamil Nadu. Various Left extremist groups may have differences. But all receive rockets from a common source. Does that not indicate a common higher command? The crude rockets were of indigenous manufacture. Similarly, in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district the police stumbled on the biggest catchments of crude RDX bombs indicating a nationwide network. This renders the previous air-droppings of arms by foreigners redundant. Now home-grown self-sufficient insurgency is being developed. But a parallel industry and huge funds are required for manufacture of these huge consignments. From where do the funds come?
Recall Telgi. It was pointed out in an earlier article that even a fraction of the Rs.30,000 crore generated in the Telgi scam could fund an army. Like the uniformed and armed 10,000 Maoists for instance. The TV tapes of Mr Telgi’s disclosures are perhaps but the tip of the iceberg. The real shocker could come if he disclosed something like the possible funding of terrorists via the late Veerappan: Veerappan used to take smuggled ivory through the Nellore-to-Nepal route for his consignments to reach Myanmar and China. For safe passage he paid all the insurgent groups on the way. His smuggling therefore sustained the Maoists. Veerappan’s links with the LTTE were well known.
To fight a war on terror of this scale the first step should be, then, to choke off funds which arm the terrorists. For that, politics would first have to be cleaned up. Not easy. Consider the hurdles. For a start electoral reform would be needed to enforce only legal political funding through cheques and white money. This is imperative. Almost all parties are vulnerable on the issue of corruption. All are therefore open to blackmail and exposure. This protects terrorist funding. The following is a realistic scenario of how the system works.
Imagine a state chief minister passing funds to his party headquarters. This is common. The money is never sourced. Even if it were, the money would be black. Subsequently, if it transpired that the original source of party funds was someone like Mr. Telgi or Mr. Dawood Ibrahim, the compromised leaders would be in jeopardy. They would cover up even though they acted in ignorance. Using black money for political purpose is traditionally condoned in India. This is what happened in the Jain Hawala Case. It might be recalled that Mr. Moolchand Shah was arrested by Mumbai police for being the hawala agent who funded the 1993 bomb blasts. The same Mr. Moolchand Shah was the hawala agent used as a conduit by Amir Bhai to fund Mr. SK Jain. According to a CBI statement in court Mr. Ottavio Quattrocchi paid the money to Amir Bhai. The total amount paid was approximately Rs 64 crore which equaled Rs 64 crore paid in the Bofors scam. Less than three weeks after seizure of the Jain diaries exposed the identity of recipients, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. But that is another story.
Can India summon zero tolerance towards political corruption, on which terrorism feeds? Unless that is done, there can be no real war on terror.