While a survey of the security situation in South Asia was carried out last week, India which in size and population may represent other nations of the Sub Continent taken together needed a special section. In the interim, however a devastating terror strike has taken away one of the most charismatic political leaders of the Sub Continent, (and not just Pakistan) Benazir Bhutto. A lady of immense wit, charm and vivacity, she died perhaps a dream death waving to her beloved Pakistani people.
While one can fault Benazir over many political issues, none would doubt her commitment to the people of her country. That was perhaps what made her the target of the ghastly attack by the Al Qaeda. While reports blame Behtullah Mehsud, who is the bete noire of the present regime, it is hard to believe that a hard boiled Pashtun leader will target a women. Sadly Benazir leaves when she is required most by her country, while many would blame her for sowing the roots of Talibanism and providing shelter to the Al Qaeda, none would doubt her sincerity this time around. In her death we hope that the political leaders of South Asia get together to stand united against extremism.
No other country in the region however needs unity of political leadership against terrorism than India. Facing with multiple challenges of security, four key areas of concern remained during the year. The Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh himself described Naxalism as the most significant one, calling it a, ï¿½virusï¿½. Others include Kashmir, North East and terrorism in the Indian hinterland.
Taking Naxalism first the reality of numbers could bring home apathy of counter Naxal operations in the country during the year. As per a report in the Daily Pioneer, the number of policemen killed in various Naxal-related insurgencies reached a record high of 214 till November 30 since 2003, while only 129 Naxalites were killed during the period. The figures stood at 133 (policemen) and 239 (ultras) during the same period in 2006. There were 1,385 Naxal-related incidents till November 30 this year. Chattisgarh topped the list with 531 incidents so far in which 181 police personnel and 166 civilians were killed.
While figures of 165 districts being under the influence of Naxals with 33 severely affected are routinely bandied, some areas as Abujmad in Chhattisgarh are totally under Naxal control where the state has failed to reach the remote, tribal pockets of under development. India will continue to face the challenge in these areas over the years.
Kashmir was a bright spark of the year. There is tacit acknowledgement in all quarters that there has been all round progress in controlling militancy in the State. This is evident with a 40 percent drop in violence, though infiltration from across the border has increased over the previous year. The number of terrorists apprehended has also increased, with a number of top commanders in the police dragnet. This includes 34 top commanders and 307 cadres killed in gun battles with security forces in 2007 as per police sources. Eid was celebrated with great enthusiasm in the Valley. One indicator is the amount of cash drawn from ATMs in four days preceding the Eid which exceeded over Rs 120 Crores. Political activity has increased and the Kashmiris are expecting the train to chug in the Valley next year.
Things on the North East front are however not very bright. Assam faces multiple challenges of ULFA in Upper Assam, the DHD in North Cachar and Karbi Anglong, the Adivasis in Central Assam and other groups protesting over marginalization in economy and employment. There is not much succor for the people of the state in the year ahead. On the other hand, Nagaland has raised hopes of unification of the main antagonists, the NSCN IM and K factions which hopefully is not an illusion with the NSCN IM likely to break up if unity moves fail. Manipur remained on the boil, but there is acknowledgement of a major threat to security and the state government has been asked to clamp down on militancy which is showing some results in the past month or so.
Of greater danger is the spread of extremist terror cells in UP, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and major metropolitan cities including the national Capital Delhi. The spate of terrorist incidents during the past year would be evidence of their all pervasiveness. On 19 February two bombs exploded aboard the Samjhauta express linking India to Pakistan, burning to death at least 66 passengers, most of them Pakistani citizens. On 18 May, a bomb exploded during Friday prayers at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, killing 11 worshippers. On 25 August, two bombs exploded in Hyderabad, at Gokul Chat Bhandar and Lumbini Park killing 42 persons. A series of six blasts struck Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi on 23 November killing 14 people and injuring 60. while there were two blasts in Ludhiana and Ajmer in the month of October killing 10 people.
The large casualties are no doubt numbing, yet the response of the state to this threat is far from satisfactory. There are deep roots of extremism and terrorism given the many points of conflict emerging from deprivation both in terms of economic as well as political and social rights of the marginalized in society who feel exploited by the rich and the privileged. As Sushil Roy, a member of the Naxal Politburo and highest ranking Naxalite leader in custody told his interrogators in Jharkhand, ï¿½Forests mean minerals, minerals mean money, money means guns, guns mean powerï¿½. The exploitative nature of economy of the states affected by Naxalism is indicated by the timber, coal, iron, diamonds, bauxite and other minerals that festoons Central India. Sunita Narain, Director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. ï¿½The poorest people of India live on our richest lands.ï¿½
The political leadership in various states of the fissiparous groups has very deftly used this disparity to advantage. A sustained socio-economic-political approach is thus essential to prevent the spread of the militancy. There however has to be a mix of security and development. Above all there has to be political consensus to make the people more aware of the security needs of the country. Alas! India awaits such consciousness.