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Terror's Forgotten Victim

Between 2001 and August 2006, India lost 23,753 people to terrorism. Tens of thousands of others were maimed and injured. Hundreds of thousands were bereaved. Millions of lives were disrupted. The direct and developmental costs of this terrorism would amount to uncalculated billions.

Even before the fateful attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, brought erratic international censure on certain terrorist groups and their state sponsors in this region, India had lost lakhs of others to the scourge of terrorism. But the international response had been, at best, deafening silence; and more ordinarily a hectoring about "human rights violations" and the "root causes" which were allegedly "provoking" this terrorism.

When nearly 200 persons were killed in the serial blasts on July 11 in Mumbai, the story was off Western newspapers within a couple of days, and India's Prime Minister had to importunately lobby to secure a statement of general condemnation of terrorism - without any reference to the Mumbai incidents - from world leaders at the G-8 meeting in Moscow within days of the incident.

At the same time, the principal state supporter and sponsor of terrorism in South Asia is feted by the world - and the US in particular - as the "frontline state" in the "Global War on Terror". India is consistently pressured to "offer some concessions" and to "understand the compulsions" under which General Pervez Musharraf - whose regime directly supports several terrorist groups on Pakistani soil - operates.

That these international responses reflect extreme prejudice is demonstrated every time there is a terrorist incident in the West, or one that affects Western targets in other regions. The response in such cases is overwhelming, if not hysterical, as has been noticed in the irrationality that has distinguished airport security in the recent past, and the discriminatory treatment of Muslims in particular and Asians in general.

Extreme prejudice is also built into the very concept of and approach to terrorism. Thus, when British citizens execute a terrorist attack on British soil, this is "international terrorism", because some tenuous ideological or training links are traced to organisations in Pakistan or elsewhere. But when Pakistani or Bangladeshi citizens strike in India, with clear evidence of Pakistani state support, including the membership of terrorist organisations internationally known to be headquartered in Pakistan or Bangladesh, this is "domestic terrorism", and invites homilies about how India should govern itself better and address the "grievances" of its Muslim population, or of its neighbours.

At least part of the problem is racist. The troubles that afflict the "coloured" parts of the world are thought of as natural, necessary, consequences of the backwardness and barbarity of their peoples. Violence in or against the West, on the other hand, is an attack against "civilisation", unjustifiable on any grounds. This logic has been wrapped into elaborate false sociologies of terrorism, including the endemic "root cause" thesis - which apparently does not apply when bombs go off in Europe or the US - and has been substantially accepted even in the target societies in the Third World, including India. What is forgotten is that the "civilisation" of the West is a mere veneer, easily cast off the moment Western interests are at stake; and that this veneer does not date back to centuries and millennia, but has been acquired fairly recently. The colonising powers of the Western world were responsible for some of the worst slaughters and barbarities of war, as well as legislatively entrenched domestic racism and discrimination till the middle of the 20th century. It is only the extraordinary affluence and stability of the decades after World War II that have permitted the illusion of order and principled governance in these regions. But this illusion is quickly dispelled the moment significant risk is perceived to domestic or international interests of the Western powers - and then the "rights of man" are quickly jettisoned in favour of racial profiling, selective body searches, unconstitutional and protracted detentions without representation and promotions to police officers who shoot an "Arab-looking" Hispanic in the streets of London with little visible cause.

Another aspect of the problem is the unfounded distinction between "international" and "domestic" terrorism - the former somehow constituting a greater violation of morality and civilisational norms, and the latter perceived as being rooted in "real" local injustices, and hence more "justifiable". This is nonsense at many levels. First, the essence of terrorism is the murder of innocents - irrespective of cause - and the moral burden of such an act within or across state boundaries is indistinguishable.

Second, almost all terrorism, today, has an international dimension - whether this is in terms of state support, safe-havens, training, organisational linkages, finance or other aspects of facilitation. Third, much of contemporary terrorism - and certainly Islamist violence - locates its justifications in universal ideologies, which recognise no national or international boundaries, and whose ends are not limited to a particular country or region. Groups that "act locally" do, in fact, "think globally", and a graduation to the international arena is only a question of time and capacities, as has been repeatedly demonstrated.

Today, for instance, the footprint of local" groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) has been noticed in numerous arrests in Europe and the US, but the LeT continues to exist in Pakistan, and its leadership operates with near impunity, notwithstanding a formal ban on the organisation and the brief, periodic (and comfortable) detention of its amir, Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, in Government guest houses from time to time. The LeT leadership has repeatedly articulated its commitment to universal Islamist goals, and is a member of the IIF. Yet, denial continues to characterise the "international community's" perspectives on the activities of this group, and its linkages to the Pakistani establishment.

At least part of the problem is self-inflicted. India and other victim countries have failed to state their case adequately and appropriately. The large volumes of evidence of Pakistani involvement in terrorism available with Indian agencies have not been properly processed and placed before international fora. Our advocacy has been poor; and our own orientation and policies remain riddled with contradictions. If India's Prime Minister tells the world that "Pakistan is also a victim of terror", who are we to blame the world for believing him?

( Published in The Pioneer, September 16 , 2006)





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