Containing ideological violence
Another year has passed, and the sense of insecurity in large parts of India remains pervasive. Delhi itself has been shaken by two major terrorist events - the serial blasts in two cinema halls engineered by the Babbar Khalsa International on May 22, 2005, which killed one and injured at least another 60; and the pre-Diwali explosions at Sarojini Nagar, Pahar Ganj and Govind Puri, on October 29, 2005, executed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, which killed 62 persons, and injured at least another 155.
These came after almost three years without incident - the last successful attack in Delhi was the December 13, 2001, attack on India's Parliament - though terrorist and subversive efforts have been continuous since then, as indicated by an uninterrupted stream of arrests and seizures of arms and explosives in and around the capital.
It has been an year of both improvement and decline. The most positive signs have come from India's Northeast, which witnessed a dramatic drop in violence and fatalities in all States, with the exception of Manipur (where fatalities rose from 218 in 2004 to 314, till December 12 in 2005). Manipur, regrettably, is a problem of our own making, and there has been a continuous stream of blunders on the part of both the State and the Centre, which have cumulatively fed the escalation.
The most significant recovery, however, has been in Tripura, where the State Government and the Police have rallied strongly in a focused counter-terrorism campaign. This campaign has decimated terrorist ranks, and demonstrated what clear will and vision can achieve, even in a State that is virtually enveloped on three sides by Bangladesh.
These successes, moreover, have been secured despite the fact that Bangladesh continues to serve as a safe haven and source of support for all terrorist groups operating in Tripura, as in the entire Northeast. In Assam, as in much of the region, it is now apparent that the community at large is tired of violence and has little patience with the political pretensions of the various terrorist groups, though the leadership and substantial cadres of these outfits continue to operate from Bangladesh.
Jammu and Kashmir continued to witness the secular decline in violence and fatalities that commenced in 2001, after the global environment and 'tolerance for terror' underwent a dramatic transformation in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the US.
It is significant that this decline has been sustained, irrespective of the policies of the Indian and Pakistani Governments, or of the state of mutual relations between the two countries, and is related essentially to the pressures exerted on Pakistan by the international community, particularly the US, and to the intensity of the international media focus on Pakistan. Violence in J&K dropped by just over seven per cent (from 1810 to 1681, data for 2005 till December 11), between 2004 and 2005, as against almost 29 per cent between 2003 and 2004, 16 per cent between 2002 and 2003, and almost 33 per cent between 2001 and 2002.
This process now appears to be tapering out, and the jihadi leadership in Pakistan and its handlers within the state structure appear to believe that the current level of violence is sustainable under the cover of 'credible deniability' and is necessary to secure leverage on the negotiating table in the 'peace process' currently under way between the two countries.
Unfortunately, it has been possible for Pakistan to recover some space to keep its terrorist enterprise alive in both India and in Afghanistan, because of gradual shifts in international opinion and the focus of international attention, after the initial crystallisation of sentiments against terrorism in the post-9/11 phase.
Before this, of course, terrorism was widely countenanced by the West - and was justified by many countries that sought to explain the murder of innocents as 'freedom struggles'. However, the US and UK have been relatively unambiguous in their condemnation of terrorism since then, and this has severely circumscribed the operational support flowing from sympathetic communities resident in these countries, in terms of moral, financial, material and manpower flows to the areas of strife.
There is also, in these countries, an increasing awareness of linkages between various terrorist groups, and the realisation that the actions of the global coalition against terrorism in a few centres of Islamist extremist terror also have an impact on other terrorist groups. Moreover, increasing constraints are now being placed, not only on Islamist terrorist organisations, but against all terrorist organisations across the world.
The Sikh terrorist groups, which enjoyed almost total immunity in the past, are now being included in lists of terrorist organisations, and their attempts to revive their campaigns through human rights fronts have been visibly unsuccessful.
Unfortunately, Canada and continental Europe, in substantial measure, continue to maintain an ambivalent stand on terrorism, in many cases because of the political leverage exercised by a significant émigré population drawn from communities that are engaged in violent - often terrorist - wars of secession in their home countries.
But looking at the country as a whole, the containment of terrorist groups based on religious or ethnic separatist ideologies has gone side by side with an increase in Left Wing extremist violence, which has mostly been concentrated in areas that are not in the 'public eye' - or more accurately, which are neglected by he national media, for they are very much 'in the eye' of the locals in areas where these Naxalite groups dominate.
These groups have sought to pass themselves off as a great ideological response to the woes of the tribals, the Dalits, the downtrodden and the dispossessed, but are essentially a mix of confused dogmas, caste conflict, the desire of marginalised political leaders to gain political space through violence, and a naked struggle for power.
Nevertheless, these ideologies have swept across large areas of the country - the largest geographical area and population to be afflicted by any single insurgency in the country - and currently comprehend at least 165 districts under various intensities of activity, from high, through moderate, to targeted.
This trend in violence has been growing (678 persons died in 2005, till December 21, as against 566 in 2004) particularly because of the inability of the policy making community, both at national and State levels, to determine the exact responses that are necessary to contain this violence, and this political confusion has found unfortunate echoes in the law enforcement agencies as well.
In addition to this broad sweep of terrorist violence is the endemic sense of insecurity as a result of the increasing activity of criminals, particularly of the criminal mafia that has found inroads into political power, and the general sense of collapse in many parts of the country, in the systems of law enforcement and justice administration.
The most fundamental problem is that almost no one expects efficient and impartial decisions to be meted out, within a rational time frame, by the justice system, and this is something that neither the judiciary nor the political establishment is willing to address. If this problem could be cleared up, terrorism - including the left wing extremist variety - would be taken care of.
The prevalence of a politics of violence across vast areas of the country is an abiding blot on the integrity of the system - and this blemish deepens every time anyone, irrespective of social status, is targeted or dies. Regrettably, this continues to happen with unfailing regularity and, if one were to operate on a rating system of a ten point 'internal security index', India would score a poor two for the year 2005 - probably no more or less than would be ascribed to it in the preceding year.
(Published in The Pioneer, December 24, 2005)