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Home > India > News > Columnists > Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd)

How India can win the war on terror

June 12, 2008

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The concluding part of Colonel Anil Athale's FAQ on terrorism:

Part I: All you want to know about terrorism in India

Using force against terrorists is like treating only the symptom. What about the root cause like the Babri demolition and the Gujarat genocide?

The demolition of the Babri mosque at Ram Janmabhoomi was wrong and against the law of the land. But obduracy of the fundamentalists in denying Hindus their holy place is equally wrong. I am an agnostic but do believe that others who have faith have equal right to their belief. It is not that a compromise had not been worked out in similar cases. The case of the Krishna temple in Mathura is similar so is the case of the Somnath temple.

Making an issue of an obscure mosque in Faizabad was the original sin. In a plural society both the majority and minority have an obligation to respect each other's beliefs, this cannot be a one-sided affair. Many sensible people on both sides tried to find a solution to the issue, but politicians on both sides, interested in dividing society, thwarted all attempts.

This issue has been further vitiated by the 'secularists', who in league with the fundamentalists first disputed the authenticity of Hindu's historical memory of Ayodhya being the birthplace of Ram. The ill logic has been extended further when many question the historicity of Ram and the Ramayan. There is glaring asymmetry here. All Hindu beliefs and history are sought to be rubbished on ground of lack of 'evidence'. It is this moronic approach that has turned even the liberal, the tolerant and the agnostics against the 'sickularists' and their fellow travelers.

The Gujarat riots of 2002 were indeed horrendous and a blot on the nation. But it cannot be forgotten that the Godhra incident was a grave provocation. In 1969, when the 'secularists' were in power, worse riots had taken place in Gujarat. The question is if Godhra had not happened, would the Gujarat riots have taken place? A corollary to that is that even today, in any state, if a Godhra-like incident takes place, equally severe repercussions would occur. This would happen despite the best efforts of the police or army. I have personal experience of dealing successfully with riots during my army career. But we all, who have this experience, agreed that if there is grave provocation and riots spread to rural areas, no army or police can control it.

In addition, some NGOs and individuals, with vested monetary (foreign funds) interests have kept alive the memory of those riots. They have falsely created the brand 'Gujarat genocide' by harping on the 2,000 killed when the (secular) central government puts the figure at 800.

The Gujarat riots or the Babri issue are not the root causes, these are mere symptoms. The root causes are population explosion, lack of economic opportunity, lack of education and separatism. Added to this is the fact that religious reformation in all the communities, has bypassed north India. Political interest in dividing society on the bases of caste and creed and foreign vested interests to destabilise India complete the circle of root causes.

We have in the past held talks with the Nagas, Mizos and sundry groups. Why not with the Islamists?

There are two types of internal conflicts, one is a 'realist' conflict that is fought for material objectives, for instance independence or separate state (the Bodos). Here since the goal is material and tangible, it is possible to negotiate and compromise. It is thus possible to negotiate with Kashmir separatists, but not with the jihadists.

The second type of threats that we face, namely Islamists and Naxalites, are ideological conflicts. Naxalites want to overthrow the entire system and replace it with one party Communist rule (on lines of Stalin or Mao). Can a democratic State negotiate its own destruction? Similarly, the Islamist goal is the Islamisation of India and establishment of Sharia rule. No negotiations are possible with such groups.

We must take the literature found with Students Islamic Movement of India activists that talks of this goal seriously. Hitler's [Images] Mein Kampf was not taken seriously and the world paid a terrible price for it.

The Islamist terrorists have another advantage. Since they cloak themselves in religious idiom, they draw support of the average Muslim easily.

How do you fight terrorism? Or should we just be fatalistic and wait for the next attack?

It is necessary for the whole nation, not just the government, to fight this menace. If left unchecked it has the potential to derail our economy and destroy our freedom and democracy. The measures to be taken can be divided into long term and short term measure.

The long term measures will entail overhaul of our educational system so that separatists and extremists do not breed more terrorists taking advantage of constitutional guarantees. Our Constitution gives freedom to the minorities to establish institutes to preserve their culture and language. But that does not mean we permit or encourage separatism under this guise.

As a first step we must have a uniform curriculum, compulsory for all schools that must teach the students the essence of all the religions. Thus a child in a madarassa or a Hindu pathshala must undergo a course that teaches him about Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhism.

We have to enforce pluralism through understanding at that very crucial stage of child's upbringing. Many a misconception about different faiths is born out this ignorance. Any institution that is not prepared to accept this should not be permitted to operate.

It will take many, many years for the effects to be felt, but we must take this step to nip in the bud the menace of religion-based hatred and terrorism. To deal with complaints of discrimination we must have a structure with powers to punish and redress.

As to short term measures, there is a need to enact a law that deals with not just terrorists but also their supporters and sympathisers. The present laws are wholly inadequate. The argument that a terrorism law would not stop terror acts is infantile and moronic and is political cynicism at its worst. We have laws to deal with murder, but that has not stopped murders from taking place, does that mean we should have no criminal law?

If a tough law that makes all those who help, support, conceal terrorists is in place, it will certainly remove the support base of the terrorists and make it difficult for them to operate. The US, UK, Indonesia and Pakistan all have anti-terrorism laws. It is an irony that India, one of the worst sufferers, does not have a law to deal with this menace that is unlike a normal crime in many ways.

An effective passive measure to fight terrorism would be to form a country wide grid of information by co-opting civil society organisations like mohalla committees, gram panchayats, housing societies etc. These organisations should be given the responsibility to monitor their areas for suspicious activities and be held accountable. To boost their prestige and effectiveness they must be consulted by the police in matters of arrest, detention and bail.

But passive measures alone will never suffice. There are several pro-active and aggressive measures that have to be taken, mostly covert, within and outside the country. But these recommendations/measures are not fit for public discussion and debate and will remain unsaid. Suffice it to say that India will have to show its iron fist to recalcitrant neighbours.

Do you think these measures will succeed?

Frankly, no. The ultimate battle against Islamist terror has to be fought by the Muslims themselves, for they are its biggest potential victim. But that needs a religious reformation, a kind that took place in Europe in the 16th century or in India during the time of Buddha! But presently there is no sign of this happening and it is going to be long haul when Muslims move away from literalist interpretation of their faith and contextualise it.

On the other hand, Hindu society is so hopelessly divided that much terrorism will take place in India not because we are the number one enemy of Islam, which we are not, but because we are a soft target.

India possibly is already a laboratory for the jihadists, who test their tactics and weapons here before they use them against the West.

Colonel (Dr) Anil Athale (retd) is former joint director, war studies, ministry of defence, and co-ordinator of the Pune-based Initiative for Peace and Disarmament

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