In the aftermath of 9/11, nearly 16 years following the strikes on the twin towers in New York, the global community of nations badly divided on many fronts has remained unified by a single unidimensional fear. That of another sudden terror strike taking place in any of the national constituents of the global order. Amid all the uncertainty that afflicts hearts and minds of people, the only gripping certainty is that terrorism is there to stay and could raise its ugly head anywhere, anytime without notice.
While the world took legitimate cognisance of the loss of life and property in the course of 9/11, the American authorities went into an empowered overdrive to put in place a Homeland Security framework to deter a second strike. They have succeeded so far in doing so.
Unfortunately, this did not happen in India. A few years before the 9/11 strikes, on March 12, 1993, parts of India’s commercial capital Mumbai were schematically ravaged by a terrorist strike by an ISI module operating in tandem with Dawood Ibrahim, killing more than 250 people. This was a direct challenge thrown at republican India by theocratic Pakistan. Dubai was ISI’s transit centre to collect operational finances and for exfiltration and infiltration of terrorists for training and fine-tuning in jihadi killing methodologies. But the main culprit of the Mumbai blasts, Dawood, continues to enjoy “a state of permanent asylum in Karachi”, reckoned as Asia’s grotesque crime capital. It has taken the United Nations 20 years to examine India’s claims of Dawood enjoying ISI patronage and reach the same conclusion just days ago.
The Indian establishment must share part of the blame. Its response to the 1993 blasts was bereft of ideas. Rather than shouting from the rooftop that Pakistan was involved, New Delhi should have set in motion a strategic process that would have compelled Pakistan to act. While closing critical gaps in the internal security order, it should have called off diplomatic ties with Islamabad till Pakistan’s behaviour was in conformity with international norms. This would have put the terrorist state on global notice as a proven perpetrator of using terror as a tool for settling scores with a neighbour. But such an evaluation was neither made by Delhi nor attempted as part of a strategic response. Unlike the composite emphasis on US internal security displayed by Washington post-9/11, a policy vacuum was self-evident in India’s response.
As a result, the world’s largest democracy was yet again perforated by another band of Pakistan-inspired and ISI-trained terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiba on November 26, 2008. India’s ineffectuality in dealing with the scourge of terrorism became open to the world once more. Even the US authorities denied permission for direct interrogation of David Headley by Indian investigators. Delhi licked its wounds over the humiliation, this time by a super power over the issue. The UN, as per its established tradition of somnolence, kept its wise counsels to itself even as the Big Five had nothing but condolences to offer to an agonised India.
Since the 1993 Mumbai blasts, the 9/11 and 26/11, the world has seen major attacks by Islamic radicals in France, Belgium, Spain, the UK, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Turkey and Russia, among others. Amid the shady emergence on the scene of the Islamic State (IS), whose precursor al-Qaeda had set the trend in 2001, the IS remains hazy in terms of its promoters, operational centre, leadership orbit, financing sources and membership. All of this creates doubts in the minds of experts assessing the phenomenon of terrorism.
India can no more afford its lacklustre approach towards the changing face of global terror. As a senior official of the National Investigation Agency recently said, the IS has replaced the extremists seeking the secession of Kashmir as the biggest threat to security in India.
The large number of cases of recruitment attempts by IS in India detected in less than two years show the level of the threat. Eight cells belonging to radical formation have been destroyed since the mid-2014, leading to the capture of about 40 people.
Up until this year, Indian intelligence agencies have focused on Islamist groups based in Pakistan, such as LeT, Hizbul Mujahideen and Indian Mujahideen, but the arrest of engineering student Kalyan Areeb Majeed has led to a refocus of priorities.
IS, which operates globally like ‘a black cat in a dark room’, has taken terror and its vicissitudes to a higher level of uncertainty. Intelligence exchange mechanisms prevalent the world over have failed to aid and assist either preventive actions or post-incident investigations in any meaningful manner. India and the rest of the world can never rest in peace till this new threat is effectively neutralised.
The writer is a former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat