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We are losing the war against jihadis

We are losing the war against jihadis

Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: August 3, 2008
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/343913.html

This is a topical column so I cannot avoid writing about terrorism in the week after three major Indian cities were attacked by jihadi terrorists. But, since nothing has changed since the last round of Islamist violence the only point worth repeating is that we do not know who we are looking for. How can we win this war when the enemy remains so nebulous? After every incident, the police lists for us the usual suspects. The Indian Mujahideen, they tell us now, is a front for Pakistani and Bangladeshi terrorist groups with our own SIMI lending a hand. Really? Have they discovered this since the Indian Mujahideen struck in Jaipur in May?

Jihadi terrorism has been the biggest threat to national security since IC 814 was hijacked by jihadi terrorists on Christmas Eve, 1999. In December 2001 came the attack on Parliament, followed by major attacks in cities across India. And, what have we done since? Nothing. Commentators more qualified than I warn that the Islamist attacks will continue and spread because our political class has not yet taken the threat seriously. Even by their uncaring standards it is hard to think of a more irresponsible remark than the one made by the Bharatiya Janata Party's Sushma Swaraj last week. When she accused the Government of India of being behind the terrorist attacks in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Surat was she aware that she was attacking India and not its government?

When a senior politician says on nationwide television that India is so degenerate a country that the Government is capable of killing innocent people to divert attention from a political scandal it should be considered treason. It amounts to saying that the terrorist threat is not real, that it is just a tool used by politicians whenever they choose. If Ms Swaraj was speaking as a spokesman of the BJP, and Mr Advani has not disowned her comment, it explains why the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee did nothing to fight terrorism.

After the disgraceful handling of IC 814, there should have been some attempt to set up a central counter-terrorism unit, some acknowledgement of the need to improve intelligence systems and policing. It did not happen. Ordinary policemen are our soldiers in this ugly, ugly war. No attempt has been made so far to equip them to fight it. They do not have the training for counter-terrorism, nor modern weapons, nor even that most basic requirement: a national database that could help us put some faces to the killers. Without a national database, without computerised coordination between our state governments there is no chance of us winning against a small army of fanatics who use Islam to persuade ordinary Muslims to do their dirty work. Within hours of 9/11 we knew who the 19 hijackers were. In India, we only found out about Maulana Azhar Masood and Omar Sheikh after we released them in Kandahar. They were in Indian jails for five years writing journals filled with details of their evil exploits, building tunnels to escape and we knew nothing.

If the 'nationalist' Vajpayee government failed to understand the seriousness of the jihadi threat the 'secular' government of Dr Manmohan Singh has an even worse record. Islamist groups have struck at random in our cities and are now so confident of their ability to remain undetected that they send e-mails before the event. 'In the name of Allah the Indian Mujahideen strike again. Within five minutes from now feel the terror of Death'. This was sent before the Ahmedabad bombings. In this latest attack they have shown that they can attack Bangalore on July 25, Ahmedabad the day after and Surat the day after that. Mercifully, the 26 bombs they found in Surat were detected before they went off.

Gujarat's Chief Minister described the attacks as a proxy war. It is. And, it could be the only kind of war we will fight in the future but we remain as unprepared to fight it as we were 10 years ago when we watched the hijackers of IC 814 drive off into Pakistan and did nothing later to bring them to justice.

It is a terrible situation. No city is safe. No public place secure. If the Prime Minister wants to know what it feels like to be an ordinary Indian let him spend a few days without his Z-plus security. Let him shop in Delhi's bazaars and worship in his local gurudwara and let him order his ministers to do the same. If not, let him at least Google up 'jihad' so he can see on U-tube the venomous attacks on the 'cowardly Indian Army' and the sophistication of Islamist propoganda. It might make him realise that we are losing the war.

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