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On terror, a policy of evasion

On terror, a policy of evasion

Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: October 21, 2007
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/230661.html

It so happens that shortly before the terrorist attack on Benazir Bhutto's homecoming procession in Karachi last week, I met a Pakistani friend of Sufi disposition who told me in casual conversation about random things that he did not believe Al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11.

'They don't have the technological or organisational skills to carry out an operation like that,' he said firmly. He did not add, as moderate Muslims often do, that it was the evil Jews who were responsible but implied that it could have been the Americans who did it themselves to get their sticky paws on the Islamic world's oil.

There is an inability among believers of this conspiracy theory to understand that in open societies, it is not possible for governments to organise acts of terrorism against their own people without being found out and condemned.

A worryingly large number of moderate, liberal Muslims think the jihad is an exaggeration and that Muslims cannot kill innocent people because this is forbidden in the Koran. Any condemnation of jihad is interpreted as an attack on Islam. Apparently, they do not notice that by refusing to accept the possibility of Islamist terrorism they create the atmosphere for it to flourish. They do this by not acknowledging that violence in the name of Islam is a reality and that on the Indian sub-continent it has become the biggest threat to peace, stability and a happy, prosperous future.

First, it was only Pakistan where the state encouraged and nurtured violent Islamist groups to be used for acts of terrorism against India. Now Bangladesh offers keen competition. General Musharraf routinely denies that his government or the ISI patronise terrorist groups, but never explains how the terrorists the Vajpayee government released in exchange for the passengers of IC-814 found refuge in Pakistan.

In India we may not have so far seen the kind of suicide bombing that killed nearly 150 people in Karachi last Thursday, but we are seeing an alarming increase in terrorist violence. Hyderabad, Ajmer, Ludhiana within weeks of each other most recently and before that a long, long list. Ayodhya, Varanasi, Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore, to mention only a handful of Indian cities that the jihad has targeted since Dr Manmohan Singh became prime minister.

After every act of violence we have had the same response. The home minister or the prime minister makes a flying visit to the scene of the carnage and announces that terrorism will not be 'tolerated'. The culprits will be hunted down and punished. Then nothing happens, nothing at all till the next attack when the exercise is repeated.

If in between carnages the police tries to do more than make routine noises, it faces a barrage of criticism from secularists and human rights activists and all attempts at real investigation die before they begin. Privately, policemen and politicians admit that they work with only half a heart because they are afraid of being labeled anti-Muslim. It is the fear of offending ordinary Muslims that deters real action against known terrorist front organisations like SIMI and hundreds others of similar genre.

The Indian state cannot be accused of directly nurturing terrorist groups as the military governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh have done, but not taking firm action to destroy our home-grown Islamists is nurturing of another kind.

Meanwhile, Dr Manmohan Singh's government has gone out of its way to encourage a sense of grievance among moderate Muslims through efforts like the Sachar committee. At the end of its grand tour across the country to seek out aggrieved Muslims, the committee recommended that in districts with large Muslim populations officials and policemen should be selected with Islam as their primary qualification. If Narendra Modi did this in reverse in Gujarat, he would be vilified and branded.

But, it's all right for 'secular' leaders to use religion as a job qualification because they occupy the high ground. So the prime minister had no compunctions last week in accusing Modi of a 'holocaust' in Gujarat without noticing that he would then need to apply an even bigger word for what happened to the Sikhs in 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.

Dr Singh needs to choose his words more carefully and now that elections are no longer imminent he needs to recognise that his government has done nothing towards winning the fight against terrorism. If he does not recognise this, it is only a matter of time before we see in India the sort of attack on a political procession that happened in Karachi last week.

It will happen if we do not deal firmly with our home-grown Islamists. Moderate Muslims who inadvertently promote the Islamist cause by pretending that there is no terrorism in the name of Islam can be persuaded that they are wrong. All it needs is political will.


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