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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 30

Face of the Danger


Saturday 14 July 2007, by SC


The latest developments on the global terror front are definitely a cause for worry. The substantial Indian involvement in the three botched attempts at exploding car bombs in central London and Glasgow airport is indeed a matter of grave concern. It is easy to demonise the persons who tried to perpetrate such heinous acts. Of course those responsible for such attempted terrorist violence must be dealt with sternly in accordance with the law of any civilised land guided by democratic principles. But at the same time one must avoid knee-jerk reactions and instead make an effort to understand the reasons behind the alienation of the youth—most of them are from Bangalore—that misguided them towards terrorist depredations. This is where the Prime Minister’s statement on the issue assumes significance. He promised all possible help to the new British PM, Gordon Brown, in nabbing those who could have inflicted a tragedy in Britain worse than the 7/7 underground train bombings in London (we have just observed the second anniversary of those bombings); but in the same breath he warned against falling prey to labelling communities as ‘terrorists’—this is precisely what had happened in the West in general and the US in particular in the aftermath of the horrendous events of 9/11 in the United States (whose sixth anniversary we shall observe in September). What is more, he made a powerful plea to ensure that the factors breeding terrorism are eliminated so as to enable the misdirected youth to see reason. An eminently justified observation this was, however, roundly condemned by the stalwarts of the saffron brigade, including and most notably the Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani, as indicative of ‘minority appeasement’ based on ‘vote-bank politics’. Yet another illustration of the myopic vision afflicting wide sections of our political leadership.

The storming of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid by Pakistani troops on July 10 is also a highly serious matter. Its implications could be far-reaching and its fall-out widespread, that is, beyond the confines of our neighbouring state. At one level the country’s military President, Pervez Musharraf, could be commended for keeping his cool and going for decisive action against extremists, fundamentalists, militants and firebrand terrorists. Yet if one carefully examines the scenario as it evolved in and around the Lal Masjid one cannot but agree with what the celebrated cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, has written. He has raised several pertinent questions:

Why was action not taken immediately? How were militants and arms able to get in (to the mosque) under the gaze of the police and intelligence services? And why were other measures, including shutting of electricity at the mosque, not exhausted earlier?

These questions bring out the striking similarity between Musharraf’s ‘Operation Silence’ at Lal Masjid, Islamabad on July 10, 2007 and Indira Gandhi’s ‘Operation Bluestar’ in Golden Temple, Amritsar on June 4, 1984. Needless to underscore, Indira Gandhi’s tragic assassination on October 31, 1984 was a sequel to that operation 23 years ago. Imran too has recalled the Golden Temple attack which instead of subduing militancy actually triggered a wave of violence including Indira’s brutal end. He does not fail to also point out that “while few Sikhs may have sympathised with the militants, many came to deeply resent the (Indian) government’s high-handedness”; thus drawing the correct analogy he avers:

.... this use of force (in Lal Masjid) is likely to produce unintended and dangerous consequences, as it has in Balochistan, Waziristan and Bajaur.
Hence the euphoria of having suppressed the fanatical jehadi elements could well be shortlived.

Imran also goes deep into the problem. In his view,
Musharraf is perceived among radical elements as the West’s instrument in a “war on Islam”—there could be no greater failure in the battle for hearts and minds.
He then explains:

Terrorism requires a political solution. Extremists can be marginalised through debate and political dialogue in a democracy. Military dictatorship, as we are now seeing, only exacerbates the problem.

This is doubtless true. Sikh extremism could not be defeated by either ‘Operation Bluestar’ (which had become inevitable when it was launched—the price the government had to pay due to its policy of drift in much the same way as ‘Operation Silence’ under Musharraf) or K.P.S. Gill. It was fought and eliminated through the democratic political process including the periodic holding of elections—the real way of removing the alienation of the people. As we all know, it is that alienation which breeds violent terrorism shunning the democratic path.

That is why in today’s context this terrorism based on extremism and fundamentalism can emerge with greater vehemence and intensity in Pakistan in the aftermath of ‘Operation Silence’ in Lal Masjid. The danger from this phenomenon is not for Pakistan alone but South Asia as a whole. One can never be oblivious of this undeniable fact.

July 13 S.C.

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