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Between the line

Politics of terrorism
February 24, 2010


A COUPLE of years ago when President Bush visited New Delhi he pointed his finger towards Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to commend that here was a person who had no Taliban in his country to torment. This was not really true even at that time. The then security advisor, M.K. Narayanan, said that he had his fingers crossed because the terrorists could strike anywhere, any time.

Yet what was true was that the terrorists came from outside and India had no sleepers’ cell inside. At least, that was the impression. A bomb blast in Pune a few days ago, has confirmed that Indian sleepers’ cells are very much there. They call themselves Indian Mujahideen so as to underline their separate identity, different from the ones operating in Pakistan.

I suspect that New Delhi knew about their presence even when the terrorists attacked Mumbai in November some 15 months ago. But the government considered it prudent not to mention about the Indian Mujahideen because all the guns were directed at Pakistan. Islamabad was embarrassed over the disclosure that some of the terrorists who were involved in the Bombay carnage were operators from its soil. However, Islamabad pressed New Delhi for information on the local sleepers’ cells but got no reply despite reminders.

The Pune blast has made New Delhi change its earlier policy to keep the wraps over Indian participants. It has admitted that the sleepers’ cells are present in every big city in the country. For some reasons, the government has no hesitation in saying that the Indian Mujahideen are behind the terrorist activity in India. There should be more information available.

My objection is against coming to certain conclusions without much evidence. New Delhi may be correct in its assessment that the Lashkar-e-Toiba is guiding the Indian Mujahideen from across the border. But it is quite possible that they have their own leaders to instruct them from within the country. There is also the involvement of David Headley, a US national, whom India is trying to interview but Washington is not allowing it. New Delhi deflects attention from terrorism when it brings in Pakistan straightaway although it was cautious at the time of Pune blast. People get involved in anti-Pakistan rhetoric and lose perspective.

The real problem we face is the growth of terrorism on our side. It is sheer fundamentalism which is spreading. The youth is being brainwashed by the extremists. That Pakistan is drowned in terrorism is a cause of concern because it is bound to flow into India sooner than later. Had the two countries joined hands to fight against it, people on both sides would have heaved a sigh of relief. But mistrust again comes in the way. Most Indians are convinced that Pakistan is involved in it. Some Pakistan government agency can still be blamed. But it looks as if the government of India now wants concrete evidence before putting the responsibility at the door of Pakistan.

More worrisome is the Hindu Taliban, rearing their head in India. The murder of police officer Karkare, who was nearing the disclosure of the Malegaon blasts, was the doing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the Bajrang Dal. Such instances may tell upon our pluralistic polity. The BJP may not be siding with the communal organizations openly. But the overall control of the RSS on these groups endangers our secular ethos.

After the Pune blast, I thought the consideration of peace and harmony would bring all parties together on one platform. Unfortunately, the BJP was the first one to politicize the blast or, for that matter, terrorism. It picked on the government for not doing enough to make people feel safe. No doubt, the government should be doing more to combat terrorism. But this does not mean that the party should withhold its cooperation with the government. The danger posed is not to the Congress party alone, but to the people on the whole.

The BJP should have learnt the lesson from the manner in which the entire nation stood behind actor Shah Rukh Khan, a Muslim. The Shiv Sena, a Hindu outfit, had to make an ignorable retreat. And the issue, to the credit of the Indian people, was Shah Rukh Khan’s criticism of the Indian Premier League for not having allowed the Pakistan cricketers to participate in the T20 games.

For the BJP to link the Pune blast with the talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan is to introduce politics again. Terrorism endangers the entire region. Talks on the subject have to have a priority. Yet there is no bar on any party to raise any other subject. But the point I want to emphasise is whenever the talks between India and Pakistan are to be held, the BJP reiterates its one-point programme: anti-Pakistan.

As coincidence has it, the terrorists struck at Pune just before the talks. During the days of the Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP hawks were reined in by his foresight to reach an understanding with Pakistan. After his retirement, the RSS voices its aggressiveness through the BJP. Its session at Indore shows that. The hostility towards Pakistan was open. If the talks are not a way to sort out things, then should India take to arms? They have behind them the support of a widely seen television channel which talks about “aman” but pours venom against Pakistan. This also goes for Indian and Pakistani ex-bureaucrats who have suddenly become Track II. They are the ones who are responsible for the embittered relations between India and Pakistan.

I recall when I was traveling with then Prime Minister Vajapyee in his bus to Lahore he called me before we reached the border. He showed me an urgent message on the killing of 11 Hindus in the Jammu region. He said some people, even in his own party, would criticise him for going ahead with the visit despite the killings. Yet he completed his mission and accepted a time-bound agreement. It was obvious to him that what happened in the Jammu region was meant to derail the talks even before they were firmly on track.

The Pune blast was a similar effort. New Delhi said rightly within an hour of the blast that it would not have a knee-jerk reaction and did not cancel that the talks. The important lesson to learn from the Pune blast is to continue talking, whether the meeting of foreign secretaries is a success or not. There is no option to a dialogue. America and the Soviet Union kept on talking all through the years of the cold war. Both India and Pakistan should tear a leaf from their book.

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