Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fighting Terrorism

Terrorism: Civil society can play a major role by Gen V.P. Malik (Retd)
THE second anniversary of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai has highlighted two important issues — the accountability of the state and the role of civil society in countering terrorism.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram went to Mumbai to participate in the anniversary observance. He paid homage to the terror victims, sympathised with their kith and kin and also lauded those who had conducted themselves bravely on this day two years ago. Some measures taken by the Centre and state governments to prevent and combat terrorism were highlighted. But as pointed out by him and the media, there is a lot more to be done in the areas of national and state security apparatus, intelligence sharing mechanism and equipping of the security forces.

Chidambaram has admitted that India has failed to get the Pakistani perpetrators punished or to deter their establishment from using proxy terror outfits as a strategic weapon. That is obvious from the post-26/11 terrorist attacks on the German Bakery in Pune and the Indian Embassy in Kabul. A decade-long flip-flop in our counter-terrorism efforts and security policy towards Pakistan — kabhi naram, kabhi garam — and over-dependence on the US have not been helpful. India has to believe in itself and develop its own deterrent, prevention and combat capabilities.

The contrasting response of civil society in India during this period has been interesting. At the one end of the spectrum are the people from Mumbai who lit candles for the 26/11 victims, resolved to fight terrorism unitedly, and questioned why Kasab was still hanging around. The Force One display in Mumbai was impressive, but not the lethargy of the leaders and officials responsible for its control and equipment. Having faced three large-scale terrorist attacks on the city, civil society activism against terrorism in Mumbai is understandable.

At the other end are the Hurriyat leaders, little known outside the valley in J&K, who are openly questioning the integrity of the nation, organising hartals, stone-pelting and provocative attacks on the security forces. They accept or condone violence to push their agenda. Everyone in the government and outside knows that they get their funds, support and guidance from Pakistan, which has been using jihadi terrorism as a strategic tool against India.

There is also a publicity craving author who romanticises the Maoists, provides glamorous company to Hurriyat leaders and makes seditious statements challenging India’s sovereignty.

There are some little-known and suspiciously funded political organisations and think-tanks that provide interactive platforms to such people across the country. The media provides them oxygen. These dissidents and provocateurs are hot favourites of our TV channels. Remember the old adage related to the media: man biting dog makes news, not the other way round!

All this raises the question of the role of civil society in preventing and countering terrorism in democratic India.

India’s civil society to me means a group of inter-dependent “civil” people who share a common value system and interests. Civil society is guided and bound by the Constitution of India with all its privileges, responsibilities and accountability. To maintain a sense of security and equitable opportunity, civil society must abide by its legal governance system - its laws, rules and regulations.

India has a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-community social structure. People everywhere have socio-political and socio-economic aspirations. At one level, the diversity sharpens competition among different social groups for political, social and economic advancement. At another macro level, it helps as a balancing factor, enables cooperative benefits and co-existence. It binds the nation and discourages secessionism. An active civil society in a democratic country like India is essential.

My long involvement with counter-terrorism in the Northeast, Punjab and J&K makes me believe that civil society usually contributes more to the cause of preventing and countering terrorism than encouraging terrorism. Wherever active, it generates awareness and provides a constructive outlet for the redress of grievances. It gives voice to the marginalised and vulnerable people, including victims of terrorism, and plays a critical role in ensuring that counter-terrorism measures respect human rights and the rule of law. I have no hesitation in stating that prolonged and intensified operations against terrorists and insurgents, despite discipline and education, often lead to fake encounters and other human rights violations! Prolonged deployment of the security forces and the inconveniences that go with such a measure tend to alienate civil society.

In any counter-terrorism strategy, conflict resolution and removing the causes of terrorism are always more important than military action against terrorist violence. Civil society enables us to reach the core of the conflicts in spreading awareness, ending foreign influence and supporting area development. It plays an important role in facilitating dialogue and providing policy advice. Civil society engaged in such work helps dry up the wells of extremism from which violence springs. Punjab in this regard is one of our best examples.

The problem that we face in India is that many civil society organisations which are potential allies of the state in promoting development are viewed with suspicion when working among the marginalised populations or perceived to be supporting political opponents of the state. This makes the security forces and other counter-terrorism agencies extremely reluctant to develop partnership with such organisations.

There is a lot that civil society does and can do to prevent and check terrorism. It needs to consolidate, promote harmony and solidarity in society as well as manage an orderly response in the event of a terrorist attack as it has done repeatedly in Mumbai. It needs to involve itself in a pro-active manner, hand-in-hand with government agencies, following the instructions, maintaining watch and ward in our surroundings. The debates, the disagreements and events in society which cause tensions can be resolved expeditiously to restore a congenial atmosphere.

What about the fringe civil society organisations and their ideologues mentioned earlier? I believe that if they cross the laxman rekha of our legal governance system, they must be condemned by civil society and dealt with promptly by the state. They get away because we misinterpret, we procrastinate, and we do not enforce the laws of the land. The home security regulations in the US and the UK are much harsher and more strictly enforced than we do in India.

Yet another reason is the lack of effective governance due to divisive vote bank politics, corruption and degeneration of our value system. These basic issues concerning civil society need much greater attention today than they did anytime before.

Unfortunately, in the matter of effective governance, our civil society takes little interest. It is inactive and generally a mute spectator. We should not forget that whenever and wherever there is lack of good governance, “civil” people easily turn into “uncivil” people!
The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff.
Fighting terrorism: Civil society can play a major role
by Gen V.P. Malik (retd)

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