Islamic Terrorism in India

Most Muslims are not terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims

India’s Anti- terror Errors — Years of caving to Islamic militants has made the problem worse

Posted by jagoindia on November 28, 2008


“In sum, the Indian approach to terrorism has been consistently
haphazard and weak-kneed. When faced with fundamentalist demands,
India’s democratically elected leaders have regularly preferred
caving to confrontation on a point of principle. The country’s
institutions and culture have abetted a widespread sense of Muslim
separateness from the national mainstream. The country’s diplomats
and soldiers have failed to stabilize the neighborhood. The ongoing
drama in Mumbai underscores the price both Indians and non-Indians
caught unawares must now pay.”

India’s Anti- terror Errors
Years of caving to militants has made the problem worse.
By SADANAND DHUME
From today’s Wall Street Journal Asia

NEW DELHI

As the story of the carnage in Mumbai unfolds, it is tempting to
dismiss it as merely another sorry episode in India’s flailing effort
to combat terrorism. Over the past four years, Islamist groups have
struck in New Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad, among other
places. The death toll from terrorism — not counting the 101 killed
in Mumbai on Wednesday and Thursday — stands at over 4,000, which
gives India the dubious distinction of suffering more casualties
since 2004 than any country except Iraq.

But though the attacks highlight India’s particular vulnerability to
terrorist violence, they are also a warning to any country that
values what the city symbolizes for Indians: pluralism, enterprise
and an open society. Put simply, India’s failure to protect its
premier city offers a textbook example for fellow democracies on how
not to deal with militant Islam.

The litany of errors is long. Unlike their counterparts in the West,
or in East Asia, India’s perpetually squabbling leaders have failed
to put national security above partisan politics. The country’s
antiterrorism effort is reactive and episodic rather than proactive
and sustained. Its public discourse on Islam oscillates between crude
anti-Muslim bigotry and mindless sympathy for largely unjustified
Muslim grievance-mongering. Its failure to either charm or cow its
Islamist-friendly neighbors — Pakistan and Bangladesh — reveals a
limited grasp of statecraft. Finally, an inability to modernize a 150-
million strong Muslim population, the second largest after
Indonesia’s, has spawned a community ill-equipped to seize new
economic opportunities and susceptible to militant Islam’s faith-
based appeal.

To be sure, not all of India’s problems are of its own making. In
Pakistan, it has a neighbor founded on the basis of religion, whose
government — along with those of Iran and Saudi Arabia — has long
been one of the world’s principal exporters of militant Islamic
fervor. Bangladesh too hosts a panoply of jihadist groups. As in
Pakistan, public sympathy with the militant Islamic worldview
forestalls any meaningful effort against those who regularly use the
country as a sanctuary to plan mayhem in India. America’s
unsuccessful Pakistan policy — too many carrots and too few sticks —
has also contributed to a fundamentally unstable neighborhood.

Nonetheless, the reflexive Indian response to most every act of
terrorism is to apportion blame rather than to seek a solution that
will prevent, or at least minimize, its recurrence. Even Indonesia —
a still-poor Muslim-majority nation where sympathy for militants runs
deeper than it does in India — has done an infinitely better job of
recognizing that the protection of citizens’ lives is any
government’s first responsibility. A superbly trained federal
antiterrorism force called Detachment 88 has ensured that country has
not suffered a terrorist attack in more than three years.

By contrast, India’s leaders — who invariably swan around with armed
guards paid for by the taxpayer — can’t even agree on a legal
framework to keep the country safe. On taking office in 2004, one of
the first acts of the ruling Congress party was to scrap a federal
antiterrorism law that strengthened witness protection and enhanced
police powers. The Congress party has stalled similar state-level
legislation in the opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata
Party-ruled state of Gujarat. And it was a Congress government that
kowtowed to fundamentalist pressure and made India the first country
to ban Mumbai-born Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” in 1988.

The BJP hasn’t exactly distinguished itself either. In 1999, the
hijacking of an Indian aircraft to then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan led
a BJP government to release three hardened militants, including Omar
Sheikh Saeed, the former London School of Economics student who would
go on to murder Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. More
recently, the BJP, driven by tribal religious solidarity and a
penchant for conspiracy theories, has failed to demand the same tough
treatment for alleged Hindu terrorists as it does for Muslims. Minor
parties, especially those dependent on the Muslim vote, compete to
earn fundamentalists’ favor.

In sum, the Indian approach to terrorism has been consistently
haphazard and weak-kneed. When faced with fundamentalist demands,
India’s democratically elected leaders have regularly preferred
caving to confrontation on a point of principle. The country’s
institutions and culture have abetted a widespread sense of Muslim
separateness from the national mainstream. The country’s diplomats
and soldiers have failed to stabilize the neighborhood. The ongoing
drama in Mumbai underscores the price both Indians and non-Indians
caught unawares must now pay.

Mr. Dhume is a Washington-based writer and the author of “My Friend
the Fanatic: Travels with an Indonesian Islamist” (Text Publishing,
2008).

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