Why a ‘Jaipur’ will never happen in the USA
Wednesday 28, May 2008, The Statesman
Unlike their Indian counterparts, American law-enforcement authorities are absolutely convinced that terrorism can be prevented. Whenever an attack occurs anywhere in the world, the US Homeland Security authorities redouble their vigilance and refurbish their plans to meet any contingency. Grim determination is writ large on their hawk-eyed faces. That’s why “Jaipur” will never happen in the United States.
In October 2007, President George Bush issued an updated ‘National Strategy for Homeland Security’, which emphasised that “we cannot simply rely on defensive approaches and well-planned response and recovery measures. We recognize that our efforts also must involve offense at home and abroad” (italics added). In contrast, Indian authorities are essentially reactive, not even defensive. They wait for a calamity to hit before they stir themselves with a few public statements of outrage, promising action but letting apathy and amnesia take over until another terrorist attacks occurs. India is in the grip of a vicious cycle.
In contrast, the US strategy “provides a common framework” through which not only the federal, state and local governments work but also “the private and non-profit sectors, communities, and individual citizens” are actively included in homeland security efforts. The strategy aims at developing a “Culture of Preparedness that permeates all levels of society ~ from individual citizens, businesses, and non-profit organizations to Federal, State, local, and Tribal government officials and authorities”.
I have not heard anyone in India talking about a cultural of anticipation and readiness.
The Department of Homeland Security is always on the lookout for terrorists in order to pre-empt any kind of attack. Apart from the federal government, every state has a list of potential terrorist targets for which there are contingency plans. The federal and state governments work hand-in-glove to fight crime and terrorism. For example, in July 2006, authorities had discovered a plot to blow up the underground tunnel system that connects New Jersey with New York City. The discovery of the plot was not a serendipitous occurrence but the result of an early awareness system.
In the US, as well as in Europe, there has been a grand shift in thinking. The policy is not only to nip the evil in the bud but also to eliminate the evil at the pre-natal stage by establishing an early awareness system. The strategic thinking that what’s anticipated and imagined can be prevented especially applies to terrorism of which the Jaipur serial bombings were the latest manifestation in India. Pre-emption is preventing terrorists’ acts at the inspiration and pre-planning stage before they become a tragedy. Call it paranoia, but as Intel’s ex-CEO Andrew S Grove said in another context, only the paranoid survive.
Terrorists in India know that nothing serious will happen to them even if they were apprehended. Politically and financially they are well protected; otherwise they would not have been in business so long.
Uncovering the terrorists’ domestic supporters ~ political, religious, financial ~ requires the kind of commitment one sees in the US. Unless India adopts and ruthlessly executes a policy of total elimination of terrorists and their local supporters, using all the available means to hunt them under the law, Indians will be wondering where the next “Jaipur” will erupt.
India needs to re-balance its priorities ~ civil liberties and domestic security ~ as has been done in the US. In 2006, the US Congress renewed the draconian anti-terrorism law ~ The US PATRIOT Act, albeit with some changes. Personal liberties have been somewhat affected, especially in big cities, though most of the US is as free as ever. Living in the US is safe ~ safer than anywhere else in the world. The PATRIOT Act, which allows intelligence and law-enforcement authorities to go into places of worship, the working of charities, telecommunications of suspected militants and libraries, is not what an ideal free society should do. But it is a lesser evil than letting terrorists take advantage of constitutional freedoms to commit mass murder. Fighting terrorism is not for softies. Open societies need not be handcuffed by their enlightened doctrines when law-enforcement authorities try to locate and destroy terrorist cells functioning openly or clandestinely in their own backyards.
Superb intelligence gathering, pre-emptive and preventive measures and anticipatory disaster plans could go a long way in minimising the damages if India wants to take terrorism as seriously as the US does and if politicians are prepared to pay the price, instead of depending upon criminals and their vote-banks for survival.
India has much to learn about how comprehensively and efficiently the US goes about managing its homeland security by keeping perpetual vigilance. Following the pre-emptive policy of dealing with terrorists, US Attorney David E Nahmias said, “We no longer wait until a bomb is built and is ready to explode.” For example, the plot to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago was at a stage “more aspirational than operational”, according to the FBI, when the plotters were apprehended in June 2007.
What can India do? Fighting terrorism must be giving the same priority as building national infrastructure. Just as economic growth has several metrics (GDP, for example), terrorism reduction must have its own metrics. Without measurement, there is no accountability. Without accountability, there is no freedom and democracy.
It is imperative for India to have an anti-terror federal agency, as recommended by the Indian Chief Justice. I wish Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was more forceful and determined when he said, “We should explore all possibilities for recognising crimes like terrorism, white-collar crimes and human trafficking as federal crimes and setting up a federal agency which is fully equipped to discharge the onerous function of dealing with it.”
Perhaps India needs much more than wishy-washy recommendations. India needs an Iron Man, someone like Sardar Patel. Have you forgotten him, ladies and gentlemen?
(ND Batra is professor of