India: states of insecurity


Posted on 16th Feb 2014 07:03 pm by admin

A series of blasts in court compounds acrossthree cities in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh killed fifteen persons andinjured over eighty on 23 November 2007. They are the latest link in a chain ofcomparable terrorist attacks by Islamist groupings that have long received safehaven, sustenance and support from Pakistan and, increasingly, Bangladesh - achain that includes, over the past three years alone, major terrorist strikesin Delhi, Bangalore, Ayodhya, Mumbai, Varanasi, Hyderabad, Malegaon, Panipat,Ajmer and Ludhiana, and lesser attacks at a number of other locations. At this preliminary stage of investigation itis not yet possible definitively to identify the group(s) involved in thelatest case; but initial clues do tie up to "the usualsuspects" - at least one eyewitness has identified a known Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI) militant from police records, andinvestigators are focusing additionally on Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Students Islamic Movement of India(Simi) networks. Some arrests have already been made, but linkages are still tobe conclusively established. UttarPradesh: state of insecurity In addition to the usual clichés about"dastardly deeds" and "terrorist acts" from the political establishment, the serial bombings provoked a cacophony of mutual recriminationsbetween India's central government and the government of Uttar Pradesh (UP) - India's largest and most populousunit, as also among its most backward and worst-administered. Mayawati, chief minister of UP, demonstrated astartling ignorance of the constitutional division of powers and obligations bydeclaring that the centre was to blame because central intelligence had failedto warn the state that such an attack was imminent. She then proceeded totransfer the state's additional director-general of the special task force(STF) responsible for counter-terrorism responses in UP, and to berate statepolice officers for their laxity. The national opposition parties joined thefray, accusing the centre of "intelligence failure" and of being "soft onterror". A "rebuttal" by the union minister of state for home affairs, Sri Prakash Jaiswal, then claimed that UP had, in fact, been"alerted about the possibility of terrorist attacks at public places". It isincomprehensible how such a generalised "alert" could have helped prevent anattack on any specific target. The reality is that no specific intelligencerelating to the strike on the courts existed. At the same time, Uttar Pradeshhas an extended history of Islamist terrorist activity; and a general threat to the courtswas anticipated in view of the extraordinary conduct of lawyers in Lucknow,Faizabad and Varanasi, who had as a body refused to represent any accused interrorism cases, and had even physically assaulted such accused on at least twoinstances. Thirty-four of UP's seventy districts are categorised as "sensitive"in terms of Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist and subversive activities; onestate-police assessment says that "UP had emerged as one of the major centresof the activities of the [Pakistani intelligence agency ] ISI and its proxyterrorist groups in India", and that "sleeper modules" had infiltrated severalcities and small towns in the state. These broad indicators notwithstanding, itwould hardly be considered possible for any security system to eliminate therisk of soft-target terror attacks across India, or, indeed, even across astate like UP. Two further elements undermine the state's capacities to acteffectively against terrorism in UP. First, there are acute deficits in the police and intelligenceestablishments, and primitive policing infrastructure and practices which havelong been in urgent need of reform. To take a single index as an example, thestate has a ratio of just ninety-four policemen per 100,000 population, asagainst a national average of 143 (in 2006), and international norms thatrecommend at least 222/100,000. Second, and worse, an entrenched element ofthe state's "vote-bank" politics is the appeasement of the radical elements ofthe Muslim constituency. A consequence of this is that political parties haveactively obstructed enforcement agencies from taking effective action against atendency that has facilitated and established terrorist networks in the state. These factors combine with the continuous andendemic erosion of administrative capacities and of the quality of politicalmanagement to create conditions in which the enforcement and intelligenceestablishment is comprehensive unpreparedness for major incidents. WestBengal: the politics of land The conditions in Uttar Pradesh are abysmalenough, but they are also only part of a wider malaise in India. This has beenevident in the recent eruption of violent demonstrations by Islamistfundamentalists in the state of West Bengal (WB), ruled for more than a generation by the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M). West Bengal has experienced persistent, albeitperipheral, disturbances for the past year over the issue of land acquisitionin order to create a "special economic zone" in Nandigram, some seventy kilometressouthwest of the state capital, Kolkata. The Nandigram confrontation can be said tooriginate in classical democratic oppositional politics and the frictions ofglobalisation and neo-liberalism. What has made it in political terms crucial -and perhaps prophetic - is the manner in which this originating element hasunexpectedly begun to coalesce with, and been harnessed by, two of India'sprincipal extremist movements: the Islamist and the Maoist. The West Bengal government, in attempting to"recapture" Nandigram from villagers opposed to its plans (and who had earlierousted Marxist sympathisers from the area), has displayed extraordinaryincompetence; its police forces as well as armed CPI-M cadres have usedexcessive force, committed murder and inflicted "punitive"rape on local people. The result is that a small and altogether manageablelocal dispute has been transformed into a major conflict and iconic source of extremist mobilisation. A relatively insignificant Islamistorganisation based in West Bengal, the All India Minority Forum (AIMF), hasused the events in Nandigram (which has a predominantly Muslim population) as afocal-point of its propaganda. More recently, the AIMF combined the issue ofstate repression with demands for the expulsion from Kolkata of the "blasphemous" Bangladeshiwriter Taslima Nasreen. These demands were accompanied by days ofopen incitement by AIMF office-bearers, including inflammatory statements onnational television news channels. The result was predictable: violent demonstrations and riots across Kolkata, necessitatingdeployment of the army and (on 21 November 2007) the imposition of a nightcurfew on the city. The state government, despite ample warning ofdisorder, had taken no preventive action. Here too, local negligence reflects along history where the the Marxists of West Bengal have treated Muslims in thestate as part of its reliable "vote bank" and thus shortsightedly failed tochallenge rising Islamist currents. In addition, they have long denied (until arecent modification of their position) the continuous demographic change in thecomposition of the state as a result of illegal migration from Bangladesh, and the implications of such open bordersfor national security. The incidents in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengalare only the latest in the ongoing and unedifying - indeed appalling -spectacle of India's official responses to extremism and terrorism across wide areasof the country. At present, hysteria and speculative commentary dominate theimmediate reaction to every new incidence of violence. But there is littleevidence of a sustained focus by India's state agencies to improve theircapacities and patterns of response, andto build an effective national-security system to protect against theaugmenting threat of radical political violence.

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