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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Questions We Must Ask About the Pathankot Attack

Some things about the attack on the Pathankot IAF base are obvious. First, something is seriously wrong with our border management in the area. Despite the fencing and presumably heavy patrolling, Pakistani militants seem to get through with surprising ease. This is the fifth attack in the area since September 2013, which follows a near identical pattern. A small group of militants, dressed in army fatigues, crosses the international border in Jammu & Kashmir which runs roughly parallel to National Highway 1A in a south-easterly direction from Jammu to Kathua and then loops south at the Ravi river to Pathankot and Gurdaspur. After crossing the border they hike – and in this case, they apparently summoned a taxi and later hijacked an official vehicle – to get to the highway which is some 10-15 kms away and head for a target, usually a police station, an army camp and in Pathankot, the airbase.
This is heavily serrated riverine terrain which is not easy to police, but surely by now India should have gotten its act together. It is not clear whether the Border Security Force has thermal imagers in the area; they do have low light TV surveillance equipment, but it is often unserviceable.
Second, the attack is almost certainly instigated by elements of the deep state, which means the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate of the Pakistan Army. Five or six armed men cannot simply walk through the heavy Pakistani defences in an area which formed part of a major military thrust by India in the 1971 war.
The third issue is the poor quality of the policing in Punjab. Despite the July 2015 attack on the Dinanagar police station, very near to the point where Punjab Police SP Salwinder Singh was abducted, the police response was worse than flat-footed. They took anywhere between 12-14 hours to come to the conclusion that their SP’s account of his abduction meant that a serious national security emergency was on hand.

 Army soldiers conduct a search operation in a forest area outside the Pathankot air force base in Pathankot on Sunday. Credit: PTI

Whatever scattered accounts of the incident we have been getting indicates that its handling, too, has been flawed, if not downright shoddy.
Government officials themselves admit that they had enough advance information of a possible attack. Punjab police chief Suresh Arora acknowledged that the presence of the militants had been confirmed by Friday And thereafter 168 NSG commandos led by Maj-Gen Dushyant Singh had been flown in from New Delhi.
There were also reports that two columns of the Army, roughly 260 men, had also been sent in along with the Punjab Police SWAT team. Yet, even after 35 hours, at the time of writing, the militants have not been eliminated. It is not enough to say that they have been isolated or contained or whatever, because according to the report, they also had mortars which can easily cause mayhem in a half-kilometre range.
There are many unanswered questions here.

Multiple security lapses
First, why did the terrorists let the SP off, considering he was a senior police officer ?
Second, why were the security forces unable to locate the militants in the 20 hours or so they became aware of their presence?
Third, despite prior intelligence and the presence of the NSG, Air Force commandos, aerial surveillance using thermal imaging, how were the militants able to actually breach the base perimeter defences? Had they already breached the perimeter and were hiding out till they launched their attack on Saturday morning ? Is the perimeter fencing and surveillance upto the mark in the first place. This is an important consideration given the importance of the Pathankot airbase and its proximity to a very active border.
Fourth, why were lower end forces like the Defence Security Corps (DSC), who are mostly retired service personnel, allowed to come in the way of danger when it was clear by Friday evening that highly trained militants were targeting the base which had already received high quality forces like the NSG? According to reports, five of the seven security personnel killed were from the DSC.
Fifth, despite a series of attacks across the international border in this area, why are the security forces unable to effectively seal the border? True, the terrain is a problem, but surely by now, enough technological solutions like motion sensors, thermal imagers and low light TV are available to deal with the problem.
Sixth, did the NSG follow the standard protocol in recovering the body of the militants? I ask this because booby-trapping bodies is standard terrorist tradecraft in such cases and special equipment is supposed to be used to ensure that the body is not wired. Was the NSG sent minus their sophisticated bomb defusing robot ? This may have led to the tragic loss of Lt Col Niranjan.

New strategy?
There are several other issues that will need to be worked out in the coming days. For example, the issue of the number of the militants. If Salwinder Singh’s account is accurate, there were four. Then from where did the two additional militants who were discovered on Sunday come from? Is there another group hanging around somewhere, or was their local connivance?
In sum and substance, the Pathankot incident means that the Pakistan Army is keeping its options open when it comes to the efforts being made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to normalise relations between the two countries. This too ought to have been expected. Every time efforts are made for normalisation, there is a push-back by forces opposed to it. In that sense, this is an old story in the India-Pakistan relationship.
There is a carefully thought through strategy in the attacks on military or police camps in the border areas of J&K and Punjab. After all, the militants could easily hit civilian targets like bazaars, schools, railway and bus stations, but they don’t. The reason is that while these events do create headlines when they occur, they are quickly forgotten, but mass civilian casualties would generate massive world-wide attention and bring pressure on Pakistan. The goal of the attacks is to keep the Jammu & Kashmir pot simmering, without letting it boil over.
The attack suggests that elements in the Pakistan establishment are out to sabotage the latest Modi-Sharif initiative to de-freeze relations. It would be foolish to play into their hands and stop the process of normalisation. On the other hand, sustained engagement is the only way to neutralise them. That said, there is need on the Indian side for the country to get its defensive act in order. The manner in which the Pathankot attack was handled leaves a lot of unanswered questions about the ability of the security forces –  the police, the BSF and the military – to anticipate challenges and react to them swiftly and decisively.
The Wire January 4, 2016

Pathankot ambush keeps pot simmering

The attack on the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Pathankot base by a gang of armed Pakistani terrorists was not entirely unexpected. 
After all every time efforts are made to push for normalisation, there is a push-back by forces opposed to it. In that sense, this is an old story in the India-Pakistan relations. 
Five attackers hijacked the car of the Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police (SP), Salwinder Singh, near Dinanagar, and used it to reach the gate of the IAF base, where they were eventually contained and eliminated. 

There are three problems here.First, why did they let the SP off, considering he was a senior police officer. 
Second, this is the area near Gurdaspur, which was attacked on July 27, 2015, and which was itself unusual because it is in Punjab, not Jammu & Kashmir where most of the attacks take place. 
And the third is why was the police not able to locate the militants even though they knew about the SP’s abduction, 24 hours before the Pathankot attack. 

Modus operandi 

This is the fifth attack since September 2013, which follows a near identical pattern. 
A small group of militants, dressed in army fatigues, crosses the international border in Jammu & Kashmir which runs roughly parallel to the NH1A in a south-easterly direction from Jammu to Kathua and then loops south at the Ravi river to Pathankot and Gurdaspur. 
After crossing the border they hike to the highway which is some 10-15 kms away and hijack a passing vehicle and head for a target, usually a police station or an army camp. 
This is heavily serrated riverine terrain which facilitates small groups penetrating the border cordon which is maintained by the BSF in this area. 
September 26, 2013: A couple of days ahead of the Manmohan Singh-Nawaz Sharif meeting in New York, militants dressed in army fatigues struck a police station at Hiranagar near Kathua killing several policemen, later they attacked an army camp before being gunned down. A total of 12 persons, including an army officer were killed. 
November 27, 2014: Just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was meeting his Pakistani counterpart at Dhulikhel, Nepal, four gunmen who had come across the border, ran into an army patrol in the Arnia sector of Jammu. They were killed in the ensuing encounter which left three army men and five civilians dead. 
March 28, 2014: Two days after a Modi election rally near Jammu, three militants in army uniform hijacked a vehicle killing a civilian and injuring another and then attacked an army camp at Janglore and killed a jawan, before being shot. 
July 27, 2015: Three gunmen dressed in army fatigues fired on a bus at Dinanagar, near Gurdaspur.They had hijacked a car to reach the local police station - the target of the attack. Three civilians and four policemen were killed along with the three militants. 
There were two points about the attacks that are not easy to explain. 
First, the attackers seem to have come from the Jammu side and then made their way into Punjab, when they could have hit many targets in Jammu. 
Second, they planted five bombs in a railway track near Dinanagar, which were found and defused. In other words — the aim was to create mass civilian casualties. 
Patterns 
August 5, 2015: Two militants launched an attack on a BSF convoy near Udhampur, killing two BSF personnel. 
One of the militants was killed, while the other, Usman Khan, was captured. 
Unusually, the two came through northern Kashmir, crossed the valley and targeted the convoy. The attack was also unusual in that it was the first in the Udhampur district, in over a decade.
The common pattern in these Army personnel stand guard at the IAF base in Pathankot attacks is that they typically do not really target civilians. Many of the civilian casualties are collateral damage. 
The main targets of the attackers are police, paramilitary and army camps or posts. Of course, the bombs on the railway tracks in Dinanagar, do not fit into the pattern. 

Strategy 
There appears to be a carefully thought through strategy in the attacks on military or police camps, because these events do create headlines when they occur, but they are quickly forgotten. 
Mass civilian casualties generate huge negative attention. In this case, it appears that the attacks are aimed at keeping the Jammu & Kashmir pot simmering, but not allowing it to boil over. In that sense, you can be sure that there is ISI connivance, if not control, in the attacks. 
This means that the Pakistan army is keeping its options open, despite the efforts being made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to normalise relations between the two countries. 
Mail Today  January 3, 2016

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Love in Lahore – Modi has personally invested in the Pakistan policy, with all its attendant risks



Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must be both chagrined and pleased. He had wanted to breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and have dinner in Kabul. Here, in reverse order, his successor, Narendra Modi, has done just that. Modi’s maiden visit to Pakistan would be especially galling, since Singh had set his heart on going there, with a detour to his old hometown of Gah. Despite a decade long tenure, which in 2004-2007 gave us a hint of the entente that is possible, Singh failed.
But he should also be happy, because Modi, despite his professedly muscular approach towards Pakistan, is following policy lines set by him and Atal Bihari Vajpayee: bear whatever Pakistan throws at you with fortitude, and press on with engagement with a view of “normalising” Pakistan.
A high-voltage event in Lahore cannot by itself change things. True, but symbolic events, too, have a function. The move has confounded Pakistani hawks who had the darkest thoughts about an Indian PM being feted in Kabul. Instead, on his way back, the Indian leader dropped by in Lahore and presumably briefed his Pakistani counterpart. Equally, the drama has sent an important signal to his bhakts, ever ready to do battle with anything Islamic. Modi has now personally invested in the Pakistan policy, with all the attendant risks that come with it.
Modi’s great advantage is the Nixon effect. Only the dyed in-the-wool anti-communist Richard Nixon could have sought d├ętente with the Soviet Union, and entente with China. So, the periodic firing and infiltration on the international border in Jammu will go on, as will occasional cross-border attacks; there could even be another big terror strike. But that will not dent Modi’s image in the way a reference to Baluchistan in a joint statement did in the case of Singh in 2009.
Modi’s policy lines may have been set by his immediate predecessors, but today’s ground situation, as well as Modi’s own personality, will give it its own shape. Developments in the region – Pakistan’s fight against its own Taliban, as well as the developments in Afghanistan – are a big factor here. New Delhi is confronted with a situation where the US, China and Russia want Islamabad to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan. Far from an isolated Pakistan, it is India which appeared to be left in the cold.
Modi has now discovered that the road to Kabul lies via Islamabad. “Dropping in” on Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, after declaring in Kabul that India does not intend to compete with Pakistan, is a masterstroke. By his outreach to Kabul, underscored by the first-ever export of lethal weapons systems from India, and the Lahore visit, Modi has reintroduced India into the Afghan equation. This role, crafted so as not to get Islamabad’s back up, will be cemented by the Heart of Asia conference that New Delhi will host next year. Actually on Afghanistan, the pressure is now on Islamabad to deliver the promised ceasefire and peace talks.
In the past year, Modi has learnt just how transformative change is, whether at home or abroad. It is to his credit that he shifted tracks on his Pakistan policy when he realised it was not working. It took a while to overcome the resistance of some of his own advisers, and possibly his own inclinations. But when in July in Ufa he accepted the invite to attend the 19th Saarc summit to be held in Islamabad in September 2016, Modi laid out the markers on the ground, the rest has been a matter of detail. His statement during the recent Combined Commanders Conference, that he was “engaging Pakistan to try and turn the course of history” may be hubristic, but it also promises a policy of determination and vigour for which Modi is known.
Powerful forces remain ranged against an India-Pakistan entente: the Pakistan Army, Islamist groups like Lashkare-Taiba, the Taliban’s Haqqani and other assorted bad guys. Sceptics abound in India as well as the antediluvians of RSS, who still speak of “Akhand Bharat”, when Saarc and Safta are already on the table.
But, as the adage goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Modi’s political capital remains sky high and as he shapes India’s foreign policy, he is spending some of it because he has understood the importance of getting over the Pakistan limitation. If India is to break out of South Asia and play a larger role in Eurasia and the world, the Pakistan jinx must be broken.
Times of India December 29, 2015

A Very Necessary and Welcome Detour

Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore – the first by an Indian Prime Minister to that city since 1999 – should not be dismissed by skeptics as a personal gesture, a political gimmick or a ‘diplomatic non-sequitur’. Even if there is no concrete outcome, his decision to “drop by” and greet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday has huge value in the signals it sends to hawkish constituencies in both India and Pakistan. Equally, it also sends signals down the line to the Indian military and civilian bureaucracies that the NDA government’s Pakistan policy has embarked on a new and momentous course.
This was most clearly articulated in his speech to the Combined Commanders onboard the Vikramaditya earlier this month when he said that his government was “engaging Pakistan to try and turn the course of history.” Actually, the signals were there in the Ufa statement of July where it was stated that Modi would attend the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016. The acceptance indicated that the government’s policy had already shifted course and the hiccups that derailed the promised NSAs dialogue were only temporary – a fact that became clear when news of the Bangkok meeting was revealed.
It was in January 2004, on the sidelines of the 13th SAARC summit in Islamabad, that India and Pakistan inaugurated a most fruitful phase of peace diplomacy through the joint statement of January 6. That summit sought to embed India-Pakistan relations in the larger effort to create a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), an institution which is still in the making and long overdue.
This time around, it would appear that the India-Pakistan bonhomie is situated in an understanding that the two countries must work towards a common purpose in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan the key
Whether the Afghans have learnt that the road to Islamabad runs via Delhi, or India has realised that the road to Kabul runs via Islamabad, is not clear. But there does seem to be a growing understanding that India and Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan cannot be a zero-sum game. Significantly, following Islamabad in 2015, New Delhi will be hosting the next Heart of Asia regional conference in 2016 aimed at bringing peace and economic development in Afghanistan.
So while Modi gently ribbed Pakistan about its obsession with “the mysterious Indian consulates,” in his address to Afghanistan’s parliament on December 25, he also spoke in the same speech of his hope that “Pakistan will become a bridge between South Asia and Afghanistan and beyond.”
In the Afghan context, Modi’s trip to Lahore from Kabul was a master-stroke. Whether he meant it that way or not, it was the equivalent of a regional olive branch. Pakistani commentators looking on at the Kabul love-fest, the huge bear hug that Modi got from President Ashraf Ghani, and the news about the Indian supply of Mi-35 attack helicopters, have been left bemused at the spectacle of his descent to Raiwind. The signal is clear, India wants Afghanistan to be a cooperative sum game with Pakistan. Our immediate interests are limited and they can expand only with the cooperation of Pakistan, i.e. through the opening of a land corridor through that country.
Actually, the big challenge is before Islamabad. Given its history, it is now being asked by Washington and Beijing to deliver on the ceasefire by using the clout it has over the Taliban. It’s not clear that it can do so. The fiasco over the death of Mullah Omar was an attempt to start cleaning up Islamabad’s record, but it has created so much turbulence that no one seems to know what is happening.
What is propelling change in Islamabad and New Delhi is the awareness being pushed by Washington and Beijing, that if the violence in Afghanistan is not contained, it will set the stage for the rise of more radical Islamist forces. The last time around this was manifested by the rise of the Al Qaeda, this time it could mean the Islamic State, which would be devastating for both Pakistan and Afghanistan and, possibly, India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is received by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif upon his arrival in Lahore on Friday. Credit: PTI Photo Prime Minister Narendra Modi is received by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif upon his arrival in Lahore on Friday.

It would be in grave error if we thought that the events of the last couple of months will change things by themselves. We have seen several similar moments, only to be disappointed. The forces ranged against an entente are many – the deep state in Pakistan, the Taliban and other jihadi elements, hawks in India and so on. Then, there is a lot of unfinished business, some of it purely domestic, such as the role of the Pakistan Army and its influence in the state of affairs of the country. For India, there remains the need to do the accounting with terrorist leaders like Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim, as well as the smaller fries like Amir Raza Khan, Riyaz Bhatkal, and the 26/11 conspirators. It would be too much to expect that the dirty slate could be cleaned overnight. We need to guard, too, against expectations that Islamabad will keel over and say “I acknowledge my guilt and surrender”. The process of reconciliation will always be messy and incomplete, just as human affairs are.
What India and the world ought to be looking for is not the checking off of individual names on the terrorist checklist, but a sense that Pakistan is finally through with the use of terrorism and proxy warriors to push its foreign policy. At this stage, New Delhi needs to step up its engagement and assist Islamabad in turning over a new leaf – and not provide ammunition to those within Pakistan who want to cling to the old policy in the hope that it will produce dividends.
In some measure, this has been the policy we have followed which has emphasised building ties with civilian governments. But the chicanery of world powers, who have always privileged their own short-term geopolitical interests over this region’s long-term needs, has prevented any substantial movement. Let us see now if the leaders of the two countries can seize the agenda and push the region in a transformational trajectory.
The Wire December 25, 2015

Another House session wasted

The winter session of Parliament is coming to a close with little to show for it. Expectations that it would see the passage of the pathbreaker Goods & Service Tax (GST) Bill have been belied. Now, at best, this week will see the passage of some other Bills, though not the one relating to GST. 
Not surprisingly the Treasury Benches and the Opposition are blaming each other for the situation. The Congress had appeared to allow its passage and has since back-tracked because it felt that the National Herald case was being revived at the instance of the government. 

Blame 
Whatever truth there is in that charge, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) must take the major share of the blame for two reasons. 

The task of shepherding support for a Bill in Parliament lies with the ruling party
The task of shepherding support for a Bill in Parliament lies with the ruling party
First, during the 2009-2014 period, it strenuously opposed the GST Bill on specious grounds. 
Second, and perhaps more important, the onus is on the BJP government to run the government and Parliament and its failure to do so. Its belligerence and confrontational style are undermining its own government. 
At the end of the day, the task of shepherding support for the Bill lies with the ruling party. Elections divide and electoral defeat bruises the ego of the Opposition. The ruling party must reach out to the Opposition and through the process of negotiation and compromise generate a consensus on an issue and push it through Parliament. 
Gresham’s law seems to have been adapted by Parliament where good parliamentary practices are being replaced by the bad. So, the Congress parliamentary playbook is simply a mirror image of the BJP’s during 2004-2014. 
There are structural issues where the ‘winner takes all’ approach of our election process seems to also prevail in Parliament. In a recent article in Mint, Jessica Seddon has argued that the Opposition has little procedural room to do anything other than what it was doing. 
Parliament represents the politics of our times. And these are a bitter, no-holds-barred affair. It is not surprising that this is reflected in the two Houses. 
Take, for example, the BJP versus Congress struggle. Statements made by Narendra Modi and the BJP of their desire to create a “Congress-mukt Bharat” (Congress-free India) are part of this. This is fine as election rhetoric, but when it is carried over, as it seems now, into the everyday relationship between the ruling party and the Opposition, it becomes a zero-sum game which is bad for democracy. 
Since 1990, parties have alternated in power - and because they do so, it is important for them to maintain a working relationship when one or the other is out of power. 
On the other hand, what we see is that a losing party (take the BJP in 2009 and the Congress in 2014) shell-shocked by defeat can throw one long, unseemly tantrum on the floor of Parliament. 

Statesmen 
When leaders understand this, they are called statesmen. And in the Indian context the last one seems to have been Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The best example of his abilities come not so much from his dealings with the Opposition, but Pakistan. 
This was the man who pushed through the nuclear tests and then reached out to Pakistan through his 1999 Lahore visit, where he made it a point to visit the Minar-e-Pakistan. This was just about the time that the Pakistan Army double-cross was taking place across the Kargil heights. 
 Pakistan
At the end of that year, an Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked by Pakistan-based terrorists, compelling his government to release three of their compatriots. Yet Vajpayee did not give up. 
He tried again through the Agra summit of 2001 to make peace with Pakistan. The failure of the summit, the attack on Parliament House and Operation Parakram kept India-Pakistan tensions high through 2002. But in 2003, Vajpayee was back in reaching out to Islamabad and finally the breakthrough came in January 2004 and launched off a period of entente that only ended with Pervez Musharraf’s overthrow. 
What was striking about Vajpayee’s handling of an adversary country was the clarity of his vision encapsulated in his statement that “You can change friends, but not neighbours”, as well as his decisive leadership. Peace with the neighbour was not an option, but a compulsion. What seems to be missing in Modi’s approach to both Pakistan and the Congress, is a generosity of vision. 
Despite his electoral achievement, his inclination is to give no quarter to those designated as adversaries. Political generosity is not a unilateral process, but one based on “enlightened self- interest.” 
Modi comes from a political tradition which emphasises the politics of resentment. One part of Modi seems to want to break with it and emphasise social reform and economic growth, the factors that won him the 2014 election. Unfortunately, the attraction of the dark side remains powerful. 
Mail Today December 21, 2015

In India, IS is not the primary threat



There is something farcical about the Indian campaign against the Islamic State. On one hand, you have the Union Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar declaring India’s intent to take on the IS, provided there is a UN resolution authorising the move. On the other, you have a bunch of assorted Hindutva figures like Pramod Mutalik of the Sri Ram Sene and Ramesh Shinde of the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti fighting their own private war against the IS. As for the police, their behaviour at times resembles that of Inspector Clouseau. They are chasing shadows all over the place because the fact of the matter is that the IS is not up to very much in this country. 

So, where countries are bombing and strafing the IS, India’s attack on the entity remains mainly verbal. Which is all for the good. Speaking to a conclave of Directors General of Police last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the need to deal with the issue with sensitivity in a “flexible instructional framework” with local communities. This appeared to have been an important theme of the meeting of the Directors General of Police that was held in the Rann of Kutch with the attendance of the prime minister. Instead of speaking about the muscle needed to combat what remains an amorphous threat, the officials have spoken of the need to rope in clerics and community leaders and seek their assistance in counselling and deradicalising the youth.
The big event last week was the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad blocking 80 websites allegedly purveying IS propaganda. Fortunately, they have not acted in a heavy handed fashion and detained young people for accessing such sites. Even so, they should know that (1) banning never works, (2) the real jihadists are skilled at their work and quickly change sites if they have to, (3) despite years of activity, the IS recruiters have not been particularly successful and, (4) it is difficult to see under what sections of the IPC they could charge people for viewing certain websites.
As for the IS threat, all that the police have are accounts of a fantasist, Areeb Majeed, who returned from the ‘Caliphate’, and three young men who could be anywhere in West Asia. They also have a clearly disturbed 17-year-old girl who, they say, was planning to travel to Syria and was an associate of Sirajuddin, an Indian Oil Corporation officer who has been detained in Jaipur. Now, they say three more missing young men may be off to join the IS. This is not quite a clear and present danger to the Indian state, especially since Majeed’s account of his stay in the ‘Caliphate’ is that it was less than glorious — far from being the sword arm of Islam, he was made to clean toilets and carry out menial tasks.
Union government officials claim that there are some 23 Indians who went to join the IS and of them, 19 were still fighting alongside them. Even if the report is taken with a pinch of salt, all we can say is that the number of Indians with the IS is less than the estimated 200 Maldivians who are supposed to be with the IS. That itself should tell you as to how effective the IS propaganda is in India.
There is a need to get a proper measure of the IS issue. The rise of the brutal ‘Caliphate’ has shaken the world, but its immediate impact has been in the area around Syria and Iraq. An important aspect of being a Caliphate is that the entity should have the accoutrements of a state and it is only after seizing substantial territory and consolidating his hold that Abu Bakar al Baghdadi declared himself to be the Caliph, a title that has a special resonance in Islamic history. However, the counter-pressures — such aerial bombardment by the US and its allies, and counter-attacks by Syrian, Iraq and Kurdish forces — led to the IS decision to mount an operation abroad in Paris. Subsequent to that, France and then Russia have joined the informal coalition fighting the IS. The IS has a lot on its hands and India is clearly not a priority target for it.
In India, and perhaps in other parts of the world, sometimes claiming allegiance to the IS is a means of protest. Stupid, certainly, but not necessarily criminal. Last year, a Tirupur-based Imam had
T-shirts with the IS slogan emblazoned across them distributed to a number of young men who wore them and posed for a group photo. Even here, it is not clear what crime was committed. IS flags and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba flags are a regular feature of demonstrations in Jammu & Kashmir, but it would be foolish to extrapolate the state of militancy in the state from them. In actual fact, if there is one organisation making a comeback of sorts, it is the Hizbul Mujahideen, rather than the non-Indian outfits.
The police must certainly keep an eye on potential terrorists and it is a good thing that the police are talking about community outreach and deradicalisation instead of slamming young men in jail and ensuring that they become hardened terrorists. What they should do, however, is to carry out their deradicalisation work in a low profile instead of making them into PR events which only end up generating suspicion against people.
Fighting the attraction of the IS is a complex process, especially since it is largely carried out on the Internet. We have to understand that those radicalised, or those who say they have been radicalised are often reflecting personal problems and resentments, and the process does not necessarily represent any kind of a religious movement.
Mid Day December 22,2015