Tag Archives | terror

What Hillary really waived for Pakistan

Clinton actually refused to certify that Pakistan wasn’t aiding terror groups

In yesterday’s Hindu, Praveen Swami scooped the waiver given by the US State department so that $2 billion in US economic and military aid continues unabated to Pakistan.

“In mid-August 2012,” its authors Susan Epstein and Alan Kronstadt said, “the State Department quietly notified Congress of its intention to cite U.S. national security provisions in waiving two certification requirements that placed conditions on U.S. assistance to Pakistan.”[Hindu]

This waiver actually means that Ms Clinton did not certify that Pakistan had met the conditions mentioned in the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act and the State Department’s 2012 budget. Ms Clinton was to certify the following about Pakistan.

The certification required by this subsection is a certification by the Secretary of State, under the direction of the President, to the appropriate congressional committees that–

(1) the Government of Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as providing relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks;

(2) the Government of Pakistan during the preceding fiscal year has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups, consistent with the purposes of assistance described in section 201, including taking into account the extent to which the Government of Pakistan has made progress on matters such as–

(A) ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighboring countries;

(B) preventing al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighboring countries, closing terrorist camps in the FATA, dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets; and

(C) strengthening counterterrorism and anti-money laundering laws; and

(3) the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.[Link]

Bloomberg reports that Ms Clinton didn’t disclose which specific prerequisites Pakistan failed to meet. Those details were classified.

The point to note is that Ms Clinton has been providing this certificate to Pakistan so far. This is the first time she has refused to certify that Pakistan is not supporting terror groups. She has instead conveyed that while Pakistan continues to support terror groups, the US considers it to be “important to the national security interests of the United States” to still provide economic and military aid to Pakistan.

The US may be trying to tell Pakistan that by refusing to provide the certification and giving a waiver instead, it has ratcheted up the pressure on Pakistan . The next stage would be the blocking of military and economic aid to Pakistan. But Pakistan is likely to see it differently. The generals at Rawalpindi will conclude that they are absolutely indispendable to the US plans in Afghanistan. They can thus get away with murder while the US will go out of its way to keep the money flowing to Pakistan.

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It is about our internal security

On the blast in an Israeli Embassy car

A blast in an Israeli Embassy car in Delhi left four injured, including a woman employee of the Embassy. Indian External Affairs minister, Mr SM Krishna issued a statement which became a butt of jokes on social media. What else do you expect from a statement which includes such well-worn cliches:

India very strongly condemns such incidents and it is going to be fully investigated and the culprits will be brought to justice at the earliest.[MEA]

Israeli Prime Minister was quick to blame the attack on Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Iranian Ambassador to India has denied the charge. Delhi Police, basing its preliminary finding on an eye-witness account, suggests that a sticky bomb was used by motorcyclists on the car. With a cocktail of Middle-east politics, terror and shrill television coverage, conspiracy theorists are having a field day.

If we cut through the haze of speculation, there are only two established facts so far. One, there was an explosion in a car carrying an Israeli embassy employee in New Delhi. Two, Israeli Prime Minister has blamed it on Hezbollah and Iran. Anything else beyond this has not been fully established yet.

While India’s foreign ministry handles the diplomatic challenge, it is incumbent upon the Home Ministry to look at this very closely and draw the right lessons. The incident happened in a high-security area, barely 500 metres away from the Prime Minister’s residence. The motorcyclists, if that eye-witness account is true, were able to get away easily. No footage or picture of them has been released so far. It is doubtful if the National Counter-Terrorism Centre which is being inaugurated on March 01st would have helped had it been in place today.

Moreover, such an attack would not have been possible without some assets on ground. It could not have been attempted by people flown in from another country for a day and flown out the next day, after the attack. Reconnaissance over many weeks would have been needed to establish the pattern of the employee who went to pick her child from school. The route and the timing would have thus been established beyond doubt. Rehearsals and dry-runs would also have been carried out by the terrorists.

This points to a need for logistic and related support from some local elements, who could have either been hired or provided by some other terror groups. Unearthing that support base should be the foremost priority of our security agencies. But if such an attack was carried out without any local support, it should be even more worrying for our security agencies. Because it would mean that foreign agents can come in with explosives, operate in a high-security VIP area in Delhi with impunity and escape unscathed. That scenario is far more scarier than some local criminals being used to execute the terror strike.

Forget Iran, Hezbollah, Israel and diplomacy, the fact that Delhi was selected by someone to mount a strike on an Israeli diplomat should bother us the most. It is a shameful reflection of our internal security vulnerabilities and reputation. Fixing these weaknesses, which is a continuous process of a cat-and-mouse game, should be our top-most priority today. The rest can wait for the moment.

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Drones are the right choice

The least bad option for targeting jehadis in Pakistan

Drone strikes by the US inside Pakistani territory are controversial, to say the least. The opinions on these strikes are heavily polarised. Those opposing drone strikes make the following arguments. One, these drone strikes kill innocents. Two, these strikes violate the sovereignty of Pakistan. Three, they send a wrong message to Pakistanis and create more terrorists. All these arguments have merits till we examine them closely.

Pakistani society is at such a state that nothing that the US does or doesn’t do seems to send the right message to Pakistanis. Pakistani media (rated 151 out of 175 in world free press index) can be trusted to twist any story to direct the public anger towards the US. That these drone strikes create more terrorists is an attractive idea but remains unproven by any factual research or ground reportage. Even if there were no drone strikes, there are enough grudges against the US — from Iraq or Afghanistan — that can be exploited by the jehadis to lure more young men into jehad.

The sovereignty question is again a very attractive proposition in theory. But not in practice, if you look a little closer. Pakistan’s sovereignty was not violated by the US Navy Seals team at Abbottabad but by Osama bin Laden who stayed in that city for a decade. Similarly, US would not need to fire missiles from its drones if Pakistan had the will, willingness or the capacity to act against al Qaeda and other jehadis who have formed a base in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Till 2007, al Qaeda had actually grown stronger by basing itself in these areas before US drones started disrupting its leadership. If Pakistan would have been able to uphold the sovereignty of its land against al Qaeda and other terror groups, the question of US violating Pakistan’s sovereignty would never arise.

A major source of angst and anger is over the death of innocent civilians. Some innocents are surely dying in the missiles fired by these drones. But no one has made a cogent case so far that the US is deliberately targeting innocent civilians in tribal areas. They are, to use the unfortunate military term, “collateral damage”.

But all of this still misses the fundamental point of this debate. What is the alternative to these drone strikes? Bombing raids by fighter aircraft, strafing by helicopter gunships, use of missiles or pounding by artillery fire. These are the methods used by Pakistan in Balochistan and in tribal areas against the ‘bad’ jehadis. They have all the disadvantages of drone strikes, and worse. They are far more inaccurate, more visible and would be more violative of Pakistan’s sovereignty than any pilotless aircraft.

Of course, there is another option. To leave the tribal areas of Pakistan completely untouched so that al Qaeda and its affiliates can base themselves there and spread terror across the globe. While Pakistan may be comfortable with that, the rest of the world doesn’t share that view. Countries like India, who have particularly borne the brunt of terror over the years, may not be publicly welcoming the use of US drones but would be glad that the jehadis in Pakistan’s tribal areas are unsettled due to the fear of missiles raining from the sky.

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India’s good behaviour

Pakistan is citing India’s good behaviour after suffering from terror as an example to Afghanistan

This is surreal. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Abdullah Hussain Haroon lecturing Afghanistan President, Hamid Karzai by citing India’s example:

“I wish President Karzai could take a leaf out of the Indian book, instead of being accusatory towards Pakistan,” Haroon told PTI here. H said even if a “leaf falls on the grass in Afghanistan,” the Afghan leader points a finger towards Islamabad, saying the “Pakistanis must have done it. It does not work that way. I think India would be a good example for Karzai to follow in which he should realise that this accusatory game gets no where”.

The Pakistani envoy said if India and his country are building ties, Afghanistan should “take a cue” and also be on the same track and “learn from India which has shown, in my mind, such enormous maturity”. “Let’s talk to each other…. May be something good comes of it. That is what is happening between India and Pakistan. I think it is a proud moment for both countries,” he said.

Haroon further said the soothsayers who feel that another 26/11 would break up the India-Pak dialogue process should not be paid any heed to and instead a message should be sent that the talks will continue to progress despite any such incident in either country. “Despite whatever happens, we (need to) keep the talks going so that no one is encouraged to take the track off,” he said adding “now that we have started, we will keep talking”. Standards have been set in New York, New Delhi and Islamabad and the momentum has to be taken forward, he said.[Outlook]

As if almost on cue, India’s former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal has a column in today’s Telegraph (Kolkatta) where he lambasts Indian government for the behaviour which has earned such high praise from the Pakistani diplomat.

The romantics in India never lose faith in the possibility of friendship with Pakistan. To that end they will advocate the proposition of an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan, one that removes any pretence of a link between dialogue and terrorism and therefore suits Pakistan. This is why its neophyte foreign minister has begun touting the same phraseology.

Pakistan’s relations with India have become less volatile in recent months largely because of the Indian government’s extraordinarily soft approach. India will have another round of a composite dialogue with Pakistan; it is reconciled to Pakistani prevarications on justice for the Mumbai attack. Our approach seems to be that if our reasonable demands are not met, the demands should be dropped. We seek to deblock situations by exploring concessions.

We have lifted our objections to World Trade Organization-violative concessions by the European Union to Pakistan in the textile sector. At the recent summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in the Maldives, we have promised a preferential trade agreement with Pakistan even though it continues to exclude India from the South Asian Free Trade Area. Pakistan’s backtracking on the granting of the most favoured nation status to India has not discouraged us from making ill-timed gestures and losing bargaining leverage unnecessarily. What diplomatic purpose is served by praising the prime minister of a country most hostile to us as a man of peace, particularly as he is in no position to deliver peace to us?[Telegraph]

This is the essence of the argument. If Indian approach is that ‘if our reasonable demands are not met, the demands should be dropped’, Pakistani establishment will love and adore the Indian officials. And their audacity has reached such surreal levels that they are lecturing Karzai on how to respond after suffering from terrorist attacks planned, organised and supported by Pakistani state agencies and their proxies — the way India has responded after every terror strike from Pakistan.

Indians deserve better than this craven behaviour from their own democratically elected government. And Government of India, you don’t need these good behaviour certificates from Pakistani diplomats when the perpetrators of terror against Indians continue to thrive in Pakistan. If Delhi needs to make something uninterrupted and uninterruptible, it has to be this demand to bring those perpetrators to book. The rest can wait.

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Can you engage Syed Geelani?

There is no common meeting ground between Syed Geelani and the Indian state

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of his faction of the Hurriyat Conference, quoted speaking in a seminar at his residence in Srinagar yesterday:

“We should resist as per our capabilities and those who pick up arms are better than others. They don’t need our certificate as Allah has given them certificate.”[GK]

This is an unequivocal statement by Mr Geelani in support of the Pakistan-backed and -supported terrorists who have wrecked havoc in Kashmir over the last two decades. The very same terror which has led to the death of 43,460 people in the state between January 1990 and April 2011 (as per the Jammu & Kashmir government). More than 27,000 women have been widowed and 22,000 children orphaned during this period of terror.

But this should not surprise close observers of Kashmir. Mr Geelani led the prayers held in the honour of slain al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden in a Srinagar mosque earlier this year. He has been against an independent Kashmir but has always batted for its merger with Pakistan (see this blogpost). He has been in touch with Hafiz Saeed, the chief of the Jammat ud Dawa/ Lashkar-e-Taiba and addressing their anti-India rallies across Pakistan by telephone. Not only that, he has openly expressed his views about establishing a Nizam-e-Mustafa in Kashmir. This blogger had highlighted Geelani’s statement about an Islamic system in an old blogpost:

Ever since my release from prison on August 7, 2004, I have been spreading my message across Kashmir. I have a three-point programme.

First to impose an Islamic nizam (Islamic system) [in] Kashmir. Islam should govern our lives, be it in our political thought, socio-economic plans, culture or [other…].

The creed of socialism and secularism should not touch our lives, and we must be totally governed by the Koran and the Sunnat (precedents from Prophet Mohammad’s life).

“Secondly, I have been propagating that we must fight against anti-Islamic forces. These forces come in our way under the garb of nationalists, secularists, racists, linguistic chauvinists, and so on.

… Osama has come only during the last few years. People like me have been fighting for this all our lives. I do not want to be compared with Osama.[Link]

Many Indian commentators and analysts, particularly during the trouble in summer of 2010, spoke about Geelani’s leadership in Kashmir and India’s failure to engage him. They gloss over the fact that he is a rabid Islamist, a supporter of Pakistan who has consistently justified and promoted the use of terror by Pakistan in Kashmir. There can be little meeting ground between him and the Indian state: unless the Indian state chooses to turn its back on the ideals on which the Indian Republic has been founded. You can only reconcile the reconcilables. The irreconcilable will have to be shunned and marginalised. There is no other choice.

This leaves the moderate voices of Kashmiri separatism which are repeatedly tom-tommed by Delhi-based media. For one, these so-called moderates hold little sway, if any, over the anti-Indian section in Kashmir Valley. Two, they have no courage of conviction to take on the likes of Geelani over his pronouncement of religious sanctity for terrorist violence. Those who dare to speak out meet the fate of Maulvi Mohammad Farooq, Abdul Gani Lone, Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmed or Fazal Haq Qureshi. Three, these so-called moderates are more interested in garnering invitations and donations for conferences and visits from exotic foreign locations. It is thus in their own parochial interest that the Kashmir issue continues to simmer. Engaging them would serve no purpose as they neither have any interest nor the capacity to resolve the issue.

This blogger’s one final peeve is over a myth that Yasin Malik is trying to perpetuate. A self-styled ‘Gandhian’, he is fond of proclaiming that Kashmiris willingly gave up the path of violence in 2008 but the international community hasn’t responded to it favourably. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Read this blogpost to understand how the fencing on the Line of Control and Indian Army’s three-tier deployment brought the violence down in the state. Never have we seen a moderate leader come out with a strong statement, leave alone on to the streets with his supporters to protest against terrorists, their masters across the border in Pakistan or their local supporters in Kashmir.

The edifice of Kashmiri separatism is built upon a foundation of myths, lies, half-truths and concocted facts. It needs to be treated with the contempt that it deserves. The answer lies not in placating these congenital liars and mischief-makers but in strengthening the mainstream parties and politicians in the state — the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party, the People’s Conference, the Congress party, the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India. Let it be clear. Like it or not, the route to permanent peace, stability and normality in Kashmir passes through Abdullahs, Muftis, Lones, Azads, Bhim Singhs and others of their ilk.

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The MFN drama

Why some of us are wary?

This blogger’s pointing out of the two aspects of Pakistan’s non-decision to grant India the Most Favoured Nation status — the irrelevance of the status to India and its hidden dangers — has been mistakenly assumed by many as a reflexive opposition to having peaceful relations with Pakistan. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me explain.

One, peace between India and Pakistan is solely dependent on one thing — the question of Pakistan’s identity, and how it is defined, shaped and guarded by the Pakistan army via its two strategic assets, nuclear weapons and jehadis. Pakistan Army has chosen to use jehadis as an instrument of state policy against India, under the safety of the nuclear umbrella. Read this blogpost to understand why trade between India and Pakistan will not alter the strategic calculations of the Pakistani military-jehadi complex.

Two, the theatre surrounding the granting of the MFN status, which is simply a long-standing obligation of the Pakistani state to the WTO and merely reciprocates India’s bestowal of MFN status to Pakistan 15 years ago, poses a graver danger. It is a decision to be taken by Pakistan considering its own interests. But many in India — the Wagah candle-lighting, the Aman ki Asha and the Track-2 dialogue types — are likely to project this as a favour done by Pakistan to India, which India must strongly reciprocate. How can India reciprocate? By forgetting that Pakistan has bred and continues to breed jehadi terror against India and Indians. Now that Pakistan has granted India the MFN status, Indians must not act petty by constantly asking for action against the perpetrators of terror incidents like the 26-11.

Pakistani government has consistently maintained that its grant of MFN status to India, if and when it happens, will not affect its continued support for the ‘Kashmir cause’. That is, it will continue to send terrorists from across the Line of Control and support the rabble-rousers who pelt stones in streets of urban Kashmir. In contrast, when all Indian government officials welcome the Pakistani move to grant India the MFN status, they steer clear of even mentioning justice for the victims of 26-11 Mumbai terror strike (or other earlier terror strikes). Perhaps Indian officials are worried that it will offend the sensitivities of the Pakistani military-jehadi complex.

The difference in Indian and Pakistani approaches portends the danger this meaningless charade holds for us. Let us not be surprised if we see more of this naive policy pursual by the Indian side when Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers meet on the sidelines of the SAARC conference at Male later this week.

It needs no saying but still… you have been warned.

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A spectacular save

Seizing the explosive-laden car at Ambala

The graphic below (from Hindustan Times) captures the details of the story of how central intelligence agencies, Delhi Police, Haryana Police and National Security Guards combined to seize a car laden with 5 kilograms of explosive, 5 detonators and 2 timers earlier this week.

Right click and show picture for a larger image

Two points are noteworthy here. One, the involvement of Khalistani terror groups who have combined with the Lashkar-e-Taiba in this case. From last year, particularly in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games, India’s central intelligence agencies have been warning about the terror threat emanating from Khalistani terror groups.This operation validates those warnings. Two, the “dead-letter box” modus operandi  being used by the controllers of this planned terror strike where one group stole the car, another hid the explosive in the panels and under the mat, another one drove it to an exchange point, some other group would have picked it up from there, and perhaps another group would have finally fabricated and placed the bombs on the target. Even if one group is compromised, the rest of the groups are still protected.

There will always be sceptics doubting the contentions of the security agencies, and they could perhaps be correct about some of the claims made by the police. Notwithstanding these doubts, it is a success story we can all be proud of. Not only has a terror strike been prevented, this seizure will also provide clues about the planners, controllers and perpetrators of such terror strikes. There is a chance that it could also further investigations into the recent terror strikes in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi, where investigators have hit a dead-end. It would have been better had the culprits been arrested red-handed but that should not take away from the good work done by the security agencies here.

To use this blogger’s favourite metaphor, the job of security and intelligence agencies in preventing terror strikes is akin to that of a goalkeeper in soccer. The goalkeeper is noticed only for his failures — when a goal is scored. The saves are routine — a part of his job. Even if saves are a part of the routine, this is one hell of a spectacular save. It needs to be applauded and acclaimed.

And finally one for the naysayers, who are so fond of comparing every terror-related incident in India with that in the US. Remember the explosive-laden car that reached the Times Square in New York last year. Haven’t the Indian agencies done better now?

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Zardari explains

Why Pakistan supports terror

It could have been written by any of the cheerleaders of the Pakistani establishment. But then it would have been published in Pakistani newspapers, not in the international media. So Honourable President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari does the honours with this column in today’s Washington Post. Among the many gems — lies, half-truths and passive-aggressive threats — (“Pakistan is pounded by the ravages of globally driven climate change”, “Washington has invested almost nothing on our side of the border”, “South and Central Asia is a region… where many empires have floundered“), the killer paragraph is the justification for Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan:

As the United States plans to remove its ground forces from Afghanistan and once again leave our region, we are attempting to prepare for post-withdrawal realities. The international community abandoned Central and South Asia a generation ago, triggering the catastrophe that we now find ourselves in. Whoever comes or goes, it is our coming generation that will face the firestorm. We have to live in the neighborhood. So why is it unreasonable for us to be concerned about the immediate and long-term situation of our Western border? History will not forgive us if we don’t take responsibility.[WaPo]

So dear President Obama, now you know why it is reasonable for Pakistan to support terrorists like the Haqqanis who kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. Only if you’d have answered that in your latest radio interview.

This column is another reminder to those who never forget to harp upon the need to support a democratically elected civilian government in Pakistan, as opposed to the military. The premise is wrong. No one is opposed to anyone else. They are all on the same side. The masks can change but the message remains the same.

As an aside, in the recent Pakistani attempts at influencing the West, which one is worse —  this Zardari op-ed or the advertisement in the Wall Street Journal on 11 September, 2011?

Tailpiece: While the usual suspect for such work is Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, Columnist Mohammad Taqi said on Twitter that this column seems to have been ghost-written by Sherry Rehman.

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On the Delhi High Court blast

Six thoughts

The blast outside Delhi High Court at 10:16 AM today has claimed 11 lives and left 76 injured. An earlier attempt in May to explode a bomb there had failed as the detonator had caught fire, thereby leaving the high explosive intact.

One, it is an intelligence failure. Every single bomb blast, every single terror strike is an intelligence failure. Lack of intelligence means that either we are searching at the wrong places, or we are not reading the clues properly. There can be no excuses for this lack of intelligence after we have failed to progress on four recent incidents: Jama Masjid shooting, Pune Bakery blast, Varanasi blast and Mumbai blasts. But an acknowledgement of failure is not sufficient. The MHA needs to review the processes in place, perhaps even get in a few external consultants for Red-Gaming sessions, and start thinking afresh on its process of intelligence collection, collation and analysis.

Most people look at intelligence as finding out the perpetrators of the blasts and their cause. That is important but it is not as important as intercepting these terrorist modules and sleeper cells before the blast. The best way to prevent a blast is to neutralise the terrorist before he has built the bomb, not after he has placed it. CCTVs and Quick Reaction Emergency Teams are important but they don’t prevent a blast. At best, they minimise its impact and help in post-blast investigations. Let us not confuse the two measures.

Two, it is a failure of the local police. Even though a similar blast had been averted in May by good fortune, the fact that they allowed another blast to occur at the same place, in the same manner, within a few months is inexcusable. There was no element of surprise in this, except if the local police was callous enough to assume that lightning wouldn’t strike the same place twice. The capability of the local police, and their capacity to handle twenty-first century threats in a megalopolis like Delhi doesn’t exist. It has been so for many years now, and despite much lip-service to police reforms in Delhi by the Union Home Minister, nothing much has been achieved.

Three, the claim by Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (if it is actually from HuJI) is of little value. In all likelihood, it is a Red Herring. The email making that claim should be enquired into thoroughly but that claim should not cloud our perceptions about who planted this bomb. As with other blasts in the last couple of years, no one has claimed the blasts and we still don’t know why the blast was conducted. Terror is politics by violent means, and if we even don’t know what the politics behind this bout of mindless terror is, how can the government address their political grievances.

If the blast was about the Afzal hanging case, then the answer is not hanging Afzal today evening itself at the site of the bomb blast. Let our anger not cloud our good sense of judgement. The failure of Indian criminal justice system to deliver quick justice is not a cause of the blast. It is merely an excuse being used by our enemies, which some of us are easily buying into.

Four, the post-blast investigation report telling us that it had traces of PETN means nothing to the average Indian. It is an attempt by the Home Ministry to depict that it is doing something after the blast. Let us not confuse activity for action. Every blast that uses High Explosives will have a detonator, and that detonator will contain PETN. Show me a blast which uses RDX or ANFO or any other High Explosive, and I will show you traces of PETN there. PETN can also be used as a booster to trigger the bomb. With the proliferation of jehadi manuals on the internet, there are no signature styles of bomb-making left any more. Let the MHA not pass facts which are true but of little value, just to feed morsels to the hungry media. It should instead focus its energies on the real issues plaguing the system.

Five, the role of the media. In the vacuum of factual information — which will always happen after a blast — speculations, biased opinions and outrage move in rather quickly. It serves little purpose, and perhaps that is the way it is meant to be — fill some space and time with meaningless chatter, which must sound profound, revelatory and important nevertheless. The experts and analysts on the TV shows need to take a step back, review their own videos and they would then develop the courage to say, “It is too early to say anything. I don’t know.” This country deserves at least that much honesty from the media and the experts. They may not realise it now but it is a slippery slope that they are on.

Six, people are angry. They have a right to be angry. They believe that the Indian state is failing in its duty to protect their lives. Indians are in no mood to go back to the ugly days of regular terror strikes on the Indian mainland witnessed during the 15 years preceding 2008. The credibility of the Indian government has hit such a low that people now take offence when the government “condemns” a blast or asks people to display “resilience”. The onus is upon the government to redeem itself. It is a challenge which must be overcome with political imagination. Agreeing to the opposition’s suggestion to suspend the Lok Sabha for the day was a rather daft decision in these times of middle-class cynicism about politics and parliament. The political class in general, and the government in particular, is not sending the right message with its actions. The trust and confidence of the average Indian in the Indian state can not be allowed to wither away. It has long-term consequences.

Finally, there are no fool-proof methods or magical solutions to prevent terror strikes. Terrorists have to succeed only once whereas the security forces have to succeed always and every time. But that dictum cannot be used as an excuse to cover-up the kind of failure witnessed today. It is another wake-up call for the government of the day. Reform or perish.

Update: A version of this blogpost appears at Outlook Web.

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Intelligence as Immunisation

On preventing terror strikes.

From Poor Economics: Rethinking Poverty & the Ways to End it by Abhijit V. Banerjee & Ester Duflo:

It is probably even harder to learn from experience about immunisation, because it does not fix an existing problem but only protects against potential future problems. When a child is immunised against measles, the child does not get measles. But not all children who are immunised actually contract measles (especially if others around them who are the potential source of infection are immunised), so it is very difficult to draw a clear link between immunisation and the lack of disease. Moreover, immunisation just prevents some diseases — there are many others — and uneducated parents do not necessarily understand what their child is supposed to be protected against. So when the child gets sick despite being immunised, the parents feel cheated…[pp 60; Poor Economics]

Immunisation and disease. This is the closest metaphor one can ever get to for understanding the linkage between intelligence and terror strikes. Intelligence is a protection against potential future strikes. Even when intelligence doesn’t work, there might be no terror strike. When intelligence succeeds, the terror strike that didn’t occur will never be known to the public. And when an incident occurs because intelligence wasn’t resourced and tasked to monitor that particular strain, a lot of us feel cheated.

Preventing terror strikes deals with a complex set of issues. Unfortunately, the balance of probabilities is stacked against the intelligence agencies as the terrorist has to succeed only once, whereas the agencies have to do so every single time.

However, it doesn’t mean that the probability of a terror strike can’t be reduced further. By a continuous process of improvement and refinement — development of smart intelligence, thorough investigation, law enforcement, forensics and biometrics, financial tracking, protection of critical infrastructure, accounting for and management of explosives and radioactive materials — we can reduce the chances of a terror strike.

Mumbai terror strike of November 2008 pointed to gaps in information sharing and the translation of intelligence into pre-emptive action in our systems. In case of the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai, in contrast, the intelligence agencies did not have any information or leads whatsoever. NATGRID — its Phase-1 is scheduled to be completed in 26 months time — would have helped in the former but would be ineffective in the latter.

Preventing terror strikes is a significant challenge and it is not possible to declare that any part of this problem has been solved or eliminated. The only way to confront that challenge is to continuously improve our ability to detect and intervene before terrorist acts are commissioned. And you have to have luck on your side. But as Samuel Goldwyn famously said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

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