It’s the Intelligence, Stupid!

Written by Mirza Faisal
With terrorist acts continuing to happen unabated every now and then through various major cities in India there is a need of a new thought that can alter the equations that seem to be currently in favour of the terrorists.

The latest terrorist act in Delhi killing more than 20 people and claimed by ‘Indian Mujahideen’ just reinforces and reminds that the whole way in which these investigations have been pursued till now are completely ineffective. There will continue to be the same noise, with Congress making defensive out-of-the-pocket statements and the BJP making the same kind of usual attacking statements.

The investigations that have been done after the various blasts have been completely ineffective which has been evident from two aspects. First, it has in no way stopped the subsequent terror acts, which shows that there have been no useful leads but all media saving eyewash. Second, we have seen the extra-judicial treatment of innumerable innocents which is completely counter-productive.

There will be even more noise in the media immediately linking these acts with SIMI (as was done immediately by Times of India even though the claim was made by ‘Indian Mujahideen’). The hardliners will again harp on the same old-beaten theme of ‘Islamic (sic) Terrorism’. The police under pressure will detain scores of people on some or no basis which could never be verified if it is valid or not. This will continue for a week until the things get back to normal and everything settles down.

Through all this the life will be changed only for those who lost their loved ones or the families of those who are falsely put under extra-judicial detentions. There will continue to be even more apprehensions in the society which is already hitting the basic fabric of judiciary. Most lawyers are backing out of taking cases of accused (which they have every right to do). But when these lawyers boycott and physically assault their colleagues who are taking up these cases then the very basis of the judicial system is being attacked which as a principle assumes every accused innocent until proven otherwise. One can understand if this reaction comes from the common man but if the lawyers indulge in this then it raises a red flag for the Indian judicial system.

Narendra Modi and Sheila Dixit have called for more stringent anti-terrorist laws. It is a useless demand and any such law will end up subjugating innocents more as we have seen under POTA and TADA than stopping the terrorists. Innumerable detentions throughout India after each blast has shown most of those apprehended have nothing to do with the blasts.

The most probability of these terror acts falls on some extremist fringe Muslim groups. But at the same time the line of investigation on some Hindutva outfits need not be dismissed right away. A few recent events, not covered in much detail by the national media, like Kanpur (where two Bajrang Dal activists died while making a bomb), Nanded (bomb making factory discovered in an RSS activist house), Thane (where members of Sanathan Sanstha were caught for planting bombs in theaters), Tenkasi (where activists of Hindu Munnani were caught for planting bombs) need more investigation. Most of these outfits are linked together and there needs to be an explanation as to why this line of investigation is never carried out seriously.

The statement by Bal Thakerey in Saamna where he exorted the Hindus to make better bombs and explode them in “mini-Pakistans” (a phrase which he chooses for Muslim areas) was criminal. But yet little was the reaction for this awfully blatant provocation for violence by the leader of a major political party. The Bajrang Dal has 12.5 lakh members who indulge in unlawful activities at will, most recently in Orissa. Similarly, in Eastern UP the local MP Yogi Adityanath maintains an armed group which has time and again created nuisance in that area. Why cannot these well organized groups take out operations that subvert the Indian system?

Let us go back to the Muslim extremist groups who may be indulging in these activities. Their language is laced with Islamic words and they try to back it with some ill-founded religious sanction and try to build a theological reasoning. But the theological argument of the Muslim fringe groups has been completely lost on the mainstream. Until recently the Indian Muslim religious leadership could be accused of not speaking out enough against terrorism. But in the recent past Deoband and Jamat-ul-Ulama have categorically spoken out against terrorism and called it un-Islamic and held a conference, a rally and issued a fatwa against it. Even before that at an individual level various religious scholars had been speaking out against it.

On my recent visit to India wherever I would talk among Muslims (and Muslim only gathering) they would be totally un-sympathetic to terrorism. There could be many conspiracy theories that I could hear but that was more as a defense where as a primary premise they accepted that this wanton killing was totally wrong. I could also sense more amity between the communities than during the charged atmosphere that I can relate from the Babri Masjid times. It is also visible from the change in the political atmosphere in UP.

The ways of the terrorists in no way depict the traditional Indian Muslim way of thinking. I remember during the tense moments of Babri Masjid where in the middle of one night there were slogans shouted from both sides in the locality, the elders in my area were shouting from their roof tops to calm down and telling that everything was fine. It just turned out the next morning that slogans of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ were recorded versions that were being played out as provocations. A meeting was done from both sides the next morning and from the next night this whole thing stopped.

I could see a lot of common sense prevailing at the level of the common man. It is only that it needs to be built upon. And that can only show the way to get out of this cycle.

So what is it that can really make a change? I strongly believe that the only way out is building a strong intelligence system. Any call of new laws, accusing the Muslim community, making detentions and high-profile media coverage is useless propaganda at best. It will not achieve anything as we have seen and these events will continue to happen. A sound intelligence system with mechanisms in place to check any corruption in the system which can kill this intelligence is the need of the hour.

We need some short-term strategy and long-term strategy. The only way to do that would be if we can rise up with maturity as a nation and instead of pointing fingers on the other community we look at the problem jointly. If there is a system to gather actionable intelligence and a sound process to uniformly process that intelligence one can see a lot of improvements.

But the important question would be how to gather actionable intelligence? It is important for that to build trust and contacts within the community that is always suspected. There is a realization among the Muslims that this whole thing is not only wrong but is not going to take us anywhere. But when unnecessary detentions happen with often no judicial process following, no one wants to get into the middle of these issues and wants to run away from them as much as possible.

The Indian intelligence system needs to build contacts with the local Muslim communities, with the imams of mosques and community leaders with honour and respect. They need to bring them on-board and give a sense to the community that we are all in it together. They also need to ensure that the focus is on stopping unlawful activities rather than making the whole community suspect. The buy-in of the community will only happen if the problem is separated from religion and the beliefs are given their due respect.

Similarly there is an equal need of processing any intelligence. If it is stringently process based with strong checks on corruption stopping intelligence in between, it can ensure that irrespective of whether it relates with a Muslim group or a Hindu group the action taken is the same. So if there is a lead on a Bajrang Dal activist and if there is a lead on a SIMI activist the process should act the same way.

The longer-term strategy should be to build better intelligence systems that can track suspects and could separate them from the common man. That would need government expenditure in building these systems as quickly as possible.

But in the end all this could happen only if there is a political maturity among the major political parties where they agree that more than arousing the masses and suspecting a community there is a need of a sound strategy. Knee-jerk reactions like asking for another POTA or TADA and getting political mileage out of it will not solve anything. It will only make things worse. If we continue to do that and if we believe it will take us anywhere then we are living in a fool’s world. It can only take India on a wrong path of policy-making.


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