Saturday, 1 September 2007

India's own War On Terror

Most people know that the world's most populated Muslim nation is Indonesia with 234 million people of which 86% are Muslim. What people probably don't know is that the country with the second highest number of Muslims is India where 13% of their 1.1 billion people are Muslim.

Another fact that most people don't know is that India has been dealing with home-grown Islamic terrorism for decades. Is this terrorism created by poverty or oppression such as Western liberals claim as the root cause of 9/11, and other, atrocities? Hardly. Even India's richest man is a Muslim.

From the Time Of India comes this article questioning why India hasn't introduced similar laws to Western countries to deal with Islamic terror:
As bombings in Bali, Madrid, Mumbai and London provided chilling evidence that New York's 9/11 was not a one-off event, a number of mature democracies like the UK, France, Germany, Australia, US and even New Zealand — all with decent track records on human rights — have either enacted new laws or tweaked existing ones to give greater teeth to their counter-terror operations (US' record has been somewhat sullied by Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, but they were treated as war camps and weren't meant for American citizens).

In India, where terror has taken a much bigger toll than in any of these countries, special laws were initially enacted and then withdrawn as they were found to be 'draconian'. Was that the right thing to do? Are special laws, or even a relook at laws to make them more aligned for the purposes of fighting terror, necessary? TOI looks at the global experience to find answers to these questions.

Take New Zealand, first. After the first flush of concern following 9/11, support for anti-terror laws weakened until Bali happened. Of the 202 dead, three were New Zealanders. The reaction to this was swift — parliament passed the Terrorism Suppression Act with wide support. The law armed agencies to nip extremist organisations and gave them powers to track money trails. In six separate bills the agencies were empowered to deal with a wide range of offences, including infecting livestock and food contamination.

Wiretaps without warrants in emergency situations were allowed and laws aligned, like use of evidence gathered under one law was allowed to be used against an offence under another law. Any sort of support to terrorism was banned. Overall, these measures were not very different from those taken by other countries against techno-savvy terrorists.
Japan went a step further. Its constitution lays down a clearly pacifist foreign policy agenda, but the Bill to Respond to Armed Attacks for the first time allowed Japanese forces to consider a pre-emptive strike if the interests and safety of citizens were endangered.

Canada, too, enacted a special law against those who knowingly "either directly or indirectly" provide funds for terror crimes. This has apparently made fund raising for various causes more difficult.

Canada had no specific terror law. Post 9/11 is set down life imprisonment for those guilty of "instructing" anyone to carry out a terrorist strike and a 10-year jail term for harbouring a terrorist. It did away with the need to demonstrate electronic surveillance as a "measure of last resort" while allowing such surveillance. At the same time, it is viewing the setting up of DNA data banks of criminals and terrorists with favour.

Not surprisingly, these measures, as well as similar measures in Germany, UK, Australia, France and the US, faced strong opposition. The debate over special laws in legislatures and in the public domain have taken note of concerns over curbs on individual and human rights. Most laws have safeguards such as parliamentary oversight and independent reviews. CIA and FBI officials have to present testimonies to congressional committees. But, as the French law notes, on balance, collective security has been given precedence.

Indian laws don't have any such skew at present. In response to a demand for bringing back the Prevention of Terror Act, it's been argued back that Pota couldn't prevent the 13/12 attack on Parliament. How was it then effective, or even desirable? Other democracies have, however, maintained that terrorists were very cunning and hence they might strike despite special laws, but these laws would make their operations tougher.

Hence, apart from enacting these laws, these countries have integrated laws to allow wiretaps, have doubled or trebled border guards, customs and investigators, enhanced coordination between banks and other financial institutions and regulators, made sharing of data banks easier, introduced video surveillance, mandatory maintenance of telephone records, designation of terrorist crime and, above all, fast trials and tough sentences for the convicted.

They have also brought down firewalls between intelligence agencies, police organisations, customs, immigration, airport security, border guards, white collar crime investigators and narcotics control. Countries like the US, Germany and UK have realised that the lines that divide these crimes are thin and that terrorist outfits with a global reach and agenda stride all these worlds with chilling ease.

Is all this relevant for us? In India, the variables of a terror attack are many — it has neighbours like Pakistan and Bangladesh, where terror groups like JeM, LeT and HUJI find shelter, and perhaps much more. Besides, there are no racial distinctions between the operatives of these groups and Indians, unlike in western democracies. On top of this, there are pockets in the country which appear to have been influenced by extremist doctrines; thus, it's not as difficult to find logistical support in India as it is in western democracies.

Still, the US has enacted the PATRIOT Act in the teeth of liberal opposition and has prevented a strike on the American mainland since 9/11, even though it's controversial — and many will add, stupid — engagement in Iraq would have given a lot of angry youngsters the 'rationale' to hit back at the US with means fair or foul. In UK, which has a mixed population, the laws are not as stringent as PATRIOT. It has has suffered 7/11, but also busted the Birmingham plot.

Apart from its practical aspects, targeting terrorism through special laws is a declaration of intent and signals the political and societal resolve to take on an enemy. It's a call to arms and tells those on the frontline that the authorities recognise the nature of beast and are prepared to confront it. That there will be no half-measures in a war against opponents who do not believe in dialogue, rather are convinced that their cause will be served by killing innocents.

In India, we are still shying away from doing any of this in the fear that the wider powers given to agencies would be abused. Is that good enough reason to weaken the battle against terror? Or, should we have special anti-terror laws, and like in other democracies, make them open to legislative oversight and reviews? Will that give our warriors against terror a level playing field? TOI believes it will.
Puts the leftist blathering in our neck of the woods into some perspective, doesn't it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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