Friday, December 14, 2007




There has been an interesting debate between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress (I), during the course of the Gujarat election campaign, as to which party did better in the fight against terrorism. One should welcome the debate since it shows that as in the Western countries, in India too, counter-terrorism is becoming an important electoral issue. One wishes, however, that the debate was more professional than polemic.
2.The effectiveness of counter-terrorism depends more on the political leadership provided by the Prime Minister/Chief Minister of the day than on which party is in power. If one were to award objective gradings to different Prime Ministers/Chief Ministers for the political leadership provided by them in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, one would award the following gradings:
Mrs.Indira Gandhi: A
Shri Rajiv Gandhi and Shri Narasimha Rao: B
Shri A.B.Vajpayee and Dr.Manmohan Singh: C
Shri V.P.Singh, Shri Chandrasekhar,Shri Deva Gowda and Shri I.K.Gujral: D
The late Shri Beant Singh, former Chief Minister of Punjab: A
Shri Sharad Pawar, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra,Miss J.Jayalalita, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and Shri M.Karunanidhi, present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu: B
Shri Narendra Mod, Chief Minister of Gujarat: C
3.Why these gradings:
(a). Mrs.Indira Gandhi: The peace process in Nagaland was initiated by her through the Shillong Accord in 1975. The peace accord in Mizoram was at her initiative, though the final agreement was reached under Shri Rajiv Gandhi. No other Prime Minister of India handled hijackings as effectively as she did. There were eight hijackings when she was the Prime Minister----one by the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the remaining seven by the Khalistanis. All these hijackings were got terminated without conceding the demands of the terrorists. She exploited the hijacking of an aircraft of the Indian Airlines to Lahore by two terrorists of the JKLF to set in motion the train of events, which led to the defeat of the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. She managed to persuade the UAE authorities to terminate a hijacking by the Khalistanis when they took an IAC plane to Dubai, arrest the hijackers and hand them over to India. When the JKLF kidnapped Ravi Mhatre, an Indian diplomat posted in the Indian Assistant High Commission in Birmingham, and demanded the release of Maqbool Butt awaiting the implementation of a death penalty, she refused to concede their demand. When they killed Mhatre, she ordered the immediate execution of Butt. When the Khalistani extremists and the Akali leaders repulsed her offer for a political solution to their demands, which were considered legitimate, she did not hesitate to send the Army into the Golden Temple to flush out the terrorists. Of course, she was blamed for creating the Bhindranwale phenomenon, but one is not quite convinced of the validity of this allegation. On the negative side, the situation worsened in Manipur, Assam and Tripura during her Prime Ministership,. but she did take initiatives to address some of the grievances of the people of these areas.In counter-terrorism, she was the most defiant in the face of intimidation and the most proactive Prime Minister we have had. She initiated operational steps to teach Pakistan that its use of terrorism against India would not be cost free.
(b).Shri Rajiv Gandhi: The success of Operation Black Thunder in 1988 when the Khalistanis again occupied the Golden Temple was in no small measure due to the political leadership provided by him and the operational leadership provided by Shri K.P.S.Gill, the then Punjab Police chief, Shri Ved Marwah, the then chief of the National Security Guards, and Shri M.K.Narayanan, the then Director of the Intelligence Bureau. He carried forward Mrs.Gandhi's talks with Laldenga through intermediaries and successfully concluded the peace accord with the Mizo National Front (MNF). He initiated talks to find a peaceful solution in Punjab and Tripura, and did make some headway. He strengthened the counter-terrorism capabilities of the intelligence agencies and carried forward with vigour Mrs.Gandhi's policy of teaching a lesson to Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism against India. The credit for making Pakistan reverse its policy of supporting the Khalistanis should largely go to him and Shri Rao. Of course, he mishandled action to deal with terrorism by the LTTE, which set up innumerable sleeper cells in Tamil Nadu and spread its acts of terrorism to the territory of Tamil Nadu, with the collusion of some political elements in Tamil Nadu.
(c). Shri V.P.Singh, backed by the BJP: His soft policy towards the Khalistanis aggravated the problem of terrorism in Punjab. The gains made under Shri Rajiv Gandhi were neutralised and the Police morale was shattered.. When the JKLF terrorists kidnapped the daughter of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the then Home Minister, and demanded the release of some detained terrrorists, he and his Government shockingly capitulated before them. This marked the beginning of large-scale terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. When the terrorists subsequently kidnapped the then Vice-Chancellor of the Srinagar University and two others and demanded the release of some more terrorists, he took a strong line. The terrorists executed their captives. The double standards followed by him---- softness in the case of the daughter of his Home Minister and a hard line in the case of some innocent civilians who had no political influence--- destroyed his credibility as a person capable of providing leadership in counter-terrorism. Showed very little interest in the North-East. The Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) was withdrawn from Sri Lanka under pressure from his Tamil Nadu political allies under conditions, which were widely seen as humiliating.
(d).Shri Chandra Sekhar: He was the Prime Minister for too short a while to make a major impact, but continued with the policies of Rajiv Gandhi.
(d).Shri Narasimha Rao: Carried forward the policies of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi for making Pakistan realise that its sponsorship of terrorism---whether in Punjab or J&K-- would not be cost free. Gave a free hand to Beant Singh, K.P.S.Gill, and Rajesh Pilot, his Minister of State for Internal Securty, for neutralising Khalistani terrorism. Khalistani terrorism was brought under control under his Prime Ministership.It was under his leadership that the indigenous Kashmiri militant organisations started losing steam. He gave a free hand to Shri G.C.Saxena, former chief of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) who was appointed as the Governor by V.P.Singh, and Gen.Krishna Rao, who succeeded him, to deal with terrorism in a professional manner. When the indigenous organisations started losing steam, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) started infiltrating Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations into J&K and the rest of India. He handled two hijackings and the occupation of the Hazratbal holy shrine in Srinagar by the terrorists in an effective manner. Continued with Rajiv Gandhi's policy of strengthening the capabilities of the intelligence and security agencies. However, his failure to prevent the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December,1992, created a fertile soil in the Indian territory outside J&K for the spread of jihadi terrorism. Handled effectively the sequel to the Mumbai blasts of March,1993.
(e).Shri Deva Gowda: Did not make any impact one way or the other.
(f). Shri Gujral: Damaged the pro-active capabilities built up under Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao under the Gujral Doctrine of unilateral gestures to our neighbours.
(g).Shri A.B.Vajpayee: Never carried out many of the brave statements of the BJP before coming to power. The hopes of the intelligence and security agencies that he would reverse the policies of Gujral and restore their teeth were belied. Very badly mishandled the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar. There was total confusion in the corridors of power when the plane was hijacked. Two opportunities to have the hijacking terminated at Amritsar and Dubai were missed. When the hijackers took the plane to Kandahar, he faced a self-created situation in which he had no other option but to capitulate to the terrorists in order to save the lives of the passengers. Hard in rhetoric, soft in action. Did not publish the promised White Paper on the ISI's sponsorship of terrorism in Indian territory. Ill-advised lionisation of Pervez Musharraf before the fiasco of the Agra summit conveyed a wrong message to the terrorists that there was counter-terrorism fatigue in Delhi. The move for talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen was handled in a very unprofessional manner, with an eye more on media publicity than on concrete results. The outcome: Moderate elements in the Hizbul Mujahideen found themselves marginalised and some even eliminated. The effective manner in which the security forces repulsed jihadi terrorist attacks on the Akshardam temple in Ahmedabad in 2002 and the Parliament in Delhi in 2001 were a tribute to their bravery and reflexes and not to the political leadership of Vajpayee. The much-hyped mobilisationn of the Indian Army after the attack on the Indian Parliament and the subsequent policy of coercive diplomacy against Pakistan did produce some beneficial results and brought down the level of terrorism in J&K under Vajpayee as well as Manmohan Singh. But no impact on jihadi terrorism in the rest of India. Took a number of steps to strengthen the counter-terrorism capabilities of the police and intelligence agencies. Their morale improved.
(h).Dr.Manmohan Singh: The improvement in the ground situation in J&K has continued, but he has not been able to arrest the deterioration in the situation in the rest of the country. He upgraded the priority given to action against the Naxalites and the Maoists. The additional powers given to the Police under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) were withdrawn. A lack of focus and vigour in dealing with terrorism in a comprehensive manner. The morale of the counter-terrorism agencies, including the police, not very high. This is reflected in the poor pace of investigation of terrorism-related cases since 2004. His perceived softness towards Pakistan is likely to prove counter-productive.
(i).Shri Beant Singh: Punjab was fortunate to have had him as its Chief Minister in the 1990s.His role in the fight against Khalistani terrorism was highly commendable. He provided political leadership of a high order in counter-terrorism matters.
(j).Shri Sharad Pawar: The vigorous political leadership provided by him in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts of March,1993, led to the successful investigation and prosecution of the first act of mass casualty terrorism on the ground in Indian territory.
(k). Miss Jayalalita and Shri Karunanidhi: The credit for effectively neutralising the activities of Al Ummah and for the successful investigation and prosecution of the Coimbatore blasts case of February,1998, should equally go to them. Efforts of the Lashkar-e-Toiba to start sleeping cells in Tamil Nadu were detected in time by the Tamil Nadu Police and neutralised. The Tamil Nadu Police has been very pro-active in dealing with terrorism--- whether of the jihadi kind or the Maoist/Naxalite kind or the new sleeper cells of the LTTE. Tamil Nadu provides a good case study of how to deal with jihadi terrorism firmly without antagonising the community from which the terrorists arose.
(l). Shri Narendra Modi: His main claim has been that there has been no major act of jihadi terrorism in his State after the Akshardam incident, but Gujarat has always had a very little history of terrorism---whether of the jihadi or the Naxalite kind. The tribute for keeping away from terrorism should go more to the people of the State than to any political leader. (15-12-07)
(The writer is Additional Secretary(retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )