Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Terrorism: the gathering storm

Even a government that often appears to have its eyes glued shut could not have failed to read the message delivered by the Assam serial bombings: that great dangers lie ahead for a nation facing a sustained terror offensive of unprecedented lethality. It is too early to come to any firm opinion on which group carried out Thursday’s attack. At this point, many experts suspect the hand of the Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami — a feared jihadist group that has carried out dozens of bombings in India and Bangladesh. HUJI clearly hopes to exploit the communal situation in Assam, which recently saw brutal clashes between Muslims and Bodo adivasis. Investigators believe HUJI was responsible for last month’s bombing in Agartala — the first-ever jihadist attack in Tripura. Four HUJI operatives were killed in a recent encounter along the India-Bangladesh border at Dhurbi and several HUJI members are known to have crossed the border. Assam authorities believe the Islamist group would not be able to mount an operation of this scale without logistical support from the United Liberation Front of Asom. ULFA has denied any role in the bombings but its past record of collaboration with Bangladesh-based Islamist groups lends some weight to the suspicion.

What the Government of India needs to do is to take seriously the strategic context of the terror campaign of which the Assam bombings are a part. Jihadists across South Asia have gained strength over the past two years. In southern Afghanistan, they have registered military successes that have made high British military officials warn that the war against the Taliban cannot be won. Jihadists have taken de facto control of large swathes of Pakistan’s north-west. Bangladesh, which on the day of the Assam bombings put HUJI chief Mufti Mohammad Hannan and 21 operatives on trial for a 2004 grenade attack on former Prime Minister Khalida Zia, has failed to break the powerful terror networks the country is home to. In India, too, jihadists have acquired unprecedented influence — in no small measure because of the abject failure of the Indian state and political system to check and combat Hindutva-led communal violence. All this points to a gathering storm. The United Progressive Alliance is fast losing its legitimacy on this defining issue as a general election nears. Far too many Indians have died for it to claim it is doing the state’s first duty — protecting the lives and elementary liberties of its citizens. It is time a change was made at the helm of the Union Home Ministry, if only to demonstrate that collective responsibility cannot possibly mean that nobody takes the rap for a system’s appalling failure.


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