Thursday, December 18, 2008

India may need anti-terror help

Abridged version published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov 30, 2008

Terror struck again. This time half a way across the globe in Mumbai. As a person of Indian origin with many friends hailing from Mumbai I was glued to the news channels watching the drama unfold in the city where I had started my first job. A city I would describe as a heady concoction of NYC and LA (in equal measures) to my American friends.

The attacks underscored the fact that democratic civil societies all across the globe are menaced by the same forces of radical fundamentalism. Also reminded the world of the unique capabilities of radical groups to asymmetrically project their abilities by selecting soft targets and bringing entire cities/nations to a standstill.

Making me less than 2 degrees separated from the crises was an email from an old classmate from management school. He had subsequently joined the Indian Police Service and had now lost a police batch mate to terrorists' bullets in Mumbai.

What he had to say as he vented and shared his grief has relevance for us in US as we try to fathom what is transpiring there :"Another Terror attack in Mumbai and I expect the same stereotype stands from the political parties, same response from the media and the same anguish and feeling of helplessness from the public. Rightly so, they ask, what is the Government doing about it? The opposition parties will exploit the situation to say that the Government has been soft on terror…..While legislation and awarding deterrent punishments are very essential in our fight against terror, they are by no means sufficient to put an end to terror. The public at large rightfully ask – if US could stop terror attacks after 9/11, why can’t our security system do the same here? Friends, we will continue to have such attacks till we as a nation and as a society do not decide to invest in the police of the country. We expect a first-world police reaction from a third-world police. But we as a society are not bothered – or is it that human life, and more so a life of a policeman, is too cheap? Or is it that we are not aware of the deficiencies in our security systems? The reaction of the Government is also on the same lines – will legislate a strong anti-terror law, will create a federal agency, will bring in police reforms, etc. Unfortunately these terror attacks are only ‘action events’ for the media to keep people hooked on to the TVs. But hardly we have informed and consistent discussions in media to improve the security situation." Not unlike the reactions we had in the US or London or Madrid or Bali after terror attacks.

What hit home for me was that the US is perceived as a role model for securing the homeland from terrorist attacks. There may be a need to share that expertise and intelligence with other US allies as terrorist organizations start picking out as targets US interests and citizens in those countries. Mumbai and India are no strangers to terrorist attacks but this was the first time foreign nationals were also targeted. We also need to continue to strengthen our own defenses against terror attacks as the bad guys continue to plot new ways to cause us damage

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