Even as we grieve the Mumbai attacks, we must ask what next? Terror appears to strike at will (in India), and with each instance raises the stakes. We must move forward, and we must respond. In fact, as Rahm Emanuel, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_House_Chief_of_Staff-designate, loves to say “we should never allow a crisis to go to waste”.
The press and blogosphere have been full of suggestions on how to respond, ranging from attacking terrorist camps in Pakistan, to improving intelligence and adding NSG squads in multiple locations. Many of these suggestions make sense and there is clearly a need for India to improve its intelligence and rapid response capabilities. Improving intelligence is probably the only way to prevent (or at least reduce) attacks on soft targets. No amount of security can do so – after all, how many hotels and buildings can you protect? We need to improve our electronic interception and surveillance capabilities and strengthen coordination across the various agencies. We also need to improve our ability to respond – having NSG units in multiple locations in a good start. Training them for urban situations (it amazes me that 500+ men were deployed against 10 terrorists), and leveraging technology (e.g. 3-D digital models of target sites and expanded video surveillance to help plan counter-attacks) would also go a long way. There is a lot that can be done on both these fronts and many of the suggestions in the media make sense.
Yet, this is only a start. Unlike conventional warfare, there is no way to win a war against terrorists. India must strike at the root causes of terrorism if it is to win. India must arrive at a negotiated settlement on festering issues like Kashmir and Ayodhya and provide secular education for all children.
Settling the Kashmir and Ayodhya issues will strike at the heart of terrorism. The on-going violence in Kashmir and the strong emotions associated with Ayodhya are a god send for terrorist recruiters. For every person who is killed in Kashmir (irrespective of who was at fault), we are creating several new terrorists (or at best terrorist sympathizers). Every riot/pogrom fuels extremism and gives birth to future generations of terrorists. India needs to stop the vicious cycle by leveraging this crisis to force a settlement with Pakistan on Kashmir (formalizing the current borders) and negotiate a compromise to the Babri Masjid/Ayodhya issue. Doing so will prove much more effective than increasing the number of NSG commandos by a factor of 10.
Furthermore, “secular school education for all” will reduce terrorism’s oxygen supply. Multiple surveys indicate that (on an average) Muslims in India are a disadvantaged lot. And one only has to look at the Palestinian camps to see that poverty and the lack of opportunity are breeding grounds for terrorism. To add fuel to the fire, we have children being brainwashed by religious schools of all flavors. India needs to instill hope and provide more opportunities for its poor (Muslim or otherwise). And India must provide each child with a secular education that teaches them to be Indian first and Hindu or Muslim second. Religious schools (madrasas or otherwise) are not consistent with a secular democracy, and must go.
It will take a while for us to put the events of last week behind. But we can make a start by addressing some of the root causes for terrorism – Islamic or Naxalite or Hindu.