It’s time for our best brains to join war on terror

BAPU SATYANARAYANA and E.R. RAMACHANDRAN write: Now that terrorism seems to have taken firm root in our country, it is time to think of what should be done to halt its progress and what specific steps can be taken to ensure that more innocent lives are not lost.

This article tries to stay clear of political machinations over which we have no control. We also feel generalizations and homilies take us nowhere. Inputs have to be specific. We also feel this problem should be looked at objectively, as far as possible, so that focus is not lost.

It is becoming clear that terrorists operating from within and across our borders are targeting our cities by striking at important religious centres, crowded areas and commercial establishments, schools and lately even hospitals.

The objectives seem to be to cause mass casualties, of course, but also to derail the economy, polarize the nation on religious lines, and to create a general scare, all of which in the end will result in a state of uncertainty.

The ultimate objective is to destabilize India.

It is another matter that terrorists have not succeeded in their design so far, but as the threat looms large, we need serious policy initiatives, stricter laws, a tougher judicial process and generally an overall revamp of “the system” if the terrorists are not to triumph.

While the Army fights terrorists/ insurgents at the border, terrorism within our borders will have to be fought by the police which are primarily a State government force. Are our Police, who are mainly trained to keep law and order, and man the traffic, in cities, anywhere near fit to take on terrorists?

Obviously, fighting terrorists is a different ball game and it requires a different temperament, knowledge, attitude and training besides new infrastructure in terms of having a dedicated set-up for gathering information, state-of-the-art equipment etc.

The hard truth is that we have to put in place a new system and unfortunately we have at very little time available at our disposal. But the challenge has to be met. If we follow the Pareto Principle—the 80:20 rule—80% of the problem can be solved if we address the top 20 issues.

What are some of the major steps we could take to fight terror?

1. Identify the terror mongers: There are agencies, overt and covert, who are forever involved in planning, creating and unleashing terror. Their activities, linkups, communication, transactions of their real/front office facade, financial transactions should be monitored, scrutinized and checked. Wherever necessary they should be interrogated by specially trained police officers well versed in finance, communication and computers.

2. Prepare dossiers and documents:  It is the people in these organizations who conspire, plan, and wreck havoc. The Police should have a dossier of the top suspects, their political and financial linkages etc. It is these people who generate funds, recruit trainees and are in touch with outside agencies for support in every possible way. These dossiers and documents should be nationally accessible so that various police outfits are in the loop.

3. TechnologyRichard Nixon was finally caught not by FBI, not by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein but by Westinghouse engineers who deciphered the erased tape. When he was almost caught, the former president tried to erase the Watergate tapes. The deciphering of tapes with Nixon choice epithets was the final clincher of evidence against Nixon!

What are our computer and telecom whiz kids doing? Shouldn’t they be associated with our government / police in giving them the cutting edge in technology? It is fine if they are designing London metro, Canadian finance markets or Hamburg’s public transport? Can they not be part of their country’s efforts to root out this menace?

Now let’s not talk of common excuses such as red tape, corruption, political Interference. What would be our fate, if, for instance, soldiers who face death day in day out in Kashmir and the Northeast started asking these questions instead of taking on their enemies? Where will we be? Where would the country be? 

Real patriotism is much more than just mouthing the National Anthem or hoisting the flag on August 15.  Can there be a better Public-Private-Participation (PPP) than Indian industry stepping up to the plate and contributing? Can’t they provide their best brains to come up with a strategy? Can’t they help design a blueprint for fighting terror that would help our police stay ahead of the perpetrators of death? There cannot be a greater contribution to the nation. The industry should come out and help do that.

4. Local for Local: Unless you have locals with you, you cannot fight terror sitting in Delhi, Bangalore or Jaipur.  The dry run for the Bangalore blasts was allegedly carried out in Chennapatna. They were planning where to hit Madras sitting in Tirunelveli. This makes it important for the local police in small towns to have informants, helpers to know what’s going on.

Eavesdropping and snooping at these levels is a key element in information-gathering. We may have the best of gadgets, but we may miss out on a simple word of mouth whispered or overheard in an adda or a local tarra shop.

In the case of Bangalore and Ahmedabad, where 25 sites were planted with bombs, there would be more than 500 people involved in planning the sites, procuring the raw material from the markets, assembling the bombs, transporting and planting the same.

It is here the police informants should have got in-depth data such as where they got nuts and bolts, the wires, timers etc the plan to hire local cycles, selection of transformer sites and hospitals sites etc. An efficient police and intelligence force would have got the information beforehand given the scale of the planned attack. There should be a good communication channel to convey info all the way up. 

5.Training,Training,Training: The police personnel need continuous training be it in intelligence gathering, monitoring the movements of suspects, and in preventing the impending attacks. Training is an integral part of any industry to update and upgrade the knowledge of their staff. Are we doing enough for our police to update their knowledge?

We want iPods, iPhones, Notebooks, Land Cruisers and Jaguars for ourselves but our police should move around with a lathi in one hand and a whistle in another, and an old heavy GH 201 BEL walkie-talkie to pass on urgent communication! How are they supposed to protect you and me from terrorists if they are so ill-equipped!

Unlike the Army, do the police have a Khadakvasla for recruiting and training the cadets or a PRDO like DRDO (Defense Research Development Organization) to turnout betetr personnel and design better equipment?

Finally, we write off loans of our farmers, give hefty raise to our babus and our MPs vote themselves increase in salary with eye-popping perks. What about our Police who in addition to Law and Order now have to take on Terrorists? Pittance is what we give!

We talk of corruption in police force, when some of our babus own palatial buildings by the dozens and cars by the hundred and politicians despite all the perks are bought for crores of rupees for a few votes.

It is possible to fight the terror in real terms and not on paper, provided the country gears itself in ways that will strengthen our existing institutions, our industry joins hands with the government, and Police are given their due and given equipment and training, and a vigilant people play their vital part. We should get wise from the example of America which has had no incident after 9/11.

If America can do it, with a pool of vaster talent we too can.

What do you think we should do to battle terror? Do you have any suggestions and inputs?