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Are Terrorists Getting Better Or Do We Just Suck At Dealing With Them?

19/09/2016 1:51 PM IST | Updated 20/09/2016 8:16 AM IST
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In the late 1980s, when Khalistanis unsuccessfully tried to bring their war out of Punjab and into Bombay and were thwarted by A. A. Khan, the Bombay Police's gutsy Anti-Terrorism Squad chief, it drove home to me that terrorists are cowards. They did not fight policemen and soldiers. And only attacked the unarmed and helpless, the private citizens, killing indiscriminately -- innocent and unsuspecting commuters on their way to work packed like sardines in train compartments or hanging out of overcrowded buses, women at home, school-going children, marriage parties, old folk minding their own business. People not expecting to be attacked. Who probably never held a gun in their lives or knew how to counter a deadly assault. People who were not party to their war. Whose deaths were in no way going to advance the cause of their separatist movement.

The trend is dramatically changing. The fidayeen now attack defence camps. Terrorists are getting not braver, but more jihadi. They are still cowards.

From what I reported of the Khalistanis' skirmishes in Bombay, I realized that terrorists did not fight their battles in the open, in broad daylight. They were not like the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, the guerrilla fighters of the Cuban Revolution and the Afghanistan War. Men who would die for a cause. I was told that terrorists lacked ethics, morality, sense of justice and fair play. They killed hundreds of thousands of all sects, communities and religions. They worked under the cover of darkness, launching covert hit-and-run operations planned with great deliberation, killing families asleep in their beds at home, and then disappeared into the night. Worse, when searches were launched for them by the police and army, they hid in homes after taking people hostage. Or concealed themselves in places of worship. The more ingenious learned to cross the border and take refuge in unfriendly neighbouring countries.

My belief was confirmed on that Black Friday in March 1993, when Bombay was rocked by a series of coordinated bomb explosions that ripped apart the city's social fabric and all but tore out its heart, in cold blood. Behind this bloody blueprint that killed 257 and injured 717 and was one of the first terrorist acts of its kind in the world, was the hand of Dawood Ibrahim, the fugitive Bombay underworld don. Islamist fundamentalists were not yet fully on the scene here; fidayeen or suicide bombers promised rewards of virgins in heaven were unknown. But the 1993 serial bombings, though carried out by Dawood's D-Company, a Bombay-based international organized crime syndicate, came to be known as an act of terrorism. Its victims were all helpless, unsuspecting innocents again. Fifteen years later, in November 2008, the story was kind of repeated when just 10 Pakistani terrorists laid siege on Mumbai, killing 164 and injuring 308 in a carnage lasting over four days that had the National Security Guard coming in while the 40,000-strong Mumbai Police force watched helplessly.

The sooner Prime Minister Narendra Modi realizes when to turn the page and when to close the book, the better.

But the trend is dramatically changing. The fidayeen now attack defence camps. Terrorists are getting not braver, but more jihadi. They are still cowards. And psychopaths. Earlier this year just four (or it is six?), Pakistani terrorists attacked the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot, engaging hundreds of National Security Guard commandos, the IAF's Garud Commando Force, the Indian Army's 16 Dogra Regiment, and thousands of Punjab Police personnel in an operation lasting 17 hours in which attack helicopters were used and six Indian security men were killed.

Then over this weekend at dawn in Uri along the Line of Control, four jihadis attacked the Indian Army's 12th Brigade HQ, killing 19 soldiers and injuring 32. The citizens' outrage is impotently spilling over on social media. If Pakistan can shake India with just four, six and 10 fidayeen, why can't the jingoist VHP, Bajrang Dal or RSS train suicide bombers and send them across the border, it is being asked. Indira Gandhi was known for taking the fight into the enemy camp, it is being remembered. Sir Winston Churchill, who said "The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of the policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events," is being quoted. The thing is, our government does not appear to know what to say or do. Reality is, either Pakistan is getting better at terrorism or we continue to suck at dealing with it. But the sooner Prime Minister Narendra Modi realizes when to turn the page and when to close the book, the better.

Memento Mori by Pablo Bartholomew

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