Why terror isn’t just the police's problem

on Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It should be safe to assume that for a good portion of September, we would have to hear the condemnation of terrorists' and terrorism ad nauseam. We can expect scores of camera-friendly politicians and administrators venturing out to say this in a display of well-positioned eloquence.

But condemning terrorists and terrorism is the handiwork of a tribe which is unable to accomplish their agenda without using these words. And their only aim in saying this is to enlist the support of others who react to the word "terrorist" with trepidation, and helps create a mob mindset, each of whom is united by the fear of a perceived common enemy.

Having done the deed, these politicians and those governing us return home satisfied their day's service to the nation has been achieved.

Point is too many politicians and officials waste too much time talking about issues and not doing anything about them. None of them accepts that if you are unwilling to take decisions - because you don't want someone to dislike you - then its best to retire.

Politicians are supposed to represent people and take decisions. Some wont like the decision, but it's their job to take them. So each time our cities get hit by terror, commandos swarm our streets, railway stations, airports and malls. We get our false sense of security for a few days and things fall back to normal - till the next terrorist strikes. And the charade is then repeated all over again.

We may surely need slogans, rhetoric and condemnation after blasts, as terrorism often has an ideological basis. But the foot-soldiers of such ideological fanatics - who implement the act in our markets and streets and hurt our loved ones - need to be tackled like any other criminal.

Our administrators still haven't understood we need two completely different approaches - one to counter the ideology behind terrorism and the other to tackle the terrorist or the criminal who carries out the act on the ground. They still haven't figured out it may be difficult to change ideological and brainwashed individuals quickly, but it's faster and more practical to create as many hurdles as you can in the path of a terrorist.

So spouting condemnations is wonderful, but can we all get back to office and begin working to make the life of a criminal planting the explosive a bit more difficult?

Criminals look for operational ease in carrying out their act; they work incognito and are equally scared of getting caught. It's the same for terrorists. But the terrain in India is far too easy for them. And hardly provides any sort of a deterrent, both to a petty criminal or a terror module. So let's surely rush to blame the police commissioner, the DGP, the intelligence chief and the home minister each time a blast occurs. But can we also please begin slamming a few more of our gentlemen who rule and govern us?

We can begin by blaming the incompetence and corruption of our municipal bodies, our transport departments, our town planners, the dozens of notaries who sit outside court complexes attesting papers, any paper, our finance ministries, the urban development ministry and the public works department after every blast. And yes, can we also please blame our market associations, NGOs which will resist any regulation of hawking zones and traders? And finally, can we blame ourselves as well, because we are all making the terrorists' job a wee bit too easy?

It's about time politicians and officials (and us) accept they aren't keeping their eyes and minds open and are expecting the police to spot and prevent everything. They can't.

Because the hurdles that a criminal (terrorist) would face in a well managed, well developed, modern and efficient urban city, just aren't there. And these hurdles are created not just by the police, but by an overall sophistication in civic, administrative, and economic management of an urban township.

This is why a criminal faces negligible hurdles in stealing cars to transport men and material to various places as a getaway. In virtually any city, it can be done with child-like ease, because we just don't have enough organized parking lots or spaces. A secure, well checked parking lot makes it a little more difficult for a criminal to steal your car. So, haven't our civic administrators failed to anticipate and provide for the magnitude of the demand for parking? And now shouldn't they share the blame for making a criminal, or a terrorist's job, easier?

And what about us? We, too, park our cars anywhere; cram them in lanes, by-lanes and markets. Isn't that the reason why it's easy for a terrorist's explosive laden car, cycle or two-wheeler to melt in this chaos just about anywhere, undetected and without suspicion? Just think about it.

The chemicals and detonators terrorists' buy to assemble the bomb can be secured as easily, because the authority responsible for regulating its sale isn't making it difficult for a man with nefarious design to secure unlimited quantities. It's possible to buy anything and any amount, if you have the cash. So, why shouldn't we also slam the chemicals and fertilizers ministry, the controller of explosives and the excise department for allowing corruption and sloth to contribute to terror acts?

Walk into any road transport office, and its simple to secure a driving licence without need for any documentation. Getting vehicles registered, ensuring fake identities, entering fake residence proofs for registrations is never an arduous task, again if one has spare cash. Aren't these fake identities the basis on which a terrorist manages a SIM connection for a cell phone? There isn't much of a hurdle for him here either.

So why shouldn't we rush to blame the transport and general district administration offices for abetting terrorism? And why should the notary sitting outside a court complex, who gleefully attests any document as a verified original, not be blamed for the growing threat of terror?

Most Indian cities are congested. In many, it's made worse because hawkers and casual businesses are illegally allowed to set-up their wares on pavements. Traders in most markets manage extensions and set-up temporary counters outside their establishments, adding to the chaos. The remaining spaces are taken up by cycles, two-wheelers and other wares. Somewhere in between are overflowing garbage bins, junk strewn all around it and fruit and vegetable waste thrown just about everywhere.

So, it won't really take several months of training in a Muzaffarabad terror camp to keep a bag containing a bomb in any such public place. Even you and I can do it. So why shouldn't we blame the municipal councillor, the traders' association, the local politician and the civic bodies for aiding terror by allowing physical encroachment and failing to create well managed hawking zones and spaces for hawkers and casual trade?

Why shouldn't civic bodies be held accountable as well for failing to provide well lit, well planned market complexes and roads - for allowing rampant violation of building bye-laws, all of which adds to congestion and thereby reduces the number of hurdles that a terrorist would face in executing his job? Why shouldn't we blame ourselves too, for selfishly taking advantage of such mess?

Terrorism is like prostitution. It won't go away, just because we don't like it and condemn it. Politicians, administrators and we will have to join the policeman, in our bid to frustrate a criminal by making his operating terrain difficult. By using modern, efficient ways of urban planning and maintenance. By insisting on following the rule-book and by cracking down hard on violations of any government guideline. Even if the insistence on the rule is disliked by a few of us. Politicians would need to give up for a few years the temptation of ensuring patronage for rule-breakers, no matter now trivial or insignificant they may be.

Sure, all of it sounds utopian. It's safe to conclude this may never really happen. That it's virtually impossible to achieve this. Fair point! But then lets at least applaud Ram Gopal Verma for the getting the only thing right in the past two years - the opening line of his latest movie, Contract.

It says: "We may ignore terrorism, but terrorism won't ignore us."

Consequently, God forbid, but if we get hit by another terror strike, let's do something which is surely possible. Let's go out and slam the police and the home minister. But can we look at completing the grand slam by adding the urban development minister, the civic chief, the councillor, the transport department, the notary, traders,' ourselves.


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