Local Realities of Terrorist Threats
India has been afflicted by terrorism for many, many years. The most important and most significant experience that India has had with terrorism was in Punjab in the 1980s. I personally experienced this terrorism; there were two attempts on my life, one in Punjab itself when I was director-general of police and one in Bucharest when I was ambassador to Romania. I shall start with the former attempt, not because I want to highlight it; rather, I want to relate it to the question of how science and technology could have helped in preventing these attacks, although regrettably, it may also not seem as if it could have helped.
In Punjab, shortly after I took charge as director-general of police, Rajiv Gandhi, our young and dynamic prime minister, told me to take “Black Cats” with me. These are specialized security agents that operate in Delhi. Important leaders in India have Black Cats to protect them. I responded by saying, “Look, I am a quasi-military man. I belong to a uniformed armed service. I can’t possibly be protected by somebody else from some other service. I have to be protected by my own men. If I cannot command their respect, that’s it. I don’t think I would be able to function.”
Soon thereafter I was on my usual early morning walk with my wife around the police officers’ compound when we heard the sound of weapons firing. I lay down on the ground pretending I had been shot. The attackers thought that I had been shot. They had shot 49 rounds from AK-47s and self-loading rifles into the building and the walls but fortunately they did not hit me. The attackers used a vehicle that they had painted so that it would appear to be a police jeep; they had replicated the color and markings. When the attackers came in, the police guards at the door, who were part of my security detail, saluted them because one of the men sitting in front was wearing the uniform of a police inspector, another in the back seat was dressed as a head constable, and the others were dressed as constables. The guards let them go through. The very next moment the attackers called out to the other guards who were near me and said, “We want to inspect your weapons.” When the guards showed them their weapons, the intruders started firing and killed the guards. I heard the sounds of the guards being killed and that saved me.
How could science and technology have helped to save me? I do not know. If there had been some way to detect that these men were not regular policemen, perhaps the crisis could have been avoided, but I cannot imagine how that could have been done.
The assassination attempt in Bucharest was different. Rajiv Gandhi told me that it was a safe place for me to be because Nicolae Ceausescu was ruling Romania and he did not allow dissent or terrorism. Thus, I went to Bucharest. Very soon after that, Ceausescu and his wife were both killed. While I was going for a walk, again with my wife, they jumped out of a car and started firing, and I knew that they had come for me again. I was 62 years old, and my attackers were 26 years old. I ran faster than they did and that is why I survived.
Again, in this instance, I do not think science and technology could have helped me. I do not know if it could have helped the Romanians in preventing my attackers. The attackers probably paid a bribe to enter the country—it was not easy to enter Romania, and yet they did.
My story about Punjab builds upon my stories about the attacks that I experienced. Punjab is one of the more prosperous states in India. I think Punjab deserves to be so because its people are very hard working. They want to improve their quality of life. If they have a bicycle, they want a motorcycle. If they have a motorcycle, they want a jeep. If they have a jeep, they want a car. However, prosperity spawns other problems. Not everybody in Punjab is prosperous. In addition, there were political reasons for terrorism beginning in that state. There were others who joined terrorist groups because they were criminals. The terrorists attacked certain police outposts. The policemen in the rural areas of India are not very alert, because they do not expect anyone to challenge them. Nonetheless, they were attacked and their weapons were stolen. Police weapons were used by terrorists to kill innocent people.
There was a think tank in Lahore, Pakistan, across the border from India. This think tank comprised leaders of the Sikh terrorist movement. They decided that the best way to send their message to the Indian government was to attack the Hindu community in Punjab so that the Hindus would leave the state, and that would ensure their victory. They demanded a separate state even though 99 percent of the Sikhs did not want this. Nevertheless, 1 percent, or less than 1 percent, decided that a separate state was their goal and the only way to achieve that was through terrorism. They could not achieve it by regular warfare because they did not have the wherewithal. Having decided that they would frighten the Hindus, the Sikh terrorists attacked them in the villages where they lived. (Very few Hindus lived in villages.) In many places they were shot for no other reason than their religious affiliation. As a result, the Hindus left; they moved to Delhi and other places. Some of them came to the bigger towns of Punjab, Jalandhar, and Ludhiana.
What happened to the people? The Hindu community began to demand more security. As their demands increased, the Indian government started sending increasing numbers of paramilitary forces. In response, the Sikh terrorists struck at easier targets and at targets that people did not expect them to hit, including buses, trains, marketplaces, and places where Hindus congregated for religious purposes, called jaagarans, at night. The terrorists pulled people off of buses and separated the women, whom they did not
touch. They separated the men with beards because all Sikhs are supposed to wear beards and turbans, and then they lined up the men without beards and turbans and shot them, even those who were Sikhs.
People across the border helped the Sikh terrorists acquire more sophisticated weapons, namely AK-47s. After the war in Afghanistan, many weapons were available in the bazaars of Peshawar and different parts of Pakistan. These weapons came into Punjab and they were used by terrorists.
The police reacted by demanding AK-47s for themselves, which was more of a psychological demand. I asked them, “What are you going to do with the AK-47s? AK-47s could be good for terrorists, but what will you do with them? The AK-47 is a weapon that covers a large area; if you fire, you might kill innocent people. The terrorists might escape, but others would be shot.” My arguments did not register with the police. This kind of demand had to be met in order to raise the morale of the police. As a result, we purchased AK-47s for them.
I have described the type of terrorism we are facing. I wanted to relate it to science and technology, but I do not know exactly how to do that. AK-47s are a product of science and technology, but they are now outdated. The police wanted more sophisticated weapons. I personally did not think that the police needed them. Better intelligence is a more effective tool. I must mention that when I was attacked in Bucharest, the intelligence agencies had already warned me to be watchful. They even told me the names of my suspected attackers. I did not know who they were, but they were the persons who attacked me. I do not know how intelligence officers got this information. After I received the warning, I stayed home for 20 days, but after that it was difficult to continue staying at home. On the first day that I went out, I was attacked. In my opinion, our intelligence agencies were doing a very good job, but there were more and more demands on them to produce more information that would help us fight the type of terrorism we were facing.
Of course, we never thought about science and technology. We made no demands on our scientists and technology experts because we did not know that there were ways they could help us in such circumstances. The scenarios that our U.S. friends have discussed fortunately have not occurred in our country yet. In that respect we are many years behind, and I hope that we remain so as far as terrorism is concerned. The United States faces particular threats that India does not yet face. For instance, I do not think that an attack on nuclear facilities has ever entered our minds or those of terrorists. I do not know where they would be able to get this type of material.
I must also mention that I had not experienced terrorism until I went to Punjab in 1986. Before that, I did regular policing in my own state, Maharashtra. I was the police commissioner of Bombay (now Mumbai). There we had many problems with the underworld but certainly not with terrorism as such. Terrorism was a new phenomenon that I learned about in Punjab. Much later, when I returned from Bucharest, I read about the first terrorist attack in my native city of Mumbai.
Corruption is another closely related problem facing India. A specific case in which terrorism and corruption were linked was the illegal importation of RDX-based explosives,49 facilitated by bribes, and the subsequent detonation of those explosives in attacks on the Air India building in Bombay and the Bombay Stock Exchange. These
attacks killed more than 200 people. In this case it does not appear that police knew about the illegal import of explosives until after the explosions.
There were social consequences of this terrorist act. We had to think about this type of terrorism coming into the big cities of India. We have had similar terrorist strikes in the city more recently, in 2001, 2002, and 2003. In each of these instances, explosives were placed on the last seat of a bus. The first incident did not generate significant attention. After an interval of time, the terrorists did the same thing, which meant that the police had relaxed. What can science and technology do to detect terrorist strikes of this nature? Islamic terrorists succeeded in putting explosives under the last seat of buses and caused enormous damage. They cause less damage than the big RDX explosions, but it was certainly enough to cause further rifts between the local communities.
Although we often hear about Islamic terrorism, this term is a misnomer because Islam as such does not teach anyone to be a terrorist. I do not think that any religion tells a follower to kill others in the name of God. I have gone to the poorer areas of Bombay to talk about the concept of Umma (the concept of Muslim brotherhood worldwide) and the concept of jihad. These concepts have been misrepresented by fanatics to lure people into committing terrorist acts. These misrepresentations have to be addressed by the community itself. From my experience in Punjab, I believe that although we must go after terrorists who kill innocent people, that alone is not going to help. Individual terrorists are immediately replaced by someone else. New ones will be recruited as long as they feel that terrorism will provide them with what they desire. As long as this happens, the authorities are not going to stop these acts of terrorism. Many terrorists have been drawn into this vortex by feelings that Islam is in danger, and that Christians and Hindus are threatening their way of life and they must defend themselves; that is, they have to strike in order to survive.
This is unfortunate. The only way that this view can be countered is to win the hearts and minds of the community that has been affected. In Punjab, although a lot of people take credit for having stopped terrorism, I really do not think it would have stopped unless the people themselves decided they did not want it anymore. Until people reach such a decision, terrorists are going to continue to attack because they depend on the support, covert or overt, of their own community. When that support ends, terrorism is then brought to an end. For example, in Punjab when the depredations of terrorists became worse than those of the police and security forces, the people decided that they would no longer condone terrorist actions, and they gave information to the authorities that led to the elimination of the terrorists.
In conclusion, terrorists and terrorism are two different things. You have to go after the terrorists, but terrorism can be fought only if you win the hearts and minds of the people involved.
After the Gujarat riots we went to the main slums of Bombay. I went to Dharavi, considered to be the biggest slum in Asia, and met with the women. We should work with women because they have great influence over their male relatives. It is very important to talk to the women and to ask them for their support in our fight against this type of communalism.
What we did was ask women to state what they had experienced in 1992 and 1993, when there were big communal riots in Bombay in which people, mainly Muslims, were killed. The women told us that they had all suffered. We asked, “Did you support
your men when they went out to fight?” Some of them admitted that they did. They said they were not going to do it anymore because the children suffered—they did not go to school, they did not get milk to drink, and some of them did not have enough to eat. There was a curfew, and many of the women suffered.
Later, we brought religious leaders, particularly from the army, to meet with the women. The Indian army has religious leaders based in Poona, whom we asked to talk to the women. The religious leaders said, “Look, here is a message that can be given. There is no point in killing somebody because he worships God in some other way by some other name.”
We must take similar initiatives if we are to make any inroads into the Muslim community, which is under attack today. The Muslim community is under great constraints. The constraints are not only from Hindu fanatics but also from their own fanatics. Fanatics have to be isolated. Once they are isolated, terrorism is bound to suffer and to be brought under control.
I am interested in learning how science and technology can help reduce or eliminate terrorism. For example, policemen used to be assigned the task of providing airport security, but they were not interested in that work. Now another organization is charged with airport security, and it is doing a much better job. I hope that this continues because there have been a number of hijacking incidents, including in Kathmandu and Punjab. Perhaps there are innovations that can help in detecting weapons that are used to hijack airplanes.
Contraband-detection sensors, personal access control by biometrics, and other innovations mentioned by our U.S. friends might be useful when the level of terrorism increases in India. We have not yet experienced that level of terrorism. I feel that we should be prepared for it and gain from whatever the Americans share with us and whatever help they can give us.