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Intel Inside: Securing IT Cities

Cmde C. Uday Bhaskar (Retd) is former officiating Director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • January 03, 2006

    Bangalore's prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) was the venue of an attack by an unidentified gun-toting killer on December 28. Delhi based professor, Professor M.C. Puri - participating in an international conference - was killed and four other scientists seriously injured in the attack. The incident must be termed as one of 'terrorism', even if the identity of the perpetrators is to be definitively established, for it amounted to the pre-meditated killing of innocent people. The incident has led to a sombre, reflective mood setting in just as the country prepares for the traditional New Year festivities.

    Puri was the hapless and unwitting victim of a pattern of terrorist related violence in India that goes back to the late '80s. From misplaced sub-nationalism to irredentism stoked by external agencies, the causal factors for terrorism in India have been varied and complex and some instances of state complicity have compounded the South Asian narrative. An abiding and distinctive characteristic of the Indian experience is the manner in which the Pakistan security establishment has used a low intensity conflict and terrorist methodology to degrade India's internal security.

    In the post 9-11 global security context, Southern Asia has morphed into a complex lattice of terrorist groups and nodes, some of which are linked to major international outfits - such as the International Islamic Front - committed to a supra-national, radical religious agenda. At this juncture, the finger of suspicion points to a reasonably well-established terrorist group that has a network in South India. But in the absence of firm evidence, hasty emotive conclusions must be avoided. The use of an AK-47 by itself does not axiomatically lead to one group or the other, for such firearms are now available in many parts of India, with local militias and criminal gangs. Yet much of the circumstantial evidence points to groups that have distorted Islam. It merits recall that last week the Delhi Police arrested three alleged HuJI (Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami) terrorists who made an instructive confession with a Bangalore link.

    India's economic vitality and its information technology affinity have received considerable notice in recent years, so much so that the infrastructure associated with this sector are deemed to be the new nodes of national prosperity, bestowing upon cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad, a high-value status. Consequently they have figured as potential targets on the terrorist list (for any terrorist attack seeks high visibility to maximise the 'terror' impact on society). This has been noted by security agencies. Interrogation of the terrorists arrested in Delhi revealed that they had received training in Bangladesh, which is perceived to be the hub for coordinating operations in south India and parts of Southeast Asia, and that - after a 21-day training capsule - a group of them were instructed to target software centres in Bangalore and Hyderabad.

    This is not to suggest a direct link between the IISc incident and the Delhi investigations, but to highlight to the pattern that can be discerned in the larger footprint of terrorism, which will have to be investigated carefully but resolutely. The current Bangalore incident was preceded by the terrorist attacks in Delhi in October on Diwali-Id eve. Both developments raised the same question - more often than not in a near hysterical manner by the audio-visual medium - is India a soft-state that will remain a victim of terrorism into perpetuity?

    Empirical data does show that India is high up on the list of nations affected by terrorism, but it is equally true that it is in a politico-geographical framework that is unique. The immediate neighbourhood comprises regimes that are either unable, or unwilling, to quarantine the terrorist structures that target India. In the worst case scenario, they actually abet such constituencies. The Bangalore incident once again draws attention to the urgent need to evolve a national strategy to deal with the scourge of terrorism that will redress the existing inadequacies by way of legislation, security skills, investigation procedures and speedy convictions. An information strategy that is relevant to 24-hours news channels is also called for.

    This gap in the Indian response matrix to terrorism is reflective of the nation's diffident strategic culture which has the Somnath syndrome still embedded within it. Every attack or assault is dealt with reactively. But Bangalore symbolises a new and resurgent India. A strategic culture, in sync with the new reality, should evolve. Civil society has a very important role to play in combating terrorism, and the current wave of anger and frustration must be distilled into a steely national resolve, so that the terrorists in this case are tracked and brought to book speedily. This is the New Year resolution that will ensure that Professor Puri didn't die in vain.