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The persistence of an old problem

The persistence of an old problem
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First Published: Wed, Sep 21 2011. 10 28 PM IST

Raghu Raman
Raghu Raman
Updated: Wed, Sep 21 2011. 10 28 PM IST
Raghu Raman
Recently, a delegation of Fortune 10 conglomerates was on its way to India when executives received an alert from a global risk advisory firm, advising them to cancel their trip. Although the visit had been planned months in advance and several relationships were at stake, they turned back. Their offices communicated a message that we ought to start heeding.
In view of the unsafe situation in India, the world’s investment influencers are reluctant to come here until things improve.
Business communities recognize that terrorism cannot be eliminated in an absolute sense. They also appreciate that India has unique challenges in terms of size, scale, a consensual (and often contradictory) democratic process resulting in organizational sluggishness. However, six highly visible attacks since 26/11 without any significant breakthrough in any of them, wears down even the most ardent advocates of the India opportunity story. And unlike Indian citizens, the global community has other alternatives which they have begun exploring.
So this is not just about the dozen dead and scores injured—though that in itself is abominable. It is about realizing that terrorism and internal security issues are critically threatening the one redeeming factor that India has going in its favour—its growth potential. And terrorists know that while explosions in the hinterland don’t scare the global business community—the ones in high courts and marketplaces do and hence they will continue pounding such high -visibility targets to damage the economy.
It is time for the country’s economic community to recognize that terrorism and internal security issues are going to throw wrenches into their plans with increasing regularity.
Photo by Reuters
Terrorism is, of course, one of the manifestations of several causes (religious fundamentalism being just one) and both the expression and the cause need to be addressed systematically. However, the wake-up call should be the impact that internal security issues have on the economy, psyche and the morale of the country and its potential investors.
Though details and the intent of the perpetrators of the Delhi high court attack are still unclear, this attack in particular should be more alarming for two reasons. Firstly, coming less than four months from the previous explosion in the same premises, it demonstrates the audacity of the perpetrators who were not deterred by the higher levels of security in the aftermath of the previous attempt.
But more importantly, this strike was not for any overarching strategic purpose but a very tactical demand—i.e. preventing the law from carrying out its course, reminiscent of the Kandahar hijack.
A plausible extrapolation could be that terrorists will begin such attacks for specific tactical demands in this new format of compellence. The infuriation after such attacks is now all too familiar.
However, exasperation leads to knee-jerk responses that do not really improve the situation. The reality is that we are trying to defeat a nimble enemy with archaic systems, processes and mindsets that have their roots in the era of conventional warfare. In doing so, we forget that the raison d’etre of asymmetric warfare is to thwart a superior enemy by bypassing the latter’s strengths.
There is a fable of a swarm of bees which attacked an elephant and eventually killed it. Their stings in themselves were only an irritant to the mammoth, but the beast literally beat itself to death hitting its own body trying to kill the bees. We are in a similar situation now. The answer perhaps lies in recasting our strategy to counter the nimbleness of the terrorists with some structural changes of our own.
Anyone with even a remote familiarity of government processes knows the near impossibility of rapidness, especially during creation of new capability.
Each terrorist incident is followed by strident demands for speedy ramp up, but barely weeks later; every attempt at capability creation is entangled in well-intended but antiquated processes, attempts to garner absolute consensus and even insinuations of foul play.
A place to look for answers could be countries that faced and addressed similar threats, factoring the indigenization that India requires. The US, which is often quoted as a benchmark for preventing subsequent attacks, was in a similar situation before 9/11.
Different departments and activist groups were pulling in multiple directions with a focus on their own agendas. However, they were able to build consensus across disparate stakeholders within and outside the country.
But that requires singularity of national purpose and a rallying point. Given the contrarian pulls of various stakeholders, perhaps that rallying point should be the economic damage that India will continue to suffer, unless we address terrorism in a systematic manner. This will require rising above parochial agendas and establishing economy as the common denominator whose debilitation goes far beyond the shock waves of bombs.
We must also realize that for a country which faces a multitude of threats, looking for the perfect solution will prevent implementation of a good one.
In the wake of the current wave of civil activism the establishment is wary of taking any step that has the potential to be torn down on some imperfection or the other. But again taking lessons from countries which have achieved results, we must make a beginning and focus on the deficiencies we are replacing rather than criticize the ideal we are not achieving.
Raghu Raman, is an expert and a commentator on internal security
Comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Sep 21 2011. 10 28 PM IST