India’s counterterrorism teams had another rude surprise on Saturday when two explosions outside a cricket stadium in Bangalore injured 17 people—nine of them policemen. The explosions raise serious questions about the Congress party’s progress in anticipating and preventing domestic terrorism.
The government had been warned of Saturday’s strike, which occurred before the start of an Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket match. In February, Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani terrorist with ties to Al Qaeda, warned of new terrorist strikes in India directed against the IPL and the Commonwealth Games due later this year. Security for IPL was tightened and the government assured nervous Commonwealth officials that the terrorists would not be allowed to succeed.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the violence, but the way the blast was carried out suggests a local signature. The most likely suspect is the Indian Mujahideen. The group is also suspected of carrying out the Pune blast in February. No arrests have yet been made in that investigation.
Saturday’s attack, combined with the as yet unresolved Pune blast, has called into question the effectiveness of the measures taken by home minister P. Chidambaram to revamp the anti-terror investigation machinery. Since taking office after the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, Chidambaram has set up a National Investigation Agency to improve the investigation of terrorist attacks and the prosecution of terrorists.
The government contends it has prevented a large number of other terrorist attacks of which the public has no knowledge. Police successfully defused a bomb in Bangalore on Saturday, and three more unexploded devices on Sunday. But their failure to detect the two bombs planted on Saturday by terrorists near the stadium’s entrance gates is likely to increase public scepticism of the government’s efforts.
To be fair, Chidambaram is trying to strengthen India’s counterterrorism machinery after a long period of neglect under his predecessor, Shivraj Patil. It will take time for the results to be seen.
But Chidambaram must do more than just strengthen the anti-terrorism machinery. This is only one aspect. He must also act aggressively to counter the radicalization of Indian Muslims. While intelligence and security agencies enjoy a free hand in dealing with foreign terrorists on Indian soil, they often find their hands tied when faced with Indian terrorists, such as the Indian Mujahideen. These home-grown terrorists often have local grievances, or were turned at the instigation of Pakistani intelligence agencies and terrorists.
This is a tough task. India has the second largest Muslim community in the world and Indian Muslims constitute an important voter base. In many northern states where the Congress party dominates, the Muslim vote is crucial.
While Indian Muslims support the actions of security agencies against Pakistani terrorists, they often protest when the government takes action against their own community, making it hard for authorities to conduct thorough investigations. That is why the success rate in the investigation and prosecution of Pakistani terrorists is high, but low in the case of Indian Muslims involved in terrorism.
It is important for Chidambaram and the rest of the Congress party-led government to address Muslims’ legitimate grievances. But it is equally important to give security agencies a free hand in dealing with Indian Muslims who take to terrorism, by giving the authorities the additional legal powers they need for successful investigation and prosecution. If this isn’t done, Saturday’s blasts won’t be the last.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Edited excerpts. Bahukutumbi Raman served in the Research and Analysis Wing from 1968 to 1994 and on the National Security Advisory Board from 2000 to 2002. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org