The first anniversary of the Mumbai terrorist attacks is a good time to reflect on the nature and effects of terrorism in India. While plenty has been done (and not done) on preventing atrocities of the 26/11 scale, more fundamental questions such as “what makes them do it?" have been left unaddressed.

Unless that is done, all efforts will remain mere palliatives. As of date, that is the case. Tighter anti-terrorism laws, better equipping and training of police forces and better intelligence gathering have helped law enforcers greatly. We also have a diligent Union home minister. But all this misses the wood for the trees: The external and internal props of terrorism are intact.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

First, consider the internal problem, top-down. In any democracy, it is hazardous to associate an ethnic or religious group with acts of political violence. There are howls of protest as soon as such an association is even uttered. Votes take care of everything else. Forget “identifying" such a group. But are such linkages devoid of any substance? To be sure, branding entire communities as “terrorist-friendly" is not only illiberal, but positively inhumane. That, however, is not what is sought. Careful, fine-combed profiling of groups within such communities holds great promise to stem the tide of terrorism. But that requires that we give up our long-held taboos: Disaffected minorities being incapable of any wrong being the first.

The liberal riposte to this argument runs somewhat like this. Terrorists have no religion. Or, there are terrorists from X and Y communities but these religious communities have nothing to do with the problem.

Both arguments are devoid of operational import and are certainly unhelpful in tackling the challenge.

Today, no one—our leaders, liberal voices and public intellectuals—even wants to countenance that option. Such a dialogue, if it can be called that, has a snowball’s chance in hell.

Then, there is the external threat (read Pakistan). There is no need to pretend otherwise. Here, our ability to counter it is even more limited than our internal problems. Everything has been tried—talks, cajoling and threats—to no avail. Here again, the standard argument is: more talks. That is least likely to work, especially now that that country is on the brink of imploding. Perhaps the only reason why we have not seen Pakistani terrorists (and their local proxies) mounting another spectacular attack is that their terrorists have found enough to chew locally. But once again, nothing substantial has been done to check that country.

It is time we stopped believing that giving candy to prospective terrorists will turn them into law-abiding citizens. That would only be a beginning in rectifying a serious problem. But yes, it would be a beginning.

Are the external and internal sources of terrorism intact? Tell us at