Before suggesting five steps to fight terrorism, it is necessary to explain the nature of terrorism itself. As the word suggests, terror is induced in the minds of law-abiding citizens when weaker elements resort to indiscriminate killings.
The theory goes like this: “We will resort to a low-cost war that involves indiscriminate and random killing of citizens. The terror will force these citizens to pressure their governments to surrender to our demands.”
The problem with this theory is that no terrorist organisation has succeeded in forcing governments to submit to their demands. Citizens put pressure on their governments to induct more forces for their protection, causing economic loss, but no nation, not even a weak one, has ever surrendered to these forces of evil.
In India, terrorist attacks can be expected from jihadi groups operating independently or in collaboration with external elements like the Islamic State. To meet this threat, the following steps need to be taken:
The community to which the terrorists belong has to be brought on board in the fight against the terrorists. In Punjab, terrorism ended only after the Jat Sikh farmers stopped sympathising with their coreligionists upon realising that they were only causing more damage to their way of life. The fight against Islamist terrorism could follow this model. The main job of the government should be to befriend the common Muslim who only wants to earn enough to eat. If he/she is treated with dignity and respect, more than half the battle is won.
Having ensured that all citizens are treated equally as per law and the Constitution, the next step must be to remove any biases that exist in the minds of law-enforcing officers against the community to which the terrorists belong. Law enforcers should be conditioned to fight only the miscreants in that community and not harbour prejudice against those who are only struggling to make a living.
The next step would be to assign sensitive police officers to patrol minority-dominated areas. These officers should befriend ordinary citizens in these localities and treat them with respect so that if these citizens notice suspicious movements of any type, they will immediately notify the friendly neighbourhood policemen.
The political leadership in different states should select officers of integrity and competence to lead the force and give them operational independence so that they gain the confidence of their own men and the public. A good police leader is the best antidote to terror because he will motivate his men and ensure that they are properly trained and equipped to meet terrorist threats. Decisions about the type of equipment required and the size of different units specifically meant for anti-terrorist work should be left to the judgment of professional leaders assisted by experts from the scientific or academic world.
It is very important to involve the public in the fight against terrorism. Similarly, other agencies like airport authorities, aviation companies and aviation schools should also be befriended by intelligence agencies. Personnel and passengers should watch out for unattended luggage at airports and railway stations and this should be dinned into them.
To conclude, it is neither necessary nor wise to have policemen in bullet-proof vests and sophisticated weapons patrolling the streets. What is required is alert policemen and alert citizens working in tandem to confront the terrorist menace.
Julio Ribeiro was director-general of Punjab Police and ambassador to Romania.