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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Internal security agenda for the new year The happenings in Pakistan, which have culminated in the unfortunate assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, are equally portentuous for India. India needs to contain the Pakistani predicament at the border, notes Firdaus Ahmed. 3 January 2008 - The happenings across the border, which have culminated in the unfortunate assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, are equally portentuous for India, if South Asia is taken as a single strategic space. A regular commentator on primetime TV on affairs in Pakistan, G Parthasarathi, having formidable credentials as a diplomat seasoned through postings in Pakistan as Consul General in Karachi and High Commissioner during the post-Pokhran and Kargil War periods, has opined that, as an immediate fallout, India needs to strengthen its internal security. This is due to the subterranean linkages that Islamists based in Pakistan, and increasingly in Bangladesh, have forged within India. Evidence of their countrywide penetration is the routine periodicity that bomb blasts have acquired of late, with the Lashkar attack in Rampur (UP) being the latest example.

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For India, while the intelligence, policing and judicial systems must continue to deliver on their mandate of 'preempting' terrorist violence, 'preventing' the same is a political function and would entail a commanding political performance. The thrust of the central government requires not so much a 'security' focus, which would other wise be the natural temptation in the circumstance, as a 'soft' focus. The follow up to the Sachar Committee report on the social, economic and educational status of muslims, in the form of the recently released report of Justice Ranganath Mishra headed, National Commission for Linguistic and Religious Minorities, needs to be taken to is logical conclusion. The latter has recommended 15 per cent reservation for minorities, especially Muslims, in government jobs. This has to be done in face of criticism of vote bank politics, a criticism curiously itself directed at creating a vote bank of the religious majority. The strategy of 'indirect approach' would have a greater long-term internal security dividend, even if misrepresented predictably in motivated political quarters in what could yet turn out to be an election year.
Jammu and Kashmir, the state directly adjoining the potentially fresh theatre in the GWOT, is due for elections in the new year. The possibility of early elections in summer has already been broached in the media. Instability across the border could see the infusion of forces into the state, which could then be used for minimizing terrorists' impact on the elections. But terrorists are already on the backfoot with the drawing down of Pakistani support and losses in their ranks to security force operations over recent past. This, coupled with the high voter turnout in state assembly bye-elections indicates that there is likely to be a greater popular interest and stake in the polls. Bye-elections to four Assembly constituencies were held in April 2006 in which the polling percentage was between 62 and 76 recording the highest ever polling in the State. The upswing in voter sentiment could signify the return of normalcy, a plank the central government would like to capitalise on in its run up to national elections subsequently.
Because of the manner in which 2007 has ended, the 'nuclear deal' that has dominated the security agenda has been definitively displaced from the security agenda of 2008. Events in Pakistan have the potential to go terribly wrong should they to spiral out of control at the instigation of western powers. Even in case of a controlled blood bath, there would be a fallout on India that would require to be contained not only by policing action to tackle the symptoms, but, more importantly, through political means addressing underlying causes. Creating and managing a political climate that contains the Pakistani predicament at the border through an introspective approach would thus be the political test of the Congress-led central government. ⊕
Firdaus Ahmed January 2008

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