Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Nation Will Not Forget- LTTE and the Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

Priyanka Vadra May Dr Geeta Madhavan
“It (India) must stop all military assistance given to Sri Lanka, remove the ban on our movement and recognise our struggle. I like to point out that our movement and our people are true friends of India.” – B. Nadesan – LTTE political head in emailed interview to a magazine – Times of India 22 Nov. 2008
Almost everyone remembers the night of 21st May 1991 when the erstwhile Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi and leader of the Congress party was assassinated in a meticulously planned and well co ordinated violent act by a LTTE female suicide bomber as he went to address an election meeting in Sriperumbudur in the outskirts of the city of Madras. It did not matter whether one was a Congress party supporter or not, party affiliations were not relevant; what was pertinent was that a heinous and violent act was perpetrated by a foreign terrorist group on Indian territory. The citizens of India woke up next morning to the fact that a vile and horrible act had been committed against the nation itself. Analysts and experts woke up to the fact that international terrorism had arrived in India. The country had been grappling with militancy within its territory for quite some time and had developed a concerted and long term strategy to deal with it. What it did not expect was that a terrorist organisation would from across the borders act directly to shatter the Indian national unity and add a new dimension to terrorism against India.
India was drawn into the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka due to ethnic ties, strategic interests and geopolitical considerations. When the separatist Tamil movement started in Sri Lanka there were various organisations representing several groups espousing the aspirations of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The moderate voices intermingled with the more militant voices in demanding rights for the marginalised Tamils who had suffered under successive repressive policies of the Sri Lankan governments. It is now well documented that there was support and sympathy for these movements in India especially in the state of Tamil Nadu where it was seen as protecting the interests of the Tamil brethren across the waters. Almost all the groups had well established bases in Tamil Nadu during that period. Subsequently, however, the most militant and the deadliest of them all, the LTTE systematically obliterated the leaders and key persons of the other outfits and the demand for a Tamil Eelam nation for the Tamils translated into a demand for a Prabhakaran-led Eelam. Relentlessly and with single mindedness the LTTE has pursued its dream of establishing a separate Tamil nation under its control on the island.
India became actively involved since the 1980s in the conflict in Sri Lanka and sought to create an atmosphere where the opposing factions could negotiate a peaceful settlement to the conflict. In 1985, the LTTE which had been part of the Eelam National Liberation Front along with the TELO, EROS and EPRLF participated in June 1985, in the talks sponsored by India held in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. Initiated by India, the leaders of the Tamil militant movements who were engaged in an armed struggle for the establishment of a separate Tamil Eelam state agreed to a cease-fire to create a congenial atmosphere for the talks. The LTTE, which was willing to settle for nothing less than an independent Eelam, was a reluctant participant. The LTTE sought to emerge as the sole repository of the Tamil aspirations and was wary of the possibility of the other groups of agreeing for something less than an independent Eelam. It was unwilling to share the power to control the destiny of the Tamils with the other Tamil outfits or fragment the sympathy and logistic support of the Tamil diaspora. Consequently during 1985-86 the LTTE launched attacks on the other groups justifying its actions by calling them traitors to the cause of the Tamils. The LTTE efficiently eliminated opposition from other groups, growing stronger by killing the leaders and prominent members of those groups. Later, unwilling to accept India’s exhortation to enter into an agreement with the Sri Lankan government to find a permanent solution to the conflict, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran left India to establish himself in Jaffna.

The Indo Sri Lankan Accord signed in 1987 between India and Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and President J.R. Jayawardene of Sri Lanka, and under its mandate, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka with the intention of restoring peace to the island torn by the war between the militant Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists and the Sri Lankan military forces. The military contingent , like peace keeping forces worldwide , was not sent in as a combat force - its mission specifically being to “guarantee and enforce cessation of hostilities” much in the spirit of the United Nations peace keeping forces sent to help countries all over the world torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace. As reluctant participants to the Accord, the LTTE was against Indian military intervention and abhorred the clause by which it was required to surrender weapons. Under the Accord although a large quantity of arms were surrendered by the LTTE, it was suspected that larger quantities were still being held. Over a period of time in internecine battles within Sri Lanka with rival militants the LTTE killed members of the other groups and emerged as a stronger organisation.
The IPKF by several turn of events in September and October 1987 , became embroiled in direct confrontation with the LTTE .Consequently, the LTTE launched into vituperative attacks on the IPKF and in its publication A Nation Betrayed alleged that by the Indo Sri Lankan Accord, India had completely negated Tamil hopes to serve its own geopolitical interests. It also set up effective propaganda against the IPKF alleging human rights violations. The IPKF operation resulted in the death of more than a thousand Indian soldiers and public opinion in India favoured withdrawal of the IPKF. The newly elected President of Sri Lanka R.Premadasa was against the presence of the IPKF in Sri Lanka and in April 1989 demanded the withdrawal of the IPKF within the timeframe of three months. The newly elected Indian Prime Minister Mr. V.P. Singh reviewed the Sri Lankan policies of Rajiv Gandhi and stating it a failure, ordered the withdrawal of the IPKF from Sri Lanka. . With the change of governments in India and in Sri Lanka, the final withdrawal of IPKF took place in March 1990.
The LTTE exulted in the removal of the IPKF and eliminated Amirthalingam in 1989 when he expressed in an interview in July 1989 that that the IPKF should remain to ensure the safety and security of Tamils. After the withdrawal of the IPKF, LTTE became the sole power in the north-east of Sri Lanka – a triumphant step towards the establishment of Tamil Eelam. It was therefore, with trepidation that the LTTE watched the unfolding election scene in India in 1991. It was apparent that Rajiv Gandhi supported a solution to the conflict maintaining the unity and integrity of the Sri Lanka which was completely unacceptable to the LTTE’s single minded ambition for the establishment of a separate nation of Eelam. In the assumption that it was close to achieving its goal of independent Eelam and exulting in its control of the territory where it acted as the sole power, it viewed the return of Rajiv Gandhi to power in India as a severe impediment of its grandiose plans. Therefore, to prevent his return to power he had to be dealt with in a manner best known to the LTTE – by assassinating him. The LTTE pathological hatred for Rajiv Gandhi and his policies towards Sri Lanka involved the formulation of the plan, the movement into India of the LTTE personnel instructed to accomplish the act, the recruitment of local sympathisers, the elaborate preparation of the master plan, the intense and constant study of local congenial conditions, the monitoring of movements of the target and the final execution. Detailed examination of the events makes a chilling study of the capabilities of a ruthless terrorist organisation.

The tacit admission to the assassination finally came from the statement of Mr Balasingham in 2006 when in an interview he stated
“ As far as that event is concerned, I would say it is a great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy for which we deeply regret and we call upon the government of India and people of India to be magnanimous to put the past behind,” .
On March 19, 2008 Priyanka met Nalini, one of the conspirators of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination in Vellore jail. Nalini is lodged in Vellore jail after her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by a plea for clemency for the sake of the convict's daughter by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Priyanka went on record accepting that she had met the killer of her father and stating that it was a personal meeting and clarified it further : “I do not believe in anger, hatred and violence and I refuse to allow these things to overpower my life," . Her action as an individual to come to terms with the personal tragedy does not in any manner dilute the grim truth that the nation was avenged only when the death sentences were handed down to the perpetrators of the assassination. The country had to bear the ignominy of being the victim of a terrorist organisation whose ideology it had understood, sympathised and supported. The sheer audacity of LTTE, with total disregard to the stability of the political and social structure of India and with the sole purpose of furthering its own delusion, to defiantly subject the nation to shame is unjustifiable. Despite Balasingham’s self serving appeal to Indians,(statement quoted above ), it is undeniable that the LTTE had carried out an act of aggression against the Indian nation. The LTTE has constantly fuelled secessionist tendencies in the State of Tamil Nadu for strengthening its own purpose. It has encouraged elements in Tamil Nadu, where there is a deep sympathy for the humanitarian crisis in the island, to twist it into a support rally for the LTTE. It has used costal locations in Tamil Nadu for its smuggling activities and recruited local supporters, threatening peace and stability of the region. The LTTE had, by the suicide bombing sought to manipulate the Indian political scene and in its propensity of self preservation wanted to manoeuvre the political destiny of India. It was not just the death of a prominent citizen of India – the violent act chose to cause permanent damage to the democratic system of India which allows the citizens to choose their representatives and their government. It also demonstrates the contempt the LTTE holds for the Indian nation and its people. The LTTE sought to impose upon the Indians a different choice by eliminating the person who it did not desire to return to power. To seek to destroy the integrity of the Indian nation is unpardonable but to imagine that the nation will forgive the perpetrators of the act is to scoff at the national conscience.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Tamil Nadu - Grinding the Sri Lankan Grist

The recent upsurge of opinion in certain political strata in Tamil Nadu by the conflict situation in Sri Lanka seems to have developed an ugly momentum of its own .Some sections of media have not only initiated this but have also channelled it in a particular direction drawing into the vortex a selection of people allegedly espousing the cause of the Tamils. There is bound to be scepticism in anyone with a reasonable enquiring mind what all the sudden surge of passion and the vehement waving of the Tamil banner is all about.

When the almost defunct Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), which was often repudiated over an extended period of time, was formally abrogated by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government, the charade of mediation ceased and the conflict escalated in the island. What took the LTTE by surprise was the confidence with which the Sri Lankan government initiated the military strategy in the East in Dec 2006. That the LTTE was pushed out and the East "liberated" from them in July 2007 and elections were held in May 2008 did not augur well for the organisation either. Since then its image as being an invincible guerrilla force suffered a setback although it did not lose any of its deadliness. The LTTE also expected persistent military engagement by the Sri Lankan government to cause sufficient international outrage for the military action to be stopped. The ban on LTTE by 30 countries including the by the EU, countries where they had established their global proxy and illegal businesses was also a major blow to the LTTE. Besides tactical losses over a period of time LTTE has also suffered organisational losses with death of its key members and strategists. Despite some desperate and theatrical attacks by the LTTE, their leader Mr.Prabhakaran had to face the fact that he was losing the earlier advantages he had acquired. There have always been some rabble rousers who persistently espoused the cause of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu blatantly. Not much credence was given to their utterances by the established parties; so the question why is it that at this precise moment in time such great interest has been generated in this issue.

The apparent rush to pledge allegiance to the Tamil population in the North brings three very important points to the fore .The first is the undeniable fact that runs contrary to all propaganda. While there is absolutely no doubt about the heavy civilian toll in the offensive by the Sri Lankan armed and air forces and the LTTE retaliation in the North whether there is a deliberate and sustained effort to obliterate the minority Tamils needs to be examined pragmatically.

Senior minister and APRC Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana has reiterated the intention of the Sri Lankan government to provide safe passage out of the conflict zone to all persons fleeing from there. Civilians fleeing from the conflict zone in the North have the choice of either moving to these safety havens provided by the Sri Lankan government and if they lack confidence in the Sri Lankan government of ensuring of their safety there, their obvious choice would be across the waters to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which has always been an preferred haven for them throughout this conflict. Statistics available with the Organisation for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation (OfERR), indicate that there were large arrivals of refugees across the waters from May to October 2006, almost 2000 persons per month with over 5000 of them arriving in August 2006 .In 2008, these arrivals were an average of 200 per month with the highest number in the month of May, about 500 persons.. There is no indication of major influx of refugees in 2008 as in 2006. It stands to reason therefore that if they are caught in the conflict and are unable to leave since the Sri Lankan offensive in the North, it is the LTTE that is retaining the civilian population as human cover for them ensuring they do not flee. It also provides them with enough civilian casualties to stoke the allegations of genocide. There have been earlier reports of the LTTE preventing the civilian population from leaving during intense fighting in the East. The apparent question is the Tamil civilian population caught in the conflict are whose victims? It is indeed distressing that a term like genocide which carries with it the most abhorrent gruesome infliction on humanity is used loosely by the LTTE to garner support for its activities and is bandied about loosely by some sections of the media and the rabble rousers in Tamil Nadu.

Undoubtedly there has been constant clarification that the sympathy is for the suffering Tamil civilian population in the North and not the LTTE per se. But it is the LTTE that is still in control in that area and any cessation of hostilities will be a deemed a triumph for the organisation. Whether the LTTE really does still fight for the aspirations of the Tamils is up for inspection. The LTTE has systematically decimated all the moderate voices in Sri Lanka stymieing any possibility of reaching a peaceful solution. It is clear that there was never any intention to work towards any solution for the betterment of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka as it has never used any of the advantages that it held at different periods of time to negotiate - negotiating was not on its agenda. Driven by an insatiable desire for a separate Eelam state, the LTTE ensured that all other Tamil leaders were systematically decimated by various methods to constantly project itself as the sole upholder of the Tamil cause. Losing international support and sympathy the LTTE, with its dwindling manpower is now drumming up partisan feelings in Tamil Nadu playing the card of Tamil chauvinism. Those responding are not unaware but are busy shoring up their own support for the political advantage.

The other issue is the one that is pushed farthest and obviously has no relevance to the marching mob. To expect one sovereign nation to reign in another sovereign nation is unacceptable. Grave concerns can be expressed about violations of rules of engagement, worsening humanitarian conditions and gross infringement of human rights by any member of the international community on events in another State. However, no sovereign nation will allow any other nation to impose upon it any proposition which will thwart any of its strategy against forces which threaten its sovereignty and national integrity. Therefore, India has persistently sustained its stand that any solution for the ethnic question in Sri Lanka has to be found within the united structure of the nation. Seeking to divert this equitable policy maintained by India , by political pressure exerted by clamouring in Tamil Nadu in an attempt to force the Indian government to prescribe the methodology to be followed by the Sri Lankan government does not bode well for regional relations. Foreign policy of nations are driven by placing self interest of the nation uppermost .Therefore , call for any action that places India in a dilemma and leads to destabilisation of the political establishment within India can be construed as an action against the sovereignty and national integrity of India. In the wake of the latest development the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh (on 18th Oct) has expressed that he is deeply concerned about the "deteriorating humanitarian situation" in the war-torn island and has urged the Sri Lankan government to protect Tamil civilians caught in the conflict. The request to the Sri Lankan government to exercise greater caution was addressed by the Sri Lankan President in the statement that assured the Indian Prime Minister that Sri Lanka is "mindful and appreciative of the concerns of India regarding the situation in the North, and aware of the context in which these matters have been raised". Any further prescription by the Indian government will be viewed as tacit support for the LTTE and will negate the good bilateral relations between the two countries. The role that is deemed worthy of India is, when the need eventually arises, to play a pro active part in the restoration of the economic and social conditions in the North. Basic infrastructures for economic growth of the region will have to be revived and educational establishments, medical facilities and other amenities rebuilt. It is here that India can play a major role and not in the capacity that some elements are now urging the Indian government.

The final issue is the status of minority in Sri Lanka and whether Tamil interests will be safeguarded eventually. Despite LTTE's pronouncements of a Sinhala backlash after its destruction and its projection that it is the single power keeping the majority Sinhala government at bay, there is a different scenario being observed after the liberation of the East. Minorities in any country (including our own) tend to be insecure because of their statistical disadvantage and real or perceived notions of marginalisation. There is sufficient evidence that in the past successive Sri Lankan government have not followed any policy to appease the Tamil minority. However, to use the past events to abrogate all attempts to find a lasting solution is the ploy of the LTTE to ensure its own existence. That there have been some statements coming out of the Sri Lankan establishments that the minority cannot use their status to gain undue advantage has been read as a threat to the existence of the minority. However, a demand by any minority within a sovereign nation under the guise of self determination for a separate homeland cannot be treated lightly. India, too, has been grappling with this problem in several pockets within its territory that threaten the national integrity. Self determination does not always mean territorial acquisition."International law provides no right of secession in the name of self determination" (R.Higgins-Peoples and Minorities in International Law , Martinus Nijhoff, 1995 p 33).The UN Charted inter alia does not approve of any changes in the territorial integrity and political independence of its member states. However politically convenient secession may seem, self determination was a principle upheld during the era of colonial rule but post decolonization the clamour for self determination has to be compatible with the question of state sovereignty. The rule is that self determination cannot involve changes of existing frontiers other than by agreement by the states concerned. It is apparent that a state is well within its sovereign power to prevent secession under the concept of self determination. It does place on the state a duty to address the issues of the minority and it is this context that India can play a role in ensuring that Sri Lankan government addresses the relevant issues genuinely after it has rid the north of secessionist forces. The conflict has not reached the final denouement yet and there is serious speculation from analysts as to how soon the end will come for there is no doubt that the end will come.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Why We Need a Law to Tackle Terrorism in India

The number of attacks on civilian targets in major cities in India has once again raised the question whether special laws need to be enacted to counter terrorism and deal with terrorist activities. The disturbing fact is that those who are not in favour of the enactment of law to counter terrorism often revert to old adages and arguments that are flawed as they no longer reflect the reality of the times we live in. After every act of terrorism, horrific images beamed by the visual media deliver a stunning blow to society. There is at once a clamour for stringent laws but as the images fade or are replaced complacency sets in till the next incident reopens the debate. There are certain myths about terrorism that have existed for quite some time and before any argument can be made in favour of the enactment of such a law it is imperative to explode those myths.

The First myth is that there is no definition for terrorism or terrorist activity. The adage now discarded by serious analysts, is still paraded in forums i.e. "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". That this no longer stands up as an argument is obvious. The ideological terrorists who targeted the symbols of oppressive regimes or authorities who were contrary to their belief systems have been replaced by terrorists who target innocent civilian population for a nebulous cause: the bomb in the market place, kidnapping busloads of school children, killing families in theatres, shopping malls and amusement parks. How anyone can even for a moment label them as freedom fighters confounds the logical mind. Any discussion on terrorism is not a matter of semantics but a grave concern of the safety of civilians and the security of society which is the duty of a state to protect. Over and over again one has to listen to persons smugly state that terrorism defies definition; therefore, what cannot be defined cannot be identified. It is imperative to understand that even though an all –encompassing definition for terrorism does not exist there are a number of working definitions that underline what terrorism is and how an act of terrorism can be identified. What entails a terrorist activity may defy specific definition but it certainly is possible for anyone to recognise such a violent act against society. Any act that deliberately and systematically aims the murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent civilians to inspire fear for political, religious or any other ideological end is an act of terrorism. The lack of discrimination in choosing the target by the terrorist organisations spreads fear: if no one is a target then no one can be safe.

The Second myth is that terrorism is the result of marginalisation of certain sections of society by the state and its machinery which has lead to great dissatisfaction resulting in the group turning to violence to address their grievances. Therefore, addressing their problems and removing these causes will eliminate terrorism. This argument advocates a soft approach to counter terrorism. Good governance is identified as the panacea of all ills. Therefore the argument is: any law formulated to curb terrorism will only exacerbate the existing problems. Good governance and addressing the ills of marginalisation is a welcome social conversion but it does not deal with the menace of terrorist violence against citizens. There is also no doubt that terrorist organisations seek to their recruits from those who have economic disadvantage. They use them as foot soldiers to carry out their orders and commit the final violent act but those who run these organisations or master mind the terror campaigns are educated, urbanised intellectuals as well as those motivated by their own brand of warped ideology. Those who preach violence are different from those who put it into practice Therefore, laws are required to deal with the main organisations suspected of spreading and spearheading the terrorist activities and not just the perpetrators of the acts.

The Third myth is when an incident occurs the state and the intelligence have failed miserably ( as the cub reporter on the scene of every by-the-hour news channel often surmises) .The media immediately faults the intelligence agencies and state machinery for not anticipating the attack yet balks at any attempt to enact a law to deal which would ensure otherwise . It is not possible for the state machinery anywhere to recognise and identify the every lowly recruit of the organisation who may have been entrusted with a specific act to be committed at a specific time on a given date.A pragmatic approach needs to be adopted instead of emotional reaction. If a law were to permit the state to monitor constantly an organisation suspected to be capable of subversive activity and to enquire into its activities, it is possible to pre-empt such occurrences. It is not sufficient to seek the suspects of the violence after it has resulted in the deaths of the innocent; laws are required to ferret out the leaders of such organisations capable of suspicious activities before the incidents occur. The strategist and the fund raisers of such organisation should be dealt with severely under the law before the occurrence of an act of violence. Identifying these organisations would not be a major task as these organisations are known to preach and publish their intentions. Organisations and outfits that espouse causes seek media attention to justify their existence and often advertise their intentions through public statements to the media or at rallies and meetings. The success of an organisation lies often in the inability of the authorities to pay heed to them and take suitable action against these organisations. The Aum Shinrokyo movement in Japan began its public campaign of terror in 1994 with the release of sarin gas in a residential neighbourhood .It had published pamphlets and openly stated their intention of using sarin gas and had moved truckloads of chemical agents into their compounds. These apparent signs went unheeded .Had their movements been sufficiently monitored , such large consignment of chemicals moving into their compound would not have passed unnoticed and the 1995 Tokyo attack on the subway system would not have occurred. The police and intelligence, therefore, need to be further empowered under law to maintain a constant vigil concerning all organisations with a capability of turning into terrorist organisations. Communications, recruitment of members and movements of consignments have to be monitored to prevent stocking of chemicals, explosives and arms and ammunitions.

The Fourth myth is that it is not possible to judge at what point of time a political, social or religious organisation becomes a terrorist organisation. Therefore monitoring organisations would impinge on their rights to carry out lawful activities. This of course is an extension of the first myth that an organisation may be genuinely fighting a repressive regime and therefore has had to resort to violence to achieve its end. This again a conceptual misinterpretation – no organisation or person belonging to them can justify violence against the innocent civilian population. The moment violence is directed at society at large , there can be no doubt that the persons committing such acts are terrorists and the organisation that logistically supports, trains or provides funds for them or accepts and endorses their acts as being part of their greater cause is a terrorist organisation. Several organisations acting with impunity in India would fall within the ambit of the new law.

A brief note on the two laws in India that were enacted to deal with terrorism at different times. Both these laws were severely criticised as they violated human rights and vitiated the due process of law. There was uproar in all sections of society and they were consequently repealed. That they flouted the basic concepts of the legal system is irrefutable. Pervious laws in India to deal with terrorism were the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) of 1985 (amended 1987) and repealed in 1995. The Indian government introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) on October 2001 and the legislature passed The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in March of 2002. Both the laws resulted in gross abuse of human rights during implementation and there is sufficient evidence to uphold these allegations. The laws had abhorrent features that violated fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of India.

Briefly, the inherent flaws were as follows: 180 days detention was permitted without charges being framed, the presumption of guilt of those subject to the law, summary trials, trials in absentia - all of which violated all norms of equitable justice. The sketchy review procedure came under severe criticism. The gross abuse of the laws occurred due to several factors. The texts of these laws were too broad and the term terrorism included everything. The generalised term covered ordinary criminal activities covered by the penal laws of the country like theft and murder. The interlocutory orders of the Special Courts set up under the new laws could not be reviewed. Since the state governments had powers equal to the Central government under these laws there was gross misuse by the state machinery especially in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra where the laws were used to quell political opposition or to settle personal scores and all this is supported by statistics. .The erratic application of the laws at various times also varied from state to state.

Stating the severity of the earlier laws and their misuse only serves to underline the need to reframe the laws; it does not raise the question whether a new counter terrorism law is required are not. Anti terrorism laws are an absolute necessity for society and it should not be treated as political issues even if the implementation is questioned by human rights forums. Anti terrorism law should be viewed as an efficient response within the rule of law. It has been seen that the policy of military response to terrorism is short lived and does not have long term legal effect. To stymie terrorist organisations and weaken the capabilities of terrorist organisations there is an urgent need to enact counter terrorist laws. The state has to be empowered by law to prevent recruitment of cadres, raising of funds and other forms of support by propaganda and to scrutinise and freeze funds and assets. Vigil of terrorist organisations and of other such organisations with the potential to become terrorist organisations irrespective of whether terrorist acts are committed by them or not has to be sanctioned by law. Constant surveillance of its leaders, members and supporters is required. A wait-and-see policy would endanger the liberty of society and lead to grave consequences.

Counter terrorist laws should be viewed as safeguards for collective safety and there should have no partisan or parochial considerations. It should be understood that measured infringement of individual freedom is not violation of fundamental right. No longer do we question additional security measures at airports, public places and other sensitive areas as violating privacy being well aware that safety supersedes discomfort. It is the duty of the state to prevent the existence of destructive forces within its territorial jurisdiction which endanger the life and liberty of its citizens and the safety and security of other states.

Terrorism is not a passing phenomenon and a new counter terrorism law is urgently required to deal with it effectively. The new laws must, however, incorporate certain features that ensure that there can be no misuse by the enforcement machinery.

The primary concern is the rule of law. Laws are not to be enacted that in any manner operate outside the realm of rule of law.

The definition of terrorism has to be sufficiently narrowed to exclude criminal activities: if intention to terrorise is missing, mere criminal activity should not fall within the purview of the special law. Similarly, an act that would not be criminal but would be permissible under freedom of speech and expression should be deemed an act supporting terrorism if the intention is to garner support or is supportive of a proscribed organisation.

Witness protection would have to be incorporated under the new law to ensure greater co operation from fringe elements and sections of society aware of such organisations and their activities.

Another important aspect to be considered would be the uniform and consistent application of such law by the enforcement authority throughout India.

Transparency and review procedures would have to be clearly set out in the newly enacted law.

There should be a centralised system to prevent inconsistent application and interpretation of the law throughout the territory. Establishment of a central judicial agency for even application and uniform interpretation should be set up.

Special agencies should be set up so that the overburdened enforcement agency in the state is not required to handle the activities under the special law. Such agencies should also be sufficiently trained and sensitised about the application of the law.

Specific fund allocation by the government for the agencies that apply the law has to be made as part of the states serious intention to cub terrorism. No agency can function without proper infrastructure, manpower or technology.

This will address the fears that any law dealing with terrorism will abrogate human rights and will place all organisations with genuine concern for addressing social issues under the purview of the state agencies who will then use the laws to curb opponents and settle political scores.

There are no minor forms of terrorism and if there has been concrete evidence of earlier abuse of counter terrorism laws, it is the implementation of the law that should be scrutinised and rectified; the need for counter terrorism law should not be questioned.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Geetha Madhavan, a Chennai-based lawyer, is the first woman in Asia to be awarded a doctorate for her research on international terrorism. An outspoken lobbyist for legal measures to counter terror, she feels that India needs to implement stringent anti-terror laws with immediate effect, and strengthen its maritime security as well, which could otherwise be exploited by terrorists. A founder member of a non-partisan organisation called Centre for Security Analysis, she also believes that people should be made aware of issues involved with terror so that they do not react to attacks emotionally. In an exclusive meeting with Deputy Managing Editor od Sify News K Sreedevi, Geeta Madhavan argues for a special anti-terror force as well as a strict legal system to counter acts of terrorism. Excerpts:


Why have we not managed to legally define terrorism so far?
Every terrorist group has managed to justify its act and come up with its own definition of terrorism. Hence the concept as a whole is confusing. The government and agencies working towards promoting awareness on terrorism fail to reach out to the common people. The common people are so unaware of the complexities and they are just moved by what they read or see in the media at an emotional level. I wish we could reach out to people through vernacular medium or television to make them understand that there are far greater issues than emotional ones when it comes to terror attacks.
How would you define terrorism?
There is no need to define terrorism. A working definition is enough. It is an identifiable creature today. Any organisation that seeks to do an act to threaten or intimidate or an act of violence against any civilian is terrorist.
How do you distinguish between a freedom fighter and terrorist?
I get very angry with this question. Please don’t insult our freedom fighters. There are two main factors that distinguish the two. A freedom fighter is fighting against the regime and targets only the symbols of the regime, whereas the terrorist uses his ideology and targets anyone. A terrorist will bomb public places with people of no connection to the issue, kidnap a busload of children, incite violence merely for the sake of intimidation and fear and rarely against authority. Self-determination is another big issue that has lot of misconception. The concept of self-determination has got mixed up territorial control. In India, we have the concept of self-determination very well ingrained in our system where we are a federation of Sates. Over the years, the lines have blurred badly owing to various self-interests with politicians and organisations carrying out their own personal agenda.
Do draconian laws check terrorism? Has the US Homeland Security Act really prevented further attacks on US soil?
I have always been advocating a law against terrorism much to the displeasure of human rights activists. If there is a lacuna in the terrorist law, it is in the enforcement and the misuse of it and not in the enactment of the law. So we have to enact a law, which reduces the misuse, and sensitise the people about its enforcement, and ensures that the political parties do not misuse it for their advantage. The only solution that I see towards this objective is to centralise the law and set up centralised police machinery to deal with the terror acts under it. And just like the defence budget, have a special allocation to counter-terrorism in the government budget. It is mandatory to have a special force tackle this problem. You cannot expect the already over-burdened ordinary police force to carry out counter-terror activities. This is the same problem that the US is facing. When they started Homeland Security, they expected the local police officer in a small US town to double up as homeland security guard along with his regular policing job, because of budget constraints. And they failed miserably. So, a centralised authority for homeland security could be a plausible solution. There are enough possibilities for misuse of the law but we need to put appropriate checks and balances. But in the event of its possible misuse, we cannot do away with the entire Act.
Will just a simple enactment of law curb terrorism?
This is another argument that I often hear. I hear from many that England and a few other countries have enacted a law against terrorism but this has not stopped terror attacks in these places. Let me tell you one thing: the law is to put parameters as to what can be done and what cannot be done. Just because we have an Indian Penal Code, it does not put an end to murders and crime in the country. Because of human nature and violence being a part of life, terrorism will continue to happen. That is why I often say terrorism can only be countered and not curbed. Once the parameters are drawn, it becomes easy to distinguish between the right and wrong.
What are the ways to tackle terrorist activities?
There are two levels at which a terrorist organisation acts within a country. One is when it takes money from common people through charities and educational trusts to fund its acts. Instead of spending our time in picking and framing the individual donor, it is better to exert pressure on the organisation which is collecting public money through stricter surveillance. This will cut off their money flow. The second level is to act against public interest creating terror and panic. That is why I insist on a law against terrorism. The terrorist law should not be treated as a political issue but a social one, for the benefit of the society.
How does that hold against the notion that one man’s terrorist is another man’s warrior?
It is sad because that definition went out of fashion some 20 years ago. Any ideological organisation fighting a regime becomes a terrorist outfit on the day it starts attacking civilians. It is terrorising society and does not matter whose cause it is advocating. It is necessary to sensitise the enforcement agencies and educate the people against such wrong ideas.
In India, almost all acts of terror are put at the doorstep of the ISI or Islamic radical outfits. How real is the threat of home-grown radicals?
Terrorism has existed from the time the States were being formed. It was never a major issue for the simple reason that war was fought differently in those days. But today, no country can afford to fight a full-scale war. One because of the economic pattern and more so, the fallout of any sophisticated weapon — such as nuclear, biological or radiological — that we use today is not confined to an area, there is always a danger that it will spread to other territories. There is high civilian damage. You can never justify that. Technology doesn’t help you to win a war. That is a fact that everybody knows. So how do you then destabilise the neighbouring country? At this particular point of time of history, it happens to be the Islamic forces. It could be anyone else. Where is the Islamic factor in Sri Lanka? Where is Islam in IRA? There are a few more which are Left wing radicals who want to do away with a repressive government. There is no Islamic factor here too. All these activities are driven by a particular force. It could be Christian or Hindu fundamentalist forces after 30 years. Today, what has happened is that America has driven the Islamic idea to a large extent and especially after 9/11.
How do you react to the oft repeated saying that all Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims?
This is all just jargon being bandied about by a few groups. They started off by describing it as a war against terror. But I am opposed to this term. It should be combating terrorism. It’s sad to note that a lot of these are driven by America’s perception of terrorists. If we delineate ourselves from that concept, we can see a difference. Islam is the flavour of the month. But then all terrorist activities are not driven by Islamic forces. Over the years, there has been a tendency of the media and the government to demonise a particular state and make them into huge icons. Twenty-five years ago, it was Carlos, and he was a mastermind of a series of attacks. But if you actually read literature, you realise that he was a KGB agent and that there was a power driving him and he was being used. Similarly, the PLO was fighting for a homeland, which happened to be a Muslim state. It’s all a creation of media, state establishment and others.
What are the main motivators or triggers for people to take to terrorism?
No sweeping statement can be made as each one is different. The basic problem today is marginalisation of a particular community. They fear losing their religion and culture. There is also the gross materialisation of the West, which is being depicted as a devil. This is the most basic of reasons. With Left wings and Naxals, it’s corruption in the society. With organisations as LTTE, it all started off as a reaction against repression in the Sinhala political establishment, it grew into a demand for a separate state, and then mutated into violence being inculcated as a fight for homeland. Marginalisation, be it economical, political or social is one of the basic reasons for terrorism.
Do you think incidents like the release of dreaded terrorists in return for Rubiya Sayeed and for the passengers of IC 814 from Kandahar actually inspire others to perform similar acts?
Kandahar was a blot. It is better to learn from the lessons from that. Copycat acts need not be successful if you have sufficient surveillance and security. For example, there was a spate of hijackings by the PLO in the 70s, but the system came down and now you hardly hear anything like that. It fell off as a popular means after sometime owing to several factors. Now, the series of concerted blasts are being used as a means to scare the society. But we have to accept that our Intelligence and government are doing a good job too. And we, as a society, should support them and abide by the rules. Public doesn’t care until some really bad incidents happen. It is mandatory for the public to abide by laws enforced by our security agencies and co-operate with security personnel, be it in the form of random checks at the railway stations, airports, cinema halls or corporates. You have a duty and responsibility towards the society.
How critical is intelligence (human and technological) to prevent or thwart terror attacks?
There is nothing to beat human intelligence. I think that the great mistake that the US is doing is relying only on technological intelligence and that is why it is not succeeding. It is human intelligence that is imperative. And sharing that intelligence within the internal forces and organisations is critical. I am not asking to share information that is detrimental to the nation’s interest but share what is necessary. We have to strengthen the law towards this.
Given a chance, what would be the first radical step that you would take to check terror in India?
Enact a terrorist law. I won’t even skip a heartbeat before I can do that. I have always been advocating it.
How many other women do you know in this field across the world?
After 9/11, a lot of interest has been generated in the subject. There are people working on human rights areas in the recent years. But not many are working on the legal issues. Most of them have worked in strategic and tactical issues till date. .
In your view, what are the major security threats faced by India?
I feel that maritime threat is the biggest threat to our nation. We have a huge coastline that is left uncovered. We already have maritime problems like human trafficking, narcotics, smuggling, small arms and weapons transport, all happening in the Indian Ocean sector. But thankfully, they have not hit us yet. The pirates are being used by terrorists to transport goods and weapons. Palk Straits is a huge threat. We are also having an uncharted coastline and how much of policing can you do in this? It is imperative that we be on double guard against this looming threat.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Sri Lanka- Military Strategy and Political Package:
The aggressive military campaign by the Sri Lankan Government started much before the formal abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement by it on January 2, 2008. The action was not only provoked by the continued violent activities of the LTTE but also by a firm policy decision by the Sri Lankan Government who saw no other manner to contain the LTTE
The LTTE had used two events to its advantage- the period during the peace talks and the post tsunami period when aid flowed in from the international community to recruit, rearm and restructure its political and military wings. The Sri Lankan government under President Rajapakse therefore cast all pretences aside and abandoning the earlier idea of selective use of military power which the President espoused, plunged into a bloody war with losses on both sides as well as of civilian lives.
The military strategy seems to have paid the dividends in the East where the Sri Lankan government triumphantly declared as having "secured" after pushing the LTTE out and into their northern stronghold. Without any confirmation by outside agencies if one were to go by the statements emanating from the establishment then the East seems to be rid of LTTE influences although one suspects that would not be the composite picture. The LTTE has been consistently appealing to the international community and through its website alleging misconduct by the Sri Lankan forces and gross violation of human rights. The official site of the LTTE cites daily reports of violence against those it claims to be innocent civilians and action against civilian targets. The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Special Report released on 1, April 2008 is on the killing of the 17 aid workers on 4 August 2006 in the ACF compound in Mutur town. The report accuses of blatant cover up by Sri Lankan authorities.
The Sri Lankan establishment shows no indication of allowing these or any other criticisms to come in the way of the concerted effort to secure the North although they are very aware that it will be longer and more arduous task to dislodge the LTTE from their stronghold. With the elections in the East, the Sri Lankan government seems to confirm that its military moves are only to secure an area before a political package is offered and then being accepted to be implemented.
In discussions about the military strategy with an assured political package offer, with the Sri Lankan establishment two noumena appear- references to "Intervention" and "Interference". To take the first term- Interference : the Sri Lankan establishment abhors the idea of any particular State or an international organisation telling the Sri Lankan Government how to conduct matters within its sovereign territory. To provide safety and security for its citizens from violence being the duty of the State, it justifies all action under this duty. It is of course, encouraged by the fact that the campaign is directed against an organisation, the LTTE, proscribed in several countries and called 'the deadliest terrorist organisation in the world' by the United States. The European Union has also not been lacking in condemning the activities of the LTTE. Therefore any accusation by a state or any international organisation of the military strategy is seen by the Sri Lankan government as 'interference' in the Sri Lankan state fulfilling its duty. It is equally vociferous about the NGOs whose work and aid it welcomes but whose jingoism it refuses to tolerate any longer.
The one theme that resonates in the establishment is that the Sri Lankan Government will no more allow another state to dictate how it should conduct its affairs especially in it is conviction to deal aggressively with the LTTE and in doing so allegations of violations of human rights by the Sri Lankan forces will not mitigate its campaign.. In the absence of any information other than from the two sources that obviously give the information best slanted for their personal gain there is no manner of confirming the alleged violations. Even in the cases of civilian deaths the establishment is quite pragmatic and explains it as unintended and proportionate damage. Therefore it can be seen that the Sri Lankan Government that went in good faith to the Peace talks in Geneva and Oslo, where they were forced to acknowledge and accept the LTTE as a party to the negotiation is not willing anymore to accept a move by any international organisation or state to chalk out the rules for settlement. Therefore, any action laying down terms of military and civil engagement is now unacceptable to the Sri Lankan establishment.
The other is term is "Intervention"- Sri Lankan has not been shy to state its desire for intervention by India. It is accepted that any intervention in the form of 1987 peace keeping force (in which India learnt its most bitter lesson) will never be forthcoming from India. So the question that one tends to ask is what form of intervention is expected by the Sri Lankan government. It is surprising to see how in the Sri Lankan establishment the term intervention has been juxtaposed on the concept of support. Therefore, aware that India has provided logistic support to the Sri Lankan government in its campaign against the LTTE and has also articulated that it looks forward to devolution and distribution of powers within a united Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan establishment seems to interpret all these actions as India speaking in support of its policies within the region and to the international community.
Therefore the intervention it seeks is to intercede on its behalf. So far other than a minuscule band of vociferous but unconvincing politicians within Tamil Nadu who have their personal reasons for the support of the bifurcation of Sri Lanka there is no great public support for the setting up of a separate Tamil nation. No sovereign nation can or should support secessionists forces within another territory. The question of securing equal civil political rights is another matter altogether but the emotional rhetoric often confuses the two. Therefore India s stand in the support for the unity of Sri Lanka is appreciated by the Sri Lankan establishment that seems to further require India to project this to the South East Asian communities and the international community.
It is not possible to shy away from the question of the political package after the denouement. Not forgetting that India has underlined the fact that the aspirations of the Tamil population has to be fulfilled by the Sri Lankan government the understanding is that when finally faced with the political question – the Sri Lankan Government should and certainly must fulfil its role of securing and restoring to the Tamil people their rights. It is accepted in the Sri Lanka establishment that earlier polices that led to the thwarting of Tamil aspirations should not be pursued.
While everyone agrees LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamil people despite LTTE's posturing there is no agreement as to who really is their chosen trusted leader. The derisive comment heard is when the time comes to offer the political package who is there to take it? The only way out of the tangled heap is to perhaps go directly to the people. If the Sri Lankan government can earn the trust of the people by its sincerity to find a lasting peace and urge upon them that the present military strategy which it pursues is in reality to assure peace then there is a good chance that a political solution will be lasting. It has to assuage decades of misgovernance and restore faith in a system that works for all people on the island.

Back to the top
Home Papers Notes Forum Search Feedback Links
Copyright © South Asia Analysis Group