The reactive measures of the law enforcing agencies are very distinctly visible after the shocking experience that the nation went through on the black Friday, July 1. And one hopes that the planners, advisors and the security agencies are drawing lessons from the situation we encountered that day. I feel that it is also a matter of keeping one’s mind open in handling such grave matters as extremism and terrorism. But one cannot proceed further without dwelling, even most briefly, on the comments of the home minister regarding prior information of the Gulshan attack, because there is a lesson too in those comments.
The minister had said that the government had intelligence about the terror attacks in Gulshan cafe and Sholakia beforehand and necessary preparations were taken to meet the contingencies. Certainly no one can claim to have absolute and most specific intelligence i.e. time, place and nature of attack, in which case it would be the most inefficient police force that would be unable to thwart or preempt that. From the minister’s statement — which he has redacted a day after that was made but the substance and the meaning remains the same though — we understand there was perhaps an inkling of something to come. That the nation would be faced with such a tragedy, was not foreseen.
I believe the first lesson for all to take from the tragedy is that we must expect and plan for the worst case scenario and hope that it would never eventuate. But to do that the reality of the danger has to be comprehended. Merely being in a denial mode doesn’t make the problem go away. And at the risk of being seen as a panic monger I say that we have not seen the last of these fanatics and should be prepared for even more severe and innovative ways for them to inflict violence on us. And it is not how many of them are there in this country; recall what one man did on Orlando or Nice, and how they did it.
I believe that the police had taken measures that they deemed necessary after getting the wind of something impending, but the point illustrated by the course of events of July 1 is that no contingency plan is ever adequate enough or completely foolproof unless put to test. Ours, unfortunately, did not survive the first bullet fired by the killers. There is always a first for everybody. For our police this was a painful ‘First.”
We should also have by now realised that a predetermined notion or a particular mindset regarding the recruitment base of the extremists and terrorists hampers a state’s effort to counter the extremist effectively. If we cannot see the red line, albeit very thin, between fundamentalists, radicals, and terrorists our approach in combating the menace will go awry. The fact that all Muslim terrorists are not incubated in religious seminaries has been established through the findings of research papers written by western, not Muslims, scholars. However, one cannot dismiss the fact that these seminaries do produce fundamentalists and some of these seminaries do also inculcate very radical views. And many of the Jihadists in Afghanistan and elsewhere had been supplied by these seminaries. While one can disagree with fundamentalists we can also involve them in intellectual discourse, it is the radicals, who seek to implement their views through force, violence and coercion that should be our worry. And it is the transition from discourse to resorting to violence that the agencies must attempt to prevent. As recent developments have revealed, most of the terrorists killed in the Gulshan incident were products of ‘modern’ education, and it was not economic privation that compelled them to choose the path of violence that they did, which is the next lesson that should not be lost on our policy makers and security planners. Unfortunately, these are the two mindsets that have guided the thoughts of the establishment, most of our academics and opinion-makers.
Having said all these we are still plagued by the question as to what motivates these youngsters from affluent families, schooled in secular institutions at home and abroad, chose to join the ranks of a so-called Islamist groups who peddle violence for their ’cause’. As of today we have a list of more than 250 youths gone ‘missing’. Entire families have chosen to leave their own country for a distant land. What has motivated them to take the precipitous step? Have they really been brainwashed? And is it really the current political condition, where the opposition has had less and less of space to manoeuvre, both literally and metaphorically, that has engendered the kind of force that we have seen unleashed on us, and whose severity has been ratcheting up with every incident of extremist violence? These are some of the thoughts that we will dwell on next week.