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This is not war

A few hours after terrorists struck Delhi, Dr Manmohan Singh asserted, "I am confident this is a war that we will and must win." It sounded similar to President Bush's declaration nine days after the 9/11 attacks, "Our war on terror will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." But the similarity ends there. The legacy of President Bush's statement was that a Homeland Security Department was set up in weeks, billions of dollars were spent to keep the American mainland safe and terrorists were hunted, tortured and killed with nary a thought about human rights and liberty. It was a war. And they played by the rules of war. No rules. This isn't the first time that Dr Singh has stated that what India is fighting is a war. In a war, you don't wait for things to happen. You make them happen.

If this is war, institutions that are in the planning stage for years (National Counter Terrorism Centre, National Intelligence Grid) should be put into place in weeks. Recruitment of extra security personnel should be done across the country. Arm them. Give them all they need, from intelligence to training to weapons to modern gear. Pay them well. Keep them motivated to fight the enemy. Give them a goal and hunger to work for that goal. Energise your bureaucracy because it is a war, not just another day at work.

If it is a war, what is the aim of this war? To keep citizens safe -- free from harm and the fear of harm. Let us secure our borders. Make those countries that foster terrorists pay a heavy price, so that they dare not send their vermin into our land. If you are sure it is a war, then why the waxing and waning when it comes to tough action. Preventing terror attacks is difficult but it is not impossible. The 26/11 terror strike was supposed to be India's final wake up call. But Pune, Varanasi, Mumbai and Delhi followed, not to mention the numerous 'Gandhian' terror strikes by the Maoists or incidents in the North-East.

Meanwhile not one suspect has been brought to trial while only one arrest has been made in the last half-a-dozen terror cases. We are stuck with moth-eaten systems and a tired bureaucracy which refuses to change them. This is not how wars are fought and won. From war on illiteracy to poverty, perhaps the phrase has been debased so often that we have become immune to the import of the term.

So let us just drop the phrase, dear Prime Minister. Forget a long war; this isn't a war at all. A war needs a budget, a war needs a plan of action, a war needs a goal, a war needs warriors and most importantly, a war needs a victor's ruthlessness. In any case, the phrase isn't even politically correct now. The US has christened its war on terror as 'overseas contingency operations' while British officials stopped using the phrase 'War on Terror' in 2006. 

Moreover, their war on terror was fought overseas. For us, the battlefield is within our borders. The tentacles of terror are just about spreading across the whole country. Terrorists are constantly innovating. You cannot club all terror groups operating in India under one umbrella and have one plan to fight them all. If they use crude guns and mines in one instance, they use modern technology in others -- from satellite imagery and proxy servers to encrypted data. One counter-terror tactic can't succeed against all the groups. The only thing common to all anti-terror tactics should be zero tolerance. Pick them up, prosecute and punish. If law is not enforced strictly, it ceases to have any effect.

If it is indeed a war, then we must walk the talk. And get cracking on a war footing.

Smita Prakash is Editor (News) at Asian News International.

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