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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008

Don't allow terrorists to win


The horrific attacks in Mumbai have raised a number of serious questions for the Indian authorities. Why was there no forewarning? Were those responsible for gathering and interpreting intelligence negligent or did they lack adequate resources? Why was the counterterrorist response apparently so slow and the forces inadequately equipped? Why was it possible for the terrorists to land from ships without being detected either by the Indian Navy or the coast guard?

No doubt the inquiries instituted by the Indian government will provide some answers to these questions, but whatever further precautions the authorities may decide to take, there can be no guarantee that there will be no further terrorist attacks. Absolute security is unattainable especially when terrorists are not only willing to massacre innocent people, but are ready to die doing so.

Security precautions will have to be tightened and constant vigilance will be needed. If necessary, more resources will need to be deployed in the intelligence services. But miracles cannot be expected in a country the size of India with such a heterogeneous population.

The evidence so far suggests that the terrorists came from Pakistan and may well have connections with elements in the area of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan is widely suspected of having close connections with the Taliban and to be opposed to the present government of Afghanistan and to a rapprochement with India.

Unfortunately the government of Pakistan does not seem to be able to exercise adequate control of the ISI. Islamabad has unreservedly condemned the attacks and expressed its desire to cooperate with the Indian authorities in their inquiries, but it is doubtful whether it can meet all Indian demands, including the extradition of suspects.

There is thus a real danger that tension between India and Pakistan will escalate. There have been conflicts in the past, and the dangers arising from an armed clash between the two countries cannot be lightly dismissed. Both powers have nuclear weapons. It is unlikely that either power would wish to be the first to use nuclear weapons, but the situation is volatile and there are intolerant hotheads on both sides.

Attempts so far to keep the temperature down have been relatively successful. Both governments must recognize that if they permit the friction to escalate they are allowing the terrorists to achieve their main aim.

Another of their aims was, of course, to sow dissension in India and to push the Indian authorities to curb the rights of Indian citizens. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has shown admirable calm in face of much provocation and he deserves the backing of India's friends in resisting the imposition of curbs on Indian democratic freedoms.

In the United States, the 9/11 attackers not only succeeded in killing thousands but also gave the neocons an excuse to extend the fight against al-Qaida from Afghanistan to Iraq and to introduce measures such as the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay and extraordinary rendition. These measures undermined human rights and damaged America's reputation. U.S. President George W. Bush thus ceded an important victory to the terrorists, but it is one that the U.S. electorate, by choosing Barack Obama as Bush's successor, seems determined to overturn.

Vigilance and stringent security precautions have to be taken, but basic rights must be preserved and proportionality maintained. Unfortunately, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor, Tony Blair, played lip service to these points but have shown a tendency to dismiss their critics as being soft on terrorism, when in fact the main aim of the critics has been to ensure that the traditional freedoms of British citizens are preserved.

I do not think that Britain is in danger of becoming a police state, but antiterrorist measures have given the police unprecedented powers and there have been examples of the police and other British authorities using these powers in cases where there is clearly no terrorist threat.

When Icelandic banks got into difficulties and the safety of the deposits of British citizens in these banks seemed in jeopardy, the government froze the assets of these banks under antiterrorist legislation even though there was never any suggestion that Iceland or its banks posed any threat to British security.

Recently when the Home Office were upset by leaks that were embarrassing to ministers the police were called in and the home and parliamentary office of a leading member of the opposition were searched by antiterrorist officers acting without a warrant. The member was arrested and questioned for nine hours.

The alleged offense of the member of Parliament, who received the leaked papers that dealt with immigration issues, had nothing to do with national security, although Brown speciously defended the action on the grounds that the Home Office dealt with important security issues.

It is vital that we don't play into the hands of the terrorists by undermining our rights and freedoms, and that we respond to terrorist attacks as calmly and proportionately as public opinion in our countries will allow.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.


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