October 15, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

Bombed at the box office

Old terrorists smelling new opportunities?

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Babbar Khalsa, like smallpox, is widely believed to have been eradicated. But Babbar Khalsa, more so than smallpox, lives on across India’s borders. Wadhawan Singh Babbar, chief of the Babbar Khalsa International, lives in Pakistan, no doubt as an honourable guest of the ISI. There was a time that he, along with Ranjit Singh Neeta, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, Lakhbir Singh Rode and Gajinder Singh, used to appear lower in the batting order of a list of 20 most wanted persons that the Indian government used to wave in front of Pakistan. That list is not waved at all anymore.

There are signs that Babbar Khalsa could be making a comeback. The cry for Khalistan may not find an appeal beyond a tiny hardcore constituency. But Babbar Khalsa might find richer pickings exploiting the vein of competitive intolerance that the UPA government has nurtured. In May 2005, it was implicated in the bombing of two New Delhi cinemas screening a movie that was deemed offensive to Sikhs. In May this year, it was found fishing in the troubled waters of Dera Sacha Sauda controversy. And now, it is being suspected of having carried out Sunday’s blasts at a packed cinema in Ludhiana.

Like ULFA in Assam, the new Babbar Khalsa has close links to jihadi groups. While the jihadi groups carry out attacks across India aiming to trigger off communal riots, and while Pakistani jihadis continue to be inserted into Jammu & Kashmir, ULFA and Babbar Khalsa keep India’s other border states on the boil. It’s a pretty plan. It’s also an old one. If the ISI is reading off its old songsheet, it’s not because it lacks imagination. On the contrary, it is because it sees that the conditions are rather appropriate for it to begin playing these old—not ineffective—games.

The political turmoil in Pakistan provides just the cover for such games. And the use of domestic turmoil to escalate anti-India operations is not new. In the late 1980s, Generals Mirza Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul used the post-Zia turmoil to divert veterans from the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan into Jammu & Kashmir. Everybody had to be nice to Benazir Bhutto, lest she be overwhelmed by the domestic turmoil then. Similarly, everybody has to be nice to Musharraf & Benazir now, lest they too be overwhelmed. Being nice didn’t prevent Benazir from being overwhelmed, but Pakistan has always gotten away by negotiating with a gun to its own head.

But don’t count on the India-Pakistan joint anti-terror mechanism to do anything more than provide a fig-leaf for Musharraf. If confronting Pakistan is indeed contra-indicated by its domestic turmoil, then what should India do? Well, for a start, it should leave no stone unturned in unearthing the conspiracies behind the attacks, arresting and prosecuting those involved. And more importantly, it should roll back the official tolerance of intolerance that is the very opposite of the broken-window” policy that India needs.

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