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The Devil Is In The Detail

America keeps a constant hawk-eye on potential terrorists. Less than two weeks after the Abbottabad commando operation, six people, including two imams of Florida mosques, were arrested for providing material and financial support to the Pakistani Taliban. For about two years, 2008 through 2010, according to the indictment, the accused provided money, financial services, and other kinds of support to the Tehrik-e Taliban of Pakistan.

It is the daily nitty-gritty intelligence work that has been keeping the United States safe since 9/11 rather than the shock-and-awe SEALs operation that killed and clawed Osama bin Laden out of his Abbottabad lair and sent him to his watery grave. This is not to diminish President Barack Obama's courageous decision;nor is it to take away from the valour of the Navy SEAL commandos trained for do-or-die missions and the hitherto unknown radarevading stealth helicopters that sneaked past Pakistani vigilance. But these are not foolproof measures.

Such daring missions do go bust. With one helicopter down, the Abbottabad mission got lucky. A similar audacious mission on April 24, 1980, authorised by President Jimmy Carter to rescue 52 American hostages held at the American Embassy in Tehran, ended in humiliating debacle. There have been other disasters too, for example, in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, where the Navy SEALs' two Black Hawks were shot down, requiring a rescue operation.

Just as we admire the US Navy SEAL operators, it will be a mistake to underestimate the Pakistanis;they have created the indestructible Taliban, the progeny of a most ruthless secret service, the ISI, which through selfmultiplying lethal cells and self-sustaining charities dominates Pakistan and casts its deadly shadow beyond its borders. The former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, on a visit to Pakistan, called it "the chain of terror that links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of the UK and other countries around the world."

Ponder over the well-organised Pakistani sea-borne commando attacks in Mumbai in 2008. Not only did the Pakistanis do a tremendous job of training do-and-die commando-style terrorists but they also used some of the most modern means of communication including GPS, Google Earth, satellite cell phones, Skype, and Vonage. Somewhere in Pakistan, every movement of the terrorists must have been monitored in real time. President Obama and his team were doing the same in the White House situation room when the commando operation was in progress.

India should not think of fighting terrorism with USstyle commando attacks into Pakistan territory even if it is capable of doing so. And it should ask its military commanders to keep their cool and remain taciturn when provoked by the news media. Terrorism has to be fought with anticipation, intelligence, and persistence.

Every so often, the US Homeland Security authorities revisit and update their plans to meet new contingencies. In 2006, for example, authorities discovered a plot to blast and cripple the underground tunnel system that connects New Jersey with New York City. The discovery was not serendipitous. The security forces were on the lookout for terrorists in order to pre-empt any attack. Besides the Homeland Security, every state has contingency plans. Federal and state governments work meticulously, and closely, to fight terrorism.

In the United States as well as in Europe, there has been a paradigm shift in thinking about terrorism. The strategy is to eliminate terrorism at the neonatal stage by establishing an early awareness system, which is different from an early warning system. The guiding principle is: what can be anticipated can also be prevented. Preventing terrorism at the inspirational and "aspirational" stages is the goal. For example, the plot to bomb Sears Tower in Chicago was at a stage "more aspirational than operational, " according to the FBI, when the terrorists were nailed down in June 2007.

Following the preemptive policy of dealing with terrorists, former US Attorney (for the Northern District of Georgia) David E Nahmias said, "We no longer wait until a bomb is built and ready to explode. " That's what India should do.

Europeans have been following similar antiterrorism strategies. In December 2008, for example, the Belgian police arrested 14 people on mere suspicion of suspected terrorist links. Six of them were charged with being members of a Belgian branch of al-Qaida. What prompted the pre-emptive measure was a concern to secure the European Union leaders' two-day summit meeting, which might have become the terrorists' target. The federal prosecutor in Brussels, Johan Delmulle, was quoted as saying, "We don't know where the suicide attack was to take place. It could have been an operation in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but it can't be ruled out that Belgium or Europe could have been the target. " Instead of sending commandos into Afghanistan or Pakistan, they combed their own backyards and got them.

US security laws allow intelligence and law enforcement authorities to trawl through places of worship, activities of charities, communications of suspected militants, and even their shopping patterns. The strategy "provides a common framework" through which not only the federal, state and local governments work but also "the private and non-profit sectors, communities, and individual citizens" are actively included in Homeland Security's efforts.

Outstanding intelligence gathering, pre-emptive and preventive measures, and anticipatory disaster plans will go a long way in eliminating the scourge of terrorism in India. India needs to create a culture of preparedness and alacrity that pervades all levels of society instead of planning commando attacks against a country with which, in the long run, we have to develop working relations.

The writer is a professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University

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