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From proxy war to psy-jihad: The futility of engaging Pak

Will a hardened criminal happily plead mea culpa just because you offer him proof of his guilt?

Unfortunately, this is what India has been doing time and again – whether it is 26/11, or the July 2011 Mumbai blasts, or the most recent attempt by Pakistan-based groups to spread hate propaganda by circulating morphed images of alleged atrocities on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar to local co-religionists.

Google and Facebook have confirmed that the images and objectionable materials were uploaded outside India – meaning mostly Pakistan. Union Home Secretary RK Singh offered to give Pakistan proof of this, an offer summarily rejected by Islamabad. This is one of a piece with former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir’s dismissal of 26/11 documents as “mere literature.”

It is time we stopped debasing ourselves by offering Pakistan proof after proof on its support to terror targeting India. If at all we think they are going to take some action, it is best to do so quietly, since there is a greater possibility of their doing something if there is no public spotlight on it.

As we have stated often before, India’s anti-terror and anti-communal actions must flow from our own internal vigilance and preparedness, not from expectations of cooperation from across the border. After 65 years of living with a toxic neighbour, we don’t seem to be willing to accept that the Pakistani establishment – especially the Army and radical jihadi groups – are not interested in peace with India.

Let’s be clear how Pakistan’s strategy has evolved.

First, they tried war and aggression – in 1948, 1965 and 1971. It didn’t work.

Next, they opted for death by a thousand cuts – insurgency in Kashmir and Punjab. The latter was stamped out, and the former will take time to stamp out. But, increasingly, stoking trouble in Kashmir directly is yielding diminishing returns since the world is not ready to buy Pakistan’s story anymore. Not even China will buy it, though it continues to support Pakistan to keep India off balance.

Then, it tried to overawe the Indian public by random bomb blasts. Nothing happened. India is too large to be beaten into submission this way.

Now, Pakistan has changed strategy once more. Even while the option of sending deadly jihadis and bombs remains on the table for the ISI and the Pakistani hate-groups, the strong restraining hand of the US after  the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the drone attacks in the Pakistani north-west has circumscribed its ability to manoeuvre in this regard. Pakistan knows that the US may be sharing intelligence with India – and has to be careful on this score.

The new strategy runs something like this. One prong involves painting itself as a victim of terror (which is easy to do, since the snakes it bred in its backyard have now started biting the hand that fed them).

But the most important prong is to use any means to shift the focus of attention to Indian jihadi groups. There may not been too many Indian Muslims willing to do the ISI’s dirty work, but you don’t need more than a handful to create fear and chaos.

The purpose of this strategy is two-fold: to try and tell the world that India’s terror is homegrown and nothing to do with Pakistan. The other is to provoke the Indian state to crack down in anger, and thus create more homegrown jihadis.

This is where the morphed images, the Mumbai violence, and scare SMSes sent to north-easterners residing in other parts of the country come in.

As B Raman, a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, wrote in Outlook magazine, IT-savvy jihadis have been waging a psychological warfare using cellphones and social media sites ever since clashes happened between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

“Following these clashes, a group of as yet unidentified Islamic elements, possibly based in the Myanmar-Bangladesh-India region, started a vicious campaign through the Internet and the new social media sites for the demonisation of the Myanmar government and for promoting Islamic solidarity. This psy-jihad was meant to destabilise not only the Rakhine state of Myanmar, but also the Sheikh Hasina government of Bangladesh, which has refused to allow the Rohingyas to enter Bangladesh and use it as a rear base for their destabilisation operations in Myanmar.”

As for India, Raman notes: “One noticed a similar psy-jihad being waged in India through the Internet and its social media sites by a group of unidentified Muslim extremists after the outbreak of violent clashes between some Bodos and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Kokrajhar and other Bodo areas of Assam last month.”

It’s obvious why Pakistan benefits from this. This kind of operation is almost risk-free and free of cost. All it needs is a few IT-trained nutcases to spread fear and chaos in India and elsewhere. The exodus of north-easterners from various cities of India is one such result.

In Mumbai, the psy-jihad was used to try and overawe even the law machinery – with policemen being the targets on 11 August. It only needed a few policemen to panic and the toll in that mob fury could have been more than two deaths and 50 injuries. As things stand, the injured were mostly policemen and women.

Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik foiled those plans by his direct intervention and ability to control his forces from retaliating. This forced the Muslims groups to apologise instead of creating one more grouse for the psy-jihadis to salivate over.

Sp what should be India’s response to this new kind of threat? Here are some options.

First, we need to have a proactive cyber-policing policy that is able to figure out psy-threats before they occur. Stories on the morphed images were available in July, but it took a riot in Mumbai in August for the police to act.

Second, knee-jerk bans on social media and SMSes serve little purpose. It is the easiest thing in the world to email such images and messages. A better way would be to use the social media to disseminate correct information and also hack into these hate-mongering websites to turn the jihadis against themselves.

Third, we simply have to make more investments in intelligence – both through technology and human-resources. Recruitment of more Muslims to the force is vital to ensure that the police are never short of info on what is going on in the community. If mosques and posters were being used to spread aggressive messages on the Kokrajhar and Rohingya incidents, why was the police not able to act pre-emptively?

Fourth, if at all we want to send proof of Pakistan's complicity in terror, we should share it with the US and even China. Even if they do nothing about it, they will be repeatedly made aware of who they are really supporting.

Pakistan and the jihadis are prepared for a 1,000-year war by any means against us. We ought to be prepared for the same. There is going to be no instant “aman ki aasha” flowering in the neighbourhood.

 

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