Wed, 05 Jan 2000

Approach to counter terrorism

Many union ministers, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the security forces and other agencies of the government dealing with terrorism are understandably upset at the release of three top militants in exchange for the passengers on board a hijacked Indian Airlines flight.

It is futile to continue the debate on whether these militants should have been freed. Though Maulana Masood Azhar may have been a key catch, the authorities concede that no major charges were framed against him and a special court rejected the grounds of detention under the erstwhile antiterrorism laws.

This raises serious questions on what governments -- both at the center and in the states -- should do with similar cases. It is one thing for the armed forces or the police to be convinced that a person is a terrorist, militant or an accomplice, but quite another to prove it in a court of law.

Terrorists are not bound by any laws or human considerations, but governments are. Though India may be seen to have succumbed to terrorism at Kandahar, it has succeeded in bringing cross- border terrorism to the center stage in global fora. As terrorist groups have grown, died and regrouped over many years, any fight to stamp them out will also be long drawn. The governments will have to keep the people on their side and not alienate them while fighting terrorism.

Even under extreme pressure, the temptation to turn to extra- legal devices or to bring in draconian measures must be avoided and human rights norms and legal processes must be scrupulously observed. The security forces must redouble their efforts to track down the terrorists and their accomplices and bring them to book.

-- The Hindu, New Delhi