Terrorism was killed in Punjab by KPS Gill’s strong retaliatory tactics against Khalistani killers; it is being emboldened again now by the weak Akali response to latent Sikh militancy. The Akalis are shamelessly playing Sikh identity politics and have done everything to communalise issues relating to the hanging of two convicted Khalistani terrorists – Balwant Singh Rajoana, sentenced to death for the assassination of former Punjab CM Beant Singh, and Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, convicted for acts of terror in Delhi and elsewhere.
Both of them should have been hanged long ago. The delay is costing us lives. It is also time to polish up the Gill Doctrine, the doctrine that killed terrorism in Punjab in the 1990s.
While Bhullar’s death sentence was commuted to life by the Supreme Court for reasons related to delays in his execution, Rajoana’s execution has been delayed thanks to pressure from Punjab politicians. The BJP, which partners the Akalis in Punjab, has been muted in its response to calls for executing Rajoana. Even Congress politicians have been weak-kneed about hanging Rajoana and Bhullar even though it was their CM who was killed by the terrorists.
If today the hanging of yet another terror convict – Yakub Menon, for his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts – is hanging fire and being politicised and communalised, it is because the centre has been unable to follow the law and execute Rajoana and Bhullar in time, not to speak of the three killers of Rajiv Gandhi, who might actually end up walking free after a commutation of their death sentence.
India cannot afford to be a weak state when it comes to executing terrorists. The three templates from which it can draw the right lessons are the Indira Gandhi response to the killing of Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in Birmingham in 1984 by Kashmiri separatists who demanded the release of Mohammad Maqbool Butt, then awaiting execution for terrorist acts. As soon as Mhatre was killed, Indira rejected the mercy petition of Butt and he was hanged. Earlier, Kashmiri separatists were emboldened by the Farooq Abdullah government’s inability to deal with rising militancy in the valley.The second template was the NDA government’s decision to release three terrorists in return for the safety of the 176 passengers aboard a hijacked Indian Airlines plane that was taken to Kandahar in 1999. As public pressure for the return of the passengers was built up in India, the Vajpayee government caved in and released three terrorists – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Omar Saeed Shaikh, and Maulana Masood Azhar. Since their release the three have been boosting terrorism against India, and have also been implicated in some global terrorists acts, including the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers.
The point is giving in to terrorists is not a solution ever. It only makes the next terrorist act worse.
The third template is KPS Gill’s use of rough-and-ready methods to eliminate terrorism in Punjab by responding aggressively to provocations. Even as the army was withdrawn from counter-terror operations in Punjab, Gill forged the Punjab Police into a fighting force and defeated Khalistani terrorism.
Prem Mahadevan, in a paper now accessible on the South Asian Terrorism Portal, had this to say about Gill’s success: “The defeat of politico-religious terrorism in the Indian state of Punjab represented a spectacular counter-terrorist success. For the first time in history, the security forces of a democracy were able to comprehensively defeat a terrorist movement instead of just containing it. No political compromises were made, no ‘root causes’ were addressed. Yet, terrorism disappeared from Punjab with a swiftness and permanence that continues to surprise many.”
Mahadevan explains the Gill formula thus: “At the core of the Gill Doctrine lies the view that terrorism has mutated from being merely a tactic of political rebellion, as it was in the 1970s, to an entirely new way of waging warfare. Counter-terrorism in the closing decades of the 20th century and the early decades of the 21st cannot be denigrated as a mere ‘law and order’ issue. Instead, it is the major challenge to the security of individual nation-states, precisely because it is still being mistaken as an appendage to popular insurgency.”
Given Pakistan’s sponsorship of anti-India terror, Mahadevan says the Gill doctrine rightly decided that using minimal force against terrorists armed by the Pakistani military cannot work. Instead, counter-terror policies should aim to use force “proportional to the threat posed by each particular terrorist movement.”
It is clear that of the three templates, one failed (Vajpayee’s buckling to terrorist demands), while two others were more effective, especially Gill’s in Punjab.
This tells us two simple things: if the recrudescence of terror in Punjab is not squashed immediately with an iron hand, it will find new sustenance from weak-kneed Akali politicians. The BJP-led central government should read the riot act to its partner in Punjab. Secondly, the enemy is Pakistan, which is arming terrorists of all kind in Kashmir, Punjab and the rest of India. No softly-softly approach will work with Pakistan.
Defeating Pakistan’s designs calls for a tough stance not only against Khalistani terrorists, but also those who are waiting on death row for past acts of terror. It is time to hang Balwant Singh Rajoana. Keeping him in jail will only embolden terrorists who will assume that India is incapable of acting in its own interests.