Every terror attack is a slap on the face of democracy. On its part, however, a constitutional government will have to be fearless and undeterred. It should learn from each incident and act in a way that makes future attacks more and more difficult, within, of course, the limits imposed by available options. By this yardstick we can confidently say that the UK government has kept its head above water and performed creditably.Highly alert
The low casualties from the latest assault on London is an index of the commendable state of preparedness of the Metropolitan Police (Met). London accommodates diverse nationalities and cultural groups. To that extent policing becomes much more complex than elsewhere, and no single strategy works. Although it is white-dominated, recruitment from different national and linguistic groups makes the Met a nimble apparatus. There are no class distinctions within the force which flow from the elitism of an officer class like the IPS in the Indian Police. This explains why the Met remains effective and confident in tackling terror.
The many terrorist strikes that the Met has foiled during the past few years are a tribute to its ability to keep its ears to the ground and act swiftly. While its track record in containing conventional crime is patchy, in respect of terrorism, the Met has been able to perform with great aplomb. In achieving what it has on the ground, both the MI5 (the internal intelligence agency) and the MI6 (the external intelligence outfit) have been a great asset. This is why Met operations have generally been seamless and won popular acclaim.
The greatest challenge to UK law enforcement agencies comes from the increasingly indoctrinated Muslim youth of the country. The next few days of investigation will reveal to what extent the local youth have been mixed up in the despicable act. There seems no end to the process of conversion of an innocent mind into a toxic variety, despite all that the UK government has done over the years. The insidious propaganda dished out through the Internet continues unabated. The considerable traffic to Iraq and Syria to join the IS is reflects the lack of success in keeping the Muslim youth insulated from poisonous inputs. The failure to check indoctrination is relevant to us in India as well. No psychiatrist is able to fathom this lure of young minds towards taking up a dubious cause such as that of the IS.
Those who have returned to their own countries from the IS fold — mainly because of the physical hardship in the battlefields of Syria and Iraq — are reported to remain steadfast in their desire to establish a caliphate where they live. So, intelligence agencies, have their job cut out in keeping track of these returnees and disabling them from indulging in mischief at home.Staying a step ahead
The UK government may not have gone to the extent Trump has gone in imposing severe travel restrictions to and from some Islamic countries. Possibly it may now have to rethink its existing regulations with a view to containing terrorism. The question, however, is whether such administrative actions are an antidote to terrorism. Terrorist ingenuity is known to be superior to government skill in drafting new rules to outwit the average terrorist.
The possible impact of Brexit on terror is another matter of conjecture. The automatic travel regulations which Brexit will bring in could help in the initial days to keep dubious elements away. Whether in the long run it will have the effect of interfering heavily with terrorist travel is debatable.
The UK has hitched its destiny to the western world. As long as this is the case, it is highly vulnerable to terrorist designs. The consolation, however, is that it can expect other countries to chip in with moral and physical support.
For many years, counter-terrorism will necessarily have to be a cooperative venture. This is one moral that India should be conscious of. Fortunately, the present government encourages friendship with all countries so that it can concentrate on development and other governance issues.
This is the sum and substance of the story. More and more international cooperation could sharpen the fight against terror. This is why I believe mass terror attacks of the 9/11 kind are highly unlikely in the future. Individual sniping could be the order of the day,
The writer is a former CBI director