US must rid its archaic security setup of biases

Augest.23 : The detention of Shah Rukh Khan in New York has raised several interesting points that need consideration. Keeping emotions aside, we should view this incident in the larger context of security procedures and the ability of the country concerned to deal with threat perception post-9/11.

The United States never took terrorism seriously. Whilst we have been complaining about terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab for over two decades, many countries, including the US, Canada and the United Kingdom, treated the perpetrators of terror attacks as "political" offenders and even granted sanctuary to many as victims of human rights violations.

But over a period of time, the US’ lax immigration policies created absolute chaos. Look at the number of terror havens in the UK and many parts of Europe. Intelligence agencies could easily identify terror groups and individuals and link them to several acts of terror.

On September 11, 2001, I was staying a few blocks away from the World Trade Centre when the first aircraft crashed into the tower. I was shocked when the second aircraft hit, after a lapse of 20 minutes, and another one hit the Pentagon after some time. Clearly, whilst the first strike was difficult to control, an efficient, functioning system and timely decisions could have prevented the second and the third attack! But the decision-making process was frozen into inaction and the US failed despite all the available technology.

The confusion that unfolded after the 9/11 attacks was unprecedented. Being a "superpower" does not give the US the right to adhere to archaic systems and have untrained, ham-handed staff.

We faced a similar situation after the assassination of Indira Gandhi where suddenly the need for a system was felt where none existed! The US will take years to put an intelligent system in place and in its absence they have little option but to do "blanket" checks at all entry points, causing distress to many.

Sadly, there is a growing perception, somewhat justified, that the Muslim community is being unduly targeted. The US state department currently allows residents of 27 countries to enter the US without a visitor visa. Therefore, the mandatory checks done before giving a "visa" are missing.

Shah Rukh Khan has suffered but he was lucky to have spent only two hours with the cops. Being a VIP, he has access to higher authorities with whose help he managed to come out, with a bruised ego. Sadly, with the draconian system currently in place, an ordinary person could be held for months, maybe even years. And there is enough evidence that innocent people have been victimised.

I have some knowledge of the system and I cannot see an immediate solution. But if I had to take a decision then I would side with the security agencies. Every country needs to upgrade its immigration system with new technology. And every country will also have to issue periodic "apologies" while intensifying security procedures.

In India, it is a grave error to exempt VIPs from security checks. The US does not make a distinction between VIPs and common people. Senator Edward Kennedy had to undergo security checks on five occasions before the system realised the error!

My sympathy is with Shah Rukh Khan and everyone else who has suffered, but there is no guarantee that this will not happen to him again, at the same airport with different officials. At the most, we can express our outrage but in the current system it cannot be avoided and unless an alternative system is in place it would be foolish to tamper with the existing security apparatus.

POLITICAL ACTIVITY is yet to gather momentum but we can see some movement in Maharashtra where both the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are demanding more seats from each other. I suppose this is normal in coalition politics. The Congress is in a stronger bargaining position and is familiar with the tactics deployed by Sharad Pawar and the NCP.

The Congress-NCP government suffers from anti-incumbency but it will benefit from the discontentment within the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine. I don’t see a serious challenge to the Congress in this situation.

The position in Jharkhand is fluid. The public is appalled with the two successive corrupt coalitions and may well look towards the Congress if they are serious about the Central Bureau of Investigation raids involving two close aides of former governor Syed Sibtey Rizvi. It will be difficult to suppress information with the media reporting the matter 24x7. As in Haryana, I see the Congress having an edge over others in Jharkhand.

The electoral battle in Uttar Pradesh will take place in 2012 but the Congress offensive has already started, with Rahul Gandhi leading the charge. And as things stand, they will be the favourites to win the next Assembly elections.

Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party are losing support at a rapid rate. The grave situation of drought and the government’s apathy towards the misery of farmers and others, as demonstraded in the "stone" images and statues, is tragic and should be stopped, if necessary by a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court.

The Congress’ attempt to revive its unit in Bihar will be pursued by greater effort and watched closely by both the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Lok Janashakti Party who are shrinking day by the day. However, they will pose a challenge to Nitish Kumar and the Janata Dal (United) in the long term.

The Congress’ efforts will no doubt continue in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Orissa where they are weak. In Rajasthan, the BJP is determined to destroy its existence by generating an internal struggle with Vasundhara Raje Scindia. In the process, the Congress, along with Ashok Gehlot, will strengthen its grip on the state.

At the Centre, the Congress is consolidating and bracing itself to fight the drought, whilst the BJP, unable to determine its structure for the future, will continue to splinter and lose its relevance. Change, I think, will be forced upon them after the three Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister


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