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Terrorism in tourism

Blasts may no longer keep India Incredible!

Hazel Heyer, Special to eTN  Jul 30, 2008

On July 29, police in India defused 18 bombs found near the main diamond markets in the city of Surat. They drew a sketch of a young man believed to be linked to one of two explosives-filled cars discovered there. Authorities in a Mumbai suburb probed ties to a series of blasts over the weekend that killed 42 people and wounded 183 in Ahmadabad, about 175 miles north of Surat. An obscure Islamic militant group who warned of the so-called terror of death claimed responsibility for the Ahmadabad attack.

Meanwhile Surat Police Commissioner R.M.S. Brar sternly said: "I request you not to go to crowded places unnecessarily." Some 45 people were killed in bombings during India’s deadly series of blasts in two days last Saturday and Sunday.

On the Internet, the terrorist’s warning line blasted, "Await 5 minutes for the revenge of Gujarat," an apparent reference to 2002 riots in the western state which left 1,000 people, mostly Muslims dead. The historic city of Ahmadabad was the scene of much of the 2002 violence.

Terrorist attacks three days back is the mini version of the more massive 2006 blast involving a series of explosions that rocked Mumbai on the western commuter railway line. Seven bombs went off on crowded trains in Khar, Matunga, Mahim, Santa Cruz, Jogeshwari, Borivili and Bhayendar railway stations putting the number of deaths at over 100, with 200 injured. Bombings have followed a similar pattern of previous terror attacks in which a series of bombs exploded in crowded spaces apparently timed to occur during the busiest time of the day.

This last weekend’s terror happened just as soon as Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni said during her recent United Nations World Tourism Organization address that everything’s under control. In her speech, Soni said, “A climate of safety and security is also very important for the growth of tourism industry. Incidents of harassment of tourists and terrorist attacks, even though they may be isolated, can severely undermine tourism,” until a few days back, of course.

“All the effort that goes into image building of tourism gets washed out because of these incidents. I wish to emphasize today the importance of cooperation amongst all the UNWTO member countries on sharing of information on terrorists’ movement across borders and cooperation among police forces against criminal nexus networks,” added Soni, whose tenure is marred by strong opposition and detractors from major political factions.

The spread of terror came on the heels of Sint Kanti Singh, Indian culture and tourism undersecretary saying tourism police troops will be increased to secure the nation. “There have been isolated cases in the past. This is why we are adding more tourist police to the active service. We would like to dispatch more to secure the tourist centers. They won’t be regular policemen. There are already more tourist police in some states of the country,” she said.

Singh added, “We would like to add more professionals who are trained in law and order and are employed servicemen. What we propose is to have more police taking care of tourist interests where there’s large concentration of tourists. Otherwise, they are only regular policemen. We are adding more tourist police in large numbers.”

Saturday’s target city Ahmadabad is also known for the elegant architecture of its mosques and mausoleums, a rich blend of Muslim and Hindu styles. It was founded in the 15th century and served as a sultanate, fortified in 1487 with a wall six miles in circumference.

How did the simultaneous bombs manage to rip through Ahmadabad last weekend? Were tourist police off-duty or what? Why was security lax that they were caught off-guard by men who have outsmarted India’s intelligence?

Note though, the second largest Muslim country is not Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt or Pakistan. It is India. With some 150 million Muslims, India has more Muslims than Pakistan. This does not mean anything until terror is put in the mix with the Islamic community inside India, or imported from neighboring countries or had sleeper-cells there that wreaked havoc in the heavily populated cities.

Security experts reported increased targeting of Indian tourists in Kashmir. Evidence of Kashmiri involvement in attacks and plots elsewhere in India supported this very observation. For instance, in Lashkar e Toiba, the Kashmiri Islamic extremist group, with roots in Pakistan and suspected of having ties with Al Qaeda, proved responsibility for a history of attacks in Indian cities, while they fight for Kashmiri self-determination.

Short of explaining what went on in India, Pakistan-based Pervez Hoodbhoy, on a short visit to the US this week said, "There was an attack yesterday in Pakistan by a US Predator missile. The stories about that strike are running side-by-side in the Pakistani press along with George Bush's statements, made during the Pakistani prime minister's visit yesterday to the White House, that the US will respect Pakistani sovereignty. I think that the gains in killing a few Al-Qaeda operators must be carefully weighed against the larger need to not alienate Pakistanis. It is, after all, they who will ultimately have to confront the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.” This Pakistani chairman of the Department of Physics at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, and currently traveling in Maryland, wrote the piece, Anti-Americanism in Pakistan and the Taliban Menace. Could his statement be the message being passed along through India by the terror band?

Fearing future advisories can potentially kill the tourism industry faster than terrorism kills tourists, Soni said at her UNWTO meet, “In the spirit of cooperation, may I urge all the member countries to consciously resist ’pressure’ for issuing of advisories immediately following untoward incidents of crime or terrorism because such incidents are unpredictable in any region. Moreover, Travel Advisories by major source countries would have an adverse impact on the livelihood of the local populations in countries whose economies are wholly dependant on tourism.”

Madam minister, where were your tourist police and platoons of regular uniformed men when the country needed them?

eTurboNews tried several times to get in to contact with Minister Soni, but our attempts proved futile.

Blasts may no longer keep India  Incredible!
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