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Whereas other democracies such as those of the US, the UK and Israel have been facing only terrorism of one or two kinds, India has been facing terrorism of multiple origin with varied objectives and different areas of operation. Our intelligence agencies and security forces have been facing cross-border terrorism and hinterland terrorism; urban jihadi terrorism and rural Maoist terrorism; ideological terrorism, religious terrorism and ethnic or separatist terrorism; indigenous jihadi and pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism; and indigenous and Pakistan and Bangladesh sponsored terrorism. The likelihood of maritime terrorism and WMD threats from Al Qaeda based in Pakistan's tribal belt and cyber terrorism from IT-literate terrorists have added to the complexity of the scenario.
Common Core Principles of Counter Terrorism Strategy
2. Against this background, India's counter-terrorism strategy has to have a common core with principles applicable to all terrorism and separate modules tailor-made and suited to the different kinds of terrorism that we have been facing. The principles of this common core, some of which are in force even now, are:
(a) The Police would be the weapon of first resort in dealing with hinterland terrorism of all kinds and the army would be the weapon of only last resort.
(b) In dealing with cross-border terrorism in J&K and with the ULFA and the tribal insurgents in the North-East, the Army would have the leadership role, with the police operating in the interior areas and the Army operating nearer the borders. The para-military forces would be available for assistance to the Police as well as the Army.
(c) Intelligence collection against hinterland terrorism would be the joint responsibility of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the State Police and in the border States of the IB, the Police and the Military intelligence. Intelligence collection regarding the external ramifications of all terrorist organisations would be the responsibility of the R&AW.
(d) The new mutations of terrorism, which could strike India one day, such as WMD, maritime and cyber terrorism have to be dealt with jointly by the Armed Forces, the scientific community and the police, with the army having the leadership role in respect of WMD terrorism, the Navy/Coast Guard in respect of maritime terrorism and an appropriate S&T organisation in respect of cyber terrorism.
(e) While we should follow a no-holds barred approach to crush terrorists from Pakistan and Bangladesh operating in our territory, our strategy in respect of our own nationals who have taken to terrorism should be nuanced with a mix of the political and security strands.
(f) While we should avoid the pitfalls of over-militarisation or Americanisation of our counter-terrorism strategy, which would be counter-productive in our country with the second largest Muslim population in the world and with our location in the midst of the Islamic world, we should not hesitate to adopt with suitable modifications the best counter-terrorism practices from the US, the UK and Israel. Among practices worthy of emulation one could mention empowering the police with special laws, the creation of a central agency for co-ordinated investigation and prosecution of terrorism cases, strict immigration control, strong action to stop illegal immigration and to expel illegal immigrants, action to stop the flow of funds to the terrorists from any sources, both internal and external, and the adoption of the concept of an integrated counter-terrorism staff for an integrated analysis of all terrorism-related intelligence and joint action on them. All agencies having counter-terrorism responsibilities should be represented in the staff.
3. Building a National Strategy. The evolution of our counter-terrorism strategy in India has been in fits and starts as and when it faced a new kind of terrorism or faced a crisis situation. Similarly, the counter-terrorism community too has grown up in a haphazard manner. The approach to terrorism has been more tactical than strategic, more influenced by short-term thinking than long-term projections. There is a need to set up a dedicated task force to recommend a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. The strategy has to be community-based to draw the support of all communities, political consensus-based to draw the support of all political parties and should provide for a close interaction with the private sector to benefit from its expertise and capabilities and to motivate it to protect itself in soft areas.
4. Re-Structuring of MHA. Another important step should be the reorganisation of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Counter-terrorism is one of its many responsibilities. While the trend in other countries has been towards having a single Ministry or Department to deal exclusively with counter-terrorism, MHA has resisted this trend. In any unified command and control for counter-terrorism, the Ministry responsible for counter-terrorism has to play a pivotal role. The importance of having a single leader for dealing exclusively with internal security, without being burdened with other responsibilities was realised by Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. Instead of bifurcating the MHA, Rajiv Gandhi created a post of Minister of State For Internal Security in the MHA to handle all operational matters including waging a joint campaign against terrorism by the Centre and the States. This continued under Narasimha Rao. The time has come to create an independent Ministry of Internal Security.
5. Intelligence Reforms. Inadequacies in our intelligence agencies have remained unidentified and unaddressed. Every successful terrorist strike speaks of an intelligence failure. There is a lack of co-ordination not only among the agencies at the Centre, but also between the central agencies and those of the state police. The issues of how to improve the quantity and the quality of the intelligence flow, to ensure better co-ordination at the Centre and with the States etc have to be urgently addressed by a dedicated task force on terrorism-related intelligence capabilities.
6. Threat Analysis. Strategic threat analysis has undergone a significant change since 9/11. Before 9/11, analysis and assessment of threat perceptions were based on actual intelligence or information available with the intelligence and security agencies. 9/11 has brought home to policy-makers the difficulties faced by intelligence agencies, however well-funded they might be, in penetrating terrorist organisations to find out details of their thinking and planning. This realisation brings home the importance of analysts serving policy-makers constantly identifying national security vulnerabilities, which might attract the attention of terrorists, and suggesting options and actions to deny opportunities for attacks to the terrorists. Vulnerability analysis has become as important as threat analysis. Furthermore, strategic analysts can no longer confine themselves to an analysis and assessment of strategic developments of a conventional nature arising from State actors, but should pay equal attention to the strategic impact of non-State actors, such as international or trans-national terrorists, crime mafia groups and nuclear proliferators on global security in general and our own national security in particular..
7. Coordinated Police Action. We have succeeded where the terrorism or insurgency was a regional phenomenon and was confined to a narrow area. We have not succeeded where the threat was pan-Indian in nature with the network extending its presence to many States in the North and the South. A pan-Indian threat requires a co-ordinated pan-Indian response at the political and professional levels. The tendency of the intelligence agencies and the police of different States to keep each other in the dark about what they know and not to admit to each other as to what they do not know comes in the way of a pan-Indian professional response. There has been a plethora of reports and recommendations on the need for better sharing and co-ordination, but without any effect on our agencies and the police.
8. Addressing the Muslim Alienation and Political Involvement. An effective political handling has to start with a detailed analysis of the causes of anger and action to deal with them. Our young Muslims, who are taking to jihadi terrorism, are not bothered by issues such as lack of education and unemployment, reservation for Muslims etc. They are angry at what they consider to be the unfairness to the Muslims, which, according to them, is widely prevalent in India. Unsatisfactory political handling of the Muslim youth by all political parties is an aggravating cause of the threat from jihadi terrorism. Flow of human intelligence about jihadi terrorism is weak because of the post-9/11 phenomenon of global Islamic solidarity and the adversarial relationship between the agencies and the police on the one side and the Muslim community on the other. Feelings of Islamic solidarity prevent even law-abiding Muslims from volunteering to the agencies and the police information about their co-religionists, who have taken to terrorism and from assisting the police in their investigation. The adversarial relationship has resulted in mutual demonisation. How to come out of this syndrome is a matter for serious consideration not only by the police and the agencies, but also by the political class and the civil society, including the media.
9. Political Ambivalence. Unfortunately, the multiplicity of political parties, the era of coalition and the tendency in our country to over-politicise terrorism come in the way of a pan-Indian political response. The agencies and the Police are largely responsible for the absence of a co-ordinated professional response, but the political leadership at the Centre and in different States cannot escape their share of responsibility. The attitude of our political class to terrorism is ambivalent. On the one hand, it is worried, rightly, over this growing threat. On the other, it continues to view this as a vote-catcher. Every political party has been firm in demanding action against terrorism when it is out of power. It becomes soft when it comes to power. That is the bane of our counter-terrorism. Only voter pressure can force the political class to stop exploiting terrorism as an electoral weapon and to start dealing with it as a major threat to national security, which should unite the political class and the civil society. A determined political leader, who has the national interests in mind, can use a whip and make the agencies and the police co-operate. A political leader whose policies and actions are motivated by partisan and not national interests will come in the way of professional co-operation.
10. Deterrence. Finally, the jihadi terrorism in our territory has been able to thrive because of the support from the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Our anxiety for improved relations with them has been coming in the way of any deterrence to their continued use of terrorism against India. The deterrence has to be in the form of an effective covert action capability, which we should be prepared to use against the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistani and Bangladeshi territory, if left with no other option. The covert action capability, which was reportedly wound up in 1997 out of a misplaced sense of generosity to Pakistan, has to be revived.