( Updated version of the article prepared by me at the request of the Centre For Air Power Studies of New Delhi for an edited volume on comprehensive security being brought out by them. )
The attack in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008, by a group of 10 Pakistani terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) has been the subject of study by the intelligence and security agencies of many countries in order to examine whether the modus operandi (MO) used by the terrorists in Mumbai called for any changes in the counter-terrorism strategies adopted by them. The US Senate Committee on Homeland Security has also held a detailed hearing in order to understand how and why the terrorists succeeded in Mumbai and how to prevent such incidents in the US. It was terrorism of a conventional nature rendered smarter by modern communications equipment and a good understanding of the way modern media operates. Counter-terrorism failed in Mumbai because it was not as smart as the terrorists. Smart counter-terrorism is the need of the hour. That is the main lesson from Mumbai.
The Mumbai attack has caused concern right across the international counter-terrorism community not because the terrorists used a new MO, which they had not used in the past, but because they used an old MO with destruction multiplier effect provided by modern communications equipment and lessons drawn from the commando courses of regular armed forces.
There were 163 fatalities in the sea-borne commando-style attack in Mumbai. Only five of them were caused by explosives. The remaining 158 were caused by hand-held weapons (assault rifles and hand-grenades). There had been commando-style attacks with hand-held weapons by terrorists in the Indian territory even in the past, but most of those attacks were against static security guards outside important buildings such as the Parliament House in New Delhi, the US Consulate in Kolkata, a temple in Ahmedabad etc.
The Mumbai attack of November 2008 was the first act of mass casualty terrorism by the jihadi terrorists against innocent civilians using hand-held weapons. The previous two acts of mass casualty terrorism with fatalities of more than 150 were carried out with timed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) ----- in March 1993 and in July 2006, both in Mumbai.
The increasing use of IEDs by the terrorists since 9/11 had led to strict anti-explosive checks even by private establishments. The killing with IEDs tends to be indiscriminate with no way of pre-determining who should be killed. Moreover, the publicity earned from IED attacks tends to be of short duration. As was seen during the attack on the Parliament House in December, 2001, the visual impact of TV-transmitted images of attacks with hand-held weapons as they are taking place tends to be more dramatic. In an attack with hand-held weapons, the terrorists can pre-determine whom they want to kill.
In Mumbai, 72 people were killed in the terrorist attacks in two hotels and in the Nariman House where a Jewish religious-cum-cultural centre is located and 86 persons in public places such as the main railway terminus, a hospital, a cafe etc. The attacks in the public places by two terrorists on the move lasted less than an hour, but caused more fatalities. The static armed confrontations in the hotels and the Nariman House lasted about 60 hours, but caused less
fatalities. The static armed confrontations got the terrorists more publicity than the attacks by the two terrorists on the move in public places. By the time TV , radio and other media crew came to know what was happening in the public places and rushed there, the attacks were already over. In the hotels and the Nariman House, the media crew were able to provide a live coverage of almost the entire confrontation. Mrs.Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, had once described undue publicity as the oxygen of terrorists. The terrorists in Mumbai had 60 hours of uninterrupted oxygen supply.
Within a few hours of the start of the confrontation, the security staff of the hotels reportedly switched off the cable transmissions to the rooms. The terrorists were, therefore, not in a position to watch on the TV what was happening outside, but their mobile communications enabled them to get updates on the deployments of the security forces outside from their controllers in Pakistan who, like the rest of the world, were able to watch on their TV what was happening outside. This could have been prevented only by jamming all mobile telephones. Such jamming could have proved to be counter-productive. Of course, it would have prevented the terrorists from getting guidance and updates from their controllers in Pakistan. At the same time, it might have prevented the security agencies from assessing the mood and intentions of the terrorists and could have come in the way of any communications with the terrorists if the security agencies wanted to keep them engaged in a conversation till they were ready to raid.
The Mumbai attack poses the following questions for examination by all the security agencies of the world:
Presently, the security set-ups of private establishments have security gadgets such as door-frame metal detectors, anti-explosive devices, closed-circuit TV etc, but they do not have armed guards. It would not be possible for the police to provide armed guards to all private establishments. How to strengthen the physical security of vulnerable private establishments and protect them from forced intrusions by terrorists wielding hand-held weapons?
What kind of media control will be necessary and feasible in situations of the type witnessed in Mumbai? This question had also figured after the Black September terrorist attack on Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics of 1972. Since then, the position has become more difficult due to the mushrooming of private TV channels and private FM radio stations.
How to ensure that mobile telephones do not unwittingly become a facilitator of on-going terrorist strikes without creating operational handicaps for the security agencies
The LET terrorists, who attacked Mumbai, had a three-point agenda:
(a).An anti-Indian agenda to create fears in the minds of foreign businessmen about the security of life and property in India and in the minds of
the Indian public about the competence of the Indian security agencies to protect them.
(b).An anti-Israeli and an anti-Jewish agenda whose objectives coincided with those of Al Qaeda.
( c ).An anti-US and an anti-NATO agenda, whose objectives coincided with those of Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Of the 25 foreigners killed, nine were either Israelis or Jewish persons, 12 were from countries which have contributed troops to the NATO force in Afghanistan and four were from other countries.
All these agendas coincide with the agenda of the global jihad as waged by the International Islamic Front (IIF) for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed by Al Qaeda in 1998. From 1998 till April 2006, Osama bin Laden projected the global jihad as directed against the Crusaders (Christians) and the Jewish people. In an audio message disseminated by him in April,2006, after the visit of the then US President George Bush to India, he expanded the objectives of the global jihad and projected it as directed against the Crusaders, the Jewish People and the Hindus. The Mumbai attack targeted these three proclaimed adversaries of the IIF, of which the LET is a member.
Since 2003, there have been indications that following a weakening of the command and control of Al Qaeda because of the US military operations in Afghanistan, the LET had started playing the role of a co-ordinator of the IIF on behalf of Al Qaeda. The Mumbai attack brought out the increased capabilities of the LET for the planning and execution of simultaneous commando-style attacks against multiple targets. The LET now poses a serious threat not only to India as it was doing in the past, but to other countries as well. It is a new and major threat to international peace and security which has to be fought by the united efforts of the international community.
Since the terrorist attack lasted 60 hours and the lives of the nationals of many countries were in danger, the intelligence agencies of India, Israel, the US and the UK ----and possibly of other countries too---- were monitoring through technical means the conversations of the terrorists holed up in the two hotels and in the Jewish centre with each other and with their controllers in Pakistan. Thus, a substantial volume of independent technical intelligence exists--- collected by the intelligence agencies of these countries independently of each other.
All this independent evidence clearly showed that the terrorist attack was mounted by the LET from the Pakistani territory with the help of 10 Pakistanis specially recruited and trained for this operation in training camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and then in Karachi. As other Pakistani Governments had done in the past, the present Government headed by President Asif Ali Zardari too has avoided extending mutual legal assistance to India as required by the conventions followed by the Interpol and by the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373 adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly after the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. It first even denied that the terrorist captured alive by the Mumbai Police is a Pakistani national. Under pressure from the US, it reluctantly admitted that he is a Pakistani national, but continued to question the credibility of the evidence collected by India. It made clear that there is no question of handing over any Pakistani national to India for trial .
The Mumbai attack and the role of Pakistan in it demonstrated the inability of the Indian State to retaliate against an act of mass casualty terrorism mounted from Pakistan through means other than a direct military strike, which may not be advisable against a neighbour except in extreme circumstances. States such as the US and Israel maintain a covert action capability for use against terrorists operating from the territory of another country when they consider direct military action as inadvisable or as not feasible. India has had no covert action capability since 1997 when the limited capability that it had was wound up as an unilateral gesture to Pakistan. This has proved to be an extremely unwise step.
Smart counter-terrorism has four components----- prevention through timely and precise intelligence, prevention through effective physical security, crisis or consequence management to limit the damage if prevention fails and a capability for deniable retaliation if the terrorists operate from the territory of another State. In Mumbai, intelligence was available, but considered inadequate by the police and the Navy/Coast Guard, physical security by the police and the security establishments of the targeted places was deficient, coastal surveillance by the police and the Coast Guard was weak, the consequence management by the National Security Guards (NSG) and others was criticized as tardy and lacking in co-ordination and deniable retaliatory capability was not available. In their testimonies before the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security, non-Governmental US security experts said that the success of the terrorists in Mumbai demonstrated the weak state of India’s preventive capability and the non-existence of a retaliatory capability. Unless immediate action is taken to remove the deficiencies, more terrorist attacks of a serious nature cannot be avoided.
P.Chidambaram, who took over as the new Home Minister after the Mumbai attack, has already initiated certain measures such as enhancing the powers of the police, setting up a National Investigation Agency (NIA) to investigate certain types of terrorism cases and the creation of regional hubs of the NSG in order to reduce delays in response as had allegedly occurred in Mumbai. These are the starting blocks of a revamped counter-terrorism strategy and apparatus, but much more needs to be done to keep in step with the evolution of counter-terrorism strategies and systems in other countries such as the US, the UK, Spain etc, which had suffered serious terrorist attacks since 2001.
Just as terrorists are constantly evolving in their thinking and ideology, in their educational background and skills, and in their modus operandi, so too the counter-terrorism strategy of the State actors has also been evolving to meet the threat posed by them.
Before 1967, counter-terrorism was seen largely as the responsibility of the Police and the civilian intelligence agencies. After the terrorist organisations took to aviation terrorism involving aircraft hijackings and blowing up aircraft in mid-air as one of their modus operandi, the need for special intervention forces trained by the army was felt. After a surge in acts of terrorism against Israeli nationals and interests in Israel and outside after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, counter-terrorism in Israel acquired an increasingly military dimension with the role of the police subordinated to that of the armed forces.
This trend towards the increasing militarization of counter-terrorism acquired a further momentum after vehicle-borne suicide bombers, suspected to be from the Hezbollah, blew themselves up outside the barracks of the US Marines and the French paratroopers then deployed as part of an international peace-keeping force in Beirut killing 241 US servicemen and 58 French Paratroopers on October 23,1983. It was after this incident that the US started talking of a strategy to combat terrorism instead of a strategy to wage a campaign against terrorism. Al Qaeda’s attack against the US naval ship USS Cole in Aden in October, 2000, and the subsequent discovery of the plans of Al Qaeda to indulge in acts of maritime terrorism in ports and in choke points such as the Strait of Gibraltar and the Malacca Strait to disrupt international trade and the flow of energy supplies and to damage the global economy gave a naval dimension to counter-terrorism.
Even long before 9/11, counter-terrorism had acquired a scientific and technological dimension due to the increasing use by terrorists of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), but this dimension was restricted to detecting the presence of IEDs and neutralizing them. This S&T dimension has since grown in importance due to the attempts of Al Qaeda to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material and its proclaimed readiness to use them, if necessary, to protect Islam. This dimension has further expanded due to apprehended threats to critical information infrastructure that could arise from terrorists or hackers helping terrorists, who are adept in the use of information technology for destructive purposes.
Before 1967, terrorism was largely a uni-dimensional threat to individual lives and property. It has since evolved into a multi-dimensional threat to the lives of large numbers of people, to the economy and to the critical information infrastructure. It is no longer viewed as a purely police responsibility. It is the responsibility of the police, the armed forces, the scientific and technological community and the experts in consequence management such as psychologists, fire brigade and medical personnel and experts in disaster relief and rehabilitation. How to ensure co-ordinated and well-synchronised action by the different elements of the counter-terrorism community and what kind of counter-terrorism architecture is required is the question constantly engaging the attention of national security managers of countries affected by terrorism.
Combating terrorism military-style evolved into a war against terrorism after the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US Homeland. This had three implications. Firstly, a no-forces barred approach in combating terrorism----- whether it be the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Police or the Special Forces; secondly, an enhanced leadership role for the armed forces in the war against terrorism; and thirdly, a new criminal justice system to deal with terrorists that not only provided for special laws and special courts, but also enabled the armed forces to deal with foreign terrorists operating against US nationals and interests as war criminals liable to be detained in special military camps such as the one in the Guantanamo Bay and to be tried by military tribunals and not by civil courts. President Barack Obama has been trying to reverse some of these practices and has initiated action to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre within a year and to transfer the responsibility for trial to normal courts from military tribunals.
Keeping pace with this evolution of a new strategy to combat terrorism, there has been a simultaneous evolution of the counter-terrorism architecture with the addition of many new elements to this architecture. The two most important elements in the US are the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Counter-Terrorism Centre. The DHS acts as the nodal point for co-ordinating all physical security measures against terrorism and all crisis management measures to deal with situations arising from successful acts of terrorism in US territory or on its borders as well as with natural disasters. While the Department of Defence created in 1947 is responsible for all policy-making and co-ordination relating to US military operations abroad, whether against a State or a non-State adversary, the DHS is responsible for all policy-making and inter-departmental co-ordination relating to internal security and natural disasters. A Homeland Security Council in the White House performs an advisory and policy-making role in respect of internal security and natural disasters.
The Homeland Security Council is structurally similar to the National Security Council, with a Secretariat of its own, which is headed by an official, who is designated as the Adviser to the President for Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism. Its meetings are chaired by the President and attended by various Cabinet members having responsibilities relating to internal security.
In August 2004, Bush established the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) to serve as the primary organization for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to terrorism and counter-terrorism (CT) and to conduct strategic operational planning by integrating all instruments of national power. In December 2004, the Congress incorporated the NCTC in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) and placed the NCTC under the supervision of the Director of National Intelligence, a newly-created post to co-ordinate and supervise the functioning of all intelligence agencies of the US.
In the UK, as in the past, the Police and the MI-5, the security service, continue to have a pre-eminent role in counter-terrorism of a classical nature such as acts involving the use of hand-held weapons and IEDs. The Armed forces and the S&T community play an enhanced role only in respect of likely terrorist strikes involving WMD material, aviation and maritime terrorism and terrorism through the Internet.
A long-term Counter-terrorism Strategy called CONTEST formulated in 2003 has four components ---- Prevention, Pursuit, Protection and Preparation. Prevention refers to the role of the political leadership in preventing British citizens and residents in the UK from joining terrorist organizations through appropriate measures for redressing grievances and for countering the ideology of the terrorists. Pursuit refers to the responsibility of the intelligence and security services and the police to collect preventive intelligence regarding planned terrorist operations and to disrupt the functioning of terrorist organizations through physical security measures and successful investigation and prosecution of terrorist incidents. Protection refers to the physical security measures required to prevent acts of terrorism based on threat or vulnerability perceptions. Preparation refers to the various agencies being in a state of readiness to meet the consequences of an act of terrorism. This is what we in India call crisis management.
Between 9/11 and July,2005, in the UK too, as in the US, the military dimension of counter-terrorism tended to acquire a greater importance than before due to the perception that the main threat to the UK would be from foreign-based Al Qaeda elements. This perception changed after the July,2005, terrorist strikes in London by four suicide bombers, who had grown up in the UK. The Intelligence and Security Committee, a Parliamentary oversight committee that reports to the Prime Minister on the performance of the intelligence agencies, which enquired into the failure to prevent the July, 2005, attacks, concluded that the police and the security agencies had failed to adjust sufficiently quickly to the growth of domestic terrorism. It said: “We remain concerned that across the whole of the counter-terrorism community the development of the home-grown threat and the radicalization of British citizens were not fully understood or applied to strategic thinking.”
The counter-terrorism strategy and architecture evolved in the UK emphasize the role of the Police working under the over-all supervision of the Home Secretary. A lesson drawn by the British from the July 2005 terrorist strikes in London is that no counter-terrorism strategy will be effective unless it is supported by the community from which the terrorists have arisen. The importance of police-Muslim community relations for preventing the radicalization of the youth and for de-radicalising those already radicalized and of police-business community relations in order to motivate and help the business community to protect itself from terrorist strikes on soft targets are now two of the important components of the British counter-terrorism strategy.
Among the new elements in the British counter-terrorism architecture, one could mention. the National Counter-Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) . The NaCTSO, which is funded and operated by the Association of Chief Police Officers, works on the 'protect and prepare' strand of the government's counter-terrorism strategy. Its aims have been defined as follows:
raise awareness of the terrorist threat, and spread the word about measures that can be taken to reduce risks and mitigate the effects of an attack;
co-ordinate security advice through the counter-terrorism security adviser (CTSA) network and monitor its effectiveness ;
build relationships between communities, police and government agencies ; and
contribute to the the national and international counter-terrorism policy
It trains, tasks and coordinates a nationwide network of centrally funded, specialist police advisers known as counter-terrorism security advisers (CTSAs). The primary role of these advisers is to provide help, advice and guidance on all aspects of counter-terrorism security to the public. It has developed and published guides on physical security against terrorism in sporting stadia and arenas, shopping centres and bars, pubs and clubs. It has undertaken the preparation of similar guides for other soft targets.
The Israeli Counter-Terrorism Strategy has three components------- defensive, operative and punitive. Defensive and operative refer to prevention through timely and precise intelligence and operations to disrupt planned terrorist strikes and punitive refers to retaliation by the State against terrorist organisations and their foreign State or non-State sponsors. No intimidation by terrorists, no succumbing to pressure by terrorists, making the terrorists and their sponsors pay heavily for their acts of terrorism, protection of the lives and property of Israeli citizens at any price and a refusal to be paralysed into inaction against terrorists due to fears of adverse reactions from the international community are the basic principles underlining the Israeli counter-terrorism strategy.
A Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 8,2006, laid down that any plan of action against terrorism should have the following four components:
Measures to address conditions which could be conducive to the spread of terrorism.
Measures to prevent and combat terrorism.
Measures to build counter-terrorism capacities and to promote international co-operation.
Measures to protect human rights and to enforce the rule of law.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Physical security against hinterland terrorism would be the joint responsibility of the State Police and the central security forces such as the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). In the border areas, it will be the joint responsibility of the Army, the para-military forces and the Police.
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.
While dealing with jihadi terrorism calls for the strengthening of urban policing, dealing with Maoist terrorism cannot be effective without strengthening the rural policing.
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.
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----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.
The evolution of our counter-terrorism strategy has been in fits and starts as and when we faced a new kind of terrorism or faced a crisis situation. Similarly, our counter-terrorism community too has grown up in a haphazard manner. Our approach to terrorism has been more tactical than strategic, more influenced by short-term thinking than long-term projections. The time has come 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.
In 2004, the Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh created two posts of National Security Advisers---- one for external security, which was held by the late J.N.Dixit, and the other for internal security, which was held by Shri M.K.Narayanan. After the death of Dixit in January 2005, the Government reverted to the previous practice of having a single NSA to deal with internal and external security. This post is now held by Shri Narayanan. A reversion to the 2004 practice of having an NSA exclusively for internal security is necessary for improving our counter-terrorism management.
Another important step should be the reorganisation of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India. 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, our 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.
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. How to improve the quantity and the quality of the intelligence flow? How to ensure better co-ordination at the Centre and with the States? Important questions such as these were addressed by the Special Task Force for Revamping the Intelligence Apparatus headed by Shri G.C.Saxena, former head of the R&AW, appointed by the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government in 2000.
The implementation of its recommendations has not had the desired impact on the ground situation. Why? What further measures are needed? These issues have to be urgently addressed by a dedicated task force on terrorism-related intelligence capabilities.
Preventive physical security is the responsibility of central police forces and the police of different States. While the capability at the centre has improved, it has improved in certain States and declined in certain others. A strong physical security capability can thwart a terrorist strike even in the absence of intelligence. A weak capability may not be able to prevent it even if intelligence is available. Identification of weaknesses in our physical security set-up and action to remove them must receive priority.
Successful investigation and prosecution deter future terrorist strikes. Poor investigation and prosecution encourage terrorism. India has a poor record in successful prosecutions. Effective co-ordination of the police in all the States, the creation of a national data base to which the police of different States can have direct access and the quick sharing of the results of the enquiries and investigations through this data base could improve our record in investigation and prosecution.
How to prevent attacks on soft targets? This has been a dilemma for all States. Israel, which sees many attacks on soft targets by Palestinian suicide bombers, follows a policy of reprisal attacks by the State on the leaders of the suspected organisations after every attack on a soft target, in order to demonstrate to the
terrorists that their attacks on soft targets will not be cost free. It is able to do it because the targets chosen by the State agencies for reprisal attacks are located in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. It does not indulge in reprisal attacks in its own territory. Despite such reprisal attacks by the State agencies, Israel has not been able to stop attacks on soft targets. There is no short-term solution to attacks on soft targets except improvement in the capability of our intelligence agencies to collect timely preventive intelligence. Gradual attrition of organisations indulging in such attacks through arrests and neutralisation of their leaders could be a medium and long-term solution. That too would require precise intelligence, which is not always available.
Suicide terrorism is a lethal strategic weapon, to which no State has been able to find an effective response. While suicide terrorism against hard, heavily protected targets can be prevented through strict access control, suicide terrorism against soft targets is difficult to prevent unless the suicide terrorist is accidentally detected or the explosive device fails to function.
About 80 per cent of the acts of suicide terrorism are carried out with explosives. Strict explosives control in order to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists can make the problem of suicide terrorism more manageable, but the increasing use of commonly available materials such as nitrogenous fertilisers, cosmetics used by women etc by the terrorists for fabricating explosives has added to the difficulties of the counter-terrorism agencies in preventing explosive substances from falling into the hands of terrorists. Yet, how to tighten up controls over the purchase, sale and acquisition of explosives and substances capable of being converted into explosives is a question, which needs serious attention. While considerable attention has been paid to devising measures to prevent the proliferation of small arms and ammunition, similar attention has not been paid to explosive substances.
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-endowed they might be, in penetrating terrorist organisations to find out details of their thinking and planning. This realisation has underlined 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.
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..
India’s record in dealing with terrorism and insurgency is not as negative as it is often projected to be. We have had a successful record in Punjab, Nagaland (partial), Mizoram, Tripura and in Tamil Nadu in dealing with terrorism of Al Umma. Even in Jammu & Kashmir, the ground situation is showing signs of definite improvement.
However, there are two kinds of terrorism/insurgency where our record has been poor till now---- the jihadi kind, which is essentially an urban phenomenon outside J&K, and the Maoist (Naxalite) kind, which is essentially a rural phenomenon. 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. 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 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.
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. 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.
Any cure to the problem of jihadi and Maoist terrorism has to start at the political level. A political leader has to play a dual role. He has to help the professionals in taking firm action against the terrorists---whatever be their community and ideology.He has to give them whatever tools they need. At the same time, he has to identify the circumstances and perceptions which drive young Muslims to take to jihadi terrorism and young tribals to take to Maoist terrorism. Anger is one of the common root causes of all terrorism. Unless this anger is addressed, professional handling of the threat alone, however effective, cannot bring about an enduring end to this threat.
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.
Similarly, it is the absence of meaningful land reforms and perceptions of suppression of the tribals by the non-tribals and the administration, which is an important cause of the tribal anger in Central India. It is the responsibility of the political class and the society as a whole to address this. They do not do so and keep nursing an illusion that more and more money, men and equipment for the agencies and the police will end this problem. It won't.
The way we kick around the problem of terrorism like a football blaming everybody else except ourselves can be seen in the TV debates and media columns. The same arguments are repeated without worrying over their validity.
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.
Once we allow terrorism and insurgencies of different kinds to make their appearance in our society it takes a long time to deal with them. We took 19 years to deal with the Naga insurgency, another 19 years to deal with the Mizo insurgency, 14 years to deal with Khalistani terrorism and about 10 years to deal with Al Umma. The French took 19 years to deal with the terrorism of Carlos and his group. Even after 41 years of vigorous implementation of a no-holds-barred counter-terrorism strategy, Israel is still grappling with the terrorism of the Palestinians and the Hezbollah. The British took over 20 years to bring the Irish Republican Army under control.
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.
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. (6826 words) 3-2-09
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India. He headed the Counter-Terrorism Division of the Research & Analysis Wing from 1988 to August 31,1994. He was a member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India from July,2000, to December,2002. He was also a member of the Special Task force for revamping the intelligence apparatus set up by the Government of India in 2000 )