While formulating a response to terrorism, it is necessary to understand the reasons why a section of the populace has become so aggrieved as to pick up arms against the state. As a generalisation, we can look into the following four factors.

  • Ideological. Here, the motivation is drawn from a belief that the existing system of governance has failed the people and the only solution is to overthrow the government and change the form of governance. An apt example is the growth of Left Wing Extremism in India, Nepal and other countries.
  • Ethno-political. The motivation here is based on identity politics, as witnessed in parts of Northeast India and in Sri Lanka.
  • Politico-religious. The prime motivation here is religion. Examples abound across the world, but the most obvious are the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Chechnya in Russia and some parts of Pakistan.
  • Cross-border terrorism promoted by regimes as ‘war by other means’ on their neighbors. The obvious example here is Pakistan sponsored terrorism in J&K. Within these four broad parameters,there will be a great deal of overlapping with  respect  to  the  motivation  for terrorism and insurgencies, and any of the above factors can have varying shades of the others embodied within its structure. In terms of Kautilyan statecraft, terrorism and insurgencies referred to above could have three variants.  The  first  is  externally sponsored and supported, in furtherance to the designs of a hostile power. Next is where internal factor shave led to the onset of terrorism and insurgency, which thereafter has received external support. The third is when the causes are internal but the insurgency  or  terrorism  does  not receive external support. A response strategy to terrorism which  is  externally  sponsored  and supported must of necessity deal with the external actor. It is different to those insurgencies that have internal causes and may or may not be supported by external actors. The former is part of an adversary’s attempt to use terrorism as a part of state policy. An example is the use of terrorism by Pakistan, in creating instability in J&K and also in other parts of  the  country.  This  has  been  a deliberate attempt and a well thought out strategy, enunciated in Pakistani policy  as  “Bleeding  India  with  a thousand cuts”. This, in essence, has become Pakistan’s de facto war doctrine against India. For  long, India’s  response to Pakistani military’s strategy to inflict Pakistani military’s strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts was reactive.The  measures  taken  were  creating fences  and  walls  around  sensitive establishments to prevent such attacks.While many attacks were prevented,some did get through, which led some scribes to describe Indian reactions as‘survival  by  a  thousand  bandages’.India undertook no punitive action when  its  parliament  was  attacked,when  the  Akshardham  attack  took place or even after the 2008 bloody Mumbai attacks. There appears to be a change instance in Indian response patterns post the 2014 elections, when the BJP led NDA government came to power. The surgical strikes of 28 September 2016 following the killing of 19 soldiers in an attack  on  an  army  base  on  18 September  was  perhaps  the  most visible signal of a likely end to the era of Indian  inaction  and  putting  the Pakistani military establishment on notice. While the surgical strike has done little to change the fundamentals of  India’s  strategic  dynamic  with Pakistan, their political, psychological,diplomatic and strategic benefits have been greater than the tactical military gains. Pakistan stands virtually isolated in the region, and is largely being recognised by the world community as a sponsor of terrorism. Indian policy responses  would however require greater deterrence to alter the Pakistani military’s conduct or deter its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from staging more cross-border terrorist strikes. It is important for India to stay the course,and squeeze Pakistan in a calibrated but ever-increasing manner to force it to sever its ties with terrorist groups. Without imposing direct costs on the Pakistani military and, by extension, on the Pakistani state, India cannot hope to deter Pakistan’s war by terror. Indian response needs to encompass multiple instruments, to include both military and non military measures. To deter cross-border terrorist attacks, India needs to pursue a doctrine of graduated escalation, applying multi-pronged pressure on the adversary’s vulnerable points through economic, diplomatic, riparian and political instruments and its special forces. Consistent with this doctrine, India should impose costs in a calibrated and gradually escalating manner. Realising this objective calls not for overt belligerence or brinkmanship but for a silent war, employing multiple tools of leverage and coercion, for however long it takes to bring the Pakistani military to heel. That has to be the first prong in handling terrorism which is inspired, sponsored and fully supported by a hostile state. It must be noted that this species of terrorism is of another kind and ipso facto and ab initio, may not relate to governance. It however, impacts governance, as the very raison d’être of such terrorism is to cause paralysis of the government, by shifting the entire attention, energy and time of the government towards fighting terrorism. We need to distinguish and separate foreign sponsored terrorism from home grown militancies and insurgencies, which have now blossomed into terrorism. While governance is an important and vital component in conflict resolution of the latter, in the case of foreign sponsored terrorism, the argument of governance becomes somewhat irrelevant. It remains important, but it is not the answer to the resolution of the imported species of terrorism.

Formulating a response to insurgencies and terrorism where the causes are internal, must of necessity start with the identification of those causes and then proceed to policy interventions for conflict resolution. It is important to understand that India is a diverse country and different regions where violence exists would perforce require local solutions. The United Nations has based its counter-terrorism strategy on four pillars, which find universal applicability. These four pillars are:

  • Addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.
  • Preventing and combatting terrorism.
  • Building capacity.
  • Ensuring human rights and the rule of law.

The Role of Governance

Governance plays a critical role as a preventive strategy. It is a composite term encompassing within its ambit a vast array of institutions — the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the media, human rights organisations, civil societies, etc. If all these function as they ought to, then we are talking of good governance. Shortcomings in any of these institutions have an impact on governance. When these institutions are seen to be ineffective, a sense of frustration, disillusionment and disappointment with the established order sets in, which over time, creates an ideal climate where terrorism and insurgencies can flourish. Poor governance is thus the ‘push’ factor. The relief offered by terrorist organisations thereafter pulls people towards that cause. A caveat here is in order. The government cannot be mistaken for governance. The Government is basically an executive, but all these organisations and institutions put together, give what we call governance.

The government frames the laws, which by and large are well intended, but serious lacunae exist in their implementation, which is the hands of the bureaucracy and other institutions. Justice delivery still remains a far cry for the common man. Denial of justice is a prime motivator which impels people to take the law into their own hands. The growth and spread of Left Wing Extremism in India can to some extent be attributed to the fact that justice to a large group of people was denied. Despite the fact that the Constitution, through Article 244 and the Fifth Schedule provided specific safeguards for the tribal people in India’s heartland, such provisions were not adhered to. The Maoists seek tribal support on the basis of providing them justice which the state has apparently failed to give. This is one of the reasons why the movement still exists, over 50 years after the first violent movement took place in 1967. What is required in governance structures is accountability, periodic audit of performance and transparency. While there is a thrust on moving towards more open and transparent systems, there is still a great deal of institutional resistance to reform. Left Wing Extremism can only be defeated by countering its ideology. That counter ideology must of course be the idea of Indian democracy. For that we have to make democracy work, which implies effective institutions of governance.


Good governance by itself may not be an adequate safeguard against terrorism and violent extremism. North Korea, Zimbabwe and Haiti are three countries which have poor governance, yet are free from acts of terrorism. Contrarily, if you look at France, Australia and Canada you see three countries which despite having good governance are indeed suffering from terrorism. This leads us to the phenomenon of radicalisation as manifested in Islamism.

Factors such as anger at injustice, moral superiority, a sense of identity and purpose, the promise of adventure and becoming a hero have all been implicated in case studies of radicalisation. Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an “us versus them” mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent “the enemy.” but they are not the drivers of radicalisation. India, as indeed the world, is confronted today by Islamism, by which is meant a certain kind of understanding of Islam, namely, the application of Islamic law in its severity and in its entirety. To many in the Muslim world, there is this belief that they would be strong, if Muslims return to full application of the Sharia. Trend lines here are the growth of ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and closer home, the radicalisation of a section of Muslims in Kashmir.

When we view Islamism, we are looking at an attraction to an idea — a very powerful idea. Just as communism was a radical utopian ideology that held great attraction for many people, particularly the educated, as did fascism, now it is the turn of Islamism. There is this great attraction to an idea that seeks to strengthen the Ummah by going back and applying Islamic law. Within this construct, jihadi violence is not about governance; it is not about personal status — being rich or poor, employed or unemployed, educated or not. It is about attraction to this idea, and results from this deep sense that the Muslim community, the Ummah, has not done well in the modern era.

Strategy Formulation

Strategy formulation would encompass dealing with causes, preferably before they lead to violence on the streets. It would look into preventive measures, detection, repression and finally disengagement. Here, besides effective institutions, we need an effective civil society and a free and unbiased media. These institutions are created over time and must be allowed free play in society. On the part of the government, greater thrust needs to be given to education, more specifically, the type of content which is taught in schools and colleges. The issue of corruption in public life needs to be addressed as a core priority to restore faith in the system. Alongside, we need to inject some element of accountability and responsibility into all the institutions of governance and into civil society. This must encompass non-government organisations (NGOs), human rights organisations, the media and the public as well. This will address the first pillar— the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.

The second pillar, detecting and combatting terrorism would involve a whole of government approach. Here, we are looking at appropriate legislation to provide a legal framework for tackling terrorism, sound intelligence system to detect an act before it takes place and well equipped and trained security forces to deal with an attack in an appropriate time frame.

Considering the universal nature of terrorism today, concern is oft expressed that it is difficult to combat terrorism, in the absence of a definition as to what constitutes terrorism. However, while we do not have a universally accepted definition of terrorism, we do have universal acceptance of what constitutes a terrorist act and which is now part of the UN Convention. This is defined as:

“Any act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking part in the hostilities, in a situation of armed conflicts, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organisation, to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

That is the legal basis on which the UN has been operating since 1999 when it was opened for signature; the Convention finally becoming operative in 2002. So we do have this Convention as a legal basis. In India, the legal basis for preventing terror attacks came into force in 2002 with the promulgation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). This Act was repealed in September 2004 when the UPA government came into power, ostensibly on the grounds of misuse. The earlier Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) was amended to give a legal base to prosecute terror cases. There is a view that the repeal of POTA has debilitated India’s anti terrorism effort, especially as the onus to prove guilt now rests on the police and not on the accused to prove his or her innocence. There would be a requirement for a stricter law, but it is unlikely to come about in the present political climate. Other countries across the globe have appropriate legislation in place. Singapore has its Internal Security Act, which allows the Home Minister to order detention without trial. It is an exception to the rule of law, but there is broad public support for it as it allows the country to take a zero-tolerance approach.

India’s intelligence agencies are well geared for the task at hand, and now with the formation of the National Investigative Agency, we have a dedicated investigative agency as well. The fact that terrorist related incidents have registered a steep fall in the country testifies to the effectiveness of the agencies. In terms of kinetic effort, adequate security forces exist to counter the threat.

In terms of public response to terrorism, much still needs to be done. As an example, Singapore has got what is called a community response to terrorism called SG Secure. This is a national movement which aims to sensitise, train, and mobilise the community to prevent and deal with a terror attack. Basically, they are looking at teaching people how to protect themselves, to assist those who need help and also notify the authorities. For this purpose, they have developed an app, which captures at one place, everything that a person needs to know and all the agencies that need to be contacted. All this can be done with a single tap. The government is now working with and encouraging the telecom agencies to install this app in every mobile phone that is bought in Singapore. Essentially, what is aimed at is to sensitise the community to the threat, know how to react to it and also ensure that no community or group stands vilified or ostracised as a result of an attack. We need similar measures, at least in all our major cities.

The third pillar involves building capacity. One aspect of such capacity is the creation of legal instruments, intelligence agencies and security forces as mentioned above. The second is creating cooperative mechanisms at the bilateral and international level. At the international level, the UN has a basket of 19 international instruments in all, that considered collectively, are considered by some as a comprehensive approach to countering terrorism. They include conventions such as the Convention on Terrorist Bombings, International Convention for the Financing of Terrorism and the Convention on Nuclear Terrorism. Since 2006, the UN has had a global counter-terrorism strategy, adopted by the General Assembly, which is currently under review. Pursuant to that strategy, it also has a counter-terrorism implementation task force which brings together around 39 different agencies that have many and varied roles in tackling terrorism. In addition, certain measures adopted by the Security Council, many of which have been adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which makes them legally binding on all the member-states. They include the 1267 Regime that was first adopted in 1999 by which the Security Council imposes sanctions on individuals and entities linked to al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS). It also includes the 1373 Regime which is a business and counter-terrorism committee and which expects member-states to impose national sanctions against individuals and entities linked to terrorism including, but not confined to, al-Qaeda and Daesh. All this goes to show that a very solid legal base for action exists.

As part of capacity building, we also need to look into response mechanisms to radicalisation. As a definition, we could state that radicalisation is violent extremism — anything that connects extreme ideology with a possible turn to violence. If it’s not possible to turn to violence, then we’re not in a radicalisation process. Also, radicalisation is not Islamic by essence. Second, we need to develop detection mechanisms, to determine when people are getting radicalised. Third, we need training of social workers and public agents, in counter radicalisation techniques. Fourth is the need of a counter narrative to prevent the radicalisation of minds. This includes counter-narrative from the state as well as counter-narrative from civil society. Counter-narrative from the state, of course, is the key. The fifth aspect is the actual monitoring of the radicalised youth, to be followed thereafter by disengagement which is a very difficult process.

These are the capacities which need to be built and which need to be in place as an effective response strategy to terrorism.

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