Battling insurgencies and terrorism requires a combination of traditional expertise and ultra-modern technology, and India has been facing threats to its Homeland Security for decades now. But even then, much valuable time has been lost as officials in India have been fixated on what the terrorists and militants do, rather than on what they stand for. In a multi-cultural society like India, there has been a great reluctance to challenge the narratives that terrorists create and feed off. While elaborate conspiracy theories do the rounds, India’s leaders are yet to decide on a consensual approach on dealing with such threats. All that they do is to dismiss the wickedness of the individuals rather than challenge the legitimacy of their ideas, despite the fact that, since the mid 1980s, Indians have witnessed terrorism in one form or another. Some would argue that this phenomenon was first experienced in India’s north eastern states, while others say that it was in Punjab that the horror of terror was first experienced, before Kashmir experienced an insurgency.
And then cross border terrorism, emanating from Pakistan followed. Unlike some western countries, India’s government has however been keen to view insurgents and terrorists as different entities and perhaps rightly so. The differences are that: insurgents operate in a localised environment and do not target civilian populations and infrastructure. They prefer to hit at governmental agencies, whereas terrorists target whoever they can, to make news, and across territories. Moreover insurgents survive on local public support – and often claim to fight for their causes – and their wars are often long drawn out campaigns, whereas terrorists look for short, sharp and dramatic attacks on anything and anywhere. Insurgents however do not offer sheer dialectic appeal, but a combination of philosophy and fear is what they often use, whereas for terrorists, power comes from the barrel of their gun. And thus governments can be seen to be negotiating with insurgents but not with terrorists. But India has often been found wanting on this last count, and the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping and the IC- 814 hijacking are cases in point.
In both these cases, clearly Pakistan and its proxies had a key role to play. In fact, since 1990, India’s biggest battles against terrorism have thus been against the cross border initiatives that have come from that a nuclear armed Pakistan that has, decided to ‘bleed India by a thousand cuts’ by unleashing a proxy war in Kashmir and then across India. The Indian response that followed, transformed the insurgency in Kashmir, into a battle against terrorism. But off late, the scale of terrorist attacks in major cities of India -specially after the attacks on Mumbai means that soft targets – foreigners, corporate houses, celebrities and the common man – are at potential risk anywhere now. The bulk of these attacks on Indian soil have originated from Pakistan, and the 26/11 attack on Mumbai was the most glaring example of Pakistan’s use of terror as a foreign policy tool.
Though the Indian army was first thrown into its counter-insurgency mode in 1954 in Nagaland and it was thereafter employed against several other insurgent groups in India’s North East – which remains bogged down in low key insurgencies- the principle of ‘minimum force’ was applied in almost all cases. India for instance, has refused to employ offensive air power in any operation within its homeland. But the real threat to the ‘idea of India’ came from Pakistan, first in the form of a proxy war initiated across the LoC in Kashmir in the 1990’s , and then with attacks by suicidal terrorists who were recruited, armed and trained on Pakistani soil. The more notable and brazen ones were the attacks on India’s parliament, on temples and sufi shrines (all aimed at creating communal strife) and the dramatic attack on Mumbai.
This has tied down India’s security forces as never before: with insurgencies on the rise, including the Maoist threat across central India, to even the fear of homegrown Indian radicals – which analysts feel are part of the Pakistan ISI’s ‘Karachi project’, that was set up around 2002 to recruit sleeper cells from marginalised and hard-line Muslim groups in India – to send out a message that perhaps “nowhere was safe in India anymore”. For this, Pakistan began recruiting, funding and training groups like the India Mujahedeen with the aim of identifying and mapping targets that represent India’s multicultural and secular ethos (like Pune, Ajmer and Varanasi), or are icons of India’s growth story (like Bengaluru and Hyderabad.) In short, places that represent the idea of India, which the socalled Jehadis resent, as it contradicts their hard line Salafist Islamic world view. And the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai was their most spectacular achievement. But this will not be their last.
Therefore the immediate challenge for the government of India is to prepare for a long drawn out battle against threats to India’s homeland security: by updating its police forces and intelligence agencies. While the police needs to transform itself quite radically, to battle not just urban terror threats but also the Naxal-Maoist menace, which by some accounts is now – in differing shades- visible across 200 or more Indian districts, or one third of India. For that, 20 Counter -Insurgency schools are being set up across India’s Naxal hit states. But huge vacancies in police and para-military forces remain. Post 26/11, there were over 5,30,000 vacancies in India’s state police forces, but only a third or less have been recruited. In addition, despite the Multi-Agency Centre’s efforts to bring in all the intelligence agencies under one umbrella, there are internal turf battles, that continue to work to the advantage of India’s enemies.
But with the NATGRID though, the Government hopes to connect India’s 16,000 police stations soon. A lot more however needs to done. Externally, the turmoil within Pakistan, and the possibility of its nuclear plants and a few bombs falling into the hands of the very hard line Jehadi groups their military hawks have created, is now a global nightmare. Thus the recent statements by the Al-Qaeda, that indicate its desperation to acquire nuclear know how, to make an even greater impact than the 9/11 attacks are worrying indeed. For that even a small RDD (or a dirty bomb) will do. A RDD or a “Rudimentary Radiological Diffusion device” (RDD) can create an explosion with a spreading radiation plume has as great a potential for triggering mass panic and speedy reduction of the law and order system, more so in a close-packed metropolis like Mumbai laid out narrowly in a northsouth grid along the spine of an elongated island city core.
And considering that terrorists are being hounded everywhere even as, paradoxically, terrorism is growing in South Asia and the adjoining regions, it may be only a matter of time before desperation could drive the extremists to acquire a RDD. And if Islamabad ( more so, its army’s GHQ in Rawalpindi ) is unable to stem the surging tide of Islamic fundamentalists who continue to eye Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, then what happens next could be anyone’s guess. Clearly there isn’t much to be optimistic about! But the most important lesson from India’s experiences is that you cannot defeat terrorism or local insurgencies by sheer military power.
These are politico-military conflicts and thus need a political solution. We thus need to at least address the threats within – such as the Maoist menace – and politicians must set aside their vested interests to find a solution. Military might can, at best, contain the militant until a suitable solution is arrived at. The mistake that Governments often make is to assume that the absence of conflict is a sign of peace. But in fact, the militants are only using the lull to regroup and the respond at a place of their choice. They’ll strike where you least expect them to.
—Maroof Raza is the author of books on India’s Low Intensity Conflicts; The Kashmir Issue and Terrorism and India. To know more about the author visit: www. maroofraza.com