India’s internal security is in constant flux where gruesome terror related deaths have become a way of life. The country faces challenges from home grown radicals, Pakistan-backed terrorists, and from international terrorist organisations. Apart from these three challenges, ‘lone wolf’ terrorist is a ‘new and less debated challenge’ that requires fresh deliberation. Peculiarly, all the above challenges are combined and treated as one by India’s security forces’, which remain focused in responding to Pakistan sponsored terrorism. Despite the focus on Pakistan, India’s counter terror endeavours have not been able to ensure foolproof security, and terrorists continue to sneak in on a regular basis to shatter peace. The larger question is whether our cities, schools and public places are safe or vulnerable to terror strike in future.
India’s National Security Advisor, Mr. Ajit Doval has advocated an intriguing ‘offensive defence’ policy to deal with Pakistan, which could involve adopting quid pro quo measures, drying Pakistan’s money-spinning sources, checkmating its diplomatic manoeuvres, firm response to ceasefire violations on the Line of Control and also in using India’s Deobandi proponents against Pakistan. The NSA opined that such a strategy could render Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence ineffective and neutralise the proxy war being waged by Pakistan. The efficacy of this strategy has to be tested. Meanwhile, considering the Indo-Pak rift, India is on the very verge of being sucked into another round of geopolitical fight.
Despite Pakistan’s post-Peshawar crackdown on militant groups, it has not acted against India-centric terror infrastructures; terror modules with Pakistani footprint are regularly busted in India, and as stated by India’s Army Chief Gen. D. S. Suhag, Pakistan army continues to infiltrate terrorists into Indian soil. Presently, Pakistan based India-centric terror organisations are at a cross-road and under tremendous pressure to prove their worth without which Pakistan army will not feed them for long. One way of proving their significance in Pakistan’s strategic thinking is to bleed India on a spectacular scale and try to halt India’s economic march.
Contrastingly, India has developed immunity from isolated, small-sporadic attacks that cause fewer casualties. Such casual dealing has actually been exposing vital targets to terrorist strike. While north-western India is facing Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, northeastern and south-eastern as well as middle-India is under the grip of home grown radicals including naxals. International terrorist organisations are lurking at the doorstep to consolidate their hold in India.
On 28 December 2014, Bangalore became the sixth city after Pune, Patna, Chennai, Roorkee and Burdwan, to be targeted by terrorists with IED blasts within a span of two years. Except Burdwan where IEDs went off accidentally, all these attacks shared a similar pattern – bombs planted at populous place, blast occurred flawlessly, bombing caused desired material and psychological damage, and the case remained unsolved.
Our agencies are still to offer a convincing explanation about all these attacks along with answers to questions like why they ever happen and if all these attacks are inter-connected. Since November 2008, India’s internal security assessment is hostage to Mumbai terror attack. Appraisal of subsequent terror attacks revolves around the comparative damage of the new attack with that of Mumbai terror attack. Anything less than Mumbai-like attack is admitted as part and parcel of managing a populous, diverse and vast democracy like India. What is far more alarming is, despite the presence of numerous provincial and federal security agencies, there is a lack of national assessment of terror attacks and policing is mostly fire-fight of particular attack.
Unlike the west, where terrorist attacks lead to stringent scrutiny of their law enforcement, legislation, policing, and prevention of such attack in future, India’s approach towards terror attack is no difference from its traditional way of dealing with a daily crime. For example, an attack of 26/11 scale never moved either the provincial or the federal government to provide a well oiled report about the attack to the people. Our politicians, police, prosecution, judiciary and bureaucracy continue with the movement of inertia.
India’s complacency and lack of comprehensive scrutiny of past terror hits, often encourage half-hearted terrorists to try their hand and wreak havoc. Since law and order, is a state subject, it is expected that the provincial police must secure our cities, schools and public spaces. But police functioning remains archaic and the state police are neither capable nor trained to protect citizens from terror attacks. At all places starting from Chennai to Srinagar, after every blast/attacks, state government normally summons central security forces ‘to take on the terrorists as well as to investigate the incident’. This practice has been rendering the state police apparatus as a silent bystander making the citizen’s first line of defence defunct.
The attacks on Pune, Bangalore, Varanasi, Mumbai and Delhi from 2010 to 2012 were testimony to the fact that security apparatus of India is still vulnerable. Delhi had a close shave on May 2011 when a car bomb planted outside the Delhi High Court mercifully caused no loss of life, apparently because the electronic circuits in the explosive device malfunctioned in the extreme heat. No lessons were learned and within four months, on 7 September 2011 the terrorist returned with better preparation, with the added support of pleasant weather and carried out a blast in the same vicinity. The failure of India to prevent such attacks are all the more unsettling as conditions in Pakistan deteriorate by the day, making the risks of another Mumbai-style attack impossible to ignore.
Boston Marathon bomber of April 2013, Sydney hostage taker of December 2014, and the Paris shooters of January 2015 were ‘lone wolf’ terrorist, not directly affiliated with terrorist organisations but inflamed by the west’s policy and encouraged by terrorist groups. While Indian analysts are still to deliberate on this topic with its entire complex security environment, India is not immune from ‘lone wolf’ strike.
There are three facets of an attack. A) Pre-attack/Planning Phase – Prevention is possible during this phase. Sound intelligence could prevent organised attacks, though not ‘lone wolf’ attacks. Tracking the movement of weapons and explosives could also be a useful as a prevention tool.
B) Attack Phase – A calibrated swift face-to-face engagement is panacea to reduce damage. For this, local police force must be trained. In the age of real time information dissemination – citizens must be engaged to stop escaping terrorists and help detect those involved in such operations.
C) Post-attack Phase – The post-attack phase is normally wasted in sympathetic outpouring of opinion pieces in print media, public demonstration against terrorism and sporadic overreaction of our security forces. What is required is fast tracking of judicial procedures to bring the perpetrators to book. It would be important to net the big fish behind such attacks, as a deterrent to the rest.
Dr. Saroj Kumar Rath is Assistant Professor at University of Delhi and author of ‘Fragile Frontiers: The Secret History of Mumbai Terror Attacks’. He is a member of NATO-Academia dialogue on terrorism.