March 17, 2016

Combating Terrorism: Random Thoughts for a National Policy….

Central to our national policy to combating terrorism is the need to define the threat and understanding the enemy. “Terrorism” as a generic concept is too vague and fluid to design a strategy against.  

 Moreover, terrorism, though often perceived as a threat, is perhaps better characterized as a tactic or a process.

An important point is that the strategic threat faced by India, is from an enemy consisting of multiple groups with a variety of specific ideologies and with just one stated objective, which is the downfall of democratic institutions of our Nation. The enemy should not be bracketed as al- Qaeda or Taliban, since terrorism is rapidly expanding to include all forms of radical ideology that is inspired in part by Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda philosophy and partly by instant gains through violence. India’s strategy must be focused on dismantling known terrorist networks inside the nation and, as a long term strategy, must prevail over all ideologies (radical Islamic, Maoist, Naxal) that contribute to terrorism.

 Terror affects innocent people, spreads fear and is the cause of some of the gravest violations of human rights and international law. Terror must never be tolerated and can never be justified. It must be prevented and combated, at both the national and the international level. Terror can therefore be defeated by applying a broad range of measures: by improving education, fostering inter-religious and sectarian understanding, by promoting economic development, by establishing police reforms that lead to efficient policing and judicial reforms for faster justice. And as a last resort, by use of force.  

The fight against terrorism is ultimately a struggle over values.

Our efforts to combat terrorism will only succeed if they are in full accordance with the principles of the rule of law and universal human rights. A strategic, comprehensive and broad national approach, based on international cooperation with partner nations, and with a firm emphasis on the fundamental values that we wish to defend, are the basic requirements for our National Policy to combat terrorism.

A comprehensive national anti-terror policy must address many issues. This will include appropriate roles for military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomacy, economic development, education, promotion of social and political equality, and national institution building; within the context of policies promoting national security.

Tactically, in the short term, how does India employ the wide portfolio of tools available to policymakers to reduce clear and immediate threats?

Strategically, in the long term, how does India inspire the population towards nationalism and reduce the influence of radicalization? In addition, a strategy ideally attracts international allies. How does India maximize international cooperation and national effectiveness?

In the period following the terrorist attacks on USA on 11 September 2001, international terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have emerged as the principle threats to International security. Terrorists have since then destroyed innocent civilian lives across the globe. Terrorism is a global threat and must be combated globally. This threat is omnipresent in India where our citizens have been victims to terror attacks since 02 August 1984 (Meenambakkam bomb blast that killed 30) till the latest attack on 01 May 2014 (Chennai train bombing).

With 55 major terrorist attacks in last 30 years, India is a front-line nation in the war against terrorism.  

205 of the country’s 640 Districts continued to be afflicted by varying intensities of chronic subversive, insurgent and terrorist activity in 2013, including 120 Districts where the Maoists remained active; 20 Districts in J&K afflicted by Pakistan-backed Islamist separatist terrorism; and 65 Districts in six Northeastern States where numerous ethnicity based terrorist and insurgent formations operate.

The ‘National Policy to combat terrorism’ attempts to address these issues:

The intent of this policy is to stop terrorist attacks against India, its citizens, its interests, its friends and allies around the world, as well as to create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and their supporters. The strategy emphasizes that all instruments of national power; diplomatic, economic, law enforcement, financial, information dissemination, intelligence, and military; are to be called upon in combating international terrorism. The policy should fit into the wider strategic concept of “defense-in-depth,” against terrorist attacks against India. This national policy should complement other elements of our national strategy including sub-strategies against weapons of mass destruction, cyber attacks, infrastructure protection, and narcotics control. The policy must focus on identifying and eliminating threats before they reach the borders of India. A strong preemptive component must be included in this policy, along-with a strong focus on reducing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and a defense-in-depth framework to secure our Nation.

This threat looms over all countries and societies, and as part of the global community India has an international obligation to fight terrorism in line with the decisions of the United Nations (UN) as per the 2005 UN World Summit Outcome Document, in which member states condemned all terrorism and declared it as the most serious threat to world peace and international security.

 India’s security policy must contain concentric perimeters of security or ‘security rings’. The outermost will consist of intelligence organizations and diplomats operating overseas. Their primary objective should be to gather information that will pre-empt attacks on Indian soil. The next inner perimeter should be a mix of Customs, Immigration, Coast Guard and Border guards whose focus will be on the borders of India and the goods and persons crossing through.

The next inner perimeter should be central and state police, Home Guard, and allied services that function within the borders of our Nation and are responsible for protecting our towns and cities. Private Citizens can be inducted into this ring as informants and as civil guards. The innermost ring should be a Public- Private Partnership between the private sector and government departments to play a joint role in the protection of critical infrastructures such as transport (land-sea-air), financial, communications (mobile, broadband, TV, radio) and Power (electricity generation).

The goal of this policy is to reach that state of National protection, where the scope and capabilities of terrorism are reduced to a non-entity. Once terrorists are isolated and localized, unorganized and without powerful sponsors, they can be dealt with exclusively by the regular police. Aspects of this policy will the emphasis on educational facilities and school system, local and regional development in industrial and farm sectors that directly benefit the local population, business friendly government policies and poverty alleviation programs.  While there is no direct connection between poverty and terrorism; all the above programs working in close cooperation with each other will reduce the conditions that terrorist organizations exploit to attract and radicalize recruits.

The 4D elements of anti-terrorism policy: Defeat, Deny, Diminish and Defend.

  1. Defeat terrorist by attacking their bases and safe havens.
  2. Deny terrorists access to finances and state sponsors.
  3. Diminish the social, financial and educational conditions that terrorists exploit.
  4. Defend India’s citizens and interests at home and abroad.

Given the unique circumstances that Pakistan as a ‘nation state’ is sponsoring terrorists activities through its ISI (inter services intelligence) across international borders into India, the Indian Government must tailor a strategy to induce Pakistan to change its policies, eliminate terrorist training camps inside Pakistan and deny to terror organizations access to WMD material, sensitive military technology and funding sources from illicit narcotic activities. In order to pressurize the Pakistani political establishment to cooperate with India on its defense policy, India must take a highly proactive role in Afghanistan. India has always enjoyed an ancient and friendly relationship with Afghanistan. India has invested 11 billion dollars in Afghanistan as of 2012-13. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, Afghan’s prefer India’s leadership over that of USA or China, with 50% expressing approval, the most positive ratings of India for any other surveyed Asia Pacific country.

 India has made substantial financial investments in Afghanistan and should now focus on a deep human footprint in the renewal of its common cultural and social ties. One strategy may be to ‘adopt’ crucial parts of Afghanistan over a 99 years period of lease to enable a massive effort in Afghan rebuilding by reinforcing the financial investments with Indian population that will assist in agricultural and industrial growth. This populous foot-print can also allow Indian security forces to encircle and isolate elements of Taliban and Al-Qaeda into local zones that will severely restrict and cripple their operational capabilities.

The international community’s efforts following 11 September 2001attacks have shown that there are no simple solutions in the fight against terrorism. Military force by itself is not sufficient. India must apply a broad approach including political, legal, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. In order to determine effective counter-measures against terrorism, it is essential to have a deep understanding of how terrorist groups operate, their financing and the motivation that drives them and their supporters.

 International terrorism is dominated by Sunni Islamists groups linked to or inspired by Osama bin Laden and the Al- Qaeda, which seeks to serve as the vanguard of religious movement that inspires Muslims and others to join the “Jihadi” movement to help defend and purify Islam through violence. According to bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa (religious decree) it is the duty of Muslims around the world to wage a holy war on Americans, Jews and Unbelievers (of Islamic faith). Muslims who do not heed this fatwa are declared apostates (those who have forsaken their Muslim faith). Interestingly, Al- Qaeda’s ideology of‘Jihadism’ is marked by willingness to kill Shiite Muslims along with the apostate. With its emphasis onjihad, “jihadism” has its roots in the work of two Sunni Islamic thinkers; Mohammed Ibn Abd al- Wahhaband Sayyid Qutb.

Al- Wahhab was an 18th century reformer who claimed that Islam had been corrupted within a generation after the death of Prophet Mohammed. He denounced any theology or customs developed after that as non- Islamic, including more than few centuries of religious scholarship. He and his supporters have deep roots in what is today the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; where “wahhabism” remains the dominant religious thought.

Sayyid Qutb; a radical Egyptian scholar of the mid- 20th century declared that Western (liberal) civilization as the enemy of Islam. He denounced Muslim nations for deviating from the path of “true Islam” and taught that jihad should be undertaken – not just to defend Islam, but to purify it.

It is important that India works as one nation to reduce popular support for terrorist groups and at the same time fight and destroy known terrorist networks. This seems to be the best way of limiting recruitment from within India, across the borders from Pakistan and from other Muslim countries and communities.

The past few years have shown that armed conflict in Muslim countries and also in countries where Muslims are minorities; gives rise to renewed resentment within the Muslim communities and attracts terrorists from other countries. Apart from long term policies towards reducing poverty, implementing of good governance, transparent administration, access to schooling, drinking water, social and economic programs that will reduce radicalization of youth and reduce the support to terrorism, Indian security agencies must focus on the inherent principles of law-enforcement, these being:

(i)            Intelligence gathering and analysis, both foreign and domestic,

(ii)          Law Enforcement, the application of legal strictures without fear or favor,

(iii)         Economic security, the protection of critical infrastructure and financial institutions, and

(iv)   Curbing the flow of Terrorist finances, by curtailing money laundering and seizing terrorist funds and assets of the funding sponsors.

In addition to the above, India must decide on a massive policy change from the current one to establish civilian- military outreach program to tactically support the multi-pronged strategy of financial, social and human assistance to our neighboring countries and others in similar needs, through which India can send out humanitarian aid and development aid that is fully protected by its military strength; across the globe.

Given the potential to access WMDs by terrorist groups, it is a great challenge to design effective responses to various terror threats. Governments and law makers are constantly under pressure to effectively combat this growing global phenomenon with sufficient support from Intelligence networks and at sustainable levels of economic, social and political costs.

Inherent in this situation are two important issues:

(a) How to protect personal freedom and civil liberties while enhancing security and

(b) How to control the ever-increasing costs of growing levels of security.


Critical to both these issues will be the development of a methodology that measures the effectiveness of anti-terrorism efforts within the parameters of social and economical costs. There will always be difficult choices in allocating limited resources and ensuring risk-based priorities for assets that need protection, such allocations being based on strict assessment of risks and vulnerabilities. This is based on a premise that such vulnerability assessment methods already exist or can be developed, that are able to assess terrorist risk. There is also the issue over the potential for limitless economic cost of security, associated with defense of our motherland. No nation can afford the cost of securing every square kilometer of its territory from attacks; therefore there will always be a need for a policy that must allocate resources for anti-terrorism and national defense on a prioritized basis.  To complicate matters further, governments and terrorists may be fighting “different” wars. Lawmakers view success against terrorism in terms of minimizing physical damage, death and injury to citizens and destruction of property, and concentrate their energy and resources to these areas. The terrorists; on the other hand, while seeking massive physical damage and wanton loss of life, view the success of their attacks in abstract, ideological terms. Their focus is the impact of their actions on further recruitment to their ranks, its effect on government policies and stability of the government and the impact on the economy of the target nation.

Terrorists try to get an advantage over the behavioral patterns of the population and attempt to generate public pressure on the government in power, to pursue policies that appease the terrorists*. The crucial question that arises is, how long can a democratic government pursue policies that pressurize terrorists if such policies seem to attract terrorist retaliation? Weakening and breaking this political will is the central goal of any terrorist activity.

*[The Kandhar (Afghanistan 1999) incident where release of hostages against exchange of previously arrested crucial terrorist assets, including highly motivated and indoctrinated terrorist leaders; led to low morale, open drift in policy and weakness in political leadership, which led the terrorists to escalate terrorist violence, including an attack on the Parliament of India (2001) and successful strikes on numerous other targets at their whim and choice, while the Indian security community was in a constant state of general pessimism, lack of confidence and indignity].

Our national policy should have the flexibility to strategise an anti-terrorist response based on the situations. One potential danger of a “formalized and non-flexible” strategy; is that it may rigidly dictate a response instead of the threat dictating the response; and in terrorist attacks, the threat is always rapidly evolving. Lawmakers have to ensure that the policy to combat terrorism has flexibility in its strategies, organizational structure and utilization of funds. Other factors that are equally critical and necessary for success; are a strong national leadership, professional and proficient rank-and-file personnel, cutting edge technology, as well as strong political will of leadership, and national pride among the general population. One potential pitfall of relying on strategies and reforms involving restructuring of government organizations is that a focus on implementing strategies or administrative changes may overshadow other important factors, such as quality of personnel and technology. In particular, this human factor may warrant more attention in an environment where organizations may feel pressed to find additional trained personnel to fill a plethora of newly created anti-terrorism related positions.

 Historically, the lessons from the fiasco at Kandahar brutally reminded India that all its strength in conventional and strategic forces did not necessarily add up to overcome the leadership challenge which; combined with a series of real-time tactical errors characterized by an intensely risk averse and bureaucratic decision-making process, and by the extreme lack of accountability of systems, established a legacy of capitulation and extreme willingness to accept soft options. The Indian response demonstrated unambiguously that strategic goals tended to be ignored or pushed to the background by political posturing and ephemeral, rhetorical, highly questionable and whimsical policies, unfortunately thrust upon the nation in an arbitrary fashion.

The Nation must have the central theme of using all elements of national power in combating terrorism. The emphasis is on the core importance of timely intelligence that leads to demonstrative action. Our national policy must include a need for pre-emptive strategy, for attacks on terrorist bases and facilities, for ensuring committed international cooperation, strengthening efforts to control and prohibit non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, attacking terrorist financing and financer assets (including Hawala systems and Hawala operators), denying safe havens to terrorist across the globe and securing the Nation’s borders by projecting them internationally.

The policy has to be forward looking. Terrorists are no longer found only in failed states or poverty stricken nations. With numerous active battle fields to be trained in and to avail on-the-ground experience; terrorists are increasingly returning to their politically stable home countries for safe sanctuaries, where they blend into the local communities, establish training and indoctrination camps in mosques and community centers and bomb factories in private residences.

 Preventing the growth of radical Islamic extremism is another major policy decision. Central to combating this extremism are the issues of confronting incitement to terrorism when promoted and facilitated by the action of individuals and nations. Another issue is the impact of poverty in recruitment by terrorist organizations. The link between poverty and terrorism is not evident. However, efforts in the fight against poverty will help in the prevention of terrorism. This applies particularly towards efforts in infrastructure development, easy access to education, equitable distribution of income and profit, good governance and transparent administration. The question does arise, as to what degree is it economically sustainable to raise the standard of living to that levels; where social, ethnic, religious, economic and political grievances’ do not explode into terrorist movements or terrorist activities? The leader of modern terrorism, Osama bin Laden was a billionaire, as are many of his financial supporters.

Strategies and Tactics:

Every nation faces its ‘moment-of-truth’ when different strategic styles, tactics and capabilities have different end results. Divergent challenges, decisions and responses have dramatic and lasting impacts on the nation’s anti-terrorism doctrines and general psyche. A ‘hard’ response of striking at the terrorists, extracting innocents from the conflict area and execution of all directly involved terrorists (or their capture) can influence post- incident national reaction of dynamic optimism and confidence in the administration; while a ‘soft’ option of negotiation and submission to terrorist demands will result in low morale, non-confidence in administration, escalated terrorist attacks, and increasing terrorist demands. A hard response reflects that the military and strategic supremacy of the State cannot be challenged easily by terrorists, without the possibility of harsh retaliation. A soft response is always the hallmark of a faction ridden political system, incoherent and uncoordinated police procedures, weak intelligence gathering apparatus and overall an unaccountable and whimsical leadership in moments of crisis.

‘Lessons not learnt and refused to be learnt’ is the easiest way for a State to lose its identity, and grip on the political control of the Nation.

Regardless of the various varieties of philosophies offered by terrorists in justification of their actions, their single purpose is political control by violence and intimidation. Radical Islam and its practitioners never try to negotiate the outcome of hostile situation exclusively by dialogue, but prefer the tactics of dialogue through brutal violence to achieve victory in their immediate and long term objectives. India must ensure that our anti-terror policy is recognizable and predictable over time; as hard, non-negotiable and retaliatory. Our policy should support the development of an effective framework for combating terrorism, ensure that it complies with international law and respect for human rights, supports conflict resolution and reconciliation, fosters understanding between religions and sectarian communities, promotes peace and civil security, detects and prevents the proliferation of WMDs, strengthens internal and international police and security services cooperation, and prevents terrorism financing.

Combating the financing of terrorism is an important element in the fight against terrorism and is an area that requires international cooperation. In 2004, the World Bank and IMF were given a specific mandate to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. India has supported this initiative along-with implementing the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on combating terrorism financing. The FATF is an international working group that was established in 1989 following an initiative of the G7 countries. India must lead the efforts to ensure the implementation of FATF’s recommendations in neighboring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, to prevent these countries from financing terrorism.

Saudi Arabia is accused as the world’s largest source of funds for Salafi jihadist terrorist militant groups, such as al-Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban, ISIS and Lashkar-e-Taiba in South Asia, and donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide, according to Hillary Clinton. According to a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state, “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups.”

The United Nations (UN) 1267 committee under the Security Council keeps a list of persons, groups, enterprises, and other entities connected with Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This and the UN Security Council resolution 1373 on preventing financial support for terrorist groups, preventing terrorists groups from seeking refuge, freezing assets that belong to terrorists, sharing information on terrorist groups, cooperating on investigations and prosecution, criminalizing any participation in and support of terrorism; can be utilized to design a internationally acceptable national policy towards anti- terrorism. India can also request increased support from the UN Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) in its anti-terrorism policy and strategies. There should be increased participation in Security Council resolution 1566 aimed at identifying methods to ensure that sanctions against terrorist groups can be made more effective and for expanding the UN’s list to cover organizations not connected with Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. With the ever increasing number of European citizens, originating mostly from African / North African countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and few from India; it is necessary that India develops a close working relationship with OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) whose field operations are strong in the EU, Scandinavia and Easter European countries.

International cooperation in the intelligence and terrorist prosecution sector is extremely important for combating terrorist networks, preventing attacks and, detaining and prosecuting terror suspects.

Terrorist groups finance part of their activities through organized crime like distribution of illegal narcotics, smuggling of firearms and human slave trade. Strategies and methods to prevent such crimes are important part of the anti- terrorism efforts. In the same manner, it is important to establish effective international procedures for combating crime that is related to terrorism.

It is essential that Indian security and intelligence services are closely coordinated and extensively trained to enable them to develop an expertise on international terrorism. This is necessary in order to make them valued partners in the broader framework of international cooperation and to enable them to better analyze and interpret information from global sources.

This policy paper attempts to set out the potential overall goals of India’s efforts in the fight against terrorism, both on the national and international front, to prevent and combat terrorism effectively and efficiently. As part of this policy, India’s efforts should be more focused on:


Ø  Increase the ability and opportunities to play a proactive role in the international arena of the fight against terrorism.

Ø  Increase the overall abilities to rapidly adapt to changing terrorist scenarios and coordinate measures in consultation with UN, OSCE and other international partners.

Ø  Ensure that India’s international effort is relative to its domestic efforts and national experience and priorities, as is appropriate from time-to-time.

As underlined in this policy paper, India should give particular priority to a long-term national policy to prevent, control and defeat terrorist activities in-country and internationally. Furthermore, India must take a proactive role in its assistance to the neighboring countries of SAARC in the fight against terrorism by developing stronger and detailed bilateral cooperation programs.

“This is a concept paper and does not in any manner attempt to state the actual policy to combat terrorism by the Union of India or its elected Government”.

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