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A new wave of Terrorism in India

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  • June 05, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Arun Bhagat
    Discussants: S Y Thapliyal and Bibhu Prasad Routray

    In India, the word terrorism came to be officially used for the first time in 1984 to characterise the violence in Punjab. This followed the enactment of the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act of 1984, the impulse for which was the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October that year. Before this, all armed action by the various groups in the North East or by the Naxals were referred to as extremism or militancy or Naxalism. Subsequently, the violence unleashed by domestic as well as foreign armed groups in Jammu and Kashmir came to be characterised as cross-border terrorism.

    The 2007-2008 Annual Report of the Ministry of Home Affairs lists 32 different armed groups as banned terrorist organisations. Among others, these include several armed groups in the North East as well as the two Maoist groups. Yet, in the pages devoted to detailing what the report refers to as the “Current Status of Militancy in the North East” and in the section dealing with the “Naxal Situation,” the words terrorism and terrorist are not mentioned even once! The report also characterises the violence in Jammu and Kashmir as “terrorism/militancy”, in a bow towards the fact that all violence in that state does not constitute terrorism.

    To avoid confusion about the phenomenon being confronted, it is imperative to understand what terrorism is. Moreover, a series of events in the last few years – the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, the various bombings carried out by the Indian Mujahideen, and the involvement of Hindu radical groups in bomb-throwing – points to a new wave of terrorism focused on the Indian hinterland. This necessitates a change in India’s approach towards counter-terrorism from one focused purely on cross-border aspects to domestic issues as well.

    This paper explores what terrorism is. It analyses the new wave of terrorism buffeting the Indian hinterland, and excludes discussion of the Maoist insurgency, the armed activities of the various armed groups in the North East, and “militant” violence within Jammu and Kashmir. The paper also highlights some principles that should inform India’s approach to counter terrorism.

    While cross-border terrorism sponsored and supported by Pakistan has been a security challenge since the late 1980s, a new wave of terror has begun to batter the Indian hinterland in recent years. Three distinct sets of players are involved in this new phenomenon. The first set comprises of Pakistani terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which have since the late 1990s begun to expand their ‘jihad’ in Kashmir into the Indian hinterland. The second set is composed of a network of rage-driven Indian Muslim youth and Indian criminal outfits, who, with the support of the first set, seek vengeance for the ‘sufferings’ inflicted upon their community. And the third set is formed by radical Hindu youth, bent on retaliating against Muslims for the terrorist attacks carried out by the other two sets of players.

    Two events triggered this new wave. The first was the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the communal riots that followed in parts of the country. The second event was the stalling of the separatist struggle in Jammu and Kashmir in the mid-1990s. Muslim youth and criminal networks were spurred by the Babri demolition and the ensuing communal riots to seek vengeance through terrorist attacks. Ten years later, the tragedy in Gujarat provided further fuel to their anger.

    Pakistan has been providing material support to them in this enterprise. And when the Hizbul Mujahideen’s separatist struggle in Jammu and Kashmir began to wane, Pakistan began to funnel its own citizens and other “graduates of the Afghan war” into the state, thus transforming a local insurgency into a transnational jihad. When neither this change in actors nor the Kargil misadventure could shake the Indian hold over Jammu and Kashmir, the jihad was extended to the Indian hinterland in the late 1990s. This in turn incensed Hindu radicals who began to plan and unleash terror against innocent Muslims.

    India thus has to contend with three sets of terrorist actors – one purely foreign, the second, domestic groups with linkages to these foreign players, and the third wholly domestic.

    The approach to counter each of these players has to be distinct, though there are bound to be commonalities in measures adopted. In the case of Pakistani terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, domestic counter-terror measures have to be accompanied by diplomatic efforts to force Pakistan into taking stringent action against these groups and even covert intelligence campaigns to disrupt the terror infrastructure in that country.

    India also needs to focus on domestic counter terror measures, which have indeed received a fillip in the wake of the Mumbai attack. States have responded to terrorism by adopting a combination of several responses, each of course specifically crafted to suit their particular circumstances. Though it might sound pusillanimous, “appeasement” is a most pragmatic response. Not appeasement in terms of conceding terrorist demands, but addressing the underlying causes that triggered the resort to violence in the first place.

    A second set of responses is in the domain of intelligence and the legal framework to deal with terrorism. The development and maintenance of databases about terrorist groups is essential. This is in turn contingent upon enhanced intelligence work and capabilities, both human and technical. Related to this are greater intelligence and surveillance efforts through a network of closed-circuit television cameras, psychological profiling, infiltration of terrorist groups, etc.

    Thirdly, it is crucial to identify and harden actual and potential targets like government buildings, corporate houses, vital installations like airports, power plants, and the like through security measures like x-ray baggage screeners, metal detectors, more security personnel, etc. The idea is to make it as difficult as possible for terrorists to carry out attacks, thus increasing the chances of mistakes and consequent reduction in the actual number of attacks.

    The creation of special counter-terrorist forces and providing them with specialised training to deal with hostage negotiations is the fourth response. This needs to go hand in hand with the modernisation of the police force.

    Important points raised in the discussion:

    • India is the biggest victim of terrorism.
    • The biggest act of Hindu terrorism was the destruction of Babri Masjid.
    • Majority community needs to change its mindset towards the Muslim community.
    • Revamping the intelligence structure is the need of the hour.
    • There is complete lack of coordination among various security agencies. This has to be addressed.
    • There is urgent need for police reform.
    • Is Indian Mujahideen an independent terror group?
    • Pakistan remains a security threat to India. India’s inability to deal with Pakistan has further compounded the situation.
    • India should not expect much from the United States in dealing with Pakistan. However, India may consider something like the US Department of Homeland Security.
    • There is an urgent need for political consensus on terrorism.
    • Above all, there is need for security consciousness among the people.

    Prepared by Dr. M. Amarjeet Singh, Research Assistant at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.