Thursday, April 22, 2010

Counter-terrorism: The "fight against State-sponsored Terrorism"

See also:

( Observations made by me while addressing a National Seminar on "Fight Against Terrorism" organised by the Mumbai Police at Mumbai on April 21,2010. The keynote address on the state of terrorism was delivered by Shri M.K. Narayanan, Governor of West Bengal. Other speakers were Dr.Anil Kakodkar, former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, Dr.Raghunath Mashelkar, former Director-General,, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and Shri G.Parthasarathy, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan )

Two expressions often used by counter-terrorism analysts since the attempt to blow up the New York World Trade Centre in February, 1993, are "acts of mass casualty terrorism" and "acts of catastrophic terrorism". These expressions have been defined by different experts in different manner. One of the definitions is based on the number of casualties inflicted by the terrorists. Under this definition, an act of catastrophic terrorism involves fatalities of more than 1000 and an act of mass casualty terrorism involves fatalities of more than 100. 9/11 in the US Homeland was an act of catastrophic terrorism. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai in March,1993, July,2006 and November,2008, were acts of mass casualty terrorism.

2. While other cities in the world have also suffered acts of high casualty terrorism, Mumbai and Beirut have been targeted repeatedly by terrorists. The acts of terrorism in Bali, Madrid and London did not involve orchestration by a foreign State. The acts of mass casualty terrorism in Mumbai involved orchestration by the State of Pakistan.

3. In his inaugural address, Shri D.Sivanandhan, Commissioner of Police, had analysed comprehensively the reasons for the repeated attacks in Mumbai. There is one reason not mentioned by him, which needs to be underlined---- namely the advantage of anonymity offered to a terrorist by a huge city like Mumbai. Anonymity tends to protect the terrorists from detection by the police.

4. What the Mumbai Police is confronted with is not just terrorism , but terrorism sponsored repeatedly against the residents of Mumbai by the State of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies. One should, therefore, talk of the "fight against State-sponsored Terrorism" and not just "Fight against Terrorism". If there was no orchestration by the State of Pakistan, the Mumbai Police would have been able to deal with the threat effectively. They have been facing difficulty because of the foreign sponsorship of terrorism.

5. Thus, counter-terrorism in Mumbai has two aspects--- action against terrorism and the terrorist organisations, which is the responsibility of the Mumbai Police and the Government of Maharashtra, and action against Pakistan, which is repeatedly sponsoring the terrorism. This is the responsibility of the Government of India. Unless the Government of India acts effectively against Pakistan for sponsoring acts of mass casualty terrorism against the residents of Mumbai, it will be unfair to blame the Mumbai Police and the Government of Maharashtra alone for not dealing with terrorism effectively.

6. If there is another act of mass casualty terrorism, there is a strong possibility that it will again be in Mumbai. The Mumbai Police should prepare themselves to face it. They have already taken various measures for revamping the counter-terrorism machinery in Mumbai. Strengthening the machinery alone is not adequate. It is equally important to strengthen the co-operation between the police and the community. The Security and Intelligence Committee of the British House of Commons, which went into deficiencies which led to the successful terrorist strikes in Mumbai in July,2005, pointed out that no counter-terrorism machinery however competent and no counter-terrorism doctrine however well thought-out, can deal effectively with terrorism unless there is effective police-community co-operation in counter-terrorism.

7. That the role of the community is important has to be realised by the police as well as the community and the two should work in tandem. After the London blasts, many new ideas have been introduced by the London Police for improving police-community co-operation against terrorism. I would like to underline in particular the appointment of counter-terrorism coordinators in important police stations to interact continuously with the public and the private business sector and the initiative taken by the business sector for sharing the additional expenses incurred by the police for promoting police-public co-operation against terrorism. Some of these ideas should be studied by the urban police in India and those considered worthy of emulation should be adapted to our needs.

8. The series of National Seminars on the "Fight Against Terrorism" being organised by the Mumbai Police in different parts of the city is a welcome and important exercise for promoting police-community co-operation against terrorism. This co-operation should be on a day-to-day basis instead of only at times of seminars like this. How to make police-community cooperation part of the counter-terrorism doctrine? That is an important question which should be addressed jointly by the leaders of the police and the community and an appropriate mechanism found. The Mumbai Police should move in this direction and give a lead to the other urban police of India.

9. In counter-terrorism, the quality of the leadership exercised by the political class is as important as the quality of the leadership exercised by the police, the intelligence set-up and other security agencies. While addressing a seminar in New Delhi in 2001, Shri Narayanan pointed out that while the Punjab Police, the intelligence set-up and other security agencies played an excellent role in bringing Khalistani terrorism under control, they might not have succeeded the way they did but for the equally commendable political leadership and co-operation in dealing with the menace. In dealing with Khalistani terrorism, the political and the professional classes were on the same page. Had this not been so, we might not have succeeded the way we did. In dealing with the state-sponsored jihadi terrorism too, we must try to ensure that the political and professional classes act in tandem and that the required political leadership is forthcoming. Without high-quality political leadership, the police alone, however brilliant and however well-endowed, cannot succeed.

10. In India, we tend to be defeatist. We keep criticising ourselves and our police all the time. We are given to chest-beating about our so-called failures. We tend to forget that our track record against terrorism and insurgencies is not bad at all. We have had success stories in Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. We are not doing too badly in Jammu & Kashmir and in the fight against jihadi terrorism in other parts of India. Our record against the Maoist insurgency has been above average in Andhra Pradesh and poor in other States affected by it. The terrorists and insurgents have had some spectacular tactical successes to their credit--- the explosion on board the Kanishka aircraft of Air India in June 1985, the three acts of mass casualty terrorism in Mumbai and the Dantewada massacre of 76 policemen by the Maoists etc. But since India became independent in 1947, the terrorists and insurgents have not scored any notable strategic success. Strategically, the Indian State and its security set-up have ultimately prevailed despite the tactical set-backs. They never allowed fatigue to set in. Fatigue ultimately set in the ranks of the terrorists and insurgents and not in the ranks of the State. We have never conceded the illegitimate strategic demands of the terrorists and insurgents even though we might have conceded their tactical demands on occasions as happened at Kandahar in December, 1999. This is a unique record of which we ought to be proud of.

11. Let us by all means criticise our police, our intelligence agencies, other security agencies and the political class. They have much to answer for. But let us take care not to allow over-criticism to create defeatism. That is what Pakistan and its terrorist organisations want. We should not play into their hands. An ideal State would not allow the phenomenon of terrorism or insurgency to appear in its midst. But once it appears it takes a long time for the police and other security agencies to deal with it. A study of terrorism and insurgencies around the world would indicate that it takes around 15 to 20 years to deal with the menace. In India too, we have taken the same time. Once through our sins of commission and omission, we are faced with terrorism or insurgency, we need a lot of patience to deal with the menace. Impatience will prove counter-productive. It could make the police and other security forces over-react, thereby aggravating the problem.

12. There are copybook methods of dealing with acts of terrorism such as hijacking, blowing up aircraft, use of improvised explosive devices in public places etc, but there is no copybook method of dealing with terrorism and insurgencies. Our counter-terrorism techniques have to be nuanced and adapted individually to dealing with different kinds of terrorism and insurgencies. The techniques that we use against the jihadis we cannot use against the Maoists. The ruthlessness that we show towards Pakistanis we cannot show towards our own people. While dealing with our own people who have taken to terrorism and insurgencies, the rhetoric has to be non-provocative and non-escalatory and action has to be firm, but balanced.

13. International or global or trans-national terrorism of the jihadi variety cannot be countered effectively without international co-operation. There has been an improvement in international co-operation since 9/11, but this co-operation is still hampered by subjective and strategic factors. India has been a victim of this heart-hearted co-operation. There is greater readiness on the part of the US and other countries of the West to co-operate with India against terrorism, but ifs and buts come in when it is a question of cooperation against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. This half-hearted co-operation will continue and we must learn to live with it. Ultimately, our strategic success against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism will depend on our own capacity, our own determination and our own will to act. No international co-operation can be a substitute for the national will and determination to act.

14. Victim activism is weak in India. We saw in the US after 9/11 and we have seen among the Jewish people for years, the results which victim activism can achieve. If only we had victim activism in India similar to what one sees in the US and Israel, the relatives of the victims of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai would have rallied in protest against the plea bargain entered into by the FBI with David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Toiba who was an important co-conspirator in the 26/11 terrorist strikes. The total lack of protest from the relatives of those killed speaks poorly of the dormant state of victim activism in India.

15. Shri P.Chidambaram, the Home Minister, has to be commended for his determined efforts to revamp the counter-terrorism machinery after taking over as the Home Minister, but one is disturbed by what appears to be his uncritical admiration of American ideas, American systemic innovations and American-style rhetoric. By all means let us learn from the good practices of countries such as the US and Israel. But let us not blindly ape them. Our country is different. Our people are different. Our sensitivities are different. Uncritical admiration for American systems and approaches to counter-terrorism can prove counter-productive.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

Published by i On Global Trends - Mike Hitchen Online - news, opinion, analysis
See also Sydney Irresistible and for personal comment, Mike Hitchen Unleashed
Putting principles before profits