May 11, 2006

EVOLUTION OF INDIA'S COUNTER-TERRORISM CAPABILITIES

by B.Raman

( PRESENTATION MADE BY THE WRITER AT A CONFERENCE ON INTERNATIONAL HOMELAND SECURITY ORGANISED BY THE ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE (RUSI) FOR DEFENCE AND SECURITY STUDIES, LONDON, ON MAY 10,2006)

Internal security management has been an important component of India's national security management ever since India became independent in 1947.The Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India is the kingpin of India's internal security management mechanism. Initially, it focussed mainly on the maintenance of law and order and inter-communal peace, crime control and counter-insurgency.

2.Counter-insurgency became an important component of internal security management following the launching of an insurgent movement by a group of communist insurgents in what now constitutes the State of Andhra Pradesh immediately after India became independent and by some of the tribals living in India's North-East in the period starting from 1956. While the communist insurgency, which still continues as a Maoist movement in 12 States of India, is now an ideological movement for the spread and implementation of the Maoist ideology, the tribal insurgent movements sought independence for various tribal groups living in the border areas of India's North-East. These insurgencies drew the support of China and Pakistan. While the Chinese support to the Marxist and tribal insurgencies stopped after 1979, the Pakistani support to the tribal insurgencies continues through Bangladesh.

3. Counter-terrorism became a new component of India's internal security management in 1981 when a group of Sikhs living in the State of Punjab in India as well as in the UK, the then West Germany, Canada and the US took to terrorism in emulation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in order to pressurise the Government of India to concede their demand for an independent State for the Sikhs to be called Khalistan. The Khalistani terrorist organisations were largely funded by some members of the Sikh diaspora abroad and by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. They were trained and armed by the ISI in camps in Pakistani territory.

4. The Khalistani terrorists used four modus operandi----- first, use of hand-held weapons against selected leaders, officials and others perceived as enemies of the Sikh religion; second, hijacking of planes of the Indian Airlines---they hijacked five planes between 1981 and 1984; third, blowing up planes of Air India in mid-air---they blew up off the Irish coast a plane originating from Toronto in June,1985, killing over 200 passengers and unsuccessfully tried to blow up another plane originating from Tokyo the same day; and four, indiscriminate planting of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in public places killing a large number of innocent civilians.

5. In response to their modus operandi, the first bricks of India's counter-terrorism architecture came into being in the 1980s. These related to civil aviation security, personal security of very important persons and anti-explosives security. This period saw the coming into being of the National Security Guards (NSGs), who are specially trained to intervene to terminate incidents of hijacking and hostage-taking, the Special Protection Group (SPG), specially trained to protect the serving and past Prime Ministers of India and their families, and anti-explosive capabilities in the police forces of different states, in the para-military forces of the Govt. of India and in the NSG and the SPG. This period also saw increased importance being given to strengthen the crisis management capabilities of the concerned Ministries and departments of the Governments at the Centre and in the states.

6. The 1980s also saw the emergence of disaster management as an important component of internal security management following an accidental explosion in a chemicals factory run by the Union Carbide company of the US in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh in 1984, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Even before the 1980s, we had a disaster management capability, but this related essentially to management of famines, floods and earth quakes. The explosion in a chemicals factory and the resulting deaths brought home to the Indian policy-makers the need to develop specialised disaster management capabilities relating to industrial explosions and other disasters of an unconventional nature caused by nature, accidents or intentionally by terrorists. The concept of disaster management and the drill associated with it have been constantly updated keeping in view the likelihood of acts of terrorism involving the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

7. The period between 1989 and 2001 saw eight new challenges confronting the Indian counter-terrorism managers and policy-makers.

Firstly, the emulation of the Afghan Mujahideen of the 1980s by some organisations in the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in order to exercise pressure on the Government of India to concede their demands, which related to either independence for the State or its annexation by Pakistan. The cadres of these organisations, which have been active in the State since 1989, are funded, trained, armed and guided by the ISI.
Secondly, the infiltration initially into J&K and subsequently into other parts of India of trained and armed members of four Pakistani pan-Islamic organisations, namely, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM). These Pakistani pan-Islamic organisations have two objectives--- to help the terrorist organisations of J&K to achieve their objectives and to keep the Indian security forces and counter-terrorism agencies preoccupied with internal security duties in other parts of India by indulging in acts of terrorism. These organisations, which have since joined Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF) formed in 1998, were initially recruiting their members from Pakistan, but since 2003, they have also been recruiting from the Indian Muslim diaspora in the Gulf and from the Indian Muslim community in India itself. All these organisations operate from Pakistan. Two of them---the LET and the HUJI---also have sanctuaries in Bangladesh.
Thirdly, the emergence of suicide terrorism as a strategic weapon of great lethality. Suicide terrorism was first used in Indian territory by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi, former Indian Prime Minister, at Chennai in May,1991. Since the four Pakistani pan-Islamic organisations joined bin Laden's IIF formed in 1998, they have been increasingly resorting to suicide terrorism.
Fourthly, the acquisition of a maritime terrorism capability by the LTTE. This capability consists of a fleet of commercial ships for gun and narcotics running and a naval capability for covert acts of maritime terrorism, including sea-borne suicide terrorism. Even though this capability has been acquired by the LTTE mainly for use against the Government of Sri Lanka, it also poses a threat to the internal security of India in view of the LTTE's past contacts with the Indian Maoists and its undertaking gun-running missions for Pakistani pan-Islamic organisations.

Fifthly, the beginning of economic terrorism with the attacks on the tourist infrastructure in J&K and with the explosions of March,1993, in Mumbai, which were directed against carefully selected economic targets such as the stock exchange, a tourist hotel etc. These explosions were carried out by a group of Indian Muslims trained and equipped by the ISI. Among other targets attracting the attention of different terrorist groups are the Mumbai off-shore oil platform, oil pipelines in the North-East and Information Technology companies in Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley. However, the terrorists have not succeeded so far in attacking any of them.

Sixthly, narco terrorism and the increasing use of narcotics by different terrorist groups as a source of funding for their terrorist operations.
Seventhly, the emergence of links between the Pakistan-based pan-Islamic jihadi terrorist organisations and the trans-national mafia group headed by the Karachi-based Dawood Ibrahim, who has since been designated by the US Treasury Department in October,2003, as an international terrorist following evidence of his contacts with Al Qaeda. He had master-minded the Mumbai explosions of March,1993.
Eighthly, large-scale illegal immigration into India from Bangladesh, which is threatening to change the demographic composition of sensitive areas in India's North-East and provides sanctuaries for jihadi terrorists based in Bangladesh for their operations in Indian territory.
8. The pan-Islamic and other jihadi terrorists have introduced certain new modus operandi, in addition to their use of hand-held weapons, improvised explosive devices and hijacking of aircraft. These new modus operandi are hostage-taking on the ground directed against Indians as well as foreign nationals in order to secure their demands, deliberate attacks on places of worship in order to provoke inter-communal clashes, mass killing of members of the Hindu community in J&K in order to force them to leave the state and attacks on soft targets such as shopping areas in order to create panic.

9. To meet these new challenges, India's counter-terrorism capabilities have been further strengthened in the following ways:
The beginning of the erection of a fence along the Line of Control (LOC) and the international border with Pakistan and along the international border with Bangladesh.
Strengthening the counter-infiltration capabilities of the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Indian Army.
A greater role for the Army in counter-terrorism in J&K in order to deal with infiltration and cross-border terrorism.
Raising of village defence forces in remote villages.
Strengthening physical security for sensitive places of worship.
Upgradation of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in order to enable it to protect the economic infrastructure, including the oil infrastructure, ports and airports, nuclear establishments etc from possible terrorist attacks.
Strengthening the maritime counter-terrorism capability of the Coast Guard.
Raising a pool of officers specially trained in hostage negotiation techniques.
Strengthening anti-narcotics control.
Strengthening measures against money-laundering.
10. Apart from strengthening close-proximity security and access control, India , like other countries confronted with the problem of suicide terrorism, has not yet been able to find an effective counter to it.An effective counter to suicide terrorism depends on answers to the following questions:
How to prevent the terrorists from getting hold of explosives?
Can the scientists find a way of detecting the presence of a concealed explosive device on the body of a person without subjecting him or her to the usual physical checks?
Can the scientists find a way of inactivating the device from a distance without alerting the terrorist?
11. Till we find answers to these questions, suicide terrorism will continue to confront the police and other counter-terrorism agencies. Psychological or ideological counters to suicide terrorism alone will not suffice. There has to be, in addition, a scientific and technical counter. All nations in the world should put their heads together to find that counter.

12. Since 9/11, prevention of WMD and cyber terrorism and emergency response mechanisms to deal with a situation if the terrorists manage to carry out an attack have become important components of the counter-terrorism architecture. An updated anti-hijacking policy adopted by the Government of India in August,2005, provides for the shooting down of a hijacked plane if there is a danger of its being used by the hijackers as a missile. The decision-making drill for this has also been laid down.

13. The Indo-Pakistan military conflict of 1999 led to the appointment by the Government of India in 2000 of a Special Task Force For the Revamping of the Intelligence Apparatus. This Task Force recommended measures not only for strengthening our cabality for the collection, analysis and assessment of human and technical intelligence relating to conventional threats, but also for strengthening our capability for the collection of terrorism-related intelligence. One of its important recommendations led to the creation of a Multi-Disciplinary Centre in the Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is the equivalent of the UK's Security Service (MI-5), to co-ordinate the intelligence and follow-up action process in all the central agencies having a role in counter-terrorism. Counter-terrorism experts from all the agencies are to work in this centre under a common umbrella under the leadership of the IB, which is the operational nodal agency for counter-terrorism. It is proposed to bring into being a similar co-ordination mechanism at the level of the States of the federation.

14. Counter-terrorism has four aspects---preventive through timely intelligence, physical security to thwart terrorist attacks if intelligence fails, crisis management if physical security too fails and deterrence through investigation and prosecution. India's preventive, physical security and crisis management capabilities are above average and have produced good results. The weakest link of India's counter-terrorism capability is deterrence through legal action against terrorists and their organisations.

15. India's investigative and prosecution agencies have to fight against terrorism with the normal laws of the land, which were enacted long before terrorism emerged as a major threat to national security. Certain other powers have been given to the Police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, but this Act relates to all crime and is not terrorism focussed. The repeated pleas of counter-terrorism professionals that India should emulate the example of other democracies like those of the UK and the US and enact terrorism-focussed legislation have fallen on deaf ears. The Government of India did give special powers to the Police under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), but this Act was abrogated in 2004 in response to criticism from the religious and ethnic minorities. They alleged that the special powers in respect of detention etc given under this Act were being misused by the Police to harass the minorities.

16. The Indian judicial process against terrorism is very slow. Trials take a long time. The defence lawyers representing the terrorists manage to get frequent adjournments of the trial under some pretext or the other. We do not have adequate legal provisions to prevent intimidation of the witnesses testifying against the terrorists. The judiciary tends to avoid convicting terrorists purely on the basis of circumstantial evidence, however strong and continuous it may be. The result: A very low conviction rate of less than 10 per cent in terrorism-related cases as against 80 per cent plus in Western countries.

17.Before I conclude, I would like to touch upon two other aspects relating to the general principles followed in counter-terrorism and the role of diplomacy. We make a clear distinction between the counter-terrorism strategy and the counter-terrorist strategy. The counter-terrorism strategy treats terrorism as a phenomenon with political, economic, social, religious and security aspects and tries to find a holistic answer to the problem instead of focussing exclusively on the security approach. We follow this strategy in respect of all domestic terrorist organisations, whose leaders and members are our citizens.

18. The counter-terrorist strategy treats terrorism exclusively as a threat to national security to be eliminated firmly through the neutralisation of the terrorist organisations and their leaders. This approach is followed against the Pakistani pan-Islamic organisations operating in Indian territory.

19. In India, the Police is the weapon of first resort in counter-terrorism and the Army is the weapon of last resort. In J&K and in the bordering areas of the North-East, the Army plays a role in assisting or even leading the police because of the problem of trans-border infiltration and cross-border terrorism. In the rest of India, it is the Police, which is in the frontline of the fight against terrorism.

20. Even though India records the largest number of terrorist strikes and deaths due to terrorism in the world every year, we have never used our Air Force or the artillery or other heavy weapons against the terrorists in any part of India. We fight them with weapons, which will not lead to a disproportionate use of force and collateral damage. Use of force, when unavoidable, and with careful calibration. That is our policy.

21. India has had a long history of counter-terrorism co-operation with other countries, particularly with the UK, Canada and the US. This co-operation has expanded further after 9/11. A capability has been created in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which is our Foreign Office, to facilitate this co-operation.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com )

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