Dialogue  April-June 2008 , Volume 9 No. 4

Counter-terrorism Measures : Need for Nongovernmental Approach                                                                               

D.C. Nath*



Professionally, rather traditionally, experts reckon the following as essential ingredients of countermeasures, be that against terrorism or other acts of violence:

·       Intelligence – both covert and overt.

·       Risk Analysis – vulnerability assessment.

·       Advance Planning – Proactive approach.

·       Availability of Resources.

·       Cost Analysis.

·       Security Education and Training.

·       Demonstrative / Deterrent value of Countermeasures.

     Some experts also lay emphasis, and quite rightly, on HRD (Human Resource Development) factor in planning countermeasures against threats. While all this is good and the standard guidelines should be clinically followed, the moot question is: Can terrorism of the present-day variety we are facing in India be adequately countered by or through these traditional means? Yes, we in India have been fighting terrorism of different hues and colours for over sixty years and can thereby claim vast expertise in handling this problem. And yet, the desired level of success continues to elude us. It is easy to blame the government. The usual lines of accusation are: poor intelligence gathering machinery, utter lack of coordination between concerned agencies and lack of political will. All these could be true, at least partly. But, for the present dissertation, we, without being government apologists, propose going by the assumption that the government of the day has been putting in its best, albeit according its threat perception and with constraints of functioning within the framework of democratic polity. It is not any attempt at belittling the current efforts under way. As a matter of fact, working within the framework of democratic polity is indeed a great constraint. But, with such constraints, the governments in the country had at times achieved great success, setting precedents of how differences can be resolved with tolerance and understanding. Terrorism of today, however, obviously defies solution with traditional or stereotyped approach. Some out-of-the-box thinking and dynamic or innovative approach are called for. The reasons are not far to seek. The kind of terrorism that is now testing the nerves of the government and of the nation as a whole is, to put it simply, started as the outcome of adversarial relationship between India and Pakistan and then deteriorated into an all-out attack on the part of Islamic fundamentalists against their perceived complaint of suppression of Islamic interests in Hindu-majority India. In other words, the character of terrorism afflicting the country has become totally different, more of a basic psychological divide with its attendant implications. It will be easy to appreciate that if from ground level indicators we start accepting that terrorism today has become a fact of life. There is no wishing away that it will not strike me. An act of terror today can happen at any time, anywhere and to anyone. In other words, we will have to now live with the phenomenon of terrorism in some form or other.                                                                          

     Additionally, what we are witnessing today is virtual globalisation of terrorism. And so the approach towards planning countermeasures will have to take into consideration that aspect also. Nothing could be more to the point than the very recent serial blasts in Jaipur. No matter whoever has claimed its authorship, the contents of the e-mail sent to the media by the perpetrators of this act are revealing. So, has it been said, it is, “not just a claim, it is a manifesto for jihad.” It is, “Indian Mujahideen’s Declaration of Open War Against India.” This “open war” is nothing but a call for religious war, that is, Islamic jihad. So, Islamic terrorism, if one can call it that way, has graduated from simple acts of violence to a religious war, that is, jihad. The terrorists boldly claim theological or scriptural legitimacy for their indulgence in terror attacks. In the Jaipur case, the twin motives were: “to blow apart your (Indian) tourism structure” and “to demolish your faith in the dirty mud, in the name of Hanuman, Sita and Ram.” The language of the email is downright audacious and seems heavily influenced by the SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) which had called on its cadre to wage jihad against India several years ago. It was intended to give a clear message to the ‘infidel’ (non-believers) Indians that “there is no existence of compromise between a believer and a non-believer.” That is, it will be “fight to the finish.” The email goes on to state it was legitimate for the mujahideen to go to any extent or use anything to crush the dignity and power the enemy (non-believer Indians, read Hindus). There was no ambiguity in it. Interestingly, right at the beginning, the email has linked the Jaipur blasts to the broader global jihad, warning the USA and (Great) Britain in particular that “we Muslims are one across the globe” - the Islamic Ummah. The western visitors to India have specially been warned “(you) will be welcome by our suicide attackers.”                                                                 

      Going beyond the India-specific situation, it will also be prudent to note at this stage that the terrorists of today are becoming IT-savvy. The “concept of e-jihad” has come in vogue. Gary Bunt of the University of Wales has rightly said that the battle has now gone to the cyberspace. The internet has now become central to the terrorists’ scheme of operation. Al Qaeda has already come on record advertising for recruitment of web-experts. The internet is no longer used merely to promote ideology or raise funds or recruit members but also for tactical purposes of training. The number of terrorist websites had gone up from 12 in 1997 to over 4500 as of in September, 2005 (Gabriel Weidman). It could be many more now in 2008. One can also add to this the threat from NBC (Nuclear-Biological-Chemical) terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists, which is now assessed to be more realistic than a theoretical possibility only. The Interpol General Secretary had said in November 2005, “Evidence collected about its bio-terrorist ambitions ominously portend a clear and present danger of the highest order.”                        

     This being the current scenario, and more threatening mails being received at regular intervals, it is felt it would not be enough if the country were to depend on the acts of the government alone. The Islamic terrorists are not threatening only the government of the day. They have thrown the gauntlet to the nation (Hindu Indians) as such. So, the submission in this paper is: let the State authority move ahead with the usual countermeasures, such as, revamping or beefing up intelligence machinery with state-of-the-art technology and improved human intelligence, ensuring inter as well as intra departmental coordination, establishing administrative accountability, etc. All this has to be done. And, it is also correct, as it has been so well put across, “our intelligence and political establishment must interact more fruitfully – Act together, don’t play politics.” The call of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for setting up a nodal federal agency (being demanded by intelligence agencies for long) for tackling the menace of terrorism therefore seems a move in the right direction. Do we always need political unanimity in implementing such schemes, so much needed for the security of the country? Why the rest of the political leadership cutting across party loyalty cannot agree to this administrative imperative is not easily comphended. Are we really getting lost in the woods of political one-upmanship?                                                                                              Be that as it may, the country has to move on and find ways and means to tackle the menace of terrorism as it appears on the ground – a fight to the finish. Can the government alone do it? The problem is so deep-rooted because of, to put it bluntly, the phenomenon of Hindu-Muslim divide, that it would be futile to expect a readymade solution from the government. A pluralistic and officially declared secular government will always find it difficult to handle this. Terrorism of the day is not a simple law and order problem that the law-enforcing agencies even if fully empowered, can handle. Drawing a parallel to the oft-quoted axiom that the security of the country is too important to be left to the armed forces alone, one can possibly say with a lot more confidence that the problem of terrorism now facing the country is too important to be left to the government alone, much less to the security and intelligence services only. The thrust here is that the society as a whole should react to this and should come forward to find possible solution or means to face it. As the Noble laureate Amartya Sen has put it, “There is need for appreciation of the role of society and of social engagements in making human lives more secure in a constructive way.”                     But then who bells the cat? Judging, however, by response received in a particular situation, the scribe will like to humbly submit that the problem is not that intractable. In an unstructured and random interaction some time back with a group of people coming from different strata of society, the point came out sharply that the members of the general public – common-citizens – were not that apathetic to the situation. There was a distinct feeling and even a consensus that “let the authorities tell us what to do and we shall do accordingly.” In other words, a definite need arose that the common citizens have to be duly educated in order to give them confidence and build up resistance against acts of terrorism. This is not a simple job though not that difficult either. Given the will, some intelligent lead, the process can be begun even by a handful. The act of educating the citizens will, however, have to be taken up very methodically and scientifically and has to be sustained even in the face of initial adversity or hurdles. It will be an arduous process. But the move will eventually pay dividends hands down. The results will be remarkable, especially by way of building up normal degree of alertness that most of us lack. This will also impede the growth, and may even lead to unearthing, of sleeper cells, at least in mixed areas, a help the governmental agencies keenly look forward to. Thus, better government-citizen relationship will result, almost without any effort.                                                                                            

    The war on terror would also require the society to build on ethics against politically and religiously instigated violence. There is not enough or regular campaign or propaganda against this at the intellectual level even. A few write-ups or enlightened editorials do appear after every single major act of terrorism but then the public memory fades. In the context of heightened sense of insecurity due to random acts violence by the terrorists, why cannot a sustained programme for educating the general public be undertaken? No government hand or help is required for this. Well, it will be helpful if authorities come forward but cannot such awareness programme be run and conducted by so many social organizations or outfits operating all over the land under big-sounding names of social work? The only problem is such efforts will not show any immediate or tangible result to boast of. It is time that leaders among the intelligentsia think and spend some time over it. Efforts could also be made to involve Muslim leaders & intellectuals so as to enlist their support in this societal movement for ensuring national security. Organisation, such as, the MAT (Movement Against Terrorism), a new front of moderate. Muslim clerics, could be a case in point.                                                                            

    While thus there is an urgent need to build up such public awareness, experts also suggest that any counterterrorism strategy must include capability and willingness to negotiate with groups having legitimate grievance and are willing to abjure violence. This is rather delicate. Let this, however, be stated firmly at this stage that the defenders or promoters of Islamic terrorism, who now pose the real big threat will not fall in this category. It can, however, be held that there is need to create and enhance security culture and embed public safety norms among those communities as are prone to produce socio-psychopathic suicidal terrorists or other anti-national networks. The benefits reaped from this will be a bonus.

      On the whole, in addition to whatever governmental efforts are under way, there is an imperative need for building up overall national resilience, may be by helping to create what could be called ‘good citizens,’ a concept worth being given a trial. We need create good citizens in true sense of the term and then much good result will follow. Instead of putting blame on each other, the government, political parties and also the common citizens should stand together and meet the threat of terror unitedly. A culture of national resilience must develop. May be the academia or the intelligentsia as a whole could greatly help in this.

      It may not be out of place to share here what the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had outlined as global strategy for fighting terrorism. One could see a lot of force and possibility of application of these on the ground. It was like this:


Global Strategy for Fighting Terrorism: 5Ds:

        Dissuade: We must dissuade disaffected groups from choosing terrorism as a tactic. 

        Deny: We must deny terrorists the means to carry out attacks.

        Deter: We must deter States from supporting terrorist groups.

        Develop: We must develop the capacity of States to prevent terrorism.

        Defend: We must defend human rights and the rule of law.


      (Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, March 10, 2005, address to the International Summit on Democracy Terrorism and Security, Madrid, Spain)

      While all this is at the international level, a few observations in the Indian context may be relevant. The country needs a national doctrine on tackling terrorism, an open declaration that will stifle differences on grounds of politics, religion, caste or community. Tackling systemic corruption in our administrative or socio-economic structure is yet another important countermeasure. Financial squeeze at all possible sources of support will also go a long way. National resilience against the prevailing “culture of corruption” is imperative. It follows then that there is the supreme need for transparency in security policy. That cuts at the root of grievances, much of which is not genuine and is only perceived ones.                                                                                                                   

      At the end, one feels tempted to reproduce what an American friend wrote in an excellent piece, ending: “We must beware the sophistry that ‘one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter’. Regardless of how laudable we may consider the goal - whether it be a Palestinian State, the re-unification of Ireland, an end to abortions, or any other, we can truly begin to deal with the challenge of terrorism if we recognise that one man’s terrorist is everyone’s terrorist and do what is possible to end such practices.” If we feel convinced about it, let us start, thinking and taking steps, both at individual levels and at community level. Whatever be the colour, the government of the day will willy-nilly, initiate countermeasures, whether effective or otherwise. But, our humble submission is: non-governmental approach to tackle the menace of terrorism, may be at times in conjunction with the government or even independently, is the need of the hour. Let us all break our heads and find out ways and means to help develop national resilience that alone will win the day for us.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati