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Countering terrorism in India – some suggestions

Several policy measures can be taken by the government on short-term and long-term basis to combat the menace and India must show political will-power backed by a sound strategy if it has to succeed.

By PPFI Team

January 20, 2009

Recent events in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, have once again highlighted India's vulnerability to terrorist attacks. What is shocking is that despite the huge security machinery that exists in the country, the terrorists are striking at will on high-profile targets. Here are some short and long-term policy measures that can be taken up by the Indian government to combat the menace.

  • India has a total of 15,106.70 km of land border and a coastline of 7,516.60 km. Mainland region apart, it also has a total of 1,197 islands accounting for 2,094 km of additional coastline. India has a volatile neighbourhood. Countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are beset by internal problems. The government must realise that all strategies to counter terrorism will fail unless measures are taken to stop infiltration and smuggling of narcotics (a major source of funding for the terrorist organisations) and arms & ammunition across India's porous borders. To ensure this, vigilance must be stepped-up in the border areas and fencing of borders must be completed on a priority basis. To secure India's seas, the Central Maritime Board should be constituted at the earliest to ensure greater coordination between the naval defence forces.
  • Terrorism, in recent times, has become an international issue. Constitution should be suitably amended to segregate terrorism from law & order. Law & order can remain a subject in the State List while terrorism should be included in the Union List. This will give more power to the union government and prevent the influence of local political leaders and other religious groups on the anti-terrorist operations and investigations that are carried out by the government agencies.
  • Government must strengthen its intelligence network which is critical to prevent terrorist attacks. Indian government should set up a central, joint intelligence agency on the lines of the unified armed forces command. Its role would be similar to role the CIA plays in the United States. All the intelligence inputs, gathered anywhere in India, should be routed to this central agency which can collate them and warn the concerned agencies.
  • A separate department, dealing specifically with anti-terrorist operations across the country, should be constituted in the Ministry of Home Affairs with units at the state level. This is necessary as terrorist modules have a long-trail stretching across several states. This trail must be destroyed completely. This move will also help in apprehending those who may not be directly involved in terrorist activities but provide shelter and funds to the members of the terrorist organisations.
  • A separate department should be created in the Ministry of External Affairs to deal with diplomatic aspects related to combating terrorism at international level. This department will coordinate with international agencies like Interpol and also deal with the issues like extradition & deportation of wanted terrorists, intelligence sharing, legal assistance and regional cooperation. 

  • The police and para-military personnel should be given adequate training and be made well-equipped to deal with terrorist attacks. There have been many cases in the past when police personnel launched anti-terrorist operations and were killed as they were not wearing bullet-proof jackets. This shows that they were not properly trained to deal with the situation or lacked in terms of equipment and weaponry to take on the highly trained and motivated terrorists who were using sophisticated firearms.

  • There is an urgent need to have a single, all-purpose citizen identification number. The move will not only help Indian government identify illegal immigrants and repatriate them but at the same time bring greater transparency in the financial and banking transactions. This is necessary in order to monitor and curb the funding of the anti-national organisations in the country.
  • All cases related to terrorism must be heard on a daily basis. The speedy completion of trial and delivery of verdict will ensure that terrorist organisations have lesser scope to plan such acts in order to get their arrested members released. Once the higher judiciary of the country has convicted a person of acts of terrorism, no scope should be left for him to escape a punishment that acts as a deterrent.
  • Amendment should be made in the Indian constitution and the practice of presidential pardon must be done away with in the cases related to terrorism. The political and executive set-up of the country, unlike the judiciary, is more vulnerable to influence from political lobbies, vote-banks and diplomatic pressure from other countries. The move will ensure that justice is done to the victims of terrorist attacks and the convicts do not escape punishment or get it delayed by putting pressure on the establishment.

  • The terrorist organisations recruit the young, the unemployed and the disillusioned. All steps must be taken to obstruct this process. Once this is achieved, half of the battle against terrorism will be won. Government should undertake employment generating programs in the backward and the terrorism infested regions of the country on a large scale. At the same time, it should run media campaigns aimed at making the local populace in the terrorism infested areas aware of the real motives of the terrorist organisations. Religious leaders must be roped in to campaign against the mindless violence and the killing of innocents. 

Only a sustained, long-term, well-planned and coordinated effort at all levels on the part of the government will lead to success against terrorism. India has succeeded against terrorism in the past in states like Punjab, Nagaland and Mizoram. It demonstrates that the battle against the menace can be decisively won if the country shows political will-power backed by a sound strategy.

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