Terrorism in India: Demand and Supply Dynamics
India has made remarkable progress in countering terrorism and insurgency in the country over the past six decades plus after independence. Contrary to popular perception the Indian state’s response to what is known variously as low intensity conflict, asymmetrical wars and so on has been effective in containing conflicts ranging from Jammu and Kashmir in the North West to Nagaland, Manipur and Assam in the North East. Most significantly the redux of Naxalism has been limited to the jungles of Central India. In some cases the spectre of terrorism and militancy has been neutralized be it Punjab or Mizoram through some deft political initiatives that followed containment of violence. Post Mumbai 26/11 an attempt to create a credible counter terror architecture has resulted in admirable results the debate over National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) notwithstanding.
Yet serial bomb blasts in Hyderabad on 21 February which saw the loss of 16 lives is a grim reminder that India has failed to imbibe the lessons from past successes and build on the same to combat new challenges in the post modern nontraditional security spectrum in real time. A demand and supply dynamics is one way at looking at the challenges, responses and the way ahead.
The demand for terrorism as a political tool for overcoming grievances or attaining aspirations has been reasonably contained be it in Kashmir, the North East or Naxal affected states, with some enlightened development initiatives though implementation is poor as the peripatetic Rural Development Minister Mr Jairam Ramesh has never tired of accepting publicly. There is extremely low demand for religious extremist terror in the country which is largely a tribute to inter communal harmony which is ingrained in the pluralist ethos. The fatwa issued against terrorism by our Muslim clergy from Deoband, the base from which the Afghan Taliban also draw their ideology is laudable.
Yet terrorists do not require mass support for their acts and the tenets of Foco and Detonator theories of insurrection denote that societal rebellions can be triggered by through a narrative of imagined grievances. When there is a state in the neighbourhood namely Pakistan which follows a policy of active support to terrorism, in which terrorist groups and leaders can openly hold meetings and make public speeches even though some of them as Hafeez Saeed are banned by the sole super power the United States, demand for terrorism will continue to be generated in India in the near future.
The internal dynamics of demand for terror rests in the narrow political gains which overlook the fact that no organization operating overtly much less a political party, community or religion can be blamed for actions of deviants who form the smallest fraction of its constituents. These on the other hand create a sense of grievance in the section on both sides of the social divide to create demand for terror. The moot point is that the so called, “Islamic and Hindu,” terrorism much like, “Sikh,” or, “Kashmiri,” terror has no basis and any labeling has to be considered with due caution most importantly by those who hold high positions of power be it ministers or political leaders. Blame the deviants not their mother organization unless it is an active sponsor of terror as the Jamaat ud Dawa in Pakistan and its violent arm Lashkar e Taiyabba.
Supply side dynamics factors which contribute to operational capabilities is also of great concern for India. The Pakistan factor has been outlined and it is well understood that unless there is a fundamental shift in state policy in that country to stop the use of terror as a strategic tool, continued support to groups acting against India can be anticipated for only limited resources have to be employed and it is also completely deniable, apprehension of Ajmal Kasab notwithstanding. This would imply that terrorist groups as the Indian Mujahideen will have continuous supply of funds, sanctuaries, training and motivational support to conduct acts as the Hyderabad serial blasts. Continued diplomacy bilateral, regional and global is one tool that will have to be applied.
Curbing the supply side also involves a strong counter terrorism posture in the country, an area in which despite some remarkable results there are many deficiencies. While the core focus has to be in building capacity at the local level through an ability of continuous surveillance, monitoring and proactive intervention through human and technical means there is far too much attention devoted to organizations as National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
There is no doubt that NCTC is required but only after there is adequate capacity at the city level not before it. For instance placing a network of CCTV cameras at vulnerable locations should have been a priority but there is limited progress in major cities more over use of these for proactive spotting of terrorist activity as planting of bombs is lacking and there is more focus on use during investigation. Thus there are fundamental issues of prioritization which will have to be addressed and the local given more important than the state and the state over national. Creating a Hyderabad or Andhra Counter Terrorism Centre or Mumbai and Delhi Counter Terrorism Centre should be priority which can be linked to the NCTC. A bottom up approach may pay greater dividends including lesser political resistance than a top down one. State police in India are capable as the Andhra Greyhounds have demonstrated in meeting the challenge of Naxalism, however it is apparent that the same force has completely failed on the front of urban terror.
Intelligence and investigation are other key areas where there have been major deficiencies thus the same names of Bhatkal brothers et al keep cropping up after every serial blasts in the country. Obviously successful penetration of the Indian Mujahideen has been lacking and while occasionally cells have been unraveled the top tier remains oblivious given that these may be operating from outside India using modern media tools to advantage. Turf wars is also a bane and formation of the National Investigation Agency has not resulted in corresponding benefits to counter terrorism in the hinterland. Containing the flow of money, arms, movement and so on are other issues that are needed to curb the supply.
Most importantly a comprehensive counter radicalization programme in the core areas from where religious terror is seen to emanate to include Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and so on needs to be carried out so that the exposure to even the miniscule minority to fundamental violent ideology is curbed.
Today’s terror is striking at the very roots of progress in India, the economy and exploiting the fault lines in society be it ethnic or communal. Curbing demand and supply is one way at looking at counter terrorism, whatever model is used urgency in action is underlined.