Terrorism can be tackled with political will
by S K Sinha on 14 Oct 2008 2 Comments

Terrorism poses a great threat to human civilization. The world may have woken up to this grave threat after Nine Eleven, but we in India have been battling this menace for the past few decades. As one who has dealt with this problem in its different dimensions for a long time, I would share my experiences and thinking on the subject.

I will first clarify the difference between Insurgency and Terrorism. Both are a fight of the weak against the strong, targetting the weak spots of the latter. Insurgency relies on widespread popular support for a movement led by a charismatic leader, and observes certain values. Terrorism, on the other hand, relies largely on terror to gain support for its cause. 

Insurgents attack Government forces using guerilla tactics. Terrorists attack the people in addition to the security forces. They target women, children and innocent persons to create a terror psychosis. Hijacking, kidnapping and massacres of innocents are their stock in trade. Insurgents refrain from such heinous acts. 

The pioneer of the concept of insurgency was Chhatrapati Shivaji. His strategy lay in building safe havens through guerilla tactics, where conventional military strength could be built up to defeat the strong in a conventional battle. Mao tse Tung adopted this concept for a revolution within his country, and Ho Chi Minh against a colonial power in erstwhile Indo-China.  

Today, the dividing line between insurgency and terrorism has got blurred and the two tend to merge. The term militancy can be used to cover both. I thought I might clarify this because I have heard some people refer to insurgency in the north-east and terrorism in Kashmir. Having been Governor of Assam for six years and of Kashmir for five years subsequently, I have experience of both these States. 

In fact, I got associated with such operations from my early days in the Army, during the British era, in Indonesia and Malaya. Talking of Malaya, I recall that conflicting views were being projected in Army circles on the strategy to be adopted. General Templer advocated a three-prong strategy of unified command, economic development and psychological warfare, to win the hearts and minds of the people. General Erskine, on the other hand, urged getting hold of the militants by the neck; hearts and minds would follow. 

Templer’s theory prevailed. It proved to be very successful and became the role model for such operations. I tried to adopt that strategy with suitable modifications to suit local conditions, both in Assam and Kashmir. Whereas it worked very well in Assam, success eluded us in Kashmir because of deep-rooted religious fundamentalism and the negative role of the media, which I shall discuss later.  

My Army experience of dealing with such operations stood me in good stead. I was involved with insurgency in the north-east from the time the Naga rebels fired their first shots in 1956, and with Kashmir from Day One, when the Indian Army went to Kashmir on 27 October 1947. I served for over a decade each in both States, at different levels, during my Army days. I also dealt with the beginning of terrorism in Punjab as Army Commander in the early Eighties.

There are three different types of terrorism, each requiring different techniques. We in India have faced all three types and suffered this scourge for a longer period and also suffered more casualties than other countries in the world. Secessionist terrorism in Kashmir is a product of religious fundamentalism and in the north-east of a separate ethnic identity. Revolutionary terrorism aims to bring about an ideological and economic revolution a la the Chinese Communist Revolution. Jihadi terrorism is based on religious fanaticism and deep-rooted hatred for other religions. The Jihadi is indoctrinated to become a martyr for the sake of his religion and attain entry to Paradise. The grandiose aim is to convert Dar-ul-Harb (land of the heathen) to Dar-ul-Islam (land of the pure), where Nizam-e-Mustafa will prevail. I remember once hearing a soap-box orator at Hyde Park in London, wanting to convert Britain into a Muslim country and as a first step in that direction, to convert the Queen of Britain to Islam!

It has been said that whereas the US has been able to prevent acts of terrorism in its homeland after Nine Eleven, we have not been able to do so in our country. Apart from the two oceans providing the US a measure of geographical isolation, it has been able to combat terrorism on its soil with national unity, necessary political will, stringent laws and a high degree of professionalism. Our national response to terrorism can be faulted on all these counts.

Jihadi terrorists have started a war against India. We are fighting an invisible enemy like a blind man without a well-coordinated long-term plan. They have been attacking our political capital at Delhi, our commercial capital at Mumbai, our technological capital at Bangalore, our spiritual capital at Varanasi, and several other cities. We have recently had some success in combating terrorism in Gujarat and Delhi, but by and large the Indian State is being seen to have been reduced to a state of helplessness.

Our national response to terrorism needs to be at four different levels – political, professional, people and propaganda. I call them the four Ps, and each has to be tackled with vision and understanding.  

First, the political response to terrorism: There should be national consensus on dealing with terrorism. The decision-makers must have the political will to act and take hard decisions. They should not be swayed by votebank considerations. Unfortunately, votebank politics lies at the root of the approach of our present decision-makers to terrorism. 

The Prime Minister is reported to have had a sleepless night over the plight of the mother of an individual held in police custody in a foreign country, on suspicion of being involved in the bomb blast at Glasgow. There is no report of his having sleepless nights over the plight of mothers of thousands of his innocent countrymen killed in terrorist violence. Two Cabinet Ministers oppose the ban on SIMI, which is so deeply involved in terrorist activities. One Cabinet Minister wants all illegal migrants from Bangladesh to be given full citizenship rights, when it is well-known that many among them have links with terrorists. Another Cabinet Minister approves of University funds provided by the Government  to be utilized for defending students accused of involvement in terrorist violence. 

All this is bad enough, but what takes the cake is a recent decision of the Government  to provide pensions for the families of terrorists killed in encounters with Security Forces in Kashmir. Such a bizarre rule does not obtain anywhere else in the world; within India, this generosity applies only in Kashmir and not to families of terrorists killed elsewhere in the country. On top of all this, the Government  is determined not to have stringent laws like POTA to deal with terrorism. All Western democracies have laws more stringent than POTA in place. Here the ruling party is not willing to implement the recommendations of the Administrative Commission in this regard. This Commission was set up by this very Government  with a veteran of the ruling party and a former Chief Minister, as its Chairman.  Beyond issuing inane statements of shock and grief, condemning cowardly violence and exhorting people to maintain communal harmony, the Government  remains paralysed and has so far failed to take effective action against terrorism.  

The second P stands for professionalism: Whereas secessionist terrorism involving cross-border movement has to be tackled primarily by the Army, the other two types of terrorism have to be curbed primarily by the Police. The politicization of the Police in our country has made the Police a handmaiden of politicians. 

Politicians in power do not allow the Police to take effective action against terrorists. The recommendations of the National Police Commission to depoliticize the Police have been gathering dust for decades. The directions of the Supreme Court have been ignored. The Police is handicapped in dealing with terrorists in the absence of stringent laws. It has to deal with terrorism on the basis of archaic nineteenth century laws, when terrorists are using twenty-first century techno-savvy techniques.  

The organizational and operational concepts being patronized by our Police and Government are out of tune with the requirements for fighting terrorism. We need good intelligence and good investigating capabilities for dealing with terrorism, and due attention is not being paid to these matters. The Beat Constable and the Police Station are the cutting edge of Police functioning, but are the most neglected institutions. The emphasis has been on Armed Police battalions. 

At Independence, there were about 12,000 police stations in the country. In the last sixty years there has been a marginal increase of fifteen percent in their number, when our population has increased four times and when policing has become so complex. On the other hand, we had 25 Armed Police battalions in 1947 and today their number has risen to one thousand.  

No doubt we face much increased violence today, but does that justify such a large increase of armed battalions and neglect of police stations? Only the other day, a retiring Director-General of a Central Para-Military Force said we need to raise a Counter Terror Force. The raising of additional armed battalions would not be of much use in dealing with terrorism.  What we need is improved intelligence and investigation capabilities. 

Beefing up the Intelligence Bureau and setting up a Federal Investigation Bureau should be welcomed, but not additional armed battalions to combat terrorism. Colonel Sleeman achieved astounding success in dealing with the Thugs in the eighteenth century who had killed lakhs of people on the highways, without the use of armed battalions. 

We need to have effective beat constables and many more police stations. These must be provided all facilities in terms of personnel, transport, communication, accommodation, etc.  Each police station should be headed by an officer of the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, with separate wings for law and order, investigation and intelligence. Actionable intelligence to deal with terrorism is best generated at the ground level. Metropolitan cities should also have separate traffic police stations.

The third P stands for the People: The entire society has to be mobilized to fight terrorism.  During the Second World War, civil society was mobilised to minimise damage due to air attacks, while battles were being fought in the air. Today, in the war against terrorism, we should mobilise our people to provide timely information of suspicious objects, explosives, terrorist movements, sleeper cells and so on. They should also help in countering the propaganda launched by terrorists and their sympathizers. No attempt should be made to view terrorism or the process of tackling terrorism from a communal prism. The minority community can perform a major role in this, and every effort should be made to encourage them to do so.

The fourth P, propaganda, is also very important: Margaret Thatcher had said media is the oxygen of terrorists. In our case, media has been more than oxygen for the terrorists, advertently or inadvertently lending support to them. The terrorist fights with two weapons, namely, gun and propaganda. 

Joseph Goebbels, the master Nazi propagandist, advocated repeating the Big Lie over and over again, till the people came to believe that Hell is Heaven and Heaven is Hell. This has become more potent today in the age of instant communication, investigative journalism and the impact of visuals on the electronic media.  

I know from my recent experience in Kashmir that whereas we succeeded in containing terrorist violence considerably, bringing it down from the average daily killing of 10 to 1 per day, we failed on the media front. We could not evolve and implement a proper media policy.  The Valley Press indulged in yellow journalism of the worst order and the national Press initially ignored matters, but always tried to be ultra secular. This was an important reason behind the disturbances in the wake of the unnecessary Amarnath controversy. 

Americans have introduced the concept of embedded journalists. We need not follow suit, but with proper information management and getting the media to be more responsible in the national interest, much can be achieved. We also have many human rights activists with bleeding hearts who need to be more realistic and not mislead themselves and the people.  

The attempt by some people to malign the Police over the action against terrorists in Jamia Nagar, calling it a fake encounter and rubbishing the martyrdom of a brave officer, as accidental death due to friendly fire, is nothing new. This has been happening in Kashmir all the time. Information management requires special attention. Falsehoods circulated by terrorists or their supporters must be suitably rebutted.

We as a Nation have all the ability, knowledge and talent to win the war on terror. We only need to act unitedly with determination and dedication, as also with full confidence in ourselves, to overcome the threat terrorists hold to our national integrity and national survival.

Lt. Gen. Sinha is former Governor, Jammu & Kashmir; the article is based on a speech at a seminar on terrorism by Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini on 4 October 2008

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