State of India’s war on terror: An interview
by R Hariharan on 07 May 2014 4 Comments

Q: How do you see the death of Major Varadarajan who belonged to Chennai? What does it indicate about our fight against Jihadi terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir?


Never before in Chennai had I seen such public participation in a military funeral as that of Major Varadarajan. This should remind all those who talk of Tamil separatism that the spirit of nationalism in Tamil Nadu is stronger now thanks to the martyrdom of young people like Varadarajan. Regrettably the national TV media had little time for it. It devoted more time to the trivia uttered by Priyanka Gandhi in her electoral skirmish with Narendra Modi.


The death of two soldiers in the prime of life is a stark reminder to the nation that the war on terror in the country particularly in Jammu & Kashmir is far from over. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal data, in J&K alone over 43,554 lives have been lost from 1988 (when terrorist activity was scaled up) to April 20, 2014. Among those killed were over 14, 676 civilians and 6,104 security forces personnel, the rest were terrorists. This works out to an average of about 145 lives lost every month, and that too in J&K alone!


If we consider the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) – the other major threat to our national security – the picture is even more shocking. In nearly eight and a half years from 2005 to April 2014, we lost a total of 6403 lives – an average of 64 people a month.  


Of course, these casualty figures do include the number of terrorists and extremists killed. But we have to take them into reckoning as they represent the loss of young productive human resources of the nation. The nation simply cannot afford to continue to lose over 200 lives a month due to terrorism and extremism. By nature in a democracy the war against unconventional threat is prolonged and time consuming. And in a developing nation like ours terrorism cramps governance, stifles development programmes and depletes scarce resources.

In J&K we should not let our guard down. In 2013, Pakistan army’s ceasefire violations in the State had more than doubled to 196 instances as against 93 in 2012.


These violations are mostly covering fire provided by the Pakistan army across the Line of Control (LoC) to help the infiltration of terrorists from their bases in POK. So it is not surprising that total fatalities went up to 181 in 2013 as against 117 the previous year. Already in the first four months of this year we have lost 14 lives.


There is an escalation of Taliban terrorist attacks in Pakistan. And after the US pull out of its troops from Afghanistan this year, we can expect a progressive increase in terrorist activity in J&K. The terrorism here has to be considered as part of an overall threat to our national security from Pakistan as it is sponsored and supported by the Pakistan government and Army. The Pak-based terrorist threat to national security has linkages with domestic terrorist groups like Indian Mujahideen.


Our national counter terrorism is still not fully matured though we have made some progress. We need to overcome our political inhibitions to treat terrorism for what it is – a threat to democracy, national security, stability and progress. This should be on top of the agenda of the incoming government in New Delhi.


Q: Do you mean to say the terrorist activity is due to failure in government policy?


The answer is not a simple yes or no. There had been some improvement in the Government approach to combating terrorism. The efforts started by Home Minister P Chidambaram after the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai have made halting progress. However, the integrated structure involving Central intelligence and police organizations and their counterparts in States is not yet fully in place. It has to progress at a faster pace with greater commitment both at the Central and State levels.


Modernisation of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) is well under way. In the interim budget for the financial year 2014-15, the allocation for this has been increased by 16 percent to Rs 59,387 crores. This will enable CAPF to procure modern equipment including night vision devices, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment and anti-IED devices. The allotment for improving State police forces is double the amount allotted to CAPF. However, the State level the modernization has not progressed with equal vigour in all States. Police Commission reforms are yet to be implemented by many States. Same is the story in coastal security arrangement. States have huge deficiencies in human resources; both qualitatively and quantitatively they have to be beefed up.


Structurally also some progress has been made. These include the launch of Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS) that connects nearly 2000 CCTNS stations in 25 states. The much delayed National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) has at last been launched. This is a crucial initiative and its successful implementation can improve our real time response to terror attacks.


Thanks to these efforts, notable success has been achieved in preventing a repetition of the 26/11 type of attack. During 2013 there were four terrorist bomb blasts in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Patna and Bodh Gaya. The Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorists responsible for masterminding the blasts in these places, except Patna, have been rounded up. In fact, the arrest of Tahseen Akhtar, leader of IM involved in organising a number of terror strike across the country since 2010, on the Nepal border in March 2014 was a significant achievement. The subsequent arrest of Bhatkal, said to be his successor, has literally decapitated the IM and exposed the entire network.


Similar success has been achieved in apprehending key leaders of Maoist extremists also. Militancy in the northeast has been largely weakened thanks to Bangladesh’s leadership cooperating with India in denying sanctuaries to them in its territory. Myanmar is also regularly interacting with India to curb Indian militants seeking sanctuaries on its soil. However, much more is required to be done in Myanmar.    


The prevailing political climate of suspicion among parties has resulted in friction between the Centre and States, which continues to affect country-wide integration of efforts in fighting terror. This is affecting speedy implementation of decisions taken to improve national internal security capability. Some of the weaknesses are affecting the fostering of the spirit of nationalism in border areas affected by militancy. The never ending controversy over the use of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in J&K is a typical example of this. This is one area which cries out for improvement.


Q: A new government will be coming to power in New Delhi shortly. What key issues would it face in handling terrorist threats, particularly from Pakistan-based terrorists?


As stated earlier, the Af-Pak region is going to face increased Taliban terrorist activity after the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. So we can expect Taliban to intensify their militant and terrorist attacks to destabilise not only the elected government of Afghanistan, but India as well. India has made huge investments in the development of Afghanistan and has agreed to provide security assistance to it. So the worsening internal security situation there will impact our own strategic security priorities. 


As far as Pakistan is concerned, Nawaz Sharif government has failed to achieve success so far in its efforts to bring the Taliban terrorists to the negotiating table. On the contrary, terrorist attacks have continued even as the talks proceed in fits and starts. The Army is suspicious of the Government effort as it is locked in its own war against terrorists. Despite these internal developments, Pakistan has not made any significant effort to curb Hizb and Lashkar terrorists operating against India from bases across the LAC. So we can expect the terrorist efforts to destabilise J&K to continue and to be intensified at politically opportune moments.


The Centre cannot afford to drop its guard against terrorism. It will have to sustain its efforts to integrate with the States and ensure that terror strikes are neutralised at formative stages. The Centre needs to take special measures to improve its relationship with States to achieve this, in tandem with efforts at international level to curb Jihadi terror. The war against terror is an unending one and vigilance is the watchword for success.


Lastly, while we have made considerable progress in providing teeth to CAPF, the same cannot be said of the armed forces. There have been serious deficiencies in all the three Services, affecting their military capabilities. This is largely due to poor leadership at both the political and ministerial levels. The new Government has to urgently address this issue as the armed forces are the backbone of national security.


[Based on an interview with a television channel in Chennai as a part of its coverage of the death of Major Mukund Varadarajan and Sepoy Vikram Singh in an encounter with terrorists in Shopian area of J&K]

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