'There can’t be a permanent defence'
Terrorism overwhelmingly finds its targets
in urban concentrations, with the highest priority placed on metropolitan
areas and cities of critical national importance on a political, economic
or cultural scale.
It is only when terrorism secures a
spread verging on insurgent dimensions that rural areas are also targeted,
primarily to establish dominance and to force populations into submission.
The reasons are not far to seek — ease of operations and anonymity in
urban areas; the abundance of potential targets; exponential ‘returns’
by way of publicity; direct and disproportionate impact on key political
constituencies, among others.
It is evident that India’s cities will
continue to come under repeated attack in the ongoing ‘ISI
terrorism’ that has manifested itself with sickening regularity across
It must be understood that there can
be no such thing as a strategy of ‘permanent defence’. You cannot contain
terrorism at its delivery points, and all the barriers and checkpoints
in the world cannot protect India’s cities from future attack.
You have to go to the sources of terrorism,
and to deal with its networks, wherever they exist.
You cannot, moreover, have an efficient
counter-terrorism response in a collapsing internal security and justice
administration. Security is an indivisible, and there is no such thing
as a ‘small crime’.
The recent exhortation by Delhi’s Chief
Minister to ‘go after terrorists and not cycle thieves’ is both uninformed
and misconceived. It is doubtful that the city’s harried Police spend
any significant proportion of their time chasing ‘cycle thieves’ and
other petty miscreants. More significantly, the same networks service
both petty crime and major crime, including terrorism, and the same
enforcement agencies ‘look the other way’ when such crimes occur.
The same hawala networks service corrupt
politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, as well as terrorists. Smuggling
channels that bring grey market goods into the country also bring in
arms, ammunition and explosives.
You cannot protect cities if the rural
hinterland and mofussil India is unpoliced and ungoverned. While terrorists
struck in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi in the recent past, the mobilisation,
planning and at least part of the training occurred in areas apparently
unaffected by ‘terrorism’ — in Madhya Pradesh and in small towns of
Uttar Pradesh, among others.
Counter-terrorism is a ‘small commander’s
war’. The task of policy is to empower first responders. Force and intelligence
capabilities at the thana and Police post have to be adequate to deal
with every foreseeable eventuality, and the necessary manpower, tactical
and technological capabilities must be created for immediate responses
at this level.
Intelligence penetration cannot be effective
if it is concentrated only in potential target areas and in the cities.
It must be distributed across the country and must infiltrate the networks
of terrorism and their support structures.
The police may, at this stage, be degraded,
inefficient or corrupt, but this is the only instrumentality available
to the state, the only surviving bulwarks against a complete collapse
of order. Don’t abuse and demonise them. Reform them; give them the
capacities necessary to confront the threat; empower them fully; and
make them more accountable.
The source of the terrorism that targets
urban India today is, overwhelmingly, the ISI. Since there can be no
strategy of ‘permanent defence’, India must have effective overt and
covert strategies to inflict costs on the Pakistani establishment, and
to weaken, if not destroy, this source.
(Published in Economic
Times, New Delhi, September 21, 2008)