Should we have Special Security Zones?
The idea of special, privileged enclaves, where extraordinary measures for security will be provided, is misconceived, and based on a misunderstanding of the challenges of terrorism, organised crime and law and order administration, which the proposed SSZs are intended to address.
Security must be treated within a comprehensive framework. Even a general review of recent trends in terrorism would demonstrate the enormous dispersal and decentralisation of operational networks, particularly of Islamist and left-wing extremists.
There is virtually no part of the country that is left unaffected by it.
Creating SSZs would establish new and relatively stable jurisdictions within which a 'heightened' war against terrorism could be waged, neglecting the fluidity, and extraordinary mobility of contemporary terrorist and insurgent groups, and the expanding networks of organised crime.
The SSZ concept communicates the notion that a discrete and geographically isolated or concentrated effort is required for the containment of terrorism.
Such zones would tend to be defined in terms of intensities of violence, and would exclude areas of substantial consolidation, where the incidence of violence is lower, even though terrorist activities and mobilisation is significant.
Any effort to define the SSZ more widely would meet with political resistance and would be unsustainable, given the requirement of legislative ratification.
The fact, however, is that the problem of terrorism extends far beyond the targets or 'points of delivery' of terrorist acts. You cannot, for example, secure Mumbai unless you have a coordinated and effective capacity to neutralise the networks of terrorism in Maharashtra's rural hinterland and beyond.
SSZs would tend to distort the focus of counter-terrorism and enforcement agencies, and would deepen the already chronic neglect of 'hinterland' areas.
Worse, they would do this without any significant gains in terms of operational capacities. The SSZ proposals do not enhance the mandate or powers of the enforcement apparatus, other than a provision that allows the banning or regulation of possession, sale, storage, use, etc, of certain technologies and substances in the notified zone.
There are some elements within the proposal that are positive, especially those that emphasise funding, capacity enhancement and coordination between agencies and across borders. These, however, can be addressed without creating new jurisdictional barriers.
(Published in The Times of India, September 17, 2006)