Terrorism Update
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International Terrorism
India's Long Term Strategy and Concerns
Lt Gen Chandra Shekhar (Retd) PVSM AVSM

The Nature and Range of Terrorism

Terrorism is fundamentally an attack on the state. It may be described as an act of violence, committed against innocent people to create fear, with an underlying political motive. This fear is an intended effect and not merely a by-product of terrorism. Terrorists are therefore criminals and not so-called freedom fighters. International Terrorism has international or trans-national consequences in which terrorists strike targets outside and beyond their country of origin such as the 11th September World Trade Centre attack or the strikes by Pakistan-based outfits in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). International Terrorism also implies that such terrorist groups, e.g. JEI, Al Qaida, etc. have an organisation/ network/ linkage in a number of countries. For instance, we have identified terrorists who are nationals from 16 countries, currently operating in J&K. The question is that if collateral damage and casualties from terrorism are inevitable, should the Government have any qualms about swift and ruthless retaliation?

We need to understand that terrorism is different from insurgency or revolutionary / guerrilla warfare, as it is an overwhelmingly criminal act rather than merely a political offence. Even if it is argued that terrorism is employed by revolutionaries as a ‘tactic’, such means cannot justify the end. In the ongoing war in J&K we have already lost 28,000 lives. Finally, the ‘right to life’ is more fundamental than any other right. This is something that needs to be clearly propagated to everyone, including human rights-wallahs.

International terrorism is not a new phenomenon to the world or to India in particular. The 11th September incident has only demonstrated another facet of international terrorism – the tremendous potency of technology and innovation – besides the globalisation of economies, which have come to transcend national boundaries. Multi-national corporations and non-state players now have a worldwide reach. These have compromised the authority of the state. Non-state players and black money as well as narcotics trade have acquired power, making some of the terrorist groups (JEI, LTTE & PLO) financially viable and independent. The revolution in information technology (IT) and communication also enables instant transmission of ideas and information at a global level, by the terrorist outfits who can now exploit ‘cyber’ terrorism as well as the deadly and sophisticated Precision-Guided Missiles (PGMs), and other weapons of mass destruction.

The rise of religious fundamentalism has introduced a new ideology which sanctifies ‘Jehad’ (holy war) and ‘Fidayeen’ (suicide) attacks. This exploits the situation of ‘backwardness’ and economic disparity of the frustrated youth of society.

Terrorism today, therefore, has been transformed into a trans-national, high-tech, lethal and global phenomenon. The response to terrorism needs to be structured accordingly and the decision making process also needs to be modernised.

Geo-Political Environment and Threat Assessment

It is necessary to examine the environment, both internal and external that exists, before we discuss the long-term strategy and concerns that confront India. The prevailing internal environment has a direct bearing on the growth of terrorism in the country, and should be examined first. The realities in our context are:

l The fact that our consolidation as a secular, federal and democratic state is still evolving; and that the diversity of our multi-ethnic / multi religious society is often exploited by fundamentalist forces.

l The absence of sufficient employment and unequal development, the resultant poverty and the accompanying frustration, which has encouraged unemployed youth to take up criminal acts and narcotics. The inducement of money – for instance, Rs 3 to 4 lakhs per year in J&K – is a specific inducement to take to militancy.

l Ineffective Anti-Terrorism legislation/ legal frame-work and misplaced judicial-activism.

l "Structural" inadequacies in the state apparatus, namely:

— Weaknesses in the intelligence structure – human as well as technical.

— Inadequate modernisation of Police, PMF and Armed Forces.

— Unimaginative media management and coverage.

— Reactive response and slow governmental decision-making, lack of clear strategy and policy on Internal Security.

Amongst the existing external environment, the regional / sub continental realities that merit consideration are:

l Our situation between the ‘Golden Crescent’ and the ‘Golden Triangle’ leading to a heavy influx of drugs and arms. Thus, 21,000 weapons have been captured in J&K alone.

l A hostile nuclear Pakistan with a land border of 3,400 km, who sponsors ‘state-terrorism’ and fundamentalist forces.

l The unresolved border with China (5,800 km), a country that has active military and nuclear co-operation with Pakistan.

l A long sea border (7,700 km), prone to pirating and smuggling.

l A contiguous and porous border with unequal smaller SAARC nations such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, with accompanying problems such as illegal migration, trade and smuggling in the border belt and the resultant social tensions. Because of its size and capabilities, India is perceived as a big brother whose active cooperation is denounced as so-called ‘intervention’ and lack of it, as ‘indifference’.

On the larger international scene, the factors that impact on terrorism are the following:

l Globalisation has made geographic borders transparent to the flow of ideas, people and also turmoil.

l Technology has extended the reach and capabilities of the terrorists at the global level.

l Economic interests of national and multi-national corporations (MNCs) pre-dominate all other interests. Therefore, unfriendly acts by some of our neighbours are not questioned.

l The lack of international cooperation to undertake anti-terrorist action till the 11 September incident. Today, there is better realisation and the Security Council Resolution SCR 1373 is a good step. However, unless implemented and enforced, it is of little use. This, therefore, needs to be converted into an international convention and adopted by all nations.


Following from the above understanding of the nature of international terrorism that faces us today, it is clear that a long-term strategy is required to counter terrorism. It has to be comprehensively addressed on all fronts, political, economic, social and military. This strategy needs to be evolved from our national aims and objectives to protect ‘core values’. These core values are:

l Consolidate as a secular, federal democratic state with freedom of speech, equality and justice.

l Protect sovereignty and territorial integrity.

l Promote socio-economic growth and development.

We must learn from the experience of other nations. However, at the same time, we need to realise clearly that our situation is particular to us and there are no direct lessons to learn except a re-evaluation of our own experience. Our strategy must be realistic and cannot be similar to the US model of worldwide capability or the Israeli strategy of reliance on massive and immediate retaliation, as the respective environment and capabilities are different. While, we can take some useful lessons from the British dealings with the IRA or even the Egyptian policy on eliminating the Jehadis, one principle is clear – that whatever responses we adopt, they must not be ‘knee-jerk’ reactions or evolved in an ad-hoc manner.

Political / Diplomatic Strategy

International terrorism cannot effectively be fought alone, as has been our experience so far. All nations must join hands to combat it, as is being done for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida. SCR 1373 must not remain on paper, must be applied and the defaulting nations punished.

Pakistan sponsored ‘proxy’ war must be exposed and international pressure applied. We must highlight more aggressively, the justness of our cause and the support to terrorism by Pakistan, both through state and non-state players, as well as strive to isolate Pakistan in the international community.

A strong message needs to be conveyed to Pakistan, that we mean business, demonstrated by deeds/actions. All steps to convey this must be implemented such as diplomacy, trade, sports and military.

We also need to take all ‘covert measures’ to pay back Pakistan in its own coin, by encouraging internal inadequacies in NWPF, Sind, and along the Durand Line.

Internal Strategy

Our policy of meeting political / economic aspirations has succeeded in many cases through the creation of new states and autonomous councils with limited military containment. However, it has not succeeded where ‘internal support’ has been potent. We, therefore, need to move from a policy of appeasement and accommodation to firm action, before the problem spreads:

l Adopt proactive policies to confront the terrorists militarily, and at the roots of terrorist ideology – fundamentalists, social evils and sources of terrorism e.g. narcotics / drug trade.

l Enact effective anti-terrorist laws and legal framework.

l Modernise and enlarge intelligence networks.

l Modernise state Police and Para Military Forces in training, equipment and ethos.

Economic Dimension

Spread the fruits of development more evenly throughout the country. Locate some of the Public Sector Units in the remote areas even if they are non-profit making.

Put in a greater developmental effort in the remote, weaker sections of society – which, though a stated policy is not visible at present.

Reduce demographic displacement resulting in social / ethnic tension such as in Assam and Tripura, through the joint development of sensitive border belts along Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Enhance our economic and military capabilities so as to widen the gap between India and Pakistan sufficiently, and act as an economic and military deterrence for Pakistan, which would then realise the futility of trying to catch up.

Social Environment

Promote moderate and secular polity by media, intelligentsia and religious institutions. The path of developing a composite culture as already developed in the Armed Forces may serve as a useful role model.

Address the outdated education system of Madrassas by quality modernisation and laying down guidelines for uniform syllabii. We cannot continue to recognise religious education such as those in the Madrassas as an entrance-system for universities. Suitable alternatives have to be created.

Upgrade our communication systems so that television and telecommunication spreads to our remote and border areas, which are currently under constant reach of Pakistan propaganda.

There should be realistic psychological and information warfare so that the will of the anti-national elements is suffocated and the hearts of the populace are won.

Military Strategy

We need to clearly spell out our counter terrorism strategy / doctrine. This should tackle the causes and not just the symptoms. I must stress here that J&K is only a symptom of terrorism and NOT the cause. The direction of military strategies should be as under:

l The aim of military operations should be to create a secure and suitable environment, so that social, economic and political issues can be addressed effectively. Seeking political solutions to accommodate the aspirations without fully eliminating the terrorists, their structure and support bases only results in a ‘fire fighting’ situation and actually prolongs terrorism. This results in enormous costs, militarily and economically.

— The first step should be to build-up the military forces and their capabilities (which are not adequate currently), and thereafter consolidation of these capabilities and finally destruction of the militants.

— A reactive response is not the answer. A reorientation of armed response is required so as to launch proactive and specific surgical military operations.

— An important element of a proactive effort is to increase the costs of proxy war to Pakistan, by undertaking ‘Hot Pursuit Strikes’ across the LoC and into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK).

l The evolution of a superior Intelligence System is imperative. This should encompass human, technical, electronic intelligence, as also modernisation of data processing and dissemination – both external and internal.

l Effective surveillance and management of the borders to check infiltration (International Border/ Line of Control), is also necessary. This should be achieved through technical means of surveillance, backed by highly mobile, specialised forces as ‘Reaction capability’ rather than the present system, which is manpower intensive.

l Foreign-based terrorists have to be hit at their bases, training camps and sanctuaries to end the surrogate terrorism or the proxy war by Pakistan. We have to create the means and the will to do this. Special Forces both overt and covert, need to be employed for this task.

l Imaginative security of our vital installations, nuclear assets and airports. Static posts or piquets are not the answer. Electronic sensors and effective intelligence is the need.

l Preventive measures against nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) and cyber-terrorism.

l The Army is the ultimate weapon of the state and its over-employment affects its operational role. The Police and the Para-military should normally handle the internal security. However, they are incapable of fighting a proxy war such as in J&K unless their capabilities are upgraded.


At present, there is a lack of a consistent and comprehensive policy at the national level. The core of the issue is that we need to respond efficiently and rationally to the emerging challenges. ‘Collective Action’ to fight by international cooperation is a must, as the economic costs of combating terrorism by a single nation are colossal. Such collective action had not come about till the American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan operated against the Taliban. Collective action is not confined to active combat alone. Simultaneously, foreign sponsors of international terrorism have to be identified and tamed.

Collective Action is also applicable at the national level. We cannot continue with the present situation where the Armed Forces bear all the responsibility of dealing with anti-national elements, while other members of society, from the safety of their homes, advocate what they deem to be politically correct measures. A democratic polity and a diverse society such as India do not support stringent measures and anti-terrorist legislation, even when necessary. Thus, at present, the security forces have to function in an environment of lack of total physical and legal support. Therefore, legal reforms and stringent anti-terrorist legislation have to be enacted. As an example, the media that has a great reach today, should be used as a ‘Force Multiplier’ to shape public opinion and to counter false propaganda. The media must be taken along as a ‘weapon’ of the state and not of the terrorists.

Fundamentalist forces have to be addressed by both ‘strong arm tactics’ like the Egyptians did under Hosni Mubarak to chase the terrorists out of the city mosques as well as by the promotion of secular polity by containing / neutralising radical religious groups of all religions.

Technology enhancement, NBC, cyber-terrorism have given the terrorists unlimited powers and to counter these, we must not lose any time to modernise our security apparatus. For this, very heavy investment and effort is required and we must be prepared to follow this effort through. There is also a necessity to have institutional security, through an overall improvement in intelligence interception and police efficiency as the list of political targets continues to grow in the urban and industrial field. The citizens of the country also have to be energised to feel responsible for the well-being of the nation and state apparatus alone will not suffice. Simultaneously, we have to deploy Special Forces for specific tasks and they have to be trained accordingly. There is also a need to evolve a policy framework on internal security by the Home Ministry.

Ultimately, the roots of terrorism have to be removed through good governance. Political corruption and lack of good governance is a basic contributor to frustration setting in into a society, which is then exploited by unfriendly nations. Needless to say, this has to be addressed immediately by striving to achieve economic well-being, social justice and political aspirations of the populace. In a country of our size and population, this will take considerable time. Therefore, we have to put in a sustained effort to initiate, plan for and implement such efforts seriously, and take them out from merely the realm of election speeches.

The author retired as Vice Chief of the Army Staff, The Indian Army.





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