Response to Terrorism: Need for a National Strategy

Why has a section of the populace become so aggrieved as to pick up arms against the state? Finding an answer to this question is perhaps the first step in formulating a response to terrorism. As a generalisation, we can look into the following four factors.
• Ideological. Here, the motivation is drawn from a belief that the existing system of governance has failed the people and the only solution is to overthrow the government and change the form of governance. An apt example is the growth of Left Wing Extremism in India, Nepal and other countries.
• Ethno-political. The motivation here is based on identity politics, as witnessed in parts of Northeast India and in Sri Lanka.
• Politico-religious. The prime motivation here is religion. Examples abound across the world, but the most obvious are the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Chechnya in Russia and some parts of Pakistan.
• Cross-border terrorism promoted by regimes as ‘war by other means' on their neighbours. The obvious example here is Pakistan sponsored terrorism in J&K.

Within these four broad parameters, there will be a great deal of overlapping with respect to the motivation for terrorism and insurgencies, and any of the above factors can have varying shades of the others embodied within its structure. In terms of Kautilyan statecraft, terrorism and insurgencies referred to above could have three variants. The first is externally sponsored and supported, in furtherance to the designs of a hostile power. Next is where internal factors have led to the onset of terrorism and insurgency, which thereafter has received external support. The third is when the causes are internal but the insurgency or terrorism does not receive external support.

A response strategy to terrorism which is externally sponsored and supported must of necessity deal with the external actor. It is different to those insurgencies that have internal causes and may or may not be supported by external actors. The former is part of an adversary’s attempt to use terrorism as a part of state policy. An example is the use of terrorism by Pakistan, in creating instability in J&K and also in other parts of the country. This has been a deliberate attempt and a well thought out strategy, enunciated in Pakistani policy as “Bleeding India with a thousand cuts”. This, in essence, has become Pakistan’s de facto war doctrine against India.

Forlong, India’s response to Pakistani military’s strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts was reactive. The measures taken were creating fences and walls around sensitive establishments to prevent such attacks. While many attacks were prevented, some did get through, which led some scribes to describe Indian reactions as ‘survival by a thousand bandages’. India undertook no punitive action when its parliament was attacked, when the Akshardham attack took place or even after the 2008 bloody Mumbai attacks.

There appears to be a change in stance in Indian response patterns post the 2014 elections, when the BJP led NDA government came to power. The surgical strikes of 28 September 2016 following the killing of 19 soldiers in an attack on an army base on 18 September was perhaps the most visible signal of a likely end to the era of Indian inaction and putting the Pakistani military establishment on notice. While the surgical strike has done little to change the fundamentals of India’s strategic dynamic with Pakistan, their political, psychological, diplomatic and strategic benefits have been greater than the tactical military gains. Pakistan stands virtually isolated in the region, and is largely being recognised by the world community as a sponsor of terrorism.

Experience has shown that while the above action is a welcome step in the right direction, it has not yet achieved the aim of deterring Pakistan, which continues with its support to terrorist groups operating from its soil. It is undoubtedly a long haul, but it is necessary for India to stay the course, in its bid to force Pakistan to sever its ties with such groups. Without imposing direct costs on the Pakistani military, India cannot hope to achieve the desired level of deterrence against Pakistan. Multiple options need to be exercised, encompassing both military and non military measures, which could be escalated as per requirement. Military measures are well known, but need to be exercised. Non kinetic measures would entail applying pressure against Pakistan on the economic, diplomatic, riparian and political front. Consistent with this doctrine, the pressure on Pakistan could be calibrated to achieve desired policy outcomes. There is no need for overt belligerence, and the focus should remain on a silent war, employing multiple tools of leverage and coercion to bring the Pakistani military to heel.

Deterrence perforce has to be the first prong in handling terrorism which is inspired, sponsored and fully supported by a hostile state. Such foreign inspired terrorism is of another kind and rarely relates to issues of governance. It however, impacts governance, as the very raison d'être of such terrorism is to cause paralysis of the institutions of governance, forcing them to shift their attention and time towards fighting terrorism. There is thus a need and a necessity to distinguish and separate foreign sponsored terrorism from home grown militancies and insurgencies, which have now blossomed into terrorism. In the former case, the argument of governance becomes somewhat irrelevant, though it has great salience in conflict resolution of the latter.

Formulating a response to insurgencies and terrorism where the causes are internal, must of necessity start with the identification of those causes and then proceed to policy interventions for conflict resolution. It is important to understand that India is a diverse country and different regions where violence exists would perforce require local solutions. The United Nations has based its counter-terrorism strategy on four pillars, which find universal applicability. These four pillars are:
• Addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.
• Preventing and combatting terrorism.
• Building capacity.
• Ensuring human rights and the rule of law.

The Role of Governance
Governance plays a critical role as a preventive strategy. It is a composite term encompassing within its ambit the four pillars of the state—the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the media. It also encompasses many other institutions of the state such as non-government organisations (NGOs). Good governance is achieved when all these institutions function as they are mandated to. When these institutions are seen to be ineffective, a sense of frustration, disillusionment and disappointment with the established order sets in, which over time, creates an ideal climate where terrorism and insurgencies can flourish. Poor governance is thus the ‘push’ factor. The relief offered by terrorist organisations thereafter pulls people towards that cause.

The government frames the laws, which though well intended, suffer from deficiencies in implementation, which is the responsibility of the bureaucracy and other institutions. Justice delivery too, remains a far cry for the common man, which impels some people to take the law into their own hands. The growth and spread of Left Wing Extremism in India can to some extent be attributed to the fact that justice to a large group of people was denied. Despite the fact that the Constitution, through Article 244 and the Fifth Schedule provided specific safeguards for the tribal people in India’s heartland, such provisions were not adhered to. The Maoists seek tribal support on the basis of providing them justice which the state has apparently failed to give. This is one of the reasons why the movement still exists, over 50 years after the first violent movement took place in 1967. What is required in governance structures is accountability, periodic audit of performance and transparency. While there is a thrust on moving towards more open and transparent systems, there is still a great deal of institutional resistance to reform. Left Wing Extremism can only be defeated by countering its ideology. That counter ideology must of course be the idea of Indian democracy. For that we have to make democracy work, which implies effective institutions of governance.

Good governance by itself may not be an adequate safeguard against terrorism and violent extremism. Examples abound of countries such as France, which have good governance, but are still afflicted with cases of terrorist violence. On the other hand, we have countries with poor governance, like Haiti and North Korea, where terrorism does not exist. So, besides governance, we need to look into the phenomenon of radicalisation. In an article in The Guardian, Anne Aly posits that case studies have implicated a host of factors such as denial of justice, issues related to a sense of identity, belief in moral superiority and a desire for recognition, which could lead to the spread of radicalisation. This leads to the ‘us versus them’ phenomenon, which in turn serves as the justification for violence against what is perceived as ‘the other’. While these factors contribute to the spread of radicalisation, they by themselves are not its drivers.

The driving force remains ideological. Islamism advocates the application of Islamic law in its severity and in its entirety. The belief here is that the Muslims have become weak because they have deviated from the path and only the full application of Sharia would enable the Muslim world to become strong again. This is both a very attractive idea and a very powerful one too. In earlier years, we have seen how people got attracted to ideas such as communism, which in essence was a radical utopian ideology which found appeal even among the educated and the well to do. So did fascism. Viewed in this context, we are now witnessing the growth of Islamism, which seeks to strengthen the Ummah through the application of Sharia law as practised in the times of the Prophet. When thus viewed, jihadi violence is simply an attraction to an idea and has little to do with issues of governance and personal status.This explains the growth of organisations such as ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and al-Shabab. In India, it explains the radicalisation of a section of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir.

Strategy Formulation
Strategy formulation would encompass dealing with causes, preferably before they lead to violence on the streets. It would look into preventive measures, detection, repression and finally disengagement. Here, besides effective institutions, we need an effective civil society and a free and unbiased media. These institutions are created over time and must be allowed free play in society. On the part of the government, greater thrust needs to be given to education, more specifically, the type of content which is taught in schools and colleges. The issue of corruption in public life needs to be addressed as a core priority to restore faith in the system. Alongside, we need to inject some element of accountability and responsibility into all the institutions of governance and into civil society. This must encompass non-government organisations (NGOs), human rights organisations, the media and the public as well. This will address the first pillar— the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.

The second pillar, detecting and combatting terrorism would involve a whole of government approach. Here, we are looking at appropriate legislation to provide a legal framework for tackling terrorism, sound intelligence system to detect an act before it takes place and well equipped and trained security forces to deal with an attack in an appropriate time frame.

Considering the universal nature of terrorism today, concern is oft expressed that it is difficult to combat terrorism, in the absence of a definition as to what constitutes terrorism. However, while we do not have a universally accepted definition of terrorism, we do have universal acceptance of what constitutes a terrorist act and which is now part of the UN Convention. This is defined as:

“Any act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking part in the hostilities, in a situation of armed conflicts, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organisation, to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

The UN has been operating with this definition since 1999, when the Convention was opened for signature. It became operative in 2002, giving the world body a legal basis for the same. In India, the legal basis for preventing terror attacks came into force in 2002 with the promulgation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). This Act was repealed in September 2004 when the UPA government came into power, ostensibly on the grounds of misuse. The earlier Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) was amended to give a legal base to prosecute terror cases. There is a view that the repeal of POTA has debilitated India’s anti terrorism effort, especially as the onus to prove guilt now rests on the police and not on the accused to prove his or her innocence. There would be a requirement for a stricter law, but it is unlikely to come about in the present political climate. Other countries across the globe have appropriate legislation in place. Singapore has its Internal Security Act, which allows the Home Minister to order detention without trial. It is an exception to the rule of law, but there is broad public support for it as it allows the country to take a zero-tolerance approach.

India’s intelligence agencies are well geared for the task at hand, and now with the formation of the National Investigative Agency, we have a dedicated investigative agency as well. The fact that terrorist related incidents have registered a steep fall in the country testifies to the effectiveness of the agencies. In terms of kinetic effort, adequate security forces exist to counter the threat.

In terms of public response to terrorism, much still needs to be done. As an example, Singapore has got what is called a community response to terrorism called SG Secure. This is a national movement which aims to sensitise, train, and mobilise the community to prevent and deal with a terror attack. Basically, they are looking at teaching people how to protect themselves, to assist those who need help and also notify the authorities. For this purpose, they have developed an app, which captures at one place, everything that a person needs to know and all the agencies that need to be contacted. All this can be done with a single tap. The government is now working with and encouraging the telecom agencies to install this app in every mobile phone that is bought in Singapore. Essentially, what is aimed at is to sensitise the community to the threat, know how to react to it and also ensure that no community or group stands vilified or ostracised as a result of an attack. We need similar measures, at least in all our major cities.

The third pillar involves building capacity. One aspect of such capacity is the creation of legal instruments, intelligence agencies and security forces as mentioned above. The second is creating cooperative mechanisms at the bilateral and international level. At the international level, the UN has a basket of 19 international instruments that could be considered to form a comprehensive approach to countering terrorism. Conventions such as the Convention on Terrorist Bombings, International Convention for the Financing of Terrorism and the Convention on Nuclear Terrorism are part of the above. The UN also has a global counter-terrorism strategy that was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006. This policy is currently under review. As part of the above strategy, the UN has a counter-terrorism implementation task force which brings together around 39 different agencies that have many and varied roles in tackling terrorism. The Security Council has also adopted certain measures, many of them under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which makes them legally binding on all the member-states. The 1267 Regime that was first adopted in 1999 and the 1373 Regime which is a business and counter-terrorism committee are part of the above. The former enables sanctions on individuals and entities linked to al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIS). With the latter, member-states are expected to impose national sanctions against all individuals and entities linked to terrorism. This is indicative of a robust legal approach to deal with terrorism.

As part of capacity building, we also need to look into response mechanisms to radicalisation. As a definition, we could state that radicalisation is violent extremism—anything that connects extreme ideology with a possible turn to violence. In other words, there is no radicalisation, if the process does not lead to violence. Radicalisation is also not Islamic by essence and could pertain to any group. Second, we need to develop detection mechanisms, to determine when people are getting radicalised. Third, we need training of social workers and public agents, in counter radicalisation techniques. Fourth is the need of a counter narrative to prevent the radicalisation of minds. This includes counter-narrative from the state as well as counter-narrative from civil society. Counter-narrative from the state, of course, is the key. The fifth aspect is the actual monitoring of the radicalised youth, to be followed thereafter by disengagement which is a very difficult process.

These are the capacities which need to be built and which need to be in place as an effective response strategy to terrorism.

(Maj. Gen. Dhruv C Katoch is a director of India Foundation and Editor of SALUTE magazine.)

Brahma Chellaney, Doctrine of Graduated Escalation, available at /article6501078.ece,accessed on 17 January 2018
Brahma Chellaney, India’s critical test on Pakistan, available at, accessed on 17 January 2018
N NVohra, ‘Uphold the Constitution’, in Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region, ed. Dhruv C Katoch, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2018, pp 147, accessed on 17 January 2018
ESL Narasimhan, ‘Role of Governance and Civil Society’ in Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region, ed. Dhruv C Katoch, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2018, pp 135,136
Ibid. pp 136, 137.
Daniel Pipes, ‘Influence of West Asia on Terrorism Worldwide’, in Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region, ed. Dhruv C Katoch, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2018, p 99., accessed on 17 January 2017
Daniel Pipes, pp 99, 100.
Elizabeth Joyce, ‘Role of the United Nations’, in Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region, ed. Dhruv C Katoch, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2018, pp 199
Ibid, pp 200., accessed on 17 Janu-ary 2018
K Shanmugam, ‘The Terrorist and the State’, in Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region, ed. Dhruv C Katoch, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2018, pp 47
Ibid. pp 45-46
Elizabeth Joyce, ‘Role of the United Nations’, in Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region, ed. Dhruv C Katoch, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2018, pp 199-200
Muriel Domenach, ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’,in Terrorism in Indian Ocean Region, ed. Dhruv C Katoch, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2018, pp 174-177.

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