Why Policy Response to Terrorism Deludes India?
DENOUEMENT, January-February 2009
Former Director Intelligence Bureau
Absence of a coherent and time consistent counter-terrorist policy is responsible for India's failure on terrorist front is a common refrain of many well meaning critics. Drawing parallels with US success in securing homeland security following September 11, 2001 attacks, as against repetitive attacks in India, are largely attributed to this infirmity. While the logic of two comparisons is faulty on the fundamentals, it cannot be denied that despite having been bled profusely, India's response to terrorism has not been in pursuance of a grand policy, like US and many other terrorist affected countries. Indian response generally has been episodic and disjointed mostly reacting to situational challenges; particularly in the after math of major terrorist actions. Short term and tactical, they are primarily driven by an anxiety to reduce political costs in the wake of popular resentment and the media onslaught, achieve quick results in identifying and neutralizing the culprits and dish out brave statements to boost the morale of people, hoping that they will be seen as government's bold new policy initiatives.
Arguably, this is the time for fast and smart tactical actions to generate heat on the terrorists and not for policy making which is a long and cumbersome exercise of defining objectives, building capacities, redefining inter-agency role and responsibilities, restructuring systems etc. While one can justify ' immediate' taking precedence over 'important' to meet the problem at hand, what baffles one is that even after the initial outburst have subsided the 'important' continues to remain as elusive as before. The system settles down to the rut of the routine till the next event triggers the cycle all over again.
Despite having been bled profusely, India's response to terrorism...has been episodic and disjointed mostly reacting to situational challenges; particularly in the after math of major terrorist actions.
People start believing that the government lacks the intention, capability or the both to address the problem. Their belied expectations from the government of grappling the problem from a higher plane with a long term policy perspective, strategic vision and systems driven coordination give rise to wide-spread cynicism. They desire time-failed systems, non-performing policies and disjointed actions to be substituted by coherent policies and new capacities.
It would be absurd to presume that any government in power would not wish it to happen - if for no other reason for its own political benefit. It also cannot simply be attributed to bureaucratic apathy or insensitivity of the security apparatus. Probably, they are the worst sufferers of non-policy and would very much like to be led by definitive policy guidelines, if they only had the capability and opportunity of having one. The question that begs an answer is why in India, the world's biggest victim of terrorism, it fails to happen. There has to be something more fundamentally amiss in the Indian system which is responsible for this. It is important to identify these causes to bring about required correctives.
Policy making in government is a process through which those in power translate their political vision into plans and programmes to achieve certain defined objectives. Existence of political vision is thus at the centre of policy making. In the contemporary fractious Indian polity the political vision has been overcast by considerations of electoral calculations and pandering to the perceived sensitive of vote banks. Maximizing electoral advantages by serving the national interests best is no more considered politics that pays. Commitment to national good and ideological convictions, visible in early years of independence, has been taken over by politics of compromise and short term expediency. In recent times, coalition compulsions have further accentuated the problem constricting policy making only to a small residual area which does not hurt political interests of even a small constituent, where withdrawal of support could lead to collapse of the government. This minimal area of consensus is too small to formulate policies in respect of challenges which require national response at maximal level. As many security issues, including terrorism, fall in this category they have been the worst hit.
To take an illustration, North East is India's most vulnerable strategic region with more than 99% of its boundary being international. Over 88% of this international border is with the countries with which India faces one or the other security related problem. Due to geo-historical reasons, the area is still secluded from national main stream and has witnessed more than two dozen insurgencies is last six decades of India's post-independence history. It also provides an easy route for smuggling of weapons from Pacific-rim countries and drugs from golden triangle area. In this setting, securing its borders and making them impregnable should have been nation's prime security priority. However, what we did was just the opposite. In 1984, Assam which was worst hit by the massive demographic invasion was taken out of the purview of Foreigners Act through enactment of Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act (IMDT Act). The Act facilitated uninterrupted illegal migration of Bangladeshis in Assam and, from there, to rest of the country. The illegal emigration also provided an opportunity to the jehadi terrorists to find easy access to India. These illegal immigrants were helped in getting enrolled as voters thereby constituting a major vote bank, a consideration which for Congress took precedence over national security interests.
The creation of a National Investigating Agency, though a move forward, will prove to be inadequate unless all counter-terrorist intelligence tasks are placed under a unified command-and-control system.
After 21 years of passing of this Act, the Supreme Court in July, 2005 was constrained to observe that the Act was "wholly unconstitutional and must be struck down". Calling it as an "aggression", the apex court verdict added that "The presence of such a large number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, which runs into millions, is in fact an aggression on the state of Assam and has also contributed significantly in causing serious internal disturbances in the shape of insurgency of alarming proportions. The IMDT Act and Rules had been so made that innumerable and insurmountable difficulties are created in identification and deportation of the illegal migrants" The serious security implications of millions of illegal immigrants settling down in a region, challenged by high internal and external threats got eclipsed on narrow electoral considerations. But what was more alarming was to see that immediately after such a severe indictment by the Supreme Court, the Foreigners Tribunal Order was issued on February 10,2006, reintroducing the provisions of the IMDT Act through the back door for not losing the political advantage. It took another Supreme Court intervention on a public interest litigation to strike down the order.
There can no effective policy making in security matters unless those in power develop a political vision in which national security takes precedence over short-term political gains. In a competitive electoral politics, this will entail pursuing a bi-partisan approach so that national interest approach does not become politically unaffordable. A political discourse at a higher plane among major political parties on critical security issues, including terrorism, would be necessary for achieving this objective.
Even in the settings where political will and vision exists, policy making does not accrue as an automatic by product. It requires an institutionalized knowledge base, expertise both of the issues involved and the art of policy making, capacity to optimally leverage given constants and variables to nation's best advantage and a highly competent and committed civil service. The Indian security management system is deficient in this respect. Though there are individuals with high capabilities and commitments, but as a system, they are not able to achieve what the nation otherwise is capable of. This invites the snide remarks of India being a soft-state implying that its policy making and policy executing capacities are disproportionately low to the sum total of its comprehensive state power. Both policy making and policy execution in India is mired in a bureaucratic morass where there are more brakes than accelerators. Policy making has to pass through cumbersome processes which are slow, militate against change, are fettered by antiquated rules and procedures whose rationale has long been lost and is beleaguered by inter-department rivalries. Worst still, at different stages it is handled by people who lack required knowledge and skills, decision making capability, and are not accountable for causing delays and their other acts of Commission and omission. They are not the state holders in the success or failure of the policies, a burden that has to be born by the executive agencies. They are safe as long as they do not violate the rules and procedures.
In today's world, policy making has evolved itself into a fine professional discipline. The changes have, however, eluded Indian system of governance. To compound the matters, modern security issues are no more unidimensional in character and require multi-disciplinary understanding and application. For instance, tackling of terrorism in India would require a sound understanding of plans and strategies of neighbouring countries sponsoring terrorism and nuances of their intricate politico-strategic relations with India, ideological and collaborative linkages of the terrorist groups, inter and intra-group relationships, tactics and technology of modern day terrorists, an understanding of center-state relations, Criminal Laws and Criminal Administrative System of the country etc. Moreover, there is plethora of knowledge and ideas outside the government which should be factored in imaginatively for good policy making. In a democracy this should further include trends in public thinking, views of political rivals and interest groups, opinions of think tanks etc. Policy making today has thus become a much more complex and multi¬dimensional exercise than in the past.
With the declining standards of governance, a perceptible decline in these capabilities is discernible at a time when security challenges have become most acute.
The next problem in counter-terrorist policy making emanates from the structural architect of India's legalo-constitutional frame work itself. When designed, it did not foresee the type of complex internal security problems, like terrorism, emerging with trans-national and inter-state connectivities. With wars increasingly becoming cost ineffective and unpredictable instrument of achieving politico-strategic objectives, the modern world is witnessing emergence of forth generation warfare -a warfare against an invisible enemy- as a substitute. Even the small and weaker states can take on their more powerful adversaries in this asymmetric warfare which largely targets internal security with terrorism as its most favoured weapon. India has been witnessing the Pakistani onslaught of Covert Action now for nearly there decades.
Strong anti-terror laws — substantive and procedural — are necessary. It is gratifying that the government has almost re-enacted POTA-the NIA Act and the amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. However, in the new law, inadmissibility of disclosures made before the police remains a lacuna. How can the police get evidence of the planning, preparation and logistics that lie beyond their reach and jurisdiction? Making admissions even before senior police officers inadmissible will only help the terrorists.
How can a society unwilling to trust its police against a foreign terrorist expect a policeman to lay down his life to protect it?
An immaculate integration of the three functions that go in fighting terrorists
— developing operation-grade intelligence, coercive action to pre-empt or prevent terrorist actions and investigation — is required. One of the reasons why terrorists are able to display greater surprise, speed and success in their operations, despite low human and material resources, is that each terrorist group synergises all the functions that go into perpetrating a terrorist act. A unified national response will check the menace of passing the buck that has cost the nation for so long.
The creation of a National Investigating Agency, though a move forward, will prove to be inadequate unless all counter-terrorist intelligence tasks are placed under a unified command-and-control system. An investigating agency, at best, may get a few more convictions in the courts. But a 'war against terrorism' cannot be won in the courts. What we need is a National Counter-Terrorist Agency with stand¬alone capacities to fight terrorism.
For empowerment of the state police, states should be encouraged to enact laws to control activities of organised criminals, counterfeiters, gun-runners, drug syndicates etc. who have collaborative linkages with terrorists. It is regrettable that the Centre has not accorded its concurrence to many anti-terror state legislations like those in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh for years, even as such a law exists in Maharashtra.
It matters to a nation what happens to it. But what is more important is how it responds to it. Today a national consensus can be the driving force for
bringing about many changes that are long overdue. Let us turn a calamity into
an opportunity and force best comprehensive changes when it comes
to securing our nation. ■
DENOUEMENT January-February 2009
Thursday, September 22, 2011
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