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Kirti Singh asked: Despite India being an age-old victim of terrorism, why does India lack a coherent counter-terrorism policy?

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  • S. Kalyanaraman replies: Until recently, the terrorism challenge that India confronted was largely limited to those states that shared a border with Pakistan (in particular Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab). Given Pakistan's role in supporting and sponsoring terrorist groups that operated in these states, India's counter-terrorism efforts were largely focused on three aspects: 1) the diplomatic effort to highlight and bring international pressure to bear upon Pakistan to stop its support for and sponsorship of cross-border terrorism; 2) the employment of security forces (armed forces, paramilitary and police) and intelligence agencies to tackle this challenge in a particular state; and 3) forging an understanding and accommodation with moderate elements within the state concerned. Although the activities of terrorist groups in these states did spill over into other states of the Union, there was no all-Indian dimension to this challenge. Further, even where there was no cross-border dimension, as for instance in the case of the Naxalites in West Bengal, the challenge was largely confined to a particular state. As a result, counter-terrorism was largely focused on dealing with the particular challenge in an individual state.

    Compounding this lack of a national perspective on terrorism is the distribution of powers between the Centre and the State under the Indian Constitution. Powers over the police are vested in the state governments and the Centre's efforts to establish national-level institutions to deal with the challenge of terrorism do face opposition as seen in recent years in the case of the National Investigation Agency and National Counter Terrorism Centre.

    The need for a comprehensive national-level institutional mechanism and approach to counter terrorism emerged only over the last decade because of three trends: 1) the decision of Pakistani terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to expand their jehad to all parts of India (attacks on Red Fort, Parliament, Mumbai); 2) the emergence of the Indian Mujahideen as a pan-Indian Islamist group and its terrorist campaign spread across several parts of India; and 3) the terrorist campaign unleashed across several states by radical elements among the Hindu Right. The final straw that forced a reassessment of mechanisms and approach was of course the Mumbai attacks in November 2008.

    Although a comprehensive blueprint was indeed drawn up subsequently, this meaningful effort has been successfully crimped and cramped by Centre-State disputes over jurisdiction as well as turf wars among various investigation and intelligence agencies. Nevertheless, India today does have a national level institutional framework to deal with pan-India terrorist campaigns and some significant successes have been scored over the last few years. Be that as it may, there is indeed a case for bringing greater public pressure to bear upon the central and state political leaderships as well as the various government agencies to further strengthen this framework.

    Posted on February 07, 2014