Long-term Planning

Counter-terrorism needs a holistic approach rather than a lop-sided one

Abhinav PandyaAbhinav Pandya

The United Nations might still be struggling to find the correct theoretical definition of a terrorist, but the global strategic and security community has come a long way from the days of the dictum ‘one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter’, at least in the operational matters. Today, no one can deny the intensity of the threat posed to humanity by terrorism.

India has been at the receiving end of the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan-based actors since the Nineties. However, the world community realised the intensity of our pain only after September 11 which made the phenomenon of terrorism genuinely global. Transnational terrorist organisations shook the world with a well-coordinated network and worldwide operations. The western world, though a late starter, took prompt and multifarious measures to tackle the menace of terrorism after September 11. Their response regarding research on the diverse aspects of terrorism, counter-terror operations, technological know-how and smart combing operations was undoubtedly prompt and effective. However, India despite being at the receiving end of terrorism for almost three decades and even after facing the horrors of 26/11, has not been able to come up with a robust response mechanism and a long-range counter-terrorism policy. In this essay, we will discuss the significant shortcomings of India’s counter-terrorism (CT) policy, challenges faced by India’s CT forces and policy interventions needed to address the deficiencies.

India’s CT approach has mostly been an ad-hoc, operational and reactionary one primarily focusing on the use of force. It has lacked a wide-ranging vision. This lacuna comes from the fact that there was hardly a serious and systematic effort to understand the phenomenon of terrorism intellectually. One wonders as to why the majority of the reputed think-tanks and publications on terrorism have originated in the western world. Moreover, even now it is scarce to find a quality study on terrorism issues emanating from India. Terrorism is a very complex phenomenon and entirely different from a conventional security threat; therefore, it needs a nuanced understanding of the problem.

First and foremost, there has been a tendency among the academic and strategic community to analyse diverse security threats like Left-Wing Extremism (LWE), the ethnic insurgency in Northeast, proxy-war in Jammu and Kashmir and incidents of jihadi terrorism through one broad prism of terrorism. Mostly, it has happened for the reasons of political convenience. Especially among the academicians in India, one finds an attitude hesitant to study the issues of Islamic extremism in detail. The problem of jihadi terrorism is a politically sensitive issue, and one finds oneself in an uncomfortable zone of being branded a communal if one studies Islamic extremism in India’s socio-political milieu that dwells upon a highly delicate and dangerous interpretation of secularism, driven by petty electoral concerns.  However, an efficient policy mechanism to address these challenges needs a detailed and differentiated analysis. The various security threats mentioned above are very different from each other, though one cannot rule out the convergences and overlapping. Hence, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is highly fallacious.

Secondly, in the policy response to address the challenge of Islamic extremism, the phenomenon of radicalisation has not received the much-needed attention. The issue of jihadi terrorism is profound, widespread and multidimensional in nature. In India, mostly we have focused on the military aspects of counter-terror operations. The approach is to wait until someone becomes a terrorist and then neutralise him. Moreover, this narrow approach is amply reflected in the terminology used which mostly hovers around the militant count; weaponry seized, quality of weapons and the encounter deaths. One hardly finds any systematic effort to understand the pre-militancy phases of radicalisation that are long-drawn and complex. After one joins a militant group, the only option left is the use of force in majority of the cases, and it often becomes counter-productive. The security forces kill one terrorist in the Kashmir valley in an encounter, and 10 others get inspired and join. What is needed is a rigorous effort to identify the radicalisation pathways, the organisations involved, their modus operandi and the funding channels which all constitute the infrastructure or congenial launching pads for a terrorist organisation to emerge, sustain and conduct operations. For example, in Jammu and Kashmir mostly the focus is on the activities (primarily clandestine) of Hizbul Mujahideen such as its recruitment drive, hide-outs, and finally, the encounters. However, one hardly comes across a robust mechanism to understand and curb the activities of Jamaat-i-Islami which are in the open and legal and flourish in the garb of religion. Jamaat-i-Islami provides the necessary cover in which the Hizbul Mujahideen cadres easily move, operate and continue to bleed India. Jamaat-i-Islami provides a ready supply of recruits through its rigorous education system. Jamaat is firmly entrenched in rural areas, and its activities in the rural areas are highly sophisticated. South Kashmir districts such as Pulwama and Shopiyan are hotbeds of terrorism, and they have a strong presence of Jamaat-i-Islami. Jamaat cadres function as over ground workers (OGWs) for terrorist organisations and Pakistan-based Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) handlers. Their activities include spying, providing shelter, food and other logistics assistance to terrorists. Also, with their threatening presence in the village, they intimidate the residents to fall in line with their agenda and not cooperate with Indian security forces. They freely distribute the distorted and violent interpretations of the literature of extremist scholars such as Syed Qutb, Hasan Banna, Maulana Maududi and Ibn Tamiya in universities, colleges, and other socio-cultural platforms. The extreme radicalisation as a result of their activities has almost finished the Sufi Islam of Kashmiris.

Similarly, over the last eight years, Salafis have become very active in Kashmir. Their mosques number more than 700 and are heavily funded by petro-dollars. Though they are silent on political issues, it is not without reason that their rise has strongly coincided with the rise of Islamism in Kashmir. Today, the Islamic State (IS) is firmly establishing its footprint in Kashmir. A large number of the followers of Zakir Musa (he raised the idea of Caliphate in Kashmir, and his group Ansaar Ghazwat ul Hind (affiliated to al Qaida) believes in the ideology of Ahle-Hadith/Salafi. One can find the Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK) graffiti on the walls in 90 ft area which has a large concentration of Salafi mosques.

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