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Mechanism Against Terror Still Missing

Terrorism is a crime against humanity. It threatens most the lives and rights of ordinary citizens, whom every modern state must serve best to justify its legitimacy. Given this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of “zero tolerance” against terrorism is only natural. He has been stressing this tirelessly since he assumed the office of Prime Minister. In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly session in October 2014, he lamented India had suffered a lot at the hands of the terrorists for the last four decades and declared it would not be tolerated any more. Modi has also carried the theme of zero tolerance to his recent parleys with several world leaders, including Chinese and American Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama. In fact it is expected, following his ‘successful’ summit diplomacy in Washington, that the process of ongoing Indo-US cooperation on counter-terrorism, will acquire a new momentum; Prime Minister Modi and President Obama having agreed “on several ways to enhance cooperation on terror.”  

One, however, wonders if the Prime Minister’s stress on zero tolerance against terrorism and some mere word of international support alone would serve the purpose. The Prime Minister’s predecessors, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, had been preaching the same doctrine of zero tolerance. They too, had had agreements with important world powers on intelligence cooperation. But the net effect has been a big zero. India has continued to suffer at the hands of terrorists from time to time. According to authentic studies, since 1980 the terrorists have claimed 1.5 lakh lives in India.

The situation on the ground has, in fact, been turning from bad to worse. Confirming this, India’s former Defence Secretary and current Governor of Jammu and Kashmir N N Vohra has recently said, “Jihadi terrorism has been progressively spreading its reach”, with the activities of the Indian Mujahidin ‘growing’. India’s hinterland continues “to remain the prime focus of Pakistan-based terror groups, particularly LeT and IM.” The ISI has been “striving to resurrect Sikh militancy in Punjab by supporting the establishment of terror modules from among militants in the Sikh diaspora” and “pressurising Sikh militant groups to join hands with the Kashmir-centric militant outfits.” Besides, recent reports are that similar Islamist forces such as ISIS and al Qaeda have of late become active in spreading reign of terror in India. 

There is a near consensus across the Indian strategic community that New Delhi’s zero tolerance policy has so far failed mainly due to the absence of a credible intelligence and security apparatus to implement it; foreign intelligence or military cooperation can do little herein. In the post-9/11 landscape, the leading Western democracies have come to develop an effective legal, intelligence and security mechanism to combat terrorism. But New Delhi has continued to look the other way even after 26/11. India’s National Security Council system is hardly functional. It is still the Cabinet Committee on Security that really does whatever; the CCS deliberates on current policy, not matters of long term planning.

Knowledgeable sources say New Delhi has taken measures such as legislating the Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment Bill, 2008 and the National Investigation Agency Bill, 2008 and establishing additional hubs for the National Security Guards. But operationally, the UAPA and the NIA have had little meaning. The former defines terrorist act as an attempt to “overawe by means of criminal force or causing death of any public functionary”. This is difficult to establish. As for the NIA, it is armed with powers only to investigate terror cases after the crimes have already been committed. It also does not have the kind of functional autonomy its counterparts in America and England have from their political leaderships. The NIA has no extra-territorial jurisdiction to probe incidents which might occur outside India.

We are “still sitting ducks”. Some of the key Kargil Committee recommendations, further streamlined by the Group of Ministers Committee in 2001 are yet to be implemented. Deficiencies of arms, ammunition and equipment continue to plague the Indian armed forces. One of the key recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee was to have the office of the Chief of Defence Staff, a five star rank officer, established to act as a single point military adviser to the government and handle the tri-services commands including the vital Strategic Nuclear Forces Command (SFC), Andaman and Nicobar Command and the Defence Intelligence Agency. But this is still a far cry. 

The Central Government needs to promulgate a law for dealing with identified federal offences and establish a central agency with the authority of taking cognizance and investigating crimes having serious inter-State or nationwide ramifications for national security. But the Centre’s proposal of setting up the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) still continues to be debated.

There is no central intelligence agency in command of all the information to be processed and communicated for action. All information is still sent “vertically nor horizontally” and in the process intelligence is not passed on to those who have to act on it. There is little coordination among different security agencies to fight terror. Accountability remains unfixed. There is enough space for every top functionary - NSA, Home Secretary, Director IB and Secretary of R&AW – to give an excuse for lapses, if any, on his or her part.  

The sources add our existing security and intelligence agencies can do little. The RAW is falling short of resources a modern intelligence service needs. The Intelligence Bureau has less than half the personnel it needs. The Central Bureau of Investigation and organisations like the Border Security Force are even worse off. There is “little motivation at the state level to install effective general policing system in their jurisdiction.”  We still have “leaderless police force to cope up with” 26/11-like situations.  

One hopes the Modi government will act fast to put in place an effective mechanism to implement its much-valued anti-terror doctrine.

The author is a senior journalist based in New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

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Jagdish N Singh
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