Terrorism in India
© 2013 FrontLine Defence (Vol 10, No 1)


India is the greatest democracy of the modern era by dint of its size, population, history and the diversity of its ethnicities, languages, cultures, and religions. At the end of 2012, with some 1.2 billion people, India represents approximately 17% of humanity. Even with this massive population, a complex brew of cultures, ethnicities, religions and political views, the Government of India has been able, for the most part, to maintain a semblance of internal security and peace since its Independence in 1947. Yet we must remember that ­terrorists/extremists assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi (as there is no global consensus on a definition of terrorism, the words terrorist, insurgent groups or extremists are used interchangeably in this analysis). In this context, terrorism in India represents a threat that is unlike any other nation faces – for it is simple numbers.

To understand this, we must indulge in a simple thought exercise: Due to India’s population size, if ONLY 1% of the population is disaffected, that signifies at least 12 million people who can become a potential threat to the security of the nation. And let us assume that half of these are willing to do “something”, and then let us consider that half of that group may be willing to take up arms (approximately 3 million). Thus, if even .0025% of India’s population chooses an active terrorism path, the numbers are potentially too great for the totality of India’s security forces to handle.

Luckily for India, this theoretical problem has not yet occurred. However if economic, social and religious issues are not resolved in the near future, this nightmare scenario could play out. To understand the potential fallout, we only have to look at the so-called “insurgency” in Iraq, which, as many analysts like Anthony Cordesman and myself have noted, was in reality a civil war.

For decades, India had been involved in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, however, as Arjun Subramaniam, Air Vice Marshal of the Indian Air Force, observed in 2012:

“…what we saw happening with regularity in the 1990s was that instead of fighting the battle-hardened Indian Army, insurgents or militants from home-grown outfits like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) or the Hizbul Mujahideen started attacking soft urban targets like ordinary people with no security and the central police forces with spectacular results.”

This observation was all too apparent in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). The LeT’s coordinated attack clearly exposed the weakness of India’s current security structures in the asymmetric threat environment, as these structures were slow to respond and adapt to the threat.

To grasp the strategic scope of the terrorist threat in India, we must examine three distinct areas: first, the nature of the threat; second, the merging of criminality with terrorism; and finally, the capacity of security services where it matters – police enforcement.

Nature of the Threat
It is clear the terrorism threat is asymmetric, so under our theoretical construct, what exactly does this asymmetric threat constitute? Keep in mind that we are looking at this from a global strategic perspective, and can ignore the myriad pseudo-experts who will always fall to the irrelevant tactical level of such threats by focusing on the minutia – and completely missing the larger picture, rather like ignoring the ant hill while focusing on stepping on a few ant scouts.

It can be argued that terrorism in India can be categorized in two basic forms:  external and internal.

Internal terrorism emanates from religious or communal violence as well as insurgencies like the Naxalite–Maoist threat, while external terrorism emanates from neighbouring countries and is executed by either Indian or foreign citizens or a combination thereof – the most obvious example was the LeT attack on Mumbai. These two categories can be further refined into individual or a combination of (a) direct, (b) proxy, or (c) criminal terror threats.
It is relevant to point out that Governments, especially in the wake of 9/11, have focused far too much of their resources on terrorism related to state-sponsored action or ethno-religious tensions. But we must never underestimate criminality in this mix.

To get a sense of the nature of terrorism in India, it is worthwhile to look at a ­snapshot of terrorism in that country. For instance, between 1 August 2010 and 31 July 2011, Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC) recorded 1,012 damaging attacks in India. More than half of this violence was attributable to the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-M), while ongoing low-level insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeastern states accounted for much of the remainder.

If we look at the principal tactics, a third of these can fall within the category of criminality (Assault, Hostage, Fire attack, and Assassination), and potentially this could be as high as 50%, depending on the context of Ambush and Explosive device events. So it is relevant to look more closely at the general nature of the criminal terrorist convergence.

The Criminal Elements
Suffice it to say that many insurgencies such as FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have morphed into major criminal enterprises. Therefore, based on current trends in India, we can see many of the defined insurgencies moving towards criminality as well. Thus, the convergence of criminality and terrorism are inevitable, and this poses a complex asymmetric threat that India is not prepared for, or is currently ignoring.

As the Council of Foreign Relations observed in 2008, India’s operational focus is using military force as its primary means of countering terrorism, and negotiation afterwards – a stick then a carrot approach. But this is, at best, reactive and does not address the deeper issue of how these groups fund themselves.

A critical aspect of the transnational crime/terrorism linkage is the actual use of money, its transfer and laundering. As the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) noted in 1996, both African- and Asian-based transnational crime organizations “have been particularly active in financial fraud and other economic crime.” There is no doubt whatsoever that Foreign and Domestic Governments and their respective intelligence agencies are heavily involved in the facilitation of such activity (think ‘false flag’ operations, such as Israel’s support of Hamas, or America’s support of the Mujahadin via the CIA, and the shaping of the narcotics trade in Afghanistan). And as the 2009 UNDOC report clearly shows, the reality is that the Karzai Government, not the Taliban, dominates the drug trade out of Afghanistan, which in turn has a direct impact on the rise of Narco-Jihad (criminality merging with state sponsored terrorism) in regions like Indian-Administered Kashmir.

So, it makes eminent sense that those fighting an asymmetric war against India have turned to criminal activity such as the drug trade to fund their ideological or political objectives. As early as 1994, Interpol’s Chief Drugs Officer, Iqbal Hussain Rizvi, observed that, “Drugs have taken over as the chief means of financing terrorism.” In December 2000 Ralf Mutschke, the Assistant Director, Criminal Intelligence Directorate, International Criminal Police Organization – Interpol General Secretariat, testified to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime that:

“Central Asian criminal organizations have taken advantage of these unstable conditions [after the collapse of the old Soviet Union] to become more active in such illegal activities as drug trafficking and other smuggling activities, while becoming ever more powerful. As a result of their domestic trafficking activities, drug dealers and other criminal organizations have developed transnational and international criminal connections, further spreading the flow of drugs and becoming increasingly involved in more serious criminal activity… A significant part of the drug trafficking activity in the area is taking place in conjunction with terrorist activity.”

In 2004, India acknowledged that links existed between transnational criminality and terrorist groups within the country. What is of greater concern, however, is that the threats posed by transnational crime syndicates are for the most part, identical to, or clearly overlap, the objectives of terrorist groups. In the context of asymmetric war, the table below offers a synopsis of these overlapping threats.

An analysis of the previous internal/ external threat table provides one obvious observation – that there is a clear synergy between transnational criminal entities and terrorist organizations. As Steven McCraw, the Deputy Assistant Director, Investigative Service Division of the FBI stated to the House Judiciary Committee in 2000:

“Organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorist acts are no longer insular, distinct activities that can be contained and eradicated through traditional enforcement. Instead, they are integrated activities, which through their very commission have a reverberating impact on our [US] national interests.”

In 2004, a report prepared for the Government of Canada and UNDOC showed that, apart from direct involvement in criminal activities, terrorist groups at the global level were working with organized crime gangs for the movement of men, arms, and terrorist hardware. India noted that these terrorist groups “were making extensive use of the networks of organized criminal gangs, particularly those relating to smuggling and to informal banking systems such as the hawala” and that “such underground banking systems have substantial links with the underworld and money laundering channels” in India.

What we can see from the merging and morphing of interests of the terrorist groups and criminal enterprises is that a military solution is not viable over the long-term. Clearly, there has to be an equal focus on local police and security forces in the anti-terror campaign in India.

Security Service Dilemma
Given the drug trafficking threat emanating from Afghanistan, and the associated ­criminal financing it gives to both regional Governments and their intelligence and related assets, it is clear that the Indian military cannot win this type of Asymmetric conflict alone. An obvious impact of the confused policy in India has been a distinct lack of urgency by border guard forces in apprehending drug consignments and peddlers from across the borders. If the borders are not secure, it falls to police services to provide the backbone of internal security.

The police are the largest and most widespread of India’s security apparatus, and are primarily the first responders to internal terrorist events. Yet, there is a clear manpower shortage and, as Home Secretary GK Pillai observed in 2010: “The sanctioned and actual police personnel per 100,000 people (police-population ratio) at the all-India level was 145.25 and 117.09, respectively, on January 1, 2007. The number of policemen per 100,000 people in India is 130. The minimum United Nations norm is 220. At 220, we are approximately 600,000 policemen short.” This shortage has not been made up as of the end of 2012. And, in any asymmetric threat, it is “boots on the ground” that matters most.

Jane’s has aptly described the workings of India’s security structures as “byzantine”. What is somewhat stunning, given the long and bloody history of terrorism in India, is that there is no legal structure to deal with federal-level crime; this is because India’s constitution mandates law and order as a responsibility of the state. In an attempt to rectify this massive strategic error, ­especially after the Mumbai attacks, India has attempted to form the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which was to be modelled on America’s Department of Homeland Security.

At the time, Minister of Home Affairs Shri P. Chidambaram stated the NCTC role would “include preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack should one take place and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators”. The NCTC was supposed to be established by January 2012, but the proposal was watered down from a stand-alone agency to an entity under the control of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), an entity that does not have legislative accountability. It would seem to the outside observer that the IB blocked the new agency as the bureau would have lost some of its responsibilities. However, due to legislative pressure, this decision was reversed in the summer of 2012. Political wrangling and power politics aside, Jane’s Intelligence Weekly observes:

“More fundamentally, the NCTC promises to do little to deal with the abject lack of training and resources among first responders. So ill-prepared were most of the security personnel during the Mumbai attacks that most refused to engage the enemy. Bullet-proof vests issued to first responders were unable to withstand Kalashnikov assault rifle rounds, and led to the death of Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare when he was shot by one of the terrorists.”

So, we have inadequate police forces that are under-trained and ill-equipped in a complex asymmetric environment. Added to this is the erroneous logic of “technology as a solution”, predicated on the now ­disregarded, if not discredited idea, of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).

In his opening statement at a May 2012 meeting of Chief Ministers on issues of the NCTC, Home Minister Chidambaram stated “that human resources alone are not sufficient to counter terrorism; technology is the key weapon in this conflict.” This is a MASSIVE error in judgement – it has failed the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel has been unable to stop terrorism as Britain failed in Ireland until it used covert assassinations of key IRA personnel.

As Afghanistan continues to show, technology does not help in an asymmetric threat environment. The only viable solution is one of HUMINT (Human Intelligence), open and honest negotiations with the terrorist groups, and mechanisms to deal with grievances of the silent majority who support such groups (this worked for the British in Malay/Borneo – the only time the West has defeated an insurgency since the end of WW2). Without the support of the local people, an insurgency or terrorist threat has limited ability to impact events, and certainly will not find a fertile ground to grow.

In 2006, Prime Minster Singh of India observed that “it would not be exaggeration to say that the problem of Naxalism is the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country…” As the Times of India reported, there is no doubt, six years later, that the Naxilite threat remains, and that it is growing in influence due to the inability of the Indian Government at the State or Federal level to address the poverty and lack of services in the affected regions. Thus India’s defence planners must deal with the demands of continuing domestic counter-insurgency operations that are also a combination of terrorism and criminality.

India’s aspirations to great-power status must be taken in the context of regional security where China and Pakistan present direct external security concerns while, at the same time, insurgency, terrorism, and criminality pose multiple internal threats as they continue to coalesce into one entity.
To counter these threats India must modernize its military, but it also must bring its police services up to modern standards and fill their ranks to capacity. For without this, India will be destroyed by a breakdown of internal security long before any external state military threat will manifest itself.

New Thinking
In conclusion, it is clear that there must be a paradigm shift in the global (and particularly India’s) approach to security. There should no longer be a d­ifferentiation between the threat terminologies. And there should be a clear recognition and consensus that criminality is just as important an issue as ­terrorism or insurgencies as these have merged globally over the last several decades. The police (given they are the largest and most widespread of India’s security services) are the key to India’s internal security. As such, they need to be properly trained, fully equipped, and brought up to strength to deal with the ­current security issues.

And finally, the socio-economic issues that have caused internal threats must be addressed once the security environment has been stabilized. Without these changes India’s future could be very bleak.

Sunil Ram is an international defence and security expert who teaches at the American Military University and the Peace Operations Training Institute. He also operates in the Intelligence sphere.
© FrontLine Defence 2013