The nature of the jihadist terrorism in India is changing as radicalization and recruitment become more sophisticated. Fears exists that India may become a soft target al-Qaeda in the global jihadist plan and the ISIS, which are instigating violence through sleeper cells along with attracting educated Muslim youth through the Internet to spread their terror propaganda while exploiting local grievances. To fight the rapidly changing threat of jihadist terrorism, India needs a comprehensive and innovative approach, rooted in a long-term strategic planning framework and coordinating intelligence, physical security, investigation and crisis management capabilities.
With passage of time and the evolution of technology, the operational methodology of terrorists has evolved. Two crucial aspects need attention. First, the terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in the previous phase was started by disenchanted Kashmiri youth before the movement was hijacked by Pakistan as part of its low intensity war with India. In the present phase, J&K is confronted with terrorism predominantly handled by Pakistan’s security establishment, either directly or indirectly through anti-India terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Indian Mujahideen.
The firepower of terrorists has also increased tremendously, partly due to the increased resource flow from across the border. Radicalization and recruitment have become more sophisticated, thanks to social media and internet. It can give rise to jihadist terrorism which has acquired a global footprint. India must be cautious and proactive in its approach to counter terrorism. There are two styles of counterterrorist activities: a criminal justice counter terrorism, which deals with acts of terrorism within a law-enforcement framework, and a military based counter terrorism, which views terror as a national threat to be countered with armed force. India has resorted to a combination of both styles in its counter terrorism efforts.The Pathankot airbase attack in January 2016, which exposed key vulnerabilities in India’s defense against terrorism, is the latest example of the continuance of India’s weak national security decision making process, porous borders, limited law enforcement capabilities and political expediency. Seven security personnel were killed in the attack that lasted more than 72 hours. The terrorist attack at an Indian army’s brigade headquarters in the border town of Uri in Jammu and Kashmir in September 2016 highlighted the threat India faces from cross-border terrorism.
The attack, which claimed the lives of 19 Indian soldiers, remains the biggest psychological and strategic challenge dealt by Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian government hence carried out ‘surgical strikes’ against terrorist launching pads across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan-administered Kashmir a few days after the attack in September 2016, which gave a big blow to terrorism across the border.
India should avoid adhocism in its response to terrorism, which has often led towards the creation of new agencies, meta-institutional innovations and over-centralization, an illusion of power created by technological acquisitions, and the states abdicating their law and order responsibilities. Political expediency further complicates the problem. The state governments remain preoccupied with their survival in power, which hamper their ability to look at the problem from a long-term perspective.
One of the major deficiencies in India’s institutional approach to counter-terrorism is the gross divide between how the central and state governments view counter-terrorism. This is the reason why the proposal to create the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) has not achieved success. India should look for any early resolution of the problem of terrorism, either through strong anti-terror legislation or political amelioration of the issues that give rise to terrorism.
Terrorism cannot entirely be countered by ‘hardening’ of possible targets by improving protection. Counter-terrorism activities, to be effective, must be proactive, and this intrinsically involves massive improvements in policing and intelligence – areas which have been terribly neglected. The implications of this neglect have been far-reaching. Indian security forces are one of the most professional outfits and their counter terror efforts have been acknowledged world wide. However, the gains achieved in the fight against terrorism should not be allowed to be compromised or reversed because of inaction at political or diplomatic levels. Continuous and relentless efforts are required to keep the cause of terror under check.