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Abhinav Pandya

A Brief Overview of Counter-Terrorism Operations in India- Challenges and the Way Ahead

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India has been at the receiving end of the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan based actors since 1990s. However, the world community realized the intensity of our pains only after September 11 which made the phenomenon of terrorism, genuinely global. Transnational terrorist organizations shook the world with the 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 needed and the 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, the author will discuss the significant shortcomings of India’s counterterrorism (CT) policy, challenges faced by India’s CT forces and policy interventions needed to address the deficiencies.

India’s counter-terrorism 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 analyze diverse security threats like LWE, the ethnic insurgency in NE, proxy-war in J&K and the 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 himself in an uncomfortable zone of being branded a communal if he 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 radicalization 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 neutralize 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 radicalization that are long-drawn and complex. After one joins a militant group, the only option left is the use of force in the majority of the cases, and it often becomes counter-productive. The security forces kill one terrorist in the Kashmir valley in an encounter, and ten others get inspired and join. What is needed is a rigorous effort to identify the radicalization pathways, the organizations involved, their modus-operandi and the funding channels which all constitute the infrastructure or congenial launching pads for a terrorist organization to emerge, sustain and conduct operations. For example, in J&K mostly the focus is on the activities (primarily clandestine) of Hizbul Mujahiddin 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 open and legal and flourish in the garb of religion. Jamaat-i-Islami provides the necessary cover in which the HM 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 caders function as OGWs(over ground workers) for terrorist organizations and Pak-based 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 radicalization 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 petrodollars. 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 Islamic state 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 ISJK (Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir) graffiti on the walls in 90 feets area which has a large concentration of Salafi mosques.

Similarly, in Kerala, Wahhabi proselytization and the resultant radicalization has been going on for last four decades. Malayali diaspora working in the Middle East and charity organizations based in the Gulf have been the primary funders. Over the years, oil money and intense religious propaganda have entrenched a radical and fundamentalist version of Islam in Kerala, that is at odds with India’s indigenous Sufi Islam. Radical Islamist parties like the Popular Front of India have been running conversion camps, terror camps and openly talk of political Islam.  No wonder that Kerala has supplied the largest contingent of ISIS foreign fighters from India. In 2013, IB had released a report that informed that there are 1.8 million Wahhabi followers in India. There is a robust funding channel from Saudi Arabia. USD 124 million was earmarked for setting up four Wahhabi universities, USD 62 million for building 40 mosques, USD 46.5 million for madrasas and USD 15.5 million for the upkeep of existing mosques.

However, such reports have hardly been able to generate any stir at the top echelons of national security. The local police are more incentivized to turn a blind eye to the activities of PFI because pandering such extremist organizations suits the electoral interest of the dominant political parties of Kerala. PFI has also penetrated into the colleges and universities through its affiliate Campus Front of India and in politics through its political front Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). Not only this, PFI is expanding into the northern hinterlands of India and the North Eastern states too.

The examples cited above are to convey the gravity of the threat to the readers. However, they are only the tips of the icebergs. This author believes that a robust counterterrorism strategy needs honest and urgent thinking on the issue of radicalization exploring radicalization pathways, funding networks, cross-border connections, its religious and non-religious factors and the role of social media. Also, indeed a robust mechanism to counter the forces of radicalization is also the need of the hour.

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Abhinav Pandya

The Story of Assembly Dissolution in Kashmir

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In politics, often seemingly trivial events end up playing a much more significant role in shaping the future course of history. In India also, small events ended up forming history and determining the trajectory of politics several times for example, the divine intervention in the famous battle between Akbar and the Hindu General Hemu in the 2nd battle of Panipat (1556), the stomach ache of Maharaja Hari Singh in 1947, the long-lasting prayer session of the former PM Narasimha Rao and most recently, the bad fax machine of Jammu Rajbhawan.

This author studying Kashmir from close quarters felt compelled to write this story because the mainstream media could hardly do any justice in its coverage of the governor’s decision to dissolve the J&K assembly. Its coverage was confined to taking sarcastic jibes at the bad fax machine, which might have a unique appeal to its reading-deprived and disturbed young audience trying to fix their concentration issues and smart-phone addictions by resorting to 5 to7 minute read articles. In case, the coverage ventured beyond the story of the lousy fax machine; it merely peddled trendy lies and conspiracy theories of the left-liberals using fashionable allegations that the current government is just destroying all the democratic institutions. However, none of the major mainstream media organizations came up with a nuanced analysis of such a serious issue having ramifications not just on the current local politics but on the geopolitics of entire South Asia. Hence, in this commentary, this author would like to unfold the events and rumors that led to the wise and tactful decision by the first political governor of the state.

Contrary to the narrative projected by the mainstream media that the Governor’s decision was sabotage of democracy under the pressure of the central government, the fact is that neither the mainstream parties are seen as democratic in J&K anymore, nor the decision of the Governor was under the pressure of the central government.

The mainstream political parties and the separatist Hurriyat have lost all credibility in Kashmir. In popular perception, they are seen as dynastic and elitist groups who have done nothing for the ordinary Kashmiri people. Over the last several decades of their governments, the governance has been atrociously inefficient, and corruption has been massive. The public goods like good governance, infrastructure, and education and economic development were the last priority for the popular governments. The youth is frustrated with huge corruption scandals and nepotism in government recruitment. The ordinary Kashmiris feel that the sons and daughters of leading political faces and Hurriyat leaders study in elite colleges in India and abroad, they own property in India and foreign countries and enjoy privileges from India, Pakistan and many other international NGOs and intelligence agencies. Whatever little credibility the Hurriyat had was shattered by the NIA raids that came out with strong evidence of their leaders involved in terror financing and inciting.

Recently, when Governor Malik cleared the appointment of 582 young Kashmiris in J&K bank whose names were allegedly removed from the list during the Mahbooba government to placate some vested interests, the Kashmiri youth was jubilant. Similarly, when the new Governor abolished the controversial reliance mediclaim insurance policy and vowed to root out corruption in the state, the common Kashmiri was immensely happy. Also, in many recent interviews, the Governor Malik’s bright and bold stand on the issues of governance, corruption and youth empowerment has generated hope, enthusiasm and the right kind of momentum for the future of Kashmir. The positive response to the Governor’s rule was seen in the fact the incidents of stone pelting and terrorist recruitment have significantly come down after the imposition of the Governor rule.

The goodwill and the positivity generated by the initiatives of Governor Malik was interspersed with the rumours of horse-trading to form the government on the part of both BJP-PC combine and the other group comprising PDP, NC, and Congress. As a researcher working at the grassroots in the valley, I distinctly recall that immediately after the imposition of Governor rule, the rumour mills of MLAs defecting for money or under pressure, had started. Informed sources told this author that under-hand activities for the government formation had sharply increased. As the Governor said in several press conferences that Mahbooba Ji called him up and apprised that her MLAs were being lured by money. She also told that the PDP MLAs were pressurized to defect and if they refused they would be framed by NIA. Such activities and complaints regarding them did coincide with the defections of prominent PDP leaders like Imran Aziz Ansari and Muzaffar Hussain Beg. Further, informed sources also told this author that prominent PDP leader Altaf Bukhari made a trip to the US and the Congress leader Amarinder Singh Mika visited Myanmar in the recent past. Such suspicious trips to foreign countries, coming close on the heels of officially sending the proposal to form the government, make it extremely difficult to rule out the possibility of the foreign hand in engineering the “unholy alliance” of PDP-NC-Congress.

The Kashmiri people were hoping that the Governor will not allow the formation of any under-hand government, and their hopes had become stronger after the Governor’s assurances earlier, to that effect. In the past, the money-factor had not played a vital role in the Kashmir electoral politics but lately, i.e. in the last four months money had passed through various hands for giving birth to an undemocratic and illegitimate government to satiate the power hunger of the traditional ruling elites. Even if the government had been allowed to take the oath, it would not have lasted longer because the parties which came together in this unnatural alliance have been diametrically opposite, ideologically. However, the predictions about PDP-NC-Congress coalition are not, rather even a relevant issue. The attention-worthy aspect is that if the governor had allowed the formation of government through underhand-tactics, it would have been the biggest mockery of democracy. It would have completed the sense of alienation that Kashmiris suffer from because of the bad governance and corruption of the previous popular governments, not to mention the role played by the lack of political dialogue, slow death of Kashmririyat due to religious radicalization and incidents of human rights violations by the armed forces. The trust –deficit would have further, and the remnants of faith in the credibility of India’s democracy would have shattered.

Several prominent politicians, sane intellectual and civil society voices, the young scholars and the former separatists told this author that the best way forward is to dissolve the assembly and focus on the governance and grievances of the common public. Kashmir in the current phase is going through a unique variety of militancy that is homegrown, rooted in Islamic radicalization and actively propped up by the cyber operations of Pakistan. Also, to pump more action, there is a massive inflow of drugs in the valley, and some unofficial estimates suggesting that plus 50% of the youth takes drugs. The Jihadi intoxication and drug addiction complement each other, rendering young minds highly vulnerable to false propaganda and religious extremism. Further, It has become a war of narratives where the widespread frustration over bad governance and corruption is packaged as the demand for azadi. Hence, at this stage, if a government is resulting from defections and horse-trading, and is manned by traditional ruling elites who have already lost credibility, it will end up adding fuel to the fire and make matters worse.

 

Another issue that came up was that the governor acted partially under the pressure of central government. If the governor had decided in a partisan manner, then he would have invited Sajjad Lone and BJP to form the government. According to unofficial sources, the latter’s claim was more robust. PDP’s proposal did not have an official letter from NC and Congress supporting the claim. Adding a twist to the whole drama, Dr. Farukh Abullah’s brother and 2nd man in NC, Mustafa Kamal, a day before had clearly said that supporting PDP would be the biggest blunder (Kashmir Images, November 21 2018).

On the other hand, several prominent PDP MLAs had already left PDP and joined Lone’s People’s Conference. Muzaffar Hussain Beg, PDP’s principal ideologue and founder-member, left PDP and indicated his interest to join PC. Similarly, another PDP leader Imran Aziz Ansari had also left PDP. Before that PC’s Junaid Mattoo had been elected the mayor of Srinagar. Hence, PC-BJP combine’s position was much stronger in addition to the fact that PC’s public image is also much better than PDP, NC, and Congress, maybe because it is a new entrant or people are too frustrated with the traditional dynastic parties. After the initial defections of the leaders mentioned above, there was a strong possibility of a vast segment of PDP legislators breaking away from the party. On the condition of anonymity, prominent PDP politicians told this author that Mahbooba Ji felt a tremendous existential threat to the survival of PDP, and she was continuously requesting the governor s to dissolve the assembly.

The alliance of PDP-NC-Congress would have been extremely dangerous for the inter-community relations and the unity of the state. In J&K, as it is well known, the ties between the Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh are not very cordial. Deliberating upon them needs a separate essay. However, for this article, suffice it to say that if PDP-NC-Congress government had been allowed, it would have resulted in the government with an overwhelming representation of Muslims and the valley region. The Jammu and Ladakh would have been marginalized. It would have fanned communal fires and widened the rift between the three regions, in an already troubled state. There could have been a major public protest in Jammu and Ladakh. Here, the readers should also know that Mufti Sahab had rejected the idea of PDP-NC-Congress alliance after 2014 elections for the same reasons which I outlined above, as told by a prominent PDP politician on the condition of anonymity.

Last and the most critical question- why wasn’t the assembly dissolved earlier? Well, even the answer to this question is also not very difficult. Ideally, the state assembly should have been dissolved by the former Governor Mr. Vora. However, barring Omar and Mahbooba, none of the legislators suggested dissolving of the assembly to the Governor for various reasons ranging from the hindrances in ongoing development works to the political and security complications. The new governor was democratic and considerate by letting the assembly continue in consideration of the fact that it would allow the legislators to maintain contact with their voters and would strengthen the spirit of democracy in the long run. However, when the horse trading and underhand activities started crossing all the limits in the last 20 days, there was no option left except to dissolve the assembly.

The events mentioned above and the analysis makes it amply clear that the dissolving the assembly had become a necessity in the larger interests of the people and to guard the soul of democracy. Moreover, the allegations and criticism of the Governor’s decision by the mainstream political parties are primarily motivated by the desire to build upon the remnants of the lost credibility in public eyes.

To conclude, this author would request the mainstream media to have a nuanced approach while analyzing a sensitive issue like Kashmir. Their faulty analysis, lies and conspiracy theories coming out of their hatred for the ruling party, absence of professional ethics and training, the lack of intellectual depth and the desire to placate the breaking India forces for monetary gains, makes it easier for Pakistan and anti-India elements in the state to sustain the conditions congenial for militancy. The TRP hungry 24/7 news channels must realize it that their actions result is the bloodshed and if this realization does not come voluntarily, the day is not far when it might have to come the hard way.

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Abhinav Pandya

Analyzing India’s Response to Imran’s Kartarpur Googli

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To begin with, the occasion that has led to the eastward flow of fresh breeze from Pakistan i.e. the inauguration of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor must be celebrated without any political hesitations. It is indeed an occasion that deserves to be celebrated with child-like joy and innocence that results from the deep spiritual moorings of the sub-continent.

If Germany and France who fought several wars, can live in peace, why can’t India and Pakistan?,” well batted, Imran Khan Indeed, PM Imran appeared sincere, hopeful and emotional in his speech and anyone who has faith in peace and humanity feels tempted to go head over heels for Imran Khan’s proposal to achieve a historic breakthrough. However, the world of geopolitics is not all about emotional proclamations and wishful thinking. The world of geopolitics is instead ruled by intelligence agencies, vote-seeking populist politicians, geo-strategic designs of world powers, profit-Hungary corporations and hawkish generals.

There is nothing new in India’s response. It has followed its old line that “terror” and “talks” cannot go together. India’s official position has mostly been the one mentioned above for almost last two decades, albeit interspersed with brief spells of over-generosity and wishful thinking. However, since 2014, i.e. Modi’s arrival on the scene, one can witness an element of consistency, clarity, and steadfastness in the approach. Also, it is explicitly clear in the official statements of Sushma Swaraj and India’s army chief that the Kartarpur corridor episode should be seen separately from the dialogue process between the two nations. India’s response to Imran Khan’s emotionally charged speech does appear a little harsh, in the first place, and it actually might be so to an entirely neutral observer. However, to this author, India’s response is not at all a surprise and wholly expected.

Before deconstructing India’s response further, the question that needs an answer is that was Pakistan’s peace proposal honest and sincere? As Indian writing for a Pakistani newspaper, this author can be easily accused of playing a blame-game. Agreed, that it may not be possible to be entirely neutral and objective in the analysis. However, even a relatively reasonable and fair analysis from an Indian perspective will reveal that there is a history of Pakistan supporting proxy terror groups in India. In the Indian public image and the security establishment, there is a deep sense of skepticism prevailing regarding Pakistan’s peace overtures. In the Indian public opinion and media circles, the cross-border support for militancy in Kashmir since 1989 has been a dominant narrative, in addition to the belief that Pakistan supported separatist movement in Punjab in the 1980s. The episode of Kargil, after Vajpayee’s peace initiatives further made it difficult for Indians to go ahead with peace. However, still both the nations could move forward with peace under Vajpayee and Musharraf, with the credit going to the extraordinary political leadership that both the countries had.  However, all this was not majorly impacting the common man until the terrorist attacks began outside Kashmir. The series of terror attacks outside Kashmir began with the parliament attack and peaked in its intensity and impact in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

The 26/11 Mumbai attacks left a deep trauma on the psyche of an ordinary Indian citizen. Also, after that, there emerged a strong psychological barrier and a deep sense of pessimism about any peace overture from Pakistan. Hence, cutting across the political and ideological lines, there arose a robust and serious consensus that “terror” and “talks” cannot go together. However, that did not mean that the peaceniks had become extinct as one saw the initial episodes of dialogue and bonhomie between Nawaz Sharif and Modi, in the hope that there would be demonstrable change on the terror front. Unfortunately, the incidents of fidayeen attacks in Pathankot and Uri happened and militancy spiked in Kashmir with the alleged cross-border support, not to brush aside the domestic factors as well. Further, the recent upsurge in the Khalistan activities by Sikh diaspora across the world has given more fodder to India’s suspicions and as a result of this one can easily witness the caution with which India is proceeding in the matter of Kartarpur corridor.

India’s refusal to accept the SAARC invitation may appear extremely harsh on a cursory glance but, in essence, it reflects a deep sense of mistrust and pessimism. However, that does not mean that India is making war-cries or has closed its mind to peace proposals. India’s response strongly indicates that it would like to see concrete and substantial action on the terror front which may include severing financial and logistical ties to anti-India terror groups and sincere cooperation in bringing the culprits of Mumbai attacks to justice.

Secondly, India’s response also needs to be seen in the context of the overall cultural and political milieu of India. India is in an election mode now. The three large states of North India, i.e. Rajasthan, MP, and Chhattisgarh will have elections soon. In May 2019, India will have its national election. Besides, the country is also witnessing the rapid growth of Ayodhya movement seeking to build a temple over the controversial structure of a demolished mosque Plus, since 2014, India is also going through an intense phase of the struggle between the forces of Hindu nationalism and distorted legacy of Nehruvian secularism. One can see an intellectually aggressive force posture on the Hindu nationalists’ side rapidly marginalizing the so-called secularist camp facing an acute dearth of ideologues having intellectual depth, spiritual insight, touch with the masses and the integrity of the character. In such a milieu where India has relocated itself towards the center-right, with even the so-called secular Congress leaders making desperate temple-visits, Hindu-Nationalism is the only vibrant theme in the electoral discourse and beyond. With elections approaching fast, even the most secular parties and so-called peaceniks will not bury their political future by talking peace with Pakistan. In a light vein, this author would like to mention that one may get away with not doing anything to build the Ram temple, but one may never be spared for going soft on Pakistan.

The ideological and political trends that this author mentioned in the previous paragraph are rooted in some cataclysmic changes in the collective psyche of the nation. India, of late has emerged as a vibrant economic and military power. Under Modi’s leadership, India has made great strides in claiming its rightful diplomatic place among the global powers. This has led to an increased sense of confidence. It has also led to a revivalist trend in the intellectual, religious and cultural world with its spill-over effects on India’s internal politics and foreign policy. India’s idealistic and soft approach with the foreign invaders in the past is being regarded as one of the primary reasons that led to 1200 years of foreign rule. Hence, in the ongoing intellectual and cultural renaissance, the concept of national security has also emerged as extremely important, and the experience has given rise to a conservative, aggressive, hawkish and a realistic approach to secure India’s national interests.

However, India’s response can also not be categorized as an abject denial to the idea of peace. In spite of some initial hiccups and hesitations, India finally embraced the idea of developing Kartarpur corridor, with an open heart. Though MEA Sushma Swaraj did not attend the event in a personal capacity, India did send two central ministers to participate in the event. To this author, the overall attitude of India appears to be more of cautious optimism, i.e. India wants to convey that it is willing to cooperate in cultural and religious matters, where more substantial interests of the citizens of both the nations are involved. However, it appears that India finds it difficult to trust Pakistan and will reciprocate only in the event of achieving a substantial breakthrough on the terror front.  Nevertheless, PM Imran Khan’s peace proposal has that emotional strength to appeal to the ordinary Indian citizen. His fan-following as a cricketer in India might supply some more steam to that appeal.

 

 

 

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Abhinav Pandya

New Frontiers of Terrorism- Social Media, Cyptocurrencies, and Intelligence Reforms

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Counter Terrorism

India’s CT apparatus has not displayed sufficient awareness of the new frontiers of terrorism like social media and the use of cryptocurrencies in terror financing. Social media has emerged as the most lethal weapon in the overall strategy of terrorist organizations. It has been immensely useful in diverse areas such as recruitment, propaganda, the relay of instructions and generating funds. It is a well-accepted fact in the global counterterrorism community that the cyber jihad operations of ISIS played an instrumental role behind the popularity and the reach of ISIS in far-0ff countries. Further, cyber jihad provides a satisfying alternative and a pathway to Jannat (haven) to those who do not want to involve in the armed jihad.

However, CT apparatus woke up to this reality a bit late. It was a British News channel four that informed us about the ISIS recruiter Mehdi Biswas in Bangalore. In J&K social media is playing a most pernicious role in abetting stone pelters and inspiring youth to join militancy. DG Kashmir Mr. Vaid informs that when an encounter begins, more than 300 WhatsApp groups become active sending instructions, locations and other relevant details to the organizers of stone-pelting mobs. In an informal interaction the students of Kashmir University, this author was informed that the videos released by Burhani Wani and Zakir Musa have an immensely powerful appeal among the youth, an appeal that could surpass the propaganda work the 100ds of organized Jamaat-i-Islami cadres. Unfortunately, the levels of the preparedness of India’s CT apparatus are not satisfactory. In most of the states, at the district levels, this author has come across almost dysfunctional cyber security cells. They are mostly understaffed and ill-equipped, manned by a team of two-to-three constables. Their skill-sets are poor. The question is not just about the availability of resources and technology. It is more about the fact that even senior officers do not show enough concern for the cyber threats.

In the world of terror-financing, cryptocurrencies and dark-web have emerged as the matters of grave concern. With the tightening controls on the formal financial system and increasing scrutiny of hawala channels, the future terrorists are likely to use cryptocurrencies for funding terror operations. Crypto- transactions are fast, cheap, extremely-difficult-to-track and anonymous. Further, most of these activities will happen on the dark web. On Darkweb, just like any other online sales portal, one can order things. However, on dark web, one can order all kinds of contraband things like drugs, weapons, IEDs and RDX. India is at high risk because we have a huge segment of gray markets. The quality of vigil kept by regulatory agencies is outmoded, and the reach is limited, not to mention the rampant corruption that prevails. Tracking high-tech crypto-transactions and terrorist activities on the dark web will be a daunting challenge for Indian CT apparatus.

The arena of terror-funding-networks needs attention, as a part of India’s CT approach. However, off late, the focus has been increasing on the areas such as terror financing and radicalization. However, it is too little and too late. The terror funding mechanisms, even the simple ones are highly diffused, sophisticated in operations and have a strong penetration. Moreover, the agencies involved in dealing with the complexities of the terror-financing world, lack sufficient expertise in the field of terror financing.

Indian CT Apparatus is highly fragmented and poorly coordinated. In the federal set-up of India, most of the policing functions lie with the state governments. The state police are understaffed, ill-equipped and poorly trained. Further, they are heavily controlled by political masters and corruption galore. The state intelligence bodies, i.e., CIDs are almost in the state of disrepair. They are considered punishment postings and the officers posted are either incompetent or without political approach or highly corrupt. As a result, the quality of intelligence gathered is very poor, and the whole exercise is just perfunctory. This author came across many senior police officers who would hardly know a difference between Deobandis, barlewis and Ahle-Hadith. If the senior CT personnel lack such basic knowledge of the subject, then one can imagine the malaise that mars the performance of India’s CT apparatus. In one of the  interaction with a senior official from Mumbai Police, this author was told that due to political pressures, they often have to turn a blind eye to increasing radicalization in the state. Intelligence briefs keep piling on for years, but there is hardly any political interest in these matters.

In the intelligence domain, multiple agencies are working on counter-terrorism. IB functions under Home Ministry, RAW and CBI report to the PM, and there are state intelligence bodies which are mentioned in brief in the previous paragraph. Terror financing and money-laundering issues are dealt with by the finance ministry. There appears a turf war-like situation between different agencies and the state and central agencies often compete for resources and bureaucratic autonomy.  All this makes the task of coordination (usually done through joint committees, task forces, and multi-agency centers) and harmonization of intelligence inputs gathered by different agencies very difficult. Before 26/11 there were inputs of a sea-borne threat by central agencies, but they were largely ignored by the coast guards and the Maharashtra State police. They argued that it was not actionable intelligence. Inter-agency coordination has led to intelligence failures in the past also. 9/11 commission report pointed out the lack of inter-agency coordination as one of the causes of the intelligence failures in the September 11 attacks.

Further, our intelligence cadre needs to be upgraded regarding the theoretical understanding of terrorism and counter-terrorism and the latest technological developments in the world of terrorism. The state intelligence agencies are almost dysfunctional, and they need an urgent focus. Besides, the agencies also require a morale boost. Political leadership must ensure that they will not compromise with the core issues of national security and the feedback given by intelligence agencies will be taken seriously to determine a policy and the follow-up action. The officers can visit the UK, US, and Israel for short-term, long-term and mid-career courses in fields like terror-financing, the study of political Islam and the role of media and social media. Counterterrorism experts can be invited for lectures in India’s universities, think tanks and also the training academies of CT forces.

However, after 26/11 India has taken some remarkable initiatives which deserve due credit. National Investigative Agency set-up after Mumbai attacks have played a lynchpin role in busing terror-financing modules in Kashmir. It has emerged as a nodal agency in counterterrorism. National Counter Terrorism Center is a great innovation, but it needs to be vitalized. Expertise from academia, religious studies, the private sector, psychology, sociology, social media experts and artificial intelligence must be roped in to make it a genuinely multi-disciplinary CT agency that generates useful analytical reports. IB ran a successful operation viz. “chakravyuh” and it helped prevent many youngsters from joining ISIS. It is indeed quite surprising that despite having the world’s second largest Muslim population not more than 100 people went to join ISIS from India.

Further marking a significant departure from the past, India has changed its policy with Pakistan also.  In India, a robust CT strategy can never be complete without factoring in the Pakistan question. Engaging Pakistan is quintessential. Then the question arises-which way one should do it? Previously when India exercised restraint and tried to mend fences fearing a nuclear retaliation from Pakistan, Pakistan did not relent and continued supporting proxies in Kashmir and sending Fidayeen squads in Kashmir and other parts of India. However, after the surgical strikes, one finds that Pakistan is under immense pressure to rein in the anti-terrorist groups based in Pakistan. So far, no major attack has taken place in India. Modi government’s policy of diplomatically isolating Pakistan and strengthening international pressure on Pakistan through FATF sanctions also seems to be paying dividends. In one his articles for Asia Times, this author explained that nuclear threat by Pakistan is a hoax and nukes were never an option for Pakistan. Therefore, India must adopt a tough and aggressive approach with Pakistan to strike at the roots of terrorism.

Finally, in CT operations the armed forces are fighting a battle which is hybrid in nature. For example, in a typical CASO (cordon and search operation) in Kashmir valley, army cordons a house sheltering a terrorist, on a precise intelligence input, unlike the 90s when they cordoned the entire village. When such cordons take place, WhatsApp groups become active informing about the encounter and inciting the people. The calls are given from the village mosques asking people to assemble for stone-pelting. Within minutes a mob of 7000 to 10,000 gathers. The stone pelters are controlled by CRPF, and J&K Police positioned in the outer circle. Sometimes the crowds become incredibly aggressive and violent. The forces have to use pellets. If they want, they can use AK47 but that will be disproportionate use of force and will raise many ethical questions. Cross-border actors engineer such stone-pelting processions on purpose to make a terrorist encounter appear like an instance of human rights violation by Indian security forces. Many times, the situation demands to call off the entire operation which turns out to be very demoralizing for the armed forces. Moreover, it also gives the terrorists an opportunity to escape.

These days the army has to deal with a new phenomenon of shadow militancy which is a kind of psychological warfare. In this, a terrorist named x is introduced as different individuals in different villages. So when security forces neutralize a foreign terrorist, then someone from the other village will claim that he saw the terrorist x in his village and army lacks the will and strength to kill the terrorist x. As a result, the terrorist x becomes a hero. It is profoundly demoralizing for the military.

Hence, this author would recommend that state police and paramilitary forces should be the mainstay of the CT apparatus when it comes to combat operations. The army is meant to fight a conventional war and kill a foreign enemy. They should not be made to bear the burden of the incompetence of our police forces. The J&K police is the best example to demonstrate that state police can acquire the highest levels of operational efficiency in combat operations with highly trained terrorists of Lashkar and Jaish.  The state police departments and the paramilitary forces need restructuring and overhaul in areas such as command-and-control structure, discipline and the acquisitions of high-quality assault weapons and training. Further, paramilitary forces can be commanded by senior generals from the army as the nature of the operations of CRPF, BSF and SSB are akin to the military than the routing policing. Generalist IPS officers commanding units on deputations are not well accepted in the para-military forces, and the cadre-officers of para-military forces feel demoralized when they are commanded by IPS officers, most of whom hardly have any expertise in counter-terror and insurgency operations.

This author tried to contemplate upon some of the crucial aspects of robust counterterrorism policy. However, it is an extensive subject and needs exploration in detail which is not possible in the space offered by an article. To conclude, this author would like to recommend that CT requires a holistic approach.  We need to strike at the roots of terrorism, and that requires out-of-the-box thinking. A sound CT policy should also think about generating gainful employment opportunities and recreational opportunities for the youth. In the long-run, an alternate narrative needs to be projected. The narrative has to focus on religious harmony, economic development, political representation, nationalism and restoring the dignity of the aggrieved populace.

 

 

 

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