Karthik Rao

Book Review – Confronting Terrorism

Karthik Rao

Confronting terrorism - Web Cover


The book “Confronting Terrorism” highlights different facets and forms of terrorism in India and how they ought to be effectively dealt with. In an anthology of essays by nine strategic experts edited by eminent defense strategist Maroof Raza, India’s security preparedness has been examined in tackling an enemy that is constantly evolving, re-inventing its strike capabilities, spreading like an epidemic while being increasingly endemic. These radical forces pose an impending threat to global citizens and its governments. The threat is not exclusive to selective harming but also poses a larger nuclear nightmare.

The foreword by Stephen P Cohen provides the perfect premise in comprehending the phenomenon of terrorism. He suggests that while globalisation has brought about democratisation of ideas, it has also led to democratisation of weapons and radical sentiments with technology in all departments becoming affordable, available and more fluid. Even the smallest factions of society now have the privilege to wage a propaganda war with the advent of Internet while being funded by sympathisers. This is what he refers to as new-age warfare where small yet organised groups wage war sub-conventionally and asymmetrically either exclusively or in collaboration with groups with similar political objectives. This makes it difficult to single them out and eliminate their threat. Also, terrorists vie for increased penetration amidst local masses sometimes camouflaging to avoid detection and also directing attacks at will. This increased flexibility in operation by terrorists has forced governments all around the world to shift focus from their conventional military build up to a more subtle and sophisticated enemy waging wars at different levels from unpredictable battle zones to ideations.

India has witnessed the threat of terrorism right from the Khalistani insurgency with the Kanishka bombings in 1985, the IC 814 hijackings, CRPF Massacre at Dantewada to the notorious 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. India’s internal security challenges can be categorised as two-pronged – insurgency and jihadi terrorism. Insurgency in India ranges from political instability in the North-East, the Naxal movement in Central, Western and parts of South India to the Kashmiri liberation Movement implying security concerns throughout the length and breadth of the country. Terrorism is a combination of home-grown groups externally supported by mother organisations honed by legitimate governments. So with governments waging proxy wars, the Indian establishment has a serious challenge in addressing these concerns with its existing bureaucratic infrastructure and decision making bodies.

In the first chapter titled Terrorism: The Indian Experience by Major General Afsir Karim, a complete picture of the security threat to India is discussed. He mentions types of terrorism namely coercive and retaliatory operating in India where he clearly distinguishes between terrorists and insurgents. While terrorists can strike civilian as well as military targets, insurgents choose to strike military targets or any state symbol or structure. The chapter educates one about the different names and forms of terrorism affecting India; right from Pakistan-sponsored to homegrown posing a threat to India as a multi-pronged offensive to India’s political institutions and cultural fabric. As a response to the threat, the author has cited a combination of political determination, diplomatic pressure, strict anti-terror laws and a well-equipped security force as the way ahead.

The second chapter highlights a rather interesting trend of terrorism and the nexus of outfits woven by the thread of jihadi fundamentalism. Titled “Trends and Influences of terror networks: Comparisons from West and South Asia” by Shairi Mathur, the globalisation of jihadi terrorism is explained where terrorist outfits are inter-supportive of their causes facilitate each other’s training and share their knowledge and experiences. The parent organisations of Islamic fundamentalism, the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam have successfully united against their common enemies the Christians and Jews, spreading the global jihadi movement all over the world also greatly in India targeting Hindus. The author suggests that fighting this menace is rather difficult and efforts can be made only to reduce terrorist activities and eradicating it from its roots may be virtually impossible.

Indian security - Web

The third chapter titled “Terrorism and India’s Military” scrutinises India’s military doctrine in pre-empting and preventing terrorist activities. Although author Gautam Das feels surgical air strikes on Pakistan is not an effective way to deal with state-sponsored terror for it may complicate situations, increased military participation in decision making is crucial for him. He suggests that the capabilities of the RAW and IB are crucial in assisting the military not only in averting or eliminating terrorist threats but also ensuring the army itself isn’t a soft target of these attacks.

In the fourth chapter, author Ali Ahmed addresses the Kashmir debate and the role of the Indian military has been discussed with its political implications. Various perspectives have been showcased to unearth the cause of conflict so that the Indian government adapts the right political posture in dealing with the issue. The army has two roles in its Kashmir operations: counter insurgency and counter infiltration and the threat of one catalysing the other. Also it is imperative for the army to walk on the razor’s edge in handling the local population.

The fifth chapter deals with the crucial role of the police in dealing with internal security issues for which an urgent facelift has to be considered be it the local police or the paramilitary forces. This has to be possible in every department right from the weapons, protective gears, police infrastructure to strengthening local intelligence networks making the police force more cutting-edge i.e. more pre-emptive than reactive. Author Ved Marwah also criticises the trend to maintain a cheap police force and hiring constables without testing their policing aptitude. He points that the police per person ratio is very less thereby having the general population at constant risk. He also suggests the police force to be people friendly.

Intelligence is probably the most important tool in dealing with terrorism and co-ordination amidst the intelligence agencies and defense bodies is very crucial in countering enemies who are closely knit and inflict damage through their extended limbs. In the chapter “Intelligence Issues” by Bhashyam Kasturi, a shocking trend of available intelligence not being processed as actionable intelligence and complacency in the Indian security apparatus has been exposed. In context to the 26/11, the author is concerned that in spite of repeated warnings and inferences drawn both by the CIA and RAW, the Indian state failed to act on it. He points out that the issue is not about the intelligence lapses but the lack of co-ordination amidst the decision making bodies that hurt India the most.

Unstable neighbors always pose a threat to a nations’ security and for India most of its external threats are harbored in an unstable Pakistan. In the seventh chapter, the perpetual association between Pakistan and terrorism has been discussed by author Samarjit Ghosh. The failure to preserve its ethnic diversity and propagation of Islamic radicalisation in societies has destroyed the political fabric of the nation. This instability has led to the formation of multiple armed factions some of whom are directed towards India and some allies turned foes like the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda. The author suggests the use of terror tactics by the state of Pakistan will only put their own security at risk and won’t fetch them long term geopolitical gains alluding to its isolation in the international community.

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The book also dedicates a separate chapter to the US-NATO experience in Afghanistan and what has been learnt from it, the establishment of FID (Foreign internal defense) where military and diplomatic experts are stationed in countries newly invaded. In a chapter by Bharat Karnad about nuclear terrorism, the nightmare of terrorist groups having access to the formidable RDD (Radioactive Diffusion Bomb) or dirty bombs has been discussed. He says the Indian security apparatus is still ill-prepared to deal with such a threat with its porous land and sea routes. Hence, the only way to counter this to pre-empt it since a strike of any sort could lead to irrevocable implications.

Overall, the book is an excellent compilation of thoughts and perspectives where the authors have closely examined different narratives on the threat of terrorism. This ranges from assessing the enemies, their roots, their political objectives, their capabilities and willingness to cause destruction. Also, a complete assessment of India’s preparedness is discussed taking lessons from the past incidents. A common consensus is the state of vigil that has to be observed relentlessly as a result of which the authorities can stay one step ahead of the terrorists while having to maintain that edge. However, the toughest battle to be fought is on the front of ideation where radical sentiments seem to be seeping even in layers of modern civil society and the educated class. Especially with the global jihadi movement, the social media is being widely exploited to gain sympathy from Muslims all around the world to support their cause. Although governments around the world along with the international media have condemned such ideas, the jihadi army still continues to grow in number. The classic and the most recent example is how ISIS has used the social media phenomenon to radicalise Muslims from all over the world.

Tackling terrorism seems to be a task way more daunting than handling insurgency where political will is the most effective way out. The threat of Insurgency can be neutralised either by negotiations (Political dialogue) or coercion while ending terrorism seems to be a long battle ahead. As mentioned in the book, India faces terrorist threats from a string of outfits externally and internally funded optimally by governments as well as mafia groups; to fight such an enemy, an organised and systematic approach is needed where blunting their effectivity needs to be the first step. Lessons can be taken from the US which ensured not a single act of terrorism transpired on its soil after the 9/11. A tight security apparatus demotivates the morale of the enemy. With respect to India, there seems to be a lot of opportunities for the terrorists to exploit through it porous borders, obsolete police machinery and a discordant bureaucratic set up. Also the lack of co-ordination between the intelligence and the authorities is a serious concern as expressed by one of the authors Bhashyam Kasturi. Taking into account these loop holes, India could learn the volume of work that has to be done.

However, a missing perspective here is how governments could engage with local citizens in spotting suspicious activities and the role of civil societies in confronting terrorism. This perspective could be crucial especially in a state like Kashmir where a high level of disconnect exists between the locals and security forces. All in all, the book is a knowledge bank and a must read for those seeking a comprehensive understanding of Terrorism in India.


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