The Tribune - Spectrum

Special Issue: countering terrorism
Special Issue
Countering terrorism

Views of eminent experts and thinkers on countering terrorism

Hari Jaisingh

Kanti Bajpai

Asghar Ali Engineer

Owen Bennett Jones

Shelley Walia

G. Parthasarthy

T. V. Rajeswar

Gen V N Sharma

Ashok K. Mehta

Prakash Singh

M. J. Akbar

Sunday, January 5, 2003
Tribune special

Making security forces more effective
Legislative backup need of the hour

Tackling terrorism requires an integrated strategy. The systemic causes which foster terrorism must be addressed. There may be political grievances, real or imagined, or there may be economic exploitation or social oppression. These should be attended to for a long-term and permanent solution to the problem of terrorism. After all, why is there such virulent Islamic fundamentalism and raw anti-Americanism, wonders Prakash Singh.

AT the dawn of the twenty-first century, there are very few countries immune from terrorism. Its internal dynamics and external linkages have made it a formidable challenge not only to national security but even to world peace. It is estimated that more than 50 prime ministers or heads of states in various parts of the world have lost their lives in terrorist incidents since the conclusion of World War II. These include John. F. Kennedy of US, Olaf Palme of Sweden, Anwar Sadaat of Egypt, Aldo Moro of Italy, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv of India, besides several others.

International terrorism assumed a new dimension with the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001—the biggest single terrorist strike in the history of terrorism with the largest number of casualties and the maximum economic damage. Nearly 5,000 people were killed and property worth about twenty billion dollars was damaged. A defining moment in the history of US and the world, the attack marked the beginning of the first major war of the 21st century and triggered off the formation of a formidable coalition against terrorism. It prompted the Security Council to take an unequivocal stand through a comprehensive resolution "with steps and strategies to combat international terrorism".

In India about 50,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives in the violence and mayhem inflicted by terrorists in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, at the instigation of and with the active material support from across the border. Apart from the loss of human lives and the extensive damage to public property, India lost a Prime Minister, an ex-Prime Minister and a former Army Chief.


Countering the threat

Tackling terrorism requires a comprehensive, integrated strategy. The systemic causes which foster terrorist movements must be addressed. There may be political grievances, real or imagined, or there may be economic exploitation or social oppression. These should be attended to for a long-term and permanent solution to the problem of terrorism. After all, why is there such virulent Islamic fundamentalism and raw anti-Americanism in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and the occupied territories? Why have these become "the land of suicide bombers, flag-burners and fiery mullahs"? The "roots of rage", as Fareed Zakaria described them, must be analysed and rectified.

Role of police and paramilitary forces

The security forces, particularly the police and the paramilitary, have a vital role to play in dealing with the external manifestations of terrorism. It must be remembered that it was only after the Punjab Police was revitalised by Ribeiro and systematically utilised for anti-terrorist operations by Gill that the tide turned in the Punjab.

It is a pity that the state police forces are today not in a healthy state. The colonial structure left behind by the British continues and repeated demands from several quarters to reform and restructure the police so as to free it from political stranglehold and bureaucratic clutches have been stonewalled by vested interests. As a result, the performance of the police, particularly in the event of a crisis, leaves much to be desired. More often than not, the central government has had to send paramilitary forces to assist the state police. On occasions, when the situation is beyond the competence of even paramilitary forces, the Army has to step in. Such contingencies arose in Punjab and in Kashmir.

The internal security forces have, notwithstanding all the constraints, given a stellar account of themselves under extremely unfavorable and hazardous circumstances. In Punjab, the terrorists made targeted attacks on the security forces' personnel. A Deputy Inspector General of Police, A.S Atwal, was killed at the main entrance of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Two Superintendents of Police, Avinder Singh Brar and KPS Gill, were gunned down at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala where they had gone for jogging in the morning. The attacks on policemen assumed a horrendous dimension around mid-1990, when the terrorists started kidnapping and killing close relatives of police personnel. It is estimated that 507 security forces' personnel were killed by the terrorists during 1990 alone.

Nevertheless, the security forces rose to the occasion. The Punjab Police was overhauled. Well-trained and highly-motivated commando units were raised. The force was given sophisticated weapons and the intelligence network was improved. Finest officers from all over the country were posted to Punjab. Results started flowing in. Operation Black Thunder (1988) was a landmark in the anti-terrorist operations conducted by the internal security forces. The offensive involved an assault on the Golden Temple, which had been converted virtually into a fortress by the terrorists, by combined formations of the NSG, the CRPF and the Punjab Police. Thirty-eight terrorists were killed and 199 surrendered without any loss of life to the security forces.

Operation Night Dominance, launched by the Punjab Police in August, 1992, also produced significant results. It was designed to curb terrorists activities after sunset and involved a variety of exercises to establish the dominance of the security forces. It is estimated that during the ten-year period (1984-1993), a total of 6,165 terrorists were liquidated. During the same period, 1,695 security forces personnel also sacrificed their lives in the anti-terrorist operations.

A scheme that focused on border security fencing and lighting along the Indo-Pak border in Punjab was conceived and implemented by the BSF. It went a long way in controlling movement across the border. Infiltration of armed militants was reduced to a trickle and the inflow of weapons was substantially reduced. Intercepted documents mentioned that terrorists were finding it "very hazardous to cross the border". The Punjab Police, thereafter, decimated the diminishing ranks of the terrorists. The graph of violence came down sharply and, by 1994, terrorism in the state was contained. In fact, what was achieved by the internal security forces in Punjab has yet to be replicated anywhere else in the world.

The police and paramilitary forces would be greatly reinforced in their anti-terrorist operations if some doctrinal changes are introduced and organisational support extended to them. The doctrinal changes imply:

n A well-defined, anti-terrorism policy,

n Legislative backup to law enforcement agencies and a unified command.

Doctrinal changes and anti-terrorism policy

It is a pity that India has yet to enunciate its anti-terrorism policy even though it has been battling with the problem for nearly five decades. The Patterns of Global Terrorism, an annual publication brought out by the US State Department, lays down the four basic tenets which guide US policy :

  • Make no concession to terrorists and strikes no deals.

  • Bring terrorists to justice for their crimes

  • Isolate and apply pressure on states that sponsor terrorism.

  • Bolster the counter-terrorist capabilities of countries that work with the US.

It should be possible for the government to formulate its policy on the above lines with such changes as may be necessary, keeping in view the local conditions and the specific nature of the threat.

Legislative backup

The US and UK have both effective anti-terrorism laws. The United States Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 made terrorism a federal offence, expanded the role of the FBI in solving such crimes and imposed death penalty for terrorism. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001 aims to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world. It gives sweeping powers to both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies.

The UK has a stringent Terrorism Act, 2000, which has widened the definition of terrorism and recognised that it may have religious or ideological as well as political motivation and would cover actions which might not be violent in themselves but which can, in a modern society, have a devastating impact. The Act has also expanded the definition of terrorist organisations to include those who plan violent protests in the UK (even if the protest takes place abroad) and brought the members of and fund-raisers of such organisations within the ambit of law. The police have also been given increased powers to seize assets and make arrests.

In India, several political parties and the Human Rights’ groups opposed the enactment of an anti-terrorist law. The TADA was allowed to lapse and there was no anti-terrorism law for about five years. The government, after great difficulty, was able to pass the Prevention of Terrorist activities Act.

Unified command

A unified command of the civil and defence forces is absolutely essential to deal with any terrorist situation. The concept has already been accepted and applied in J&K and in Assam in India. The implementation, however, calls for improvement. There is generally either inertia from the civil side or reservation from the army side. Problems of ego are a great hindrance. These need to be sorted out and we would have to ensure that the civil services and the defence forces act in unison.

Organisational support

Organisational support to the security forces should include:

  • Reforming and energising the state police forces.

  • Having specially trained forces to tackle terrorism.

  • Intelligence coordination and sharing.

State police forces

The state police forces should be strong enough to deal with terrorist movements in the initial stages. Unfortunately, this is not the case in India with the result that the paramilitary forces get sucked in from the very start and, before long, even the Army is called in. Political interference in the day to day administration has played havoc with the morale and objectivity of the police. The National Police Commission had recommended comprehensive measures to insulate the police from political influences and transform it into an instrument of service to the people accountable to the laws of the land and the Constitution of the country. These recommendations must be implemented.

Specially trained forces

In the USA, each branch of the armed forces has its own elite units : Army Rangers, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and the USAF Special Ops. Some of these units were deployed in Afghanistan and are reported to have given a good account of themselves.

In India, there is an element of overlap in the anti-terrorist operations. Forces are deployed not so much according to their suitability for a particular terrain or the nature of operations called for but more according to their availability. It is essential that we have the right force for the right situation. The Rashtriya Rifles should be principally utilised for counter-insurgency duties. The government has already decided to double the present strength of the RR by raising another 30 battalions. That would take the total strength of RR to well over 85,000. The expansion is sought to be achieved by 2005.


The pooling and sharing of intelligence calls for a lot of improvement. There are usually a plethora of intelligence agencies. In India, we have the Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing, Military Intelligence, BSF G-branch, Revenue Intelligence, etc. However, in the event of a crisis we are always told that there was failure of intelligence. In the USA also, there was definitely failure of intelligence which enabled the terrorists to destroy the WTC and damage the Pentagon.

Steps in right direction

The Government of India has been, in the context of areas affected by terrorism, talking of winning the hearts and minds of people. It has also pumped in substantial funds for the economic development of the states. These are steps in the right direction. It is necessary however that concurrently measures are also taken to revitalise and energise the state police forces and restructure the paramilitary forces and ensure their optimum utilisation in such a manner that they are able to deliver decisive blows to the terrorist organisations trying to subvert our economy, fracture our social fabric and destabilise our polity.