India’s fallacies in the counter-terrorism system

By Veronica Stassi

This article aims at addressing the Indian counter-terrorism capacities and the motives that have caused, and that are currently exacerbating, inefficiencies and failures in its threats-detecting capacities. 

Terrorism in India, past and current trends

India has witnessed almost all forms of terrorist attacks, from the hijacking of airplanes to railways tracks sabotaging, and suicide attacks, with the chosen method changing according to the terrorists’ objectives.

These terrorist attacks were, most of the times, organized and put in place by different groups. However, the major threat to the country’s security is coming from those that have intimate connections to the global jihadist network.

Firstly, it is relevant to address the concept of jihadist terrorism. Jihadist terrorists, according to Europol, can be both “directed by the Islamic State (IS) or merely inspired by IS ideology and rhetoric. […] Jihadist attacks can be both carefully prepared and carried out spontaneously”.

Europol’s assessment states that there is no uniformity in the way in which jihadist terrorists operate around the world, and this complicates the tracking and early detection of suspects. Such a statement fits with the Indian terrorism trend, a phenomenon that saw many variations in the last decades. 

If initially it was considered only a manifestation of a Pakistan support and was mostly limited to a very restricted territory (e.g. Kashmir), more recently it has become more diffused and fluid, thanks to the evolution of technology and, consequently, the weapons and methods employed. 

Nowadays, the easy and uncontrolled access to advanced weapons and technologies help terrorists to establish secure communications and to facilitate the flows of illicit funds.

A recent interpretation of Indian terrorism proposes the country as a global “soft target” for terrorism, both due to radicalization and recruitments becoming more sophisticated and transnational, but also because the country is unprepared and unable to address effective counter-terrorism strategies.

The necessity to implement a comprehensive approach: the causes of inefficiencies

To combat this new kind of terrorism, India needs a comprehensive approach in its security establishment and counter-terrorism capacities. Although several steps have been taken towards this direction, India still does not have a long-term strategic plan, and the internal security is unable to counter-balance such threats. It is important to underline that India fails especially in the intelligence “early warning” capacity, which is one of the pillars needed to fight threats before it is too late. Thus, if intelligence fails in recognizing a threat, consequently the police and, more widely, authorities cannot provide an adequate “physical security” (such authorities are inefficient also in the post-attack crisis management). 

Song Jiwei writes that “early warning based on signals of crisis events aims to find out the original sources of crisis […] It can also be used to reduce the damages and develop new opportunities […] early warning intelligence is the key weapon against surprise”.

In the Indian case, what further complicates the picture is the federal type of the government and, consequently, how the jurisdiction is divided between states and central authority: law and order maintenance is a state matter. 

The subdivision of competencies is probably one of the biggest obstacles to an efficient Indian counter-terrorism system. Indeed, the Intelligence Bureau, IB, which is the most relevant counter-terrorism agency, is unable to properly perform its duties because it has no formal authority nor a clear institutional mandate (officially there is no act of the Indian Parliament). Furthermore, IB is currently under no parliamentary oversight or accountability check.

For this reason, after the Mumbai attack, India has improved its investigation capabilities in the counter-terrorism field with the institution of the National Investigation Agency, NIA. This action, however, worsened India’s weakness in this field because such an agency’s mandate could violate human rights, especially the right to freedom from unreasonable detention, as opposed to protecting personal safety”. The creation of NIA, together with the absence of IB’s accountability check, endangered human rights protection and facilitated opposition monitoring.

India is also an excellent case for addressing the lack of intelligence-sharing mechanisms among different bodies as it rests upon the goodwill of states; furthermore, several of them are non-Congress ruling and openly oppose the Federal State.

On the field, counter-terrorism is often ineffective because the Police is the first to intervene and, due to several internal factors – such as corruption, political pressures, and lack of adequate, modern training – it simply is not equipped to face such crisis.

A better intelligence service for the benefit of all 

Indian intelligence fails because it “does not connect the dots”, thus it is incapable of providing early warning and, above all, it fails to “meet the needs of its customers”. A sound intelligence product should always consider who asked for that information and consequently who will have to properly understand its contents. 

The Police, which is the first responder authority, is unskilled and not equipped to face modern terrorism; moreover, given the number of conflicts that India is currently facing, police bodies are facing a lack of personnel; the Federal State did not answer to the attacks with efficient institutional responses because it did not take into account the federal nature of its system, the rivalries, the lack of accountability, the lack of funds and effective cooperation among its authorities. 

India should consider improving its authorities’ counter-terrorism tactics and training. The under-staffing and poor training are mostly due to the small amount of the budget that India can devolve to the security agencies. India also needs to change its approach that, despite the actions taken, remains traditional and, for too long, merely Pakistan-oriented.

The institutional responses provided by the federal government following the attacks showed that India had not properly considered all aspects of its security system. In fact, because of its structure, the lack of cooperation, of coordination and of proper equipment to deal with an ever-changing phenomenon such as terrorism, for far too long it has had a myopic approach. Furthermore, considering the lack of funds devoted to the security apparatus, the government had to consider whether establishing new and complex agencies was the most efficient option. Such agencies, operating with little to no accountability, have also exacerbated the tendency to violate human rights, which is a factor already present in the country.