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“ Counter Terrorism Initiatives in India – Challenges and Responses” – R.K.Raghavan

C3S Paper No.2086

The full script of the first Sri B Raman Memorial lecture  delivered by Dr RK Raghavan Corporate Advisor (Security) TCS and Former CBI Director  on 29th November  is enclosed . The report may be read in conjuction with the full report carried  on the Sri Raman Memorial Lecture by C3S  vide


Tributes to Raman

I would like to begin by complimenting the Chennai Center for Chinese studies for having founded this memorial talk to remember one of India’s greatest experts in the area of terrorism.

My  association with Raman goes back to the late 1960’s when I reported at the IB Headquarters on deputation from the Tamilnadu Cadre. Raman was already there.  I had many occasions to interact with him. I found him knowledgeable and extremely amiable. Thereafter our paths separated, with Raman joining the R&AW and my continuing with the IB.  We met thereafter only in Chennai after both of us had retired from the service. It was during this period I got to know him really well and this renewed relationship gave me an opportunity to understand the real significance of Raman’s contribution to counterterrorism.

Raman held strong views on how India should protect itself against the scourge of terrorism. He was particularly not comfortable with the pontifications of the US experts and officials.  The David Coleman affair in particular perhaps widened chasm between the two. I know of at least one US Professor, an Indophile, telling me that Raman was anti-American. However his detractors both in America and outside never had anything adverse to say about his integrity. Actually they had the greatest admiration for his erudition and steadfastness. Many of them, including Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institution, genuinely grieved over his passing away and paid him handsome tributes. That was the man. He had no rancour towards anyone.  Whatever he said or wrote reflected his uncompromising patriotism.  It is therefore appropriate that we remember him every year. In my view this is the best way to motivate our young researches into taking up and sticking to honest scholarship.

Survey of the international terrorist scene:

No lecture on counter terrorism can commence without an overview of the global scene as it stands today.  The fundamental fact is that, as Stephen Cohen says the rise of terrorism can be traced to the demise of communism in the form we know, Cohen’s view is that ethnicity and religion have filled in the vacuum caused by the end of the cold war. Howevermuch one may disagree with Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ and accuse him of oversimplifying a complex phenomenon that terrorism and all that goes with it represent,  it looks as if we have to contend with conflict and disorder for many years to come. Since 9/11 far too many terrorists attacks have been reported from different parts of the globe for us to rest in comfort.

The Middle East continues to boil over with several incidents accounting for many precious lives. Closer home the recent incident at the Wagha border which claimed 60 lives is an index of the determination of the terrorist  to strike whenever he wants it. A few days ago we had the report of a suicide bomber cutting in to the serene proceedings of Volley ball match in Afghanistan which accounted for 45 lives. It looks as if the determined terrorist, from wherever he comes, is intent on spreading as much panic as possible. All these happenings have belied the earlier theory that once Bin Laden was liquidated, the world would come to near normal. The very recent rise of ISIS has only exacerbated the situation. Only time will tell whether the ISIS is just an upstart and will succeed in fully displacing the al Qaeda.

By all accounts the al-Qaeda and associate organizations still exist in different parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and Africa. They may lack the virulence and expansive organization which contributed to the hugely successful operation that 9/11 was.  Things have no doubt changed since 9/11. We now hear mainly of a leader such as Ayman al Zawahiri, who lacks the charisma of Bin Laden but seems determined to carry forward the message that the West, especially the US, is its sworn enemy. We had a strange video released in early this September which highlighted the importance of the  armed struggle against the US. It also announced that a new branch of the al-Qaeda had been formed exclusively for the South Asian sub-continent. On the face of it this seemed ominous and spectacular. There is no evidence however as yet  that such an outfit has in fact been formed. A few observers believe that the video did not convey a picture of confidence, and that it actually reflected certain despondency.   Zawahiri’s tone was not that of a global leader trying to energize an international following.

This critical analysis of al-Qaeda should be viewed in the context of the rise of the phenomenal new outfit which goes by the nomenclature of The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which does not appear to be a mere upstart that it was initially described as. The ISIS has belied the assessment of all its detractors through its many successors in Northern Iraq where it controls a number of towns and a few oil fields which makes large resources available to it for carrying out its operations. The beheading of a few Western journalists has managed to strike terror among governments including those of the US, UK, Syria and Iraq.  ISIS is set to have more than 10,000 in its cadre. Significantly this is supplemented by a large number of Jihadists from some of the West. We in India can hardly ignore reports that a few motivated Jihadists have gone from our shores. These include four from Maharashtra. One of these, Aarif Majeed, was originally suspected to have been killed in action in Iraq. Since then it is known he was merely injured. He has returned home and is being closely questioned by the NIA. There is no credible intelligence as to how many more like Aarif have gone to Iraq from India.  Anyhow this should have put our intelligence agency on notice. Whatever successes that law enforcement agencies may register in the Middle East or in Asia, the fact is the enemies of civilized living and constitutional government have the upper hand.

The Indian situation:

The modern history of terrorism in our country should necessarily begin with the Bombay blast of 1993 which is described as a reprisal to the demolition of the Babri Masjid of December 1992. The escape into Pakistan of the principal perpetrator of this savage attack on innocent citizens, Dawood Ibrahim and his reported asylum in that country served only exacerbated the hostile relations between the two countries. The high jacking of IC 814  on December 25th 1999 and the compulsory handing over in Pakistan of two terrorists serving their term in our prison indicated our modest capacity to prevent or respond the terrorist challenges.   The rise of the Indian Mujahedeen (IM) which first came to notice in the series of blast near courts in Uttar Pradesh and its links to the ISI are the current anxieties to the Indian Law Enforcement and Intelligence officials. The daring attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 once again showed the might of the terrorist and the inadequacy of the Indian preparedness to combat those who were trying to cut at the roots of the constitution governments.  Both informed and uninformed treatises have been written on what happened that day and how it could have been prevented. This response in hindsight does not carry us very far into the task of protecting ourselves from future terrorists attacks.  This is one of the greatest challenges that confront policy makers and practicing law enforcement officials.

 Counter terrorism challenges in India and the globe

We can clearly identify two phases in which India has acted to strengthen its counter terrorism capabilities.  In the phase following the arrival of Sikh terrorism in the mid-1980s both  law enforcement agencies and the community of citizens suffered massive casualties. Serious inadequacies were exposed in the administration’s ability to fight back terrorism.   For the first time India upgraded its counter terrorism capabilities. This was through erecting a fence along the line of control and the international border with Pakistan, raising a village defense forces in remote villages and strengthening the maritime counter terrorism capability of the Coast Guard.  Around this time there were also moves to strengthen  civil aviation security, the personal security of the important dignitaries and anti-explosives security.  It was about this time there was also the constitution of the National Security Gaurds (NSG) to intervene in high jacking and hostage taking incidents. Following the assassination of  Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31,1984, a Special Protection Group (SPG) came into being. All these administrative actions seemed very timely if one took into account the eight new challenges which Raman identified for the period between 1989-2001.

The next phase of preparedness was generated by the 9/11 attack in New York city. Its ramifications across the globe energized Indian officials to seek a further enhancement of the country”s capabilities. Indian establishment had also to respond to the incitement of some organizations in Jammu and Kashmir by the ISI. The assassination of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE, the rising spectre of narcoterrorism  by different terrorist groups seeking to fund themselves and the growing links between Pakistan- based Jihadist organizations and transnational mafia group led by Dawood Ibrahim led to the Mumbai blast of 1993 were events that lent new urgency to the country’s plans to enlarge its counter terrorism capability.

The Challenges and the Indian response

It is appropriate on this occasion when we remember Raman that we delve into his writings on counter terrorism and counter terrorism efforts made by India. On the success or failure of India’s counter terrorism exercises Raman had a clear perception.  In a presentation made to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in 2006 he described how soon after Independence, India had to build a counter insurgency strategy to deal with the communist insurgence in Andhra Pradesh, and later to handle the problems created by the tribals living in the Northeast.  He identified 1981 as the year in which for the first time counter terrorism became a feature of India’s internal security management following the Khalisthan movement in the Punjab that was heavily supported by the ISI of the Pakistan.

Raman’s major criticism was that India was trying to fight terrorism with the normal laws of the land which were enacted long before terrorism was ever recognized as a menace that threatened the fabric of consititutional government in the country.

What is lacking?

 Our northern and eastern frontiers adjoin countries which have not only a terrorist problem, but have displayed a certain hostility that has an impact on our internal security. Our travails on account of the Pakistan military are too well known to need any expatiation. It is strange that while that country itself has been a major victim of the unrelenting violence unleashed by the Taliban, it is uninhibited in aiding and abetting jihadist groups inimical to India. The 26/11 attack on Mumbai illustrated this in ample measure. Investigations into this gory episode demonstrated to the rest of the world that this LeT-inspired operation had received substantial support from the Pakistani establishment. Since 26/11 the LeT and ISIS have for tactical reasons been content with financial and logistic support to the Indian Muajahideen, a new Indian outfit that is bent upon creating trouble in different parts of India from time to time. India’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been substantially successful in unearthing cadres of this modestly strong organization. Several arrests have been made, including that of IM founder Yasin Bhatkal and these have adversely affected the morale of IM cadres. Nevertheless there is no reason to be complacent that they would not regroup themselves with the assistance from across the border. Keeping track of the IM’s international links is a major challenge in the area of counterterrorism.

Inadequacies of intelligence effort

We all know the complexities of collection of hard intelligence on terrorist organizations. Terrorism is synonymous with motivation that flows from patriotism or religious fundamentalism, two factors which make the average terrorist a nearly invincible target for intelligence agencies. This explains the fewer success and the greater number of failures of intelligence agencies in anticipating major threats to our country’s security. The many attacks of the IRA in Great Britain, the savage attacks in the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001, the incidents in the London Underground on July 7, 2005 and our own 26/11 catastrophe in Mumbai amply demonstrated that intelligence agencies were unequal to the task of anticipating a terrorist strike. The assassinations of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were the other examples of how terrorist organizations can outwit government agencies charged with the task of anticipating terrorist conspiracies and nipping them in the bud.  Modern technologies, especially of the electronic variety. have greatly enhanced the capacity of intelligence agencies. There is fairly credible evidence that this facility has helped to foil many terrorist acts of misadventure. It is equally true that terrorist groups have suitably adapted themselves to deny this advantage to government agencies. It is therefore a constant battle of wits between the two rival parties. That is the further handicap that the intelligence agencies both in India and abroad suffer in a democracy. The conflicting claims of privacy and counter terrorism have generated a debate has to how much freedom  intelligence agencies can be permitted to monitor electronic conversations. We know how US courts have come down heavily on the NSA in that country and struck down many actions of the NSA as clearly violative of the American Constitution. We in India are slightly better off because of the circumspection and propriety of the IB and other similar organizations, both at the Centre and in the State. It is however a moot question whether our intelligence agencies could have performed  better with an even more liberal law permitting eavesdropping. The bold stand taken by the IB and government in the Blackberry issue is an instance of how a tough administration can give teeth to counter terrorism.

Policing shortcomings

I am afraid that a few harsh statements will have to be made while considering how well has the Indian police responded to  recent developments in the area of terrorism. If one reckons the fact that the terrorist challenge has to be met both through sophisticated intelligence operations and with hard core policing at the grassroots level, the Indian response has been just modest.   It is Raman’s view and that of many experts that the country has been trying to fight modern terrorism with the help of an ancient apparatus, such as the Indian police.

It is a sad fact that  policing have changed only a little since the alien British ruler set it up in mid 19th century. Our police stations remain as ill equipped as when they first came into being. They are mostly unarmed in tune with the democratic structure which we have given our polity. It is not my case that police stations should be more heavily armed. It is however my case that even policemen posted at the basic unit of policing need more rigorous training in the use of firearms so that they can complement the armed police. At present the periodic firing exercises which policemen stationed at police stations undergo is symbolic and cosmetic. Another glaring inadequacy of basic policing is their non-involvement in operations aimed to blunt the prowess of the average terrorist.  Police stations do not contribute to intelligence collection against the terrorist. This is a glaring inadequacy in our scheme of things.  To my knowledge no major effort has been made to set right this appalling situation.  Suitable training and attractive incentives could possibly generate a desire among the Constabulary for looking out to gather valuable information.

The legal framework

There is near consensus the world over  that the routine police laws do not give enough teeth to law enforcement agencies in tackling terrorism. This is however in conflict with those who stand for inviolable fundamental rights of freedom and liberty. These are days of strident protest by human rights activists who see the slightest changes in provisions of facilitating police field operation as invasion of freedom. 9/11 has considerably changed the perceptions of governments and victims alike in the matter. There is clamour for liberalizing the restrictions on police agencies in the matter of arrests and detention of terrorist suspects. There is also the demand for reducing the degree of proof required to convict persons arraigned on terrorist charges.   The US acted quickly after 9/11 and brought in the Patriot Act many provisions of which are anathema to those stand for unbridled human rights. The UK has also responded with its so many changes that have given teeth to the police in detaining suspects for longer hours than before for questioning.  Our own POTA was aimed at this. Unfortunately the Act stands abrogated because of the huge criticism that it had been misused politically. The lower rate of convictions under POTA was one argument used by those who opposed POTA, and this greatly diluted the government stand. It is again debatable whether we need a replacement for POTA. I do not see the prospect of any consensus in the matter. It is my prohnosis that we will muddle along for many years to come. Only a dramatic worsening of the terrorist situation could result in all political parties agreeing to a major counterterrorism legislation.

Mobilizing the community

The holocaust that 9/11 was helped to galvanize public opinion in almost the whole of USA in favour of tougher laws and greater support to government agencies in combating terror. I was in that country on and after 9/11, and I could see commendable proactive response of the man on the street in this direction.  The nation rose as one man to register their determination to see that no further terrorist atrocity was committed in that country. That kind of steely determination is often cited as a reason why the country has not seen any major terrorist assault after 9/11. One does not see a corresponding resolve in India, possibly because we have not been the victims of an incident of the magnitude of 9/11.  The basic fact is no counterterrorism strategy can succeed without the average citizen contributing to the state of preparedness envisaged by such strategy.  While there is an overall appreciation of the citizenry of the need to be united and active to fight terrorism, there is no evidence of any great anxiety to forge capacity building to ward off a major attack. This is one shortcoming that is most evident in what India has done so far to keep the terrorist at bay. The role here of  colleges and schools as also voluntary organizations cannot be over emphasized. I would go to the extent of suggesting that fundamental principles of counter terrorism be included in the curriculum of education at least at the university level.


It is unfair to be critical of the initiatives taken by successive governments in India to prepare the nation to meet the challenges of those who are inimical to us.  There have been many initiatives aimed at capacity building. The setting up of the hubs of the NSG in various parts of the country, the creation of a National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the setting up of a Multi Agency Center (MAC) (2002) have all been concrete responses to terrorism. (New Delhi’s attempts to create a National counter terrorism Center (NCTC)  on the lines of the one setup by the US in 2004 as a response to 9/11 have been in vain).

 All these have had some impact in the exercise aimed at thwarting the terrorist designs. Whether something more could have been done is always a matter of debate.  The point is the  pressure on terrorist will have to b maintained and no complacence should set in among counterterrorist agencies. That alone will be a fitting tribute to Raman, who strove ceaselessly to sharpen India’s counterterrorist abilities.


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