A different counterterrorism set-up needed
INDIA probably doesn’t need another Central Agency by name NCTC – National Counter Terrorism Centre – a name borrowed from the Centre that has been established in the US after 9/11. As it always happens Chidambaram, former Home Minister, became enamoured of the idea of replicating it in India. It was Chidambaram who was responsible for the creation of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) with enormous powers. The powers of the NIA, in reality, supercede the powers of the State Police in cases relating to national security. Although supported by all State Governments the NIA Act is actually against the federal spirit of our Constitution.
The NCTC that Chidambaram had proposed was another Central agency that was supposed to have powers to investigate, interrogate, arrest and even prosecute people. So far, all these matters have been deemed to be under the control of the State governments, since the maintenance of Law and Order is a State Subject under our Constitution. This principle was overruled by the Central Government through the NIA Act once already, under which even special NIA courts also have been established. Once again, through the NCTC, the Central Government wanted to override the principle of Federalism, which was opposed by several State governments.
Those who question the opposition of the states to NCTC on the ground that they had agreed to the NIA Act must understand that the federalism concept is an unwritten understanding between the Central and State governments. It is about the spirit of shared duties and powers between the Centre and the states. States’ feeling that their rights are being encroached upon by the Centre through successive such Acts is a genuine one.
Having said that I would like to call for a different kind of NCTC for our country. That India needs a firmer counterterrorism establishment is a unanimous opinion across the board. India is facing a multi-pronged terrorism challenge both from within and without. Pakistan, the epicenter of global terrorism, is likely to degenerate further into a failed state or a military state. Both ways it is going to pursue its policy of ‘Thousand Cuts’ with India more vigorously. With the possibility of the return of Begum Khalida Zia’s BNP to power in Bangladesh in the not-so-august company of the rabidly anti-India Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, our terrorism woes are likely to increase in the eastern front too. Bangladesh has been the springboard and safe haven for jihadi groups like HuJI besides several insurgent groups active in our North-East.
Added to this is the unfolding drama in the Pak-Af region. The Americans want to quit Afghanistan by middle of 2014. Afghanistan is certainly not Iraq. There are chances of the Taliban groups trying to capture power in Kabul. Already in the southern parts of the country, especially Kandahar and beyond, it is the writ of Taliban that runs. Pakistan is waiting in wings to take control of the country through its proxy, the Taliban. It will increase the threat to peace in J&K manifold. Besides it will also increase the threat of terror across the country.
A new phenomenon witnessed in the last more than a decade has been about the home grown terror. Unlike earlier, the terror groups, especially the radical Islamist, jehadi groups have been able to create full-scale terror establishment within the country itself, limiting their dependence on external forces only to moral and logistics support. This home-grown terrorism, whether it is SIMI or Popular Front or Indian mujahedin, has grown lethal in the last few years. They continue to get patronage from operatives based in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but their recruitment, planning and execution, etc are locally managed.
Countless terror cells operate in the country today. For each cell busted, several new ones spring up. They receive patronage from politicians to businessmen to underworld to external agencies like the ISI. The recent Hyderabad blasts are an indication that these cells are still very active and capable of executing terror acts.
This is certainly not a good news for India. And the larger picture suggests that India has to deal with this menace for next several years to come. It is in this context that an agency dedicated to counterterrorism need to be envisaged.
Unfortunately in our country counterterrorism is understood as an issue of policing and intelligence alone. Undoubtedly these two agencies play a crucial role in counter-terror operations. However effective counterterror mechanism should involve various other stakeholders also. It should be essentially about equipping, strengthening and standing by various stakeholders in countering terror. This is where Chidambaram’s NCTC falls woefully short. It limits itself to policing and justice delivery ignoring the fact that there are several other issues to address.
In any case even to handle those matters it is a futile exercise in a country of India’s size to have a new national agency. We have seen the utter helplessness and uselessness of the NIA in the last four years. It is mainly because the NIA is seen by many police organisations in states as an outsider out to step on their toes.
What is needed in our country is a national agency for counter-terrorism dedicated to equipping and strengthening different institutions, agencies and public. Some of the major stakeholders to counterterrorism are the police, intelligence, judiciary and media. Even the general public, including leaders of civil society who waste no time in extending support to terror and leaders of certain religious groups who advocate terror need to be brought on board. In countries like Israel, which face a daily threat of terror, ordinary citizens, including school children, are sensitised about terrorism. That is why in those countries one doesn’t witness panic if a terror attack alarm goes off. People know how to respond in a calm and orderly manner.
Sensitisation is the key to counterterrorism. Various stakeholders to counterterror activities must be fully sensitised about terrorism and how to combat it. The case of Yasin Bhatkal is an eye-opener. The Kolkata Police had arrested him on fake currency charges, kept him in jail for several months and finally let him off not knowing he was the most dreaded IM operative. Kolkata Police probably didn’t understand that drug rackets, fake currency rackets and illegal trafficking rackets are linked to terrorism. This is what is called sensitising.
We need a massive centralised set-up that can be accessed by various stakeholders for information and guidance on terror related matters. It should focus primarily on extensive research, documentation and preparation of dossiers on terrorism. It should run various training and sensitisation programs for police, intelligence, immigration, judiciary, media, social leaders, youths, etc.
Every officer of the rank of DSP and above should undergo periodic courses in this centre so that whenever he gets posted in a particular geographical area that is infested with terror elements, his understanding of the issue helps him enormously. For example if an officer is posted in an area that has large SIMI presence he should not start learning about SIMI and its tactics after joining the duties there. Because there won’t be any facility to teach him either. In fact he should have thorough knowledge of SIMI before joining.
There is a major need for sensitising our judiciary. There is a tendency in the judiciary to look at uniformed forces as perpetual human rights violators. That is not true. But many police officers including senior IPS officers face humiliating situations in front of magistrates and judges. In ordinary cases this can be considered a professional hazard. But in cases relating to terrorism the judiciary needs to be properly sensitised so that there is correct appreciation of the issue. There is a need among our judiciary fraternity for better understanding of terrorism. Also the Centre, through its research and expertise, should draft proper laws for counter-terror activity, lack of which is a major impediment in our country. The Centre should also implead itself in many cases relating to terror in favour of the State. Normally while the terrorists get a lot of support from human rights groups, etc the police get none.
Training and sensitising bureaucracy and political class is a major challenge. Because one of them believes firmly that they are master of everything from globalisation to gober gas; while the other knows only how to play politics with terror. The proposed centre should design courses to sensitise these sections also as they are the ones who have the power of making policies. I know of a State bureaucracy that refused to release funds sanctioned by Central government for the specific purpose of benefitting personnel engaged in counter-terror operations in the State. This is essentially becasue of the bureaucrat who sits in a particular chair at that point in time doesn’t understand what fighting terror is like.
Sensitising media too is an important aspect. Use of words, phrases, images, visuals... everything needs to be different when it comes to terrorism. Media should understand that the battle against terrorism has to be fought at various levels including minds spaces where there is an important role that media can play. Propaganda is an important tool that terrorists use; hence it becomes an inevitable tool to be deployed in counter-terror operations also. The Centre can be a great help in developing effective propaganda. Cyber wars are increasingly becoming the forte of the terrorists. We need a powerful cyber army to tackle innumerable terror-sponsoring or supporting websites and other modules.
Technology plays a very important role in counterterror operations. The Centre should be able to research, scout for and advise police and intelligence about how best they can deploy technology in their efforts. Globally the counterterrorism technologies industry is booming today. But sadly our agencies are utterly ill-equipped. They don’t even know what all is available for them to minimise damages and effectively go after the terrorists.
Civic leaders, human rights activists, even religious groups need to be specifically trained in order to improve their understanding of what constitutes terror. The Centre can plan to educate wider audience like university students, school-going children, etc so that this sensitisation spreads far and wide and next time God forbid when there is another terror threat there won’t be stampede or chaos. Our doctors should know how to cope with terror incidents that not only cause physical injuries but also lead to mental trauma in a large section of the society. Immigration officials, customs officials, even postal services personnel... everybody should be trained and sensitised.
Such a Centre can engage and network with global counterterror expertise and institutions and expose our personnel to their wisdom and experience.
In one sentence, we need an institutional set-up that can train each and every stakeholder in counterterror activity. Such a Centre, which can equip and strengthen various existing institutions, is the need of the hour and not another central agency, which will only end up in increasing turf wars.