The counter terrorism community in India was hardly taken aback by the blasts at Ajmer Shareef, one of the most revered sites for people of all communities in Rajasthan. Those who believed in the mythical powers of the great Sufi saint, Khawaja Moinuddin Chishty were thankful to his blessings which restricted the casualties. That this attack took place despite many warnings by central intelligence agencies was inevitable given the total lack of understanding of the phenomenon of terrorism in India. Thus there was no surveillance, either human or electronic with the closed circuit television cameras non functional and nobody owning up responsibility for the same.
Finger pointing at HUJI merely acted as a shield to protect those who should have rightfully lost their jobs for this grave security lapse. But instead they are likely to prosper up the chain of hierarchy even as many more tragedies await us this festival season. India's appalling lack of anti terrorism preparedness has been recently criticized by a confidential United Nations report prepared by the Counter Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council. The Committee arrived at this conclusion after a detailed survey of all aspects from national laws to border check posts to judiciary to banks to police work and passports. A glaring deficiency included laws on terrorist financing which did not fully comply with UN Resolution 1373 adopted after the September 11, 2001 attack on the US. The law and order and judicial differential between the prosecution agencies at the Union and State level also came up for criticism. There is no data base of personnel moving in and out of the country and laws for recording electronic evidence were also found lacking.
The need for comprehensive counter terrorism legislation has been recommended to encompass multifarious facets of the issue. Having a specialized threat analysis unit is also important. The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) set up in March 2006 under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, is not fully functional as it does not have the staff and abilities to enforce its writ. The role of donor agencies has also been castigated as it has been indicated that there are no comprehensive strategies in place to prevent terrorist organizations from posing as legitimate charities or to prevent diversion of funds. Lack of computerization of the 76 border check points is also criticized as only 33 have such facilities.
An increase in threat levels is obvious with Lashkar e Taiyyabba founder Hafeez Muhammed Sayeed recently calling for intensification of "jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan" to "strengthen Pakistan's Defence." While in Kashmir the call evoked sharp criticism, former Chief of Army Staff J J Singh said the security forces are ready to face any kind of eventuality and that their approach was not going to be different from what they are doing now. The call by the LeT which has a pan Indian presence needs to be addressed seriously. While the Army is well prepared to tackle militancy in the Kashmir Valley, other areas of the country are vulnerable. Since the LeT's reach is extended to the Indian hinterland, warning by the LeT commander cannot be easily wished away. Moreover LeT and other Pakistan based organizations as the JeM and Bangladesh based HUJI are networked with the Al Qaeda. Being extension of the Qaeda these can draw upon the extensive resources available at its disposal.
Given the perception of threat and level of preparedness, the single most holistic need is a comprehensive counter terrorism doctrine which can synergize concepts, identify strategies and processes required to comprehensively defeat terrorism. Presently such a unifying document is in the draft stage. An early publication will facilitate focus on evolving strategies at the national, state and local level to combat the menace of terrorism which is taking heavy toll in terms of lives and scarce national resources. What is of greater concern is that terrorism is now being adopted as a means to gain political ends with impunity. There is a need to stem the flow by adopting measures recommended by the UN in Counter terrorism resolutions from time to time.
Some of the essential facets of this doctrine would be to get our neighbors including Pakistan and Bangladesh on board to fight terror. This is certainly a tall order but not insurmountable, as a focused approach for energizing joint mechanisms is essential. Controlling the seepages in our financial networks facilitating money laundering is also essential.
Of immediate urgency is developing expertise on threat identification and proactive action to be taken at the local level in the case of terror warnings. Some key pointers are usually ignored relating to location and timing of a strike. While intelligence agencies have been issuing warnings to the state police, implementation of preventive measures are tardy. Simple precautions at Ajmer would have prevented the tragedy and defilation of our places of worship.
A doctrine establishes commonality in understanding across the board thereby enabling preventive actions being taken at all levels. While only a few facets have been covered here, a comprehensive counter terrorism doctrine should be India's first step in combating the designs of the likes of Sayeed. This needs to be undertaken earliest and cannot wait any more tragedies.