Fill Up Police Vacancies, Secure Hinterland to Fight Terrorism

This time there appears to have been something of a break with past patterns of response to major terrorist attacks in India, which have tended to be much sound and fury, followed by nothing.

This time around, the central government, however, appears to have been struck to the quick by the close succession of serial blasts in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and the national capital; by the sheer intensity of criticism, both in the media and from the opposition; and, probably, by the proximity of national elections; and appears to have finally been goaded to announce a number of capacity building measures, including the substantial augmentation of manpower allocations and resources to the Delhi Police (which is controlled by the central government) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), as well as the setting up of a 'dedicated mechanism for research and analysis in areas of technology and counter-terrorism' under the IB.

More significantly, the red herring of the Federal Investigative Agency appears to have been abandoned, with the prime minister observing: "Perhaps, there is no need to set up a new agency, and instead we ought to ensure better coordination and integration among the existing agencies for devising an effective counter-terrorism strategy."

While the measures announced have been long overdue and are to be welcomed, it remains to be seen how quickly and completely they are implemented. Bureaucracies are creatures of long habit and have a tendency, after events have produced a momentary ripple, to lapse quickly back into settled ways of operation.

The political executive, on the other hand, tends to have the attention span of a gnat. Under the circumstances, continuous public and political pressure will have to be exerted to ensure that these decisions are quickly translated into action, and necessary resources are immediately made available.

Crucially, the capacity deficits are so great and so widespread that these initiatives, even if quickly, fully and efficiently implemented, would at best scratch no more than the surface. Far more will have to be done - particularly to bring the state police and intelligence apparatuses up to scratch. These are, in most cases, currently so degraded as to be of little or no utility in the context of counter-terrorism.

Worse, despite liberal central schemes underwriting security related expenditure, capacity building and police modernisation, most states have failed to take significant advantage. Data on utilisation of central funds for police modernisation for the year 2006-07, for example, indicates an average utilisation of just over 63.71 percent for all states.

Recruitment to the police in many states has been frozen for years, and some states are currently functioning with deficits of up to 40 percent against capacities often sanctioned over a decade ago. Where recruitment has occurred, the process has ordinarily been riddled with corruption, leadership posts have not been covered, and acute deficits in training capacities have undermined, and irrational deployments have diluted, any impact the increased manpower may have had.

In several states, recruitment of thousands of constables have subsequently been 'cancelled' by courts or other authorities because of pervasive corruption and irregularities that marred the processes.

It is useful, in this context, to reiterate the principle that you cannot counter terrorism in India's cities if the countryside remains un-policed and ungoverned.

Securing the 'hinterland' and penetrating the dispersed networks established by terrorist organisations are necessary, if the urban and modern core of India is to be protected. Such comprehensive security cannot be achieved by the central government alone, and requires the state police and intelligence apparatus to be brought up to par.

Another critical lacuna in the emerging 'strategy' is that the government's response remains overwhelmingly defensive, seeking to contain terrorism at its points of delivery, and ignoring the principal source of ideological mobilisation, funding, safe haven, operational control and support, which remains firmly located in Pakistan.

Regrettably, apart from a fairly vigorous - albeit fitful and sometimes contradictory - diplomatic strategy to increase international focus and pressure on Pakistan, India appears to have little by way of a coherent plan to address the 'problem of Pakistan'.

Indeed, most policy initiatives currently being pursued, including increasing trade ties with Pakistan and unqualified Indian support to the regime de jour at Islamabad tend, overwhelmingly, to reward Pakistani malfeasance. Regrettably, policy alternatives at New Delhi have ordinarily been framed within a false dichotomy between diplomatic/political 'solutions' and the 'military option' - the latter interpreted in terms of hair-brained schemes for 'hot pursuit'.

What is required is the framing of a range of compelling strategies, including economic and covert instrumentalities, in addition to existing diplomatic and political agencies, which can help impose unbearable costs on Islamabad for continuing support to terrorism. It is only when such a compelling strategy is in place and begins to hurt Islamabad that Pakistan will, in fact, begin to dilute its present sponsorship of terrorism on Indian soil.

(Ajay Sahni edits the South Asia Intelligence Review and is an authority on sub-continental terrorism. He can be reached at ajaisahni@gmail.com)


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