Fighting Terror: Do Fewer Attacks Mean India is Winning the War?

How does India fight terrorism?

5 min read
Hindi Female

(This story was first published on 21 May 2017, and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Anti-Terrorism Day)

May 21 is observed as Anti-Terrorism Day. On this occasion, we take a look at how India fights terrorism.

After the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, the first thing that was done was to buy armoured cars, which were then placed all across the city, Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management, recalls. He asked the heads of the police in Mumbai at the time how these would help in the event of another major terror attack and was told that they would make people feel secure.

They’re more interested in the illusion of security because that helps the political circus.

While the world woke up to terror after 9/11 claimed nearly 3,000 lives in New York City, India has witnessed horrific bomb blasts in major cities since well before. It has also dealt with terror and insurgency for years in the North and the North-East.

So how does India fight terrorism?


India’s Counter-Terror Policy

Sahni says that in the 20 years he’s worked in the field, he has not seen a comprehensive policy aimed at countering terror. But Adil Rasheed, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, says that there may not be any all-inclusive policy document on counter-terrorism and that even if there was one, it wouldn’t be out in the public domain. But this does not necessarily mean that India has no counter-terrorism policy.

Depending on the kind of violence and terror in various parts of the country, there are different ways of tackling them. It depends on the kind of threat, the drivers, motivations, foreign actors and the players involved. 
How does India fight terrorism?
(Photo: The Quint)

Vikram Sood, former head of RAW and advisor at the Observer Research Foundation, says that India’s policy has normally been reactive.

“Defence rather than offence. If you have an incident, you tighten up security, gather more intelligence. You’re not going to the source of the problem,” he says.

But he qualifies this by adding that this reactive policy is largely to deal with LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and not groups that are India-based like the IM.

When it’s within the country, it’s different. You start off against a new terror movement as a reaction because you don’t know where it’s coming from. But it’s a learning curve and you deal with it.

Sood says this is a policy India will continue to follow because no one is thinking about an alternative. Sahni is much more critical:

Just reacting to situations in an ad hoc manner is not a strategy. We throw forces into the affected areas or throw the police into particular tasks only when a challenge occurs. Then they do the best they can. But there is no proactive or holistic policy.
How does India fight terrorism?
(Photo: The Quint)

But Rasheed contends that "the country has implemented counter-radicalisation measures in some states and there have been several successes in apprehending terrorists and spies. India does not take preemptive measures as it tries to maintain a fine line between imposing security measures and violating civil liberties."

Whenever an incident happens, the security forces are taken to task and questions are asked, which is legitimate, but I wouldn’t call that reactive. I’d say work is ongoing and the establishment is doing a pretty good job.
Adil Rasheed

Do Fewer Attacks Mean Successful Counter-Terrorism Practices?

In 2008, Mumbai suffered the 26/11 terrorist attacks that killed 171 people and will remain forever etched in the nation’s consciousness. Even though India has identified that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was behind the attacks and provided Pakistan with evidence of the perpetrators and the handlers, the investigation and trial are still ongoing.

India has seen successes such as the elimination of the terror group Indian Mujahideen (IM). Also, after 26/11, there have been fewer attacks. Does this mean India’s counter-terrorism strategy is working?

How does India fight terrorism?
(Photo: The Quint)
Spectacular attacks don’t take place often. 2008 was one such. The enemy could just be waiting for an opportune moment to strike again. A lack of terror attacks doesn’t necessarily mean we’re better off. The yardstick is how many terror attacks have we been able to prevent. Has the government disclosed that? If they have, we’re better off.
Vikram Sood

The last year has seen more attacks reported from Kashmir. Does that mean that there’s a surge of terror there?

More terror attacks don’t necessarily mean that terrorism has increased. It could also mean that security forces are more active. They may be tracking down more terrorists, and therefore (there have been more) encounters and arrests. 
Vikram Sood

How Effective is India’s
On-Ground Security?

Potential terror targets like the Delhi Metro, hotels and malls have visibly high security with frisking, metal detectors and baggage X-ray machines. During high alerts or on national holidays, there are also several police check posts across major cities. But how effective are these measures?

“We don’t have a high amount of on-ground security in India. The Delhi Metro has security because it’s a prestige project. But how much security does Delhi’s bus system have? Across India, the police-population ratio is abysmal,” says Sahni.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (an initiative by the Institute for Conflict Management), India’s average police-population ratio (per 100,000 population) is 138. The UN recommends 220 for peacetime. The US has a ratio of 229, France of 390 and Spain of 505.

While Sood says that he hasn’t seen anything spectacular in terms of levels of security, he also adds that security checks do act as deterrents.

But while there are questions raised about the efficacy (or even the existence) of India’s counter-terror policy, there is no doubting the efforts of India’s agencies.

How does India fight terrorism?
(Photo: The Quint)
The people in the security and intelligence agencies, with the limited means they’ve been given, have done excellent work in certain situations. There are officers and people who carry on despite the conditions in which they’re required to work. It’s these people, working away quietly and honestly, who remain the backbone of this country.
Ajai Sahni

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