Last month, two nations — one, the world’s most powerful democracy and the second, it’s largest — were again visited by the plague of terrorism, a scourge they have both been trying to assiduously fight. The attacks were carried out in economically and culturally significant cities, Boston in the US and Bengaluru in India.
Boston, famous in 18th century history for the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, had been synonymous with America’s initial struggle for nationhood. It now showcases the US’ education and health giants, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the famed Harvard University. Equally, India’s IT capital, Bengaluru is the tenth preferred destination for global entrepreneurial investment and the third highest contributor to India’s GDP. That both these nations were once again afflicted with terror strikes should not be surprising in the least. Nations that are crucibles of diverse cultures do remain under a similar threat in today’s sectarian world.
The US, which is more professional than India when it comes to countering terror had already solved the puzzle of the Boston attack within 72 hours by eliminating one and nabbing the second of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, but India’s counter terror machinery is still struggling to ascertain who were the perpetrators in Bengaluru.
India, despite being one of terrorism’s worst sufferers, is yet to acquire the skills that could help it successfully minimise and counter terror. That terrorism is a continuing phenomenon the world over is a fact that cannot be disputed, but within India itself, we have to introspect ruthlessly and come up with a resolute plan that can combat terror in all its myriad manifestations. India must not shy away from employing counter-terror mechanisms that have helped other nations successfully contain terrorism and terrorists.
Firstly, terrorism has to be countered together. Politicians must not politicise or communalise the fight against terror and there must be a greater exhibition of political will when it comes to eliminating terror and its proponents. Suspects who have been convicted by the courts must speedily be administered their decreed punishments and political parties must not interfere with judicial processes. For those terrorists who have been handed the death sentence, the President’s decision on their mercy petitions must be considered sacrosanct.
We need to recognise the fact that the issue of terrorism is not only one that is permanent, but an issue in which the entire country has a stake. As the government of India strengthens the structures, tools and various organs of the State to combat terrorism, it must get the willing support of all state governments. Law and order is, constitutionally speaking, a state subject. But with the rapidly growing spectre of left wing terrorism in the country, coupled with foreign inspired terrorism in J&K and some parts of the North-east, the states are hardly organised or equipped to take up counter terrorism operations on their own. Thus it is high time for the Indian Parliament to consider putting law and order, as also internal security, on the nation’s Concurrent List by duly amending the Constitution of India.
Mechanisms that coordinate counter terror operations, like the already established National Investigation Agency and the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) must get the support of the state governments, some of whom are, inexplicably against the NCTC. Only a central body that seamlessly collates and shares intelligence can help fight terror across India and the states opposing the NCTC should take note of that fact. Our intelligence gathering at the grassroots remains inadequate and must improve.
It is time for the nation to once again revisit the gamut of our internal security preparedness. This can best be done by employing the collective wisdom of the Centre, the state governments, all the security and intelligence organs of the State, including the last bastion of the State, the Indian Armed Forces, whose expertise must be optimally utilised. Finally, we cannot let the recent experiences of Boston and Bengaluru fade without improving our counter terror preparedness for the future.
Kamal Davar is a retired Lt General and was the first Chief of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency
The views expressed by the author are personal