India is no novice to terrorism. Much before September 11, 2001, when much of the world was still debating over the semantics of the word ‘terrorist’, India was already a veteran in combating the menace. That this was an asymmetrical war that required ‘unorthodox’ tactics was something that New Delhi came to know the hard way. So while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call for setting up a nodal federal investigative agency and slotting terrorism and drug trafficking as federal offences is welcome, the surprise is that it took so long to even consider the idea. Security experts have toyed with the idea of having a federal agency for years. If it remained in the realm of thoughts, it was because of the absence of strong political will from successive governments. With the Jaipur attacks, the government may have finally realised that wishing away terrorism is not the best way to deal with it. Now it’s for the rest of India’s political spectrum to come to the same conclusion.
At any given time, India faces a series of low intensity conflicts involving tribal, ethnic and extremist movements and ideologies, besides the proxy war conducted by not-so-friendly neighbours and sundry jehadi outfits. As Mr Singh rightly pointed out, no “single agency of any particular state” in India can effectively tackle the terrorism unleashed by these forces. Yet, it is one of India's worst kept secrets that there is practically little cooperation — never mind coordination — between various central and state agencies in investigating terror strikes. Considerable progress is often made in collecting intelligence about the activities of terrorist groups through technical means. But when it comes to penetrating these groups and collecting intelligence through human agents, it’s forever a dead-end. This disconnect is the biggest stumbling block before the creation of a dedicated federal anti-terrorism agency.
Then there is the political cacophony. In the ‘hard State-soft State’ ruckus aired each time after an attack, the one thing missing is any real bipartisan agreement as to tackling terrorism. The central agency that Mr Singh has talked about will need the freedom to legally operate and conduct operations based on the intelligence inputs it receives. It is also time that New Delhi served credible notice that India has the capabilities — and the determination — to inflict unacceptable costs on any State or non-State actor that sponsors acts of terror against us. But before all that, the left hand must know what the right hand is up to. That means coordination — and not getting lost in the woods of political one-upmanship.