Home Contact Us  

Peace & Conflict Database - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5091, 2 August 2016
India’s ‘Soft’ Counter-Terrorism: Lessons from Singapore
Husanjot Chahal
Research Officer, IReS, IPCS

In May 2016, the Delhi Police released four youth reportedly indoctrinated with Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) ideology after organising a set of counselling sessions, including weekly visits to a psychologist and a Muslim scholar. It was one of the rare occasions when positive reinforcement was apparently used as a tactic to de-radicalise terror suspects. India’s counter-terror strategy has recently seen use of soft approaches such as no-first arrest, guidance, countering radical narratives, etc to supplement hard tactics. The Delhi Police’s decision appears to be in conformity with this trend.

Soft approaches to counter terror have been used in many countries, such as Singapore, whose unique model provides an interesting case study, and elements of that approach may be relevant to the Indian system.

Singapore follows a bi-layered counter-terrorism strategy. A thicker layer involving numerous soft measures is backed by a second layer comprising hard security measures and stringent laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA). The soft approach has two main components – a) involving the community to counter radical ideologies, and b) building social resilience. There are four major lessons that can be learnt from Singapore’s experience.

Community Briefings

In its counter-ideological initiatives, the Singapore government involved its Muslim community very conscientiously ever since the first indigenous terror network of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was exposed in the city-state in 2001. Its Home Ministry briefs the community members on every arrest, before media disclosures. Such briefings often involve clarifications that it does not view the terror outfit’s ideology as representative of “true Islam” and are aimed to reassure the minority community that the state does not see it as a source of potential trouble.

This small, yet significant step can prove to be very useful in the Indian context where the minority’s views of government actions are shaped by biased media reportage and also by the fact that some terrorists’ arrests and counter-terror operations have proved to be fabricated cases for acquiring promotions and rewards.

Facilitating Vs Employing

Globally, community leaders play a significant role in counter-terrorism by providing a counter narrative to the misconceived notions of radicalised individuals. In Singapore, the same is done by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), an all-volunteer group of Islamic scholars and teachers involved in the rehabilitation of detained operatives (through counselling) and countering radical ideologies (through publications and seminars). It was formed by two prominent community leaders in Singapore who were concerned about the dangerous ideology being sketched by radicalised detainees. Working alongside the RRG, the Singapore government has ensured that its part in such an act is that of a facilitator only. This gives the procedure more credence within the community.

In India, the government has attempted to co-opt clerics to prevent youth radicalisation. While dealing with detainees, community members are used more as tools to serve a purpose. In the JeM arrests, for instance, a Delhi Police official noted how Muslim cleric counsellors would be paid a “fee for their services”. Such an approach, evidently, comes with a short shelf-life and is visibly ill-founded. It has, not surprisingly, divided the community between supporters (the so-called sarkari mullahs) and non-supporters of the government.

Steering Clear of Polarisation

While facilitating voices, it is important to avoid pitching one religious orientation against the other. The Indian Prime Minister has been showcasing the Sufi order as a counter to radical Islam. Not only does it induce divisions in the community, but it also limits the appeal of the message by being exclusive in character. 

The Singapore government faced a similar situation in the initial phases of the RRG. Individuals at the forefront of its counter-ideological work were well known Sufi leaders who inadvertently shaped its content and ideas. This was not well received among certain segments of the Muslim community, especially among the Salafis. The situation aggravated when one Sufi practitioner’s statement was seen as anti-Salafi - he equated Salafism to extremism. The issue was soon rectified as the RRG started fielding non-Sufi asatizah (religious teachers) in its public forums and expanded its content.

It is suggested that a community-based initiative with an inclusive approach that draws a line between those who are pro-violence and terrorism and those who are against it, is more likely to succeed.

More Effective Inter-Faith Dialogues

Given Singapore’s multi-cultural set-up (not unlike India’s), its leaders have always stressed that social harmony and a strong psychological defence against ideologies that induce divides must be stressed. This has been primarily done through well-organised inter-faith platforms such as the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC) and its Community Engagement Programme (CEP). These dialogues aim to build bridges between communities during peace-time, so that they can act as a safety net during times of conflict.

Unlike India, the platforms in Singapore are not for mere display where participants subsequently return to their sectarian rhetoric. Instead, they are seen as problem solving mechanisms and not talk-shop conferences. India needs to make these dialogues much more organised and effective to have practical implications on the society in countering the xenophobic views within it.

Out of a whole range of other lessons that can be learnt from Singapore, these four are perhaps most practicable, requiring the social conditioning of security agencies and shaping a nuanced official policy that is more likely to deliver results in these challenging times.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
India-Sri Lanka: Reorienting the Relationship?

India-Sri Lanka: A Grim Tale of Economic Cooperation

Evaluating Sri Lanka’s Regional Priorities

Ansar ul-Tawhid: Evolution and Operational Dynamics

India and the IS: Lessons from Telanganas LWE Experience

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.