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#2698, 6 October 2008
Tackling Terror: Reforms, Not Stringent Laws, Necessary
M Shamsur Rabb Khan
e-mail: samsur.khan@gmail.com

Given the severity and frequency of terror attacks in the country and loss of hundreds of innocent lives, it is time to rethink anti-terror strategies. Voices are being raised for stringent anti-terror laws, but global experience shows that excessive use of force, draconian laws, inept handling of suspects and similar counter-terror measures have failed miserably to halt terrorism. There is no denying that the present intelligence and investigating system is miserably inadequate to tackle terror; hence a comprehensive reform of the system is required. The reform process for a long-term counter-terror strategy needs to focus on some vital issues.

First, multi-religious representation in intelligence and investigating agencies, portraying India's secular ethos, will help to widen the expertise and ensure impartiality in information-gathering and investigation. Since IB and RAW have almost no Muslim representation, this makes it difficult for them to penetrate 'local connections;' all the intelligence failures in the recent past were due to penetration of the socio-religious fabric in Muslims areas being ineffective. Muslims intelligence agents in IB can penetrate Muslim areas to gather inputs on subversive activities. Moreover, given the talent shown by Muslims in Bollywood, cricket, arts and other secular fields, they need to be trusted with handling counter-terror mechanisms also. Giving Muslims a chance to serve the country as intelligence sleuths and investigators will make a big difference to India's fight against terror.

Second, to make it a national specialized investigating force, there is need for complete overhauling of anti-terrorism squads (ATS), unlike the present system where officers are selected from the existing police personnel of the state. Together with the IB and RAW, ATS should have specialized training in intelligence, technology and crime detection, based on a multi-religious system, with each team from this specialized ATS being selected in the wake of any terror attack within Indian jurisdiction. Since Muslims are perceived to be the perpetrators in all terror attacks, the community's role as investigators is highly desirable so that the investigation can be impartial and a sense of confidence result in the community. In this way, the government could allow Muslims to contribute to ushering in a terror-free India. On the other hand, the insensitive and provocative style of the police searches and encounters that has been the case in India for years, creates terror and panic in Muslim localities.

Third, there is a need for creation of a special court at the central level in New Delhi and other metros to try terror-related cases, and particularly since calls have been given by lawyers' associations in cities like Jaipur, Lucknow and elsewhere, not to defend terror suspects. The events in the Lucknow court premises in August 2007, in which lawyers appearing to defend the accused of terror strikes were beaten, have made Muslims feel they are being trapped on all sides and the system has become unfair. Since a fair judicial trial is the backbone of a democracy, this system could save many innocents from being prosecuted or branded as terrorists, as has occurred in many instances.

Fourth, specialized training and capacity-building of intelligence and investigating agencies needs urgent attention, since recent terror attacks have exhibited the higher expertise level that terrorists possess, which includes the use of cutting-edge technologies. For this purpose, collaboration with Israel and the US on security and surveillance systems could be very effective. The personnel of special ATS should undergo comprehensive training on multi-tasking, based on research carried out by a separate Ministry of Internal Security, as proposed recently.

Fifth, there is a need for accountability and transparency in the IB, RAW and other investigating agencies, as even 60 years after Independence, they are largely immune from any scrutiny; in the absence of a Freedom of Information Act or parliamentary oversight, failures and lapses can remain secret forever. Both these agencies are handicapped by a thick curtain of institutional opaqueness and obsessive secrecy. Since the IB is an exception to the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005, people are not entitled to know why it fails and why it cannot be made more effective. Intelligence failures result from the fact that the IB is not allowed by the government to expose itself to a larger audience or any parliamentary watchdog body.

In sum, to make the fight against terror effective, India needs to ensure the rule of law, civil liberties, access to justice, people's participation in governance, alongside accountability and transparency in the system and, to achieve this, proactive involvement of the Muslim community, rather than continually blaming them, is required.

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