The Next Terror Attack in India: Discerning the Trends

01 Aug, 2016    ·   5090

Dr N Manoharan and Prachita Singh argue that without a comprehensive national security strategy, policy formulation and implementation will remain inadequate 

The recent terror attacks in Nice, Munich, Iraq and Kabul indicate certain dangerous trends: lone wolf, suicide/suicidal, cost effective, unexpected, and mass casualties. Are these trends applicable to India? And what could be the nature of next terror attack in India?

Going by the recent terror attacks in India, indications are that the next one will originate from outside the borders, possibly with local help.  Indian Mujahideen and SIMI are lying low, but Pakistan-based terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad can activate its sleeper cells and local collaborators as and when they find slackness in Indian security. Currently, the most popular mode of attacks pursued by terrorists in Pakistan is shoot-kill-flee or a fidayeen-type of attack. Similar methods, which are simpler and least expected, cannot be ruled out to make daring attacks on Indian VIPs. At the other end, an imminent attack could be more complex via the air route on the lines of 9/11. Earlier, Israel and the US warned of the possibility of terrorist attacks across India during festive seasons like Eid, Dusshera and Diwali. It may not happen this year, but terror strikes take place when no one expects them. That is the advantage the attackers hold: the element of surprise.

Irrespective of the mode of attack, the common denominator would be the attack taking place in an urban area. Terrorists prefer urban areas because of the presence of a defined enemy in abundance: laymen, officials, foreign nationals, corporate heavyweights, government buildings with symbolic/strategic value, bus stands, railway stations, airports, markets, foreign embassies, religious congregations, and communication centres. This also gives an added advantage to terrorists to prevent any kind of indiscriminate counter-terrorist operation by the state that could maximise collateral damage. Unlike in rural areas, inhabitants in cities and towns are more heterogeneous and that gives more space for anonymity.  It is this posture of anonymity that enables the terrorist to blend easily; an excellent place for camouflage. Since terrorism is propaganda by the deed, the attention-seeking goal of the terrorist is well-served in the urban environment, where the immediate audience is greatest and where representatives of print and electronic media are readily available and eager to report. At the same time, given the fact that National Security Guard (NSG) hubs have been set up in four more cities – Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Mumbai – the terrorists may like to try their hand on other cities.
How prepared is India to prevent or respond to a possible terror attack? No doubt that India is better prepared than ever before, but there is still a long way to go to claim that there is a perfect defence against the invisible enemy. It should be acknowledged that the new terrorist, that India presently confronts, is more lethal, more audacious, more innovative and more diabolical. Countering this complex nature of terrorism effectively requires a new set of counter-terrorism policies and mechanisms. A reality check regarding the counter-terrorism measures reveals that the centre scores better than its federal units. Intelligence has been strengthened; NSG hubs have been operationalised in important cities; terror laws have been made more stringent; and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been established. However, coastal security continues to be weak; state polices, which are the first line of defence, are disappointingly static. Coordination mechanisms among the concerned agencies have not been greased enough to switch on to auto-pilot mode in a crisis situation. Most importantly, none of the governments have come out with an action plan to make people an extension of the police by being the eyes and ears. Adequate response plans are way off the mark.
Yet, all these measures are part of defensive strategies; India has not moved beyond this bunker mentality to take on terrorism at its source. A comprehensive approach that relies on lateral thinking and goes beyond conventional methods is urgently required. The basic premise for any counter-terrorism policy for India, at the least, should be zero tolerance. Terrorism, as a means of redressing grievances, should be deemed unacceptable under any circumstances. A fundamental flaw in India’s approach to fighting terrorism is the lack of comprehensive national security strategy for external and internal security, including counter-terrorism. Such a strategy should have a multi-disciplinary, inter-ministerial, inter-departmental, inter-agency and inter-service approach to meet the ongoing and emerging threats and challenges to national security. Without a comprehensive national security strategy, policy formulation and implementation will remain incoherent as the threats are amorphous and complex in nature.