Monday, December 15, 2008

Terrorism in India: An Uncertain Relief

By M H Ahssan

While India's relations with most of her neighbours remain fraught with tensions, her most urgent security crises remain overwhelmingly internal. Indeed, even international friction increasingly articulates itself through sub-conventional and terrorist wars that are predominantly internal, in that they manifest themselves principally on Indian soil. Islamist extremist terrorism sourced from Pakistan and, over the past few years, increasingly from Bangladesh, falls into this category.

A relief, in numbers
The recent trajectory of internal conflicts in India has been mixed. Overall, fatalities connected with terrorism and insurgency declined marginally from 2,765 in 2006 to 2,598 in 2007, and dramatically, from their peak at 5,839 in 2001.

In Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), for over a decade and a half the bloodiest theatre of terrorism in the country, there was strong relief, with terrorism-related fatalities – at 777 – falling below the 'high intensity conflict' mark of a thousand deaths for the first time since 1990. At peak in 2001, fatalities in J&K had risen to 4,507. Clearly, 2007 brought tremendous relief to the people of the state, but a great deal remains to be achieved before normalcy is restored.

In India's troubled Northeast, wracked by multiple insurgencies, the situation worsened considerably, with fatalities more than doubling, from 427 in 2006 to 1,019 in 2007, principally because of a dramatic escalation in terrorist activities in Assam and Manipur.

Effects of the war on terror
The numbers alone, however, do not give a clear picture of the magnitude of the challenges confronting New Delhi. Indeed, the sheer spread of Islamist terrorist incidents across India – linked to groups that originally operated exclusively within J&K – is now astonishing, with incidents having been engineered in widely dispersed theatres virtually across the country.

The trend in J&K has little correlation with specific changes in operational strategies or tactics, or with the range of 'peace initiatives' the Government has undertaken domestically and with Pakistan. This is demonstrated by the fact that the downward trend in violence has been consistently sustained since 2001, irrespective of the transient character of relationships between India and Pakistan, or any escalation or decline of operations within J&K, and has been maintained even through periods of escalating tension and provocative political rhetoric. This trend commenced immediately after the 9/11 attacks in the US and the subsequent threat by the US for Pakistan to "be prepared to be bombed back into the Stone Age."

It was this threat, a steady build-up of international pressure, and intense international media focus on Pakistan's role in the sponsorship of terrorism, which combined to force Pakistan to execute a U-turn in its policy on Afghanistan, and dilute visible support to terrorism in J&K. Thereafter, the unrelenting succession of crises in Pakistan have undermined the country's capacities to sustain past levels of terrorism in J&K – particularly since a large proportion of troops had to be pulled back from the Line of Control and International Border for deployment in increasingly violent theatres in Balochistan, NWFP and the FATA areas. Pakistan's creeping implosion has undermined the establishment's capacities to sustain the 'proxy war' against India at earlier levels.

Regrettably, if Western attention is diverted from the region, or if the Islamists in Pakistan are able to carve out autonomous capacities and regions, free of their dependence on the state's covert agencies, or if there is a radical escalation in the 'global jihad' in the wake of the proposed US withdrawal from Iraq in the foreseeable future, the 'jihad' in Kashmir and across India could, once again, intensify dramatically.

Bad governance and marginalization
Similarly, there is overwhelming evidence that the limited 'gains' in terms of declining Maoist violence outside Andhra Pradesh, are the result, not of any significant initiatives on the part of the state's agencies, but rather, of a Maoist decision to focus on political and mass mobilisation in order to "intensify the people's war throughout the country, intending to cumulatively cover virtually the length and breadth of India.

Far from confronting this subversive onslaught, the incompetence of Governments – most dramatically the West Bengal Government and its actions in Nandigram, but less visibly in several other States – has presented the Maoists with proliferating opportunities to deepen subversive mobilization and recruitment.

Despite the dramatic macroeconomic growth experienced over the past decade and a half, vast populations have remained outside the scope of minimal standards on a wide range of developmental indices. Indeed, the processes of 'development' have themselves been severely disruptive; what we are witnessing today is at once a process of globalisation and marginalisation; the rise of oppressed castes through political processes, and parallel increases in the intensity of oppression; unimagined wealth and distressing poverty.

Need stronger political mandate
Nevertheless, in at least two major theatres of insurgency, Tripura in the Northeast and Andhra Pradesh in the South, local administrations have backed the police to execute extraordinarily successful counterinsurgency campaigns. Clearly, where the will and the vision exist, the Indian state has the capacity to combat violence and terrorism.

Unfortunately, a widening crisis of governance afflicts much of India today, with a continuous erosion of administrative capacities across wide areas. There is, moreover, an insufficient understanding within the security establishment of the details of insurgent strategy and tactics, and the imperatives of the character of response. The deficiencies of perspective and design are visible in the fact that no comprehensive strategy has yet been articulated to deal with insurgency and terrorism. The security forces have, at great cost in lives, made dramatic gains from time to time, but there have been continuous reverses, usually as a result of repeated political miscalculations and the refusal to provide the necessary mandate to the forces operating against the extremists.

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