Lt Gen Anand M Verma(Retd)

CROSS BORDER TERRORISM: ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGE

Lt Gen Anand M Verma(Retd)

The scourge of terrorism has haunted Indian policy-makers since independence. Some states, particularly the bordering states suffered from a real or perceived sense of neglect and misgovernance which was exploited and seeds of sedition and secession were sown in the states of the North-East, Punjab and J&K-by providing them with arms training and financial support and instigated them to take up arms against the state machinery.  Insurgency has been in India since Independence. Terrorism made an entry in India with the Punjab problem and now J&K and Central India,

A common definition of terrorism is the systematic use or threatened use of violence to intimidate a population or government for political, religious, or ideological goals. It means  violent acts undertaken by a person, group or a state with an aim to create fear/terror for a religious, political or ideological goal aimed towards government and civilians equally. Terrorism  in India includes ethno-nationalist terrorism, religious terrorism, left wing terrorism and narco terrorism.

State sponsored terrorism is closely associated with cross border terrorism. A study by Daniel Byman  defines state sponsorship as “a government’s intentional assistance to a terrorist group to help it use violence, bolster its political activities, or sustain [its] organization.” This research identifies six areas in which states provide support to terrorists—training and operations, money, arms and logistics, diplomatic backing, organizational assistance, ideological direction and sanctuary.

Till the 70s there was ample evidence of material support and training by trained foreign  instructors. In Punjab, the support provided by Pakistan became apparent. Since then the Punjab problem has effectively been brought under control and  Mizoram is a peaceful State.  Manipur continues to be afflicted by  insurgency where  the insurgents find safe sanctuaries in neighbouring Myanmar. Nagaland ceasefire is holding, but here too the K Group of ISCN reportedly has sanctuaries in Myanmar. Left Wing or Naxal/Maoist Movement in Central India does not appear to have a direct foreign contact as this area does not share a boundary with any country, though material support is not ruled out.

The Kashmir Valley and the hilly regions of Jammu are matters with which India is currently confronted with.  The support from Pakistan is transparently visible. Not only weapons, ammunition, other war like stores, clothing, food et al, there have been and are Pakistani terrorists in large numbers. The foreign terrorists are not confined to being Pakistanis alone. Large number of Afghani terrorists have been neutralized and more would be present. In the early 90s there were  terrorists from Palestine and an African country. Presently, Pakistani terrorists are predominant in the Valley.

Numerous terrorist acts by the Pakistani groups such as Lashkare-e-Toiba, JUM and many others have occurred in India in general and the Valley in particular.  In the attack  on 18  September 2016  on the  rear location of a Unit in Uri  the Indian Army lost 19 brave soldiers. This was the gravest attack thus far  which made India sit up.  On 29 September, India struck. The formidable Special Forces of the Indian Army supported by troops deployed along the LC  carried out operations, which came to be known as Surgical Strikes,  against the terrorist camps in POK and eliminated  several terrorists, and perhaps many regular troops too. The DGMO of the Indian Army briefed the Government authorities and the press. He had earlier spoken to his counterpart in Pakistan Army.  Pakistan for obvious reasons denied any such attack by India, but the upheavals in the their policy making echelons has made it clear that this operation has not only caused physical casualties to their troops and terrorists but, more importantly, has made a serious dent to the self esteem of the Pakistan Army and to the beliefs of people of Pakistan in their Army. A paradigm shift indeed!

This was a paradigm shift in ways more than one. Not only did we strike at terrorist camps in POK, but also publicly acknowledged it. A few days prior to Uri attack, Pakistan Defence  Minister  had been speaking about nuclear option. Many strategic and political thinkers in India and abroad had spoken of the nuclear threshold. India called that bluff and sent a message that we shall no longer tolerate cross border terrorism.

Shortly following the Surgical Strikes The Indian security forces around mid-October 2016  searched some 700 houses in Old Baramula and recovered inter-alia Chinese flags. This was the first time that Chinese flags were found in the Valley. Another paradigm shift? Or shape of things to come?

Why does Pakistan resort to cross border terrorism? Pakistan’s rulers constantly strive to show how Pakistan is equal to, if not better than India in all respects. The complex psychology of the Pakistani ruling elite is dominated by the military. The Pakistan  Army sees itself as the dominant power in Pakistan and  continues to be in search of revenge for its humiliating defeat in 1971 and creation of Bangladesh.

Pakistan has incessantly been nibbling at India.  Immediately after Independence,  Pakistan had sent Raiders, the Irregulars, into the Valley to annex it and merge it with Pakistan. Before matters went out of control the Indian Army intervened and the Raiders were pushed back. A few more days of War in 1948 and the entire Kashmir, including  POK would have been part of India. After 1965 and 1971,  Pakistan probably realized that winning a war against India is easier said than done. This belief led  them to the present Proxy War.

 Pakistan’s continuing commitment to a proxy war is propelled by a sense of confidence in waging such a war. They did this In Afghanistan. Then  Pakistan evolved Op TOPAC, contours of which were provided by President Zia  in April 1988. The aim was liberation of the Kashmir Valley and means was insurgency.  This confidence to wage such a war was probably founded on, apart from the belief in the Pakistan Army’s ability, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Many in Pakistan’s army and political leadership believe that these weapons protect Pakistan from the outside world. Indian restraint during both the 1999 Kargil War and during the 2001-2002 OP PARAKRAM after the militant attack on India’s Parliament, Pakistan believes, is an evidence of the power of Pakistan’s nuclear card.

 The Pakistani leadership believes the terrorist threat is an incentive for India to come to the negotiating table. Terrorism also poisons Hindu-Muslim relations and weakens the foundations of India’s secularism. It affects the image of India as an investment destination which would explain the terror attacks in cities like Bangalore and Mumbai. It panders to extremist lobbies within Pakistan whose declared ambition is to break up India from within. The repeated attacks on Hindu religious places is intended to provoke a communal backlash against the Muslims in the expectation that this will engender greater Muslim alienation leading eventually to the tearing up of the social fabric of India.

It must be added here that Pakistan has emerged as the global supplier of terrorism. In UN, the Indian diplomat called it Ivy League of Terrorism. Our Prime Minister Shri Modi has called it Mother Ship of terrorism. The entire world not only believes but knows for a certainty that Pakistan trains and supplies well equipped terrorists not only in India but throughout the world.

Is Pakistan likely to stop its endless support to the terrorists? The answer has to be a firm NO. Cross border terrorism actively aided by Pakistan Army will not only continue but may get more sinister.  Taliban, Al Qaeda and IS are lurking in the wings. Not far from today some or all these terrorist organisations may establish roots in Pakistan.

Before the counter strategy by India is examined, the noteworthy  constraints which India encounters need to be understood.

To begin with our borders with some countries are porous. The LC with Pakistan and LAC with China remain un-demarcated. Along the IB and LC with Pakistan we have erected a fence. A border fence is work in progress along the Indo-Bangladesh border. Despite the fence, the intrusions of terrorists from Pakistan have continued. Add to this the terrain and ethnic affinities of population on both sides of the borders, Illegal migration, infiltration of anti-national elements, smuggling of arms/explosives and drug trafficking and the problem gets hugely aggravated.

The primary aim of border fencing along the Indo- Pakistan border was to check the ingress of terrorists, criminals and  prevent smuggling. Inevitably, there are gaps in the fencing. It needs to be recognized that by itself, the fencing is not a barrier. It can be effective only when it is vigorously patrolled and kept under surveillance round the clock. The terrain, climatic conditions, dense vegetation,  design and alignment have further led to its repeated breaching.

            What should be  the Counter Terrorism set up by India to address the cross border terrorism?

            There are several forces engaged with border management.  For each  border there is one force. BSF is responsible for the Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar borders, ITBP for the border and LAC with China,  SSB for borders with Nepal and Bhutan and the LC with Pakistan is managed by Army with a few positions held by BSF. Preventing terrorists from entering the country is the responsibility  of the Army and BSF deployed along the LC and IB with Pakistan. Fencing has made a huge difference and the troops have electronic equipment, surveillance devices and drones. There are gaps in their electronic capability which need to be addressed urgently. The infiltration by terrorists has reduced considerably though a few intrusions are not discounted. Some infiltration does take place which needs to be totally eliminated. Until the number of foreign terrorists in the Valley and the Jammu region falls to zero, the terrorist situation is unlikely to be solved to our satisfaction.

            Next stage is the Central agencies for intelligence collection and the National Intelligence Agency(NIA) which is charged with the responsibility of investigating all terrorism related acts. In addition the Military Intelligence of the Army and the Defence Intelligence Agency(DIA) of the Services play a pivotal role in providing information and initiating counter actions.

            Physical security agencies such as BSF, CRPF and  Central Industrial Security Force are  responsible for physical security of important areas, at airports and sensitive establishments.  The National Security Guards is a specially trained intervention force to neutralize  terrorist situations such as hijacking, hostage-taking, etc while  Special Protection Group is responsible for the security of the VIPs.

The last citadel is Army. Ideally their assistance is to be sought as a last resort when the police and paramilitary forces are not able to cope with a terrorist situation. But in view of Pakistan’s large-scale infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir and the presence and activities of a large number of Pakistani mercenaries the army has a predominantly and as of now permanent and leadership role in counter-terrorism operations.

The response options against cross border terrorism have to be viewed in the perspective of own capability and international environment. 

Firstly, there has to be a tailor made organisation; a multi disciplinary Counter Terrorism Centre which will function in the hinterland including the J&K. The disciplines that need to be woven into this counter terror agency are intelligence collection agencies of the Central Government , NIA   and a legal cell. An important part of this Centre will be a Media-cum- Cyber Cell for interacting with media and for online pursuits.  This Centre headed by a senior Police officer should  have representatives from the Central Police Organisations.  All terrorists apprehended along the LC and the IB should be directed  to this Centre for further action. The Ministry of External Affairs should have a cell that should remain in constant liaison with the Counter Terrorism Centre.

Significantly enhancing the capabilities of the Army and BSF engaged in preventing infiltration and for security of their bases is a facet with which the Central Government should immediately get associated. It has been opined that Uri attack may not have happened had the troops had advanced surveillance devices that they had asked for. Let cost not be a constraint. Security cannot be measured by cash.

International support must be garnered.  There have been many dialogues in international forum for formulation of combined policy and guidelines for combating terrorism. Pakistan must be declared a terrorist state. India must examine the options of declaring Pakistan a terrorist state and ask the world community to follow suit. Trade with Pakistan may get hit, but we must withdraw the Most Favoured Nation status that we have given to Pakistan. India should also recommend to the countries that provide economic loans to Pakistan to stop such aids.

Pakistani ISI has targeted the vulnerable segments of our society and fuelled insurgency.  To counter this we need to ensure stable internal environment. We  need to ensure  peace and harmony amongst all religion and communities in India. We need a good grievances detection, monitoring and redress machinery for early detection of grievances leading to prompt action to redress them.

And finally, the ultimate response is the military action. We have shown to the world that nothing, not even nuclear threat, will deter us from neutralizing terrorists. We have done it once. Though it has been stated that this was a one time measure, nothing will prevent us from doing it again.  The Prime Minister Modiji likened the “Surgical Strikes” to actions by Israel. I am of the view that what we did was better than that because of the heavy deployment of troops on the other side of the LC.

The paradigm has shifted.

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