A credible counterterror strategy needed

November 28, 2008

brahmachellaney— Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own. —

The brazen Mumbai terrorist assaults are just the latest example of how the world’s largest democracy is increasingly coming under siege from the forces of terror.

The attacks, which bear the hallmark of al Qaeda, are also a reminder to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama that even as he seeks to deal with the financial meltdown, the global war on terror stands derailed, with the scourge of terrorism having spread deeper and wider.

International terrorism threatens the very existence of democratic, secular states. Yet the U.S. occupation of Iraq not only helped fracture the post-9/11 global consensus to fight terror, but also handed a fresh cause to Islamists and gave a new lease of life to al Qaeda.

The Obama administration will need to bring the anti-terror war back on course by building a new international consensus.

The Mumbai attacks were exceptionally brazen and daring, even when viewed against the high level of terrorism now tormenting India. Indeed, since 9/11, the world has not witnessed terrorism on this scale or level of sophistication and coordination.

The most troubling questions arising from the latest terrorist attacks – the eighth in a spate of attacks in India in the past five months – relate to why the country has become an easy target for terrorists.

Transnational terrorists, including those tied to Al Qaeda, are waging an open war on India, yet the Indian leadership is unable to declare a war on terror.

What the country needs is a credible counterterror campaign. But what its harried citizens get after each major terrorist attack are stock platitudes, such as a commitment to defeat the designs of terrorist forces. Empty rhetoric is eating into the vitals of internal security.

Indeed, after the government’s ritual condemnation of each attack and the standard promise to defeat terror, India puts the strikes behind it and goes back to what now defines it – partisan politics and scandal. That is, until terror strikes again.

Worse, the fight against terror has been increasingly politicized and got linked to communal, electoral and vote-bank considerations.

Combating terror demands at least four different elements — a well-thought-out strategy, effective state instruments to implement that strategy, a credible legal framework to speedily bring terrorists to justice, and unflinching political resolve to stay the course.

India is deficient on all four.

Unlike other important victims of terror in the world, India has no published counterterror doctrine. And a retiring Chief Justice of India was compelled to remind fellow citizens that, “We don’t have the political will to fight terrorism”.

Weak leadership, political one-upmanship and an ever-shifting policy approach indeed have spurred on more terrorism. Not a single case of terrorist attack in recent years has been cracked, yet in the Malegaon bombing probe, the nation has witnessed the bizarre spectacle of authorities deliberately leaking tidbits of information on a daily basis.

Indian system has become so effete that terrorists have again exposed the woeful lack of adequate training and preparedness on the part of those tasked to fight terror. Such was the level of police ineptitude that several high-ranking law enforcement officials, including the anti-terrorism squad head, were killed soon after the terrorists struck. As a result, the army had to be called in to deal with the situation.

Against this background, India serves as an exemplar of how not to fight terror. In fact, through its forbearing approach, the country has come to accept terrorist strikes as the ostensible products of its unalterable geography or destiny.

Its response to the jihadist strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts has been survival by a thousand bandages. Just as it has come to brook a high level of political corruption, it is willing to put up with a high incidence of terrorism.

Turning this appalling situation around demands a new mindset that will not allow India to be continually gored. That in turn means a readiness to forge a bipartisan consensus to do whatever is necessary to end the terrorist siege of the country.


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There is no absolute flawess counterterroism strategy. For example, in this current Mumbai siege. The militants are described as engaging in terrorist activity. However, if you boil it down to the simplest sense, they are commiting hostage-taking and murder. How do you then stop a person or a group of people who wants to commit such crimes? We can’t pull off a ‘Minority Report’ on them, arresting them before they commit a crime, unless the authorities have hard evidence of them plotting one, which most of the time they would not have. There is no country in the world that can boast zero crime rates

However, this is often intepreted as a “weak political will”, because the adminstration appears to do nothing when in reality their hands are tied.

In the end, social integration and economic benefits for all would be the only way to reduce violence and that is what the Indian government should and is focusing on, instead of trying to demonstrate their “strong political will” by arresting people before they have done anything.

Posted by Maurice | Report as abusive

“In the end, social integration and economic benefits for all would be the only way to reduce violence and that is what the Indian government should and is focusing on, instead of trying to demonstrate their “strong political will” by arresting people before they have done anything.”

This would be fine if terrorists were interested in social integration. The only integration Muslim extremists are interested in is in forcing the rest of the world into their warped way of life, either by conversion or the death of those that resist.
When will the civilized world realize that these people cannot be reasoned with? The only way to stop terrorism is to take away terrorists’ will to fight.
Call the war on terror what you will, but it is not about laws and Constitutional rights. The only way I see is to bomb them into submission.
We need to identify a terrorist group’s base of operation and obliterate it! If that means some innocents die, so be it. When those that remain quiet about animals operating in their midst realize that their silence makes then targets, they will rise up against those responsible for painting the targets on their backs.
Since WW II, the US has been afraid to win a war. Shocking as it was to kill nearly a quarter of a million people in a week with just 2 bombs, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. Japan, in stead of continuing a guerrilla war against the Allies surrendered, laid down their weapons and joined the rest of the world.
I say we let the Muslim world know in no uncertain terms that they must clean up after themselves or their cities that allow terrorists to operate will be destroyed with no attempt to limit civilian casualties.

Posted by Ernie | Report as abusive

“When those that remain quiet about animals operating in their midst realize that their silence makes then targets, they will rise up against those responsible for painting the targets on their backs.”

The present world is founded upon freedom and justice, out of the World War that ravaged the 1940s. During that war, it was distinctly clear that there were 2 warring sides, Axis and Allies. However, terrorism has no such distinction.

Everyone could be a terrorist, and the attempt to make the distinction between who is, and who isn’t one has led to racial and religious profiling, which ironically turns the battle against ourselves. And like it has been described, if “some innocents die” when their base of operations are targetted, it shows that terrorists are not a specific group of people but a generic term, such as criminal or thief.

Also, by killing innocent people, accident or not, it does not necessarily mean they will turn against the terrorists, because most of the time they would not know. Would you suspect your neighbour to be a future-criminal? By killing innocent civilians, the terrorists are given the opportunity to present us as a common enemy.

And as for the atomic bombings of Japan, a peace offer was extended to them; the Allies did not want their total extermination, they wanted the war to end.

Posted by Maurice | Report as abusive

Shouldn’t the counter terrorism strategy also include this- targetting & killing the likes of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed & Dawood Ibrahim. I think- this alone will be more effective than all other means.If u ever become our National Security Advisor,then plz execute that option.

Posted by Milind | Report as abusive

India in World War III


1. Have you ever thought why United States was in haste in signing the 123 agreement with India ?
2. Do you ever think for a moment as to whether Pakistan Terror Network would be ‘foolish’ to leave behind evidence pointing to their involvement in the Mumbai Terror Attacks when the entire terror operation was ‘perfectly planned”? Can they be ‘foolish’ and ‘clever’ at the same time ?
3. Did you thinking the timing of the Mumbai Terror Attacks and the breaking of the Gaza Truce at the same time was a coincidence ? Why was the Jewish community attacked in the Mumbai Terror Attacks at the same time when the Gaza conflict rebegan ?
4. Could the Pakistan Terror Network be in coalition with other partners like Hamas and Iran ?
5. If it is so, then is it not possible that a global war is in the making ?
Friends, World War III is in the making and the terrorist network in Pakistan is the key player in its development. For proof in support of my claim please read my articles called “Mumbai Terror Attacks – mere terrorism or something else” and “Pakistan – the global terrorism monster by accessing the following links :-
http://www.itatonline.org/articles_new/i ndex.php/mumbai-terror-attacks-mere-terr orism-or-something-else
http://www.itatonline.org/articles_new/i ndex.php/pakistan-the-global-terrorism-m onster

Posted by anant pai | Report as abusive