The new government has to devise novel strategies to tackle increased militancy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The recent military funeral of Major Mukund Varadarajan, who died fighting terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), saw public participation on an unprecedented scale in Chennai. He died along with sepoy Vikram Singh. Though national television largely ignored it and devoted its energies to the trivial verbal duel between Priyanka Gandhi and Narendra Modi, the death of two soldiers is a stark reminder that the war on terror, particularly in J&K, is far from over.
According to data from a portal on South Asia Terrorism, in J&K alone, 43,554 lives were lost between 1988 (when terrorist activity was scaled up) and April 20, 2014. This statistics includes 14,676 civilians, 6,104 security forces and the rest, terrorists. This works out to an average of about 145 lives lost every month—just in this one state.
Then, there is Left-wing extremism, in the form of Maoism, another major threat to national security. In the last eight years, nearly 6,403 lives were lost. That amounts to an average of 64 deaths every month. Even though the figure includes terrorists, it is nonetheless, a loss of young lives.
The nation cannot afford to keep losing over 200 lives every month due to terrorism and extremism. India being a demo-cracy, the war against unconventional threat is prolonged and time-consuming. And in a developing nation like ours, terrorism cramps governance, stifles development and depletes scarce resources. Which is why we should not let our guard down.
In 2013, Pakistan army’s ceasefire violations in J&K more than doubled to 196 instances, as against 93 in 2012. These were mostly covering fire provided by the Pakistan army across the Line of Control (LoC) to help terrorists infiltrate from their bases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. So, it is not surprising that total fatalities went up from 117 in 2012 to 181 in 2013. Already, in the first four months of this year, we have lost 14 lives.
But matters will get worse. There is escalation of Taliban terrorist attacks in Pakis-tan, and with the US troop pull-out from Afghanistan later this year, the region might become more volatile, leading to an increase in terrorist activity in J&K. Pakis-tan-based terrorist groups have linkages with domestic terrorist groups like the Indian Mujahideen (IM).
What makes the situation dangerous is that our counter-terrorism strategy is still not fully effective, though India has made some progress. India needs to treat terrorism for what it is—a potent threat to democracy, national security, stability and progress. This should be on top of the agenda for the incoming government.
So, what needs to be done? The efforts of former home minister P Chidambaram after the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai have made halting progress. However, the integrated structure involving central intelligence and police organizations, and their counterparts in states is not yet fully in place. It has to progress at a faster pace.
Meanwhile, the modernization of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) is under way. In the interim budget for 2014-15, allocation for this was increased by 16 percent to `59,387 crore. This will enable CAPF to procure night vision devices, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment and anti-IED devices. The allotment for strengthening state police forces is double the amount allotted to CAPF.
However, police commission reforms are yet to be implemented by many states. Same is the story in coastal security. States have huge deficiencies in human resources; both qualitatively and quantitatively, they have to be beefed up.
Structurally also, some progress has been achieved. These include the launch of Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System that connects nearly 2,000 stations in 25 states. The much-delayed National Intelligence Grid has at last been launched. This is a crucial initiative and its successful implementation can improve our real time response to terror attacks.
Thanks to these efforts, the authorities have succeeded in preventing a repetition of 26/11. In 2013, there were four terrorist bomb blasts in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Patna and Bodh Gaya. IM terrorists responsible for these blasts, except Patna, have been rounded up.
In fact, the arrest of Tahseen Akhtar, leader of IM involved in organizing a number of terror strikes since 2010, was a significant achievement. The subsequent arrest of Bhatkal, said to be his successor, has literally decapitated the IM and exposed the entire network. Similar success has been achieved in apprehending key Maoists leaders.
Militancy in the North-east too has been weakened, thanks to Bangladesh’s leadership cooperating with India in denying sanctuaries to them in its territory. Myan-mar is regularly interacting with India to curb Indian militants.
However, the prevailing political climate of suspicion among parties has resulted in friction between the center and states, affecting counter-terrorism methods. Some of the weaknesses are affecting the spirit of nationalism in border areas affected by militancy. Controversy over the use of Armed Forces Special Powers Act in J&K is a typical example of this and needs major improvement.
The main issues facing the new NDA government will be in handling terrorist threat, particularly from Pakistan-based militants. We can expect the Taliban to intensify their attacks to destabilize not only the elected government of Afghanistan but India as well. India has made huge investments in Afghanistan and has agreed to provide security assistance to it.
So, the worsening internal security situation in Afghanistan will impact our own strategic security priorities.
The Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan has failed to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. On the contrary, terrorist attacks have continued, even as talks proceed in fits and starts. The Pakistan army is suspicious of the government’s efforts, as Islamabad is locked in its own war against the terrorists.
Despite these internal developments, Pakistan has not made any significant effort to curb Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists operating against India from bases across the LoC. So, we can expect terrorism to further destabilize J&K.
The center cannot afford to drop its guard against terrorism. It will have to ensure that terror strikes are neutralized in the formative stages itself. The center needs to take special measures to improve its relationship with states. This should go in tandem with efforts at the international level to curb jihadi terror. The war against terror is an unending one.
Lastly, special attention needs to be paid to the armed forces. There have been serious deficiencies in all three services, affecting their military capabilities. This is largely due to poor leadership at both the political and ministerial levels.
The new government headed by Narendra Modi has to urgently address this issue, if it wants the forces to be the bulwark of its national security.
The author is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group.