IAS Gyan



6th March, 2023

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  • The scourge of terrorism has haunted Indian policy-makers since independence.
  • Some of the states, particularly the bordering states, having different cultural and ethnic compositions from the heartland, suffered from a real or perceived sense of neglect and misgovernance.
  • Inimical powers exploited this aspect and sowed seeds of sedition and secession amongst some sections of society of these states-particularly the states of the North-East, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir-by providing them with arms training and financial support and instigated them to take up arms against the state machinery.
  • India’s experience in combating insurgency/terrorism in these states has mostly been in finding a military solution to a political problem.
  • Central and state governments have responded with various actions, mostly military, within their own borders but lacked a coherent counter-terrorism policy.
  • This article is an attempt to look at the changing dynamics of terrorism, the experience of India, and the threat of terrorism to national security, and suggest some measures that might form part of a possible counter-terrorism strategy for India.

Changing Dynamics of Terrorism

  • Violence and terrorism have resulted from irrationality, miscalculation, xenophobia, fanaticism, and religious extremism.
  • The origins of terrorism are lost in antiquity.

Early Period

  • In the early periods we find the mention of the Sicarii, a Jewish religious sect that employed terrorist tactics between 66 and 70 AD against Jewish moderates in Palestine.

Medieval Times

  • The history of assassination is traced to the middle of the eleventh century to an Arab religious teacher Hassan Ibn Sabah, who founded a ‘society of the Assassins’, the original Arabic word being Hashshasin, which indicated the addiction of the terrorists to hashish.
  • The members of this religious-political group of ‘Fedawi’ (Arabic for ‘devoted ones’) believed that killing bad people on the command of their leader was a sacred duty. Thus, the words ‘assassin’ and ‘assassination’ came in the western languages.

The Term Terrorism: The term terrorism appeared during the period of the French Revolution (1789-1795)  when Robespierre unleashed a ‘reign of terror’ after overthrowing the monarchy and slaughtering French nobles, their families and sympathizers.

Modern Times

  • After the Second World War (1939-1945), the meaning of terrorism changed again as people revolted against European domination of the world; nationalistic groups were deemed to be terrorist groups.
  • In India, groups that adopted violent methods against the British were branded as militant/terrorist groups.
  • Events in Middle Eastern politics after the assassination of King Abdullah of Jordan in 1951 gave rise to radical Muslim elements and terrorism became even more rampant.

The Indian Scenario

  • Since independence, India has faced a number of terrorist/insurgency-related situations, which have revolved around perceived concepts of secession with the aim of creating separate independent sovereign states.
  • Although we have been able to control such fissiparous tendencies, a dangerous dimension has been added for the last two decades by the involvement of Pakistan in aiding/abetting secessionism in the North-East, Punjab and J & K.
  • Having failed in its attempts of annexing Kashmir by force, Pakistan resorted to what can be termed as proxy war and cross-border terrorism.


  • The militancy in Punjab remained active for over a decade broadly, from 1980-1990. The conflict was caused due to a number of reasons ranging from the future of Chandigarh, territorial adjustments with neighboring states, river water allocations, protection as well as promotion of Sikhism,and reducing landholdings over the past few decades.
  • Unemployment reaching a new peak in the early 1980s, which gave rise to disgruntled youth who took to militancy.
  • During the period when militancy was at its peak, about 15,000 people died in the militant attacks. Pakistan exploited the dissatisfaction borne out in the state and gave covert and overt assistance for their struggle.
  • External support also came from influential/ prosperous members of the community who resided abroad. The Nirankari clash of 1978 provided the spark, which resulted in overnight escalation in the level and mode of conflict.

Terrorism in Punjab was controlled through a politico-military and social process that inter alia included various factors like the following:

    • Clear political resolve and strong police leadership.
    • Fencing and floodlighting along the Indo-Pakistan border in Punjab.
    • Effective utilization of police and central para-military forces.
    • Rejection of public support by the Sikh community to the militants.
    • Effective intelligence network, which could penetrate the militant organisations.
    • Lack of international support to the militants.
    • Signing of the Rajiv-Longowal peace accord.

Jammu and Kashmir

  • There are historical reasons why since 1947 some Kashmiri Muslims have been oscillating in their demands for an independent state or merger with Pakistan. Unemployment amongst educated youth, rampant corruption, and alleged large-scale rigging of the 1987 election to the State Assembly resulted in the deterioration of the law-and-order situation.
  • A large number of unemployed youths crossed over to Pakistan, which was already on the lookout to exploit any opportunity to its advantage, and Pakistan has since then been actively providing diplomatic, political, moral, financial and arms assistance and training to the militants.
  • India has been involved for many years in a costly, protracted battle against terrorism in the valley. Many heinous crimes that terrorists commit almost daily and many massacres of innocent people including infants and women are aided and abetted by Pakistan.
  • The Government of India has been seeking a political solution to the problem and took a number of steps towards such a solution, like Prime Minister’s visit to Lahore, inviting General Musharraf to Agra, unilateral ceasefire against militants, release, and rehabilitation of surrendered militants, internationally acknowledged free and fair elections, and appointing N.N. Vohra to hold discussions with the elected representatives of the state government.
  • Finally, the Government stated that Article 370 of the Constitution was the root cause of terrorism in Kashmir and nullifying its provisions has effectively struck at the root of all terror operations in the Valley.


  • North-East India is in a strategically vulnerable geographical situation and is surrounded by countries like China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh from three sides. It is linked with the rest of the country by a narrow corridor (20 km wide Siliguri neck).
  • North-East India is inhabited by races of Mongoloid stock, besides Indo-Aryan groups. The non-Aryan population, being prominent in this region, shelter more than 125 major groups each having distinct cultural traits.
  • In the case of the Northeast, terrorism arises from a strong feeling of alienation from the mainstream of northern India plus a conviction, that the central government should be more active in north-eastern affairs.
  • Nagas argue that Clause 9 of the Hydari Agreement promised them the option of freedom.
  • Essentially, their economic backwardness stems from the unexploited natural resources, inadequate infrastructure development, rampant corruption and the strong nexus among politicians, contractors and insurgents in the region.
  • Economic hardship due to poor and underdeveloped agriculture, alarming mass unemployment problems, rampant corruption, lack of educational and medical facilities, exorbitant prices and shortage of essential commodities in the far-flung areas of the Northeast forced the promising youth to turn to extremist activities. The unemployment situation lent an edge to the separatist tendency by creating numerous insurgent outfits in all the states of the Northeast.
  • In the case of Assam and Tripura, unabated infiltration of Bangladesh nationals into these two states with the ulterior motive of upsetting the demographic balance. Today, we have 15 million Bangladeshis, which has implications to national security.”

Naxalite influenced States

  • Over the years, the Naxalite influence has spread to thirteen states.
  • The states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Orissa have witnessed high levels of Naxalite activity, but Chhattisgarh witnessed the most Maoist-related violence in 2006 with more than 360 deaths.

Objectives of Terrorists in India

Nation’s Integrity

Gen. Pervez Musharraf had said that,

“India is a hegemonic power and low-intensity conflict against it would continue even if the Kashmir problem is solved to our satisfaction.”

  • The goal of Pakistan-promoted terrorism is to affect India’s national integrity.
  • Towards this objective the ISI is fully supporting various secessionist groups within India and outside.

Political Independence

  • Terrorists operating against India are under the belief that by means of violence they can achieve their goals, and that no instrument of conduct of international relations like international organisations, international law, diplomacy or even war works as effectively as terrorism.

Government Institutions

  • Government institutions in terrorism-affected areas like the judiciary, civil administration, press/media, etc. are forced to tow the pro-militant line. Democracy as a value system is under threat in India as a result of continued cross-border terrorism.

India’s Pluralism

  • Pakistan-promoted terrorism questions the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Indian state’s right to exist. Pluralism itself is under attack, since terrorism, in its latest phase, after Musharraf took power, has been presented as jihad to liberate Kashmir.

Internal Security

  • Terrorism is a low-cost, high-yield, option for the militants and Pakistan. It brings about maximum destruction and death in India.
  • It is also a drain on the economy forcing the state to divert scarce resources to a non-productive fight to eliminate it.
  • According to The Pioneer Bhutto declared that Pakistan's success in its 'national' goal of the destruction of India would only be possible by "delivering a thousand cuts on its body politic" and not through a direct conventional war.

Steps taken: https://www.iasgyan.in/rstv/global-terrorism

Suggested Counter-Terrorism Strategies

National Consensus to Deal with Terrorism

  • Within the constitutional and sovereignty framework, all the political parties should rise above the vote bank politics and treat terrorism/insurgency as a threat to national security.
  • Some states have opted against Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), for political reasons rather than security considerations, thus belittling the spirit of the Act and the resolve of the nation to fight terrorism.

Modernization of the Police Forces

  • The first instrument of the state, which comes into contact with the terrorists, is the local police.
  • The government may consider converting some part of the existing police force into a ‘Counter Terrorist Organisation’ at the state level with a separate training module. Such special units should be lean and mean, highly motivated, resourceful, emotionally committed with multiple skills, fluent in more than one language, and stationed in sensitive areas for taking necessary action immediately.
  • There is a requirement of a common doctrine, syllabus, and training infrastructure for all the state police forces as a part of the process to strengthen the inner response mechanism.


  • Existing modes of intelligence apparatus are so tedious and time-consuming that by the time information reaches the forces on the ground to take necessary action, it is too little, too late, and is normally distorted and suffers due to the tendency of oneupmanship.
  • There is a need to restructure the intelligence apparatus.

Media Management

  • In India, one of the most controversial aspects of analyzing terrorism is the way print and electronic media cover terrorist acts.
  • Coverage of the Mumbai Terror Attack in which the terrorists got information due to Live telecast reveals the loophole. This needs to be addressed.

Constitution of Special Courts

  • Algeria constituted ‘special courts’ to try cases related to terrorism.
  • It is proposed that in India too special courts be set up on a priority basis to expedite militancy-related cases.

Strategic focus areas for counter-terrorism activities

    • Promoting the implementation of the international legal framework against terrorism and enhancing international legal co-operation in criminal matters related to terrorism;
    • Countering violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism, following a multidimensional approach;
    • Preventing and suppressing the financing of terrorism;
    • Countering the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes;
    • Promoting dialogue and co-operation on counter-terrorism issues, in particular, through public-private partnerships between State authorities and the private sector (business community, industry), as well as civil society and the media;
    • Strengthening travel document security; and

Comprehensive Strategic Prevention Initiative

A comprehensive Strategic Prevention Initiative, which will include the following actions:

    • Establishing clear roles and responsibilities for departments and agencies to promote long-term coordination in fragile states,
    • Providing agencies with authorities and resources needed to carry out a preventive strategy effectively,
    • Developing a plan to mitigate the political risks of providing security and foreign assistance to fragile states.

Recognising radicalisation

  • Terrorists go through a radicalization process before turning to violence.
  • Teachers and youth workers can try to recognize this and report their suspicions to the police and criminal justice authorities, if necessary.
  • In this way, it is possible to stop radicalization in time and prevent it from leading to terrorism.

Curbing Terror Financing by building International Pressure

  • India has largely articulated its “zero tolerance approach”towards terrorism.
  • In the 2019 conference, India called for a “united global effort against all those who support terror or help generate finances for terror”.
  • The international community needs to initiate discussion on ‘Countering Financing of Radicalisation (CFR)’, which would prevent radicalization, an essential prerequisite of terrorism.

Use of Technology

  • New kinds of technology are being used for terror financing and recruitment. Challenges from the dark net, private currencies, and more are emerging. There is a need for a uniform understanding of new finance technologies. It is also important to involve the private sector in these efforts.
  • From a uniform understanding, a unified system of checks, balances, and regulations can emerge. But we must be careful about one thing. The time is to use technology to track, trace and tackle terrorism.

Utilisation of Development Funds

  • Development of the affected areas is the cornerstone of any counter-terrorist strategy. Lack of development activity in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir has been identified as one of the main reasons for militancy in these areas. 
  • The government should find an alternative way of utilising these developmental funds for tangible effects.


Counter Terrorism Institute

    • It is imperative that India establish a Counter Terrorism (CT) Institute where research work is carried out on projects like:
    • Improving the ability to respond to conventional terrorist incidents,
    • Upgrading the ability to detect and respond to the threat of chemical/ biological/ nuclear terrorism,
    • Enhancing our capability to effect safer explosives ordinance disposal,
    • Developing new equipment to upgrade intrusion detection and
    • Counter-measure capabilities, etc.
    • This would require separate budget allocation and involvement of various agencies to enhance counter terrorism capabilities.


  • India needs to evolve a coherent and comprehensive counter-terrorism policy.
  • As KPS Gill has opined, the primary and most effective strategy to avoid war is to prepare for it.