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Counter terrorism measures – By Ex DGP Maharashtra


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Even after undergoing sufferings from two most devastating World Wars in the last century, and determined efforts not to have the scourge of wars and destruction, we continue to witness repeated incidents of terrorism or insurgency or state sponsored terrorism, even today.

There is hardly any continent or country which is free from this holocaust. Any expectation, therefore, that we can witness world, which is peaceful and free from the terrorist incidents is living in utopia. However, even though, we may not be able to eliminate large-scale devastation, does not mean, that we should give up our efforts. The option of not doing anything is not available, because, it is our responsibility to contain such happenings, examine the reasons for such divergent views and strive towards all possible measures for counter terrorism to reduce the sorrows.

Practically all major cities in India witnessed several terrorist attacks. The worst among them would include attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 in New Delhi, serial bomb blasts in 1993 in Mumbai and terrorist strike on 26/11/2008.

Thousands of innocent persons died and injured in several such attacks. Under the aegis of Shri. Narendra Modi, several far reaching counter-terrorism measures were initiated. These include amendments in National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act which transferred all investigations of terrorist acts to NIA, amendments in Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), introducing stringent action against persons and organizations indulging in support, finance, procurement and supply of arms and ammunition as well as in propaganda of terrorist ideology. Measures were also initiated for better coordination among external and internal agencies of the Union and States. As a result the terrorist incidents are more or less confined to Kashmir and a few in Punjab.

With a view to eliminate the scourge of terrorism, it is proposed to examine different facets of terrorism, and counter-terrorism measures in following lines.


It is difficult to have any agreement on the definition of the term terrorism. Depending on perception, while some people call the violence as terrorist activity or bad terrorism, the others would call it as an act of freedom fighting or good terrorism. It depends upon the background of the person who is making this definition. But when any act that focuses on civilians, who are considered soft targets as they have no means of defending, this act can be called as terrorist activity. It is incorrect to call these violent activities as bad terrorism or good terrorism. The terrorist group indulges in this violence for achieving some political purpose. The victims are usually innocent persons unaware of these designs. The purpose of such terrorist act would be to gain publicity for their cause. They also aim to prove vulnerability of their opponents and to demonstrate that the terrorists can strike at free will. Their underlying objective is to create a feeling of anarchy so that people at large would lose their faith in the established system.

As per one definition, “ terrorism is the unlawful use of, or threatened use of, force or violence against individuals or property to coerce and intimidate the governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives.”

According to the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f (d):

“The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.

The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.

The term “terrorist group” means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.”


According to a definition, Insurgency may be defined as,” Grab your rifle, join your teammates, & enter the fight. Take to the modern battlefield and engage in intense, realistic battles. Choose your side between a highly organized conventional army and the partisan insurgents. ”According to Merriam- Webster dictionary,” Insurgencies fall into the category of “irregular warfare”, since an insurgency normally lacks the organization of a revolution, even though it has the same aims.”

State Sponsored Terrorism:

State-sponsored terrorism is government support of violent non-state actors engaged in terrorism. Because of the pejorative nature of the word, the identification of particular examples is usually subject to political dispute.

The characteristics of this activity are deep rooted in self-determination movement which is a legacy of the imperial and colonial era. Several parts of the world particularly in Asia and Africa which were governed by colonial masters were forced to be parts of new States. The new states have failed to accommodate their aspirations or not adjusted them in new power sharing models of governance. Kurds in Iraq and Iran, Baloch community in Pakistan or a section of Kashmiris from Pak-occupied Kashmir may fall in this category. Depending upon the location and loyalty that one may have, these activities may be termed as freedom movements or instigations by politically opponent States to create dis-harmony and chaos in other States. Evidence available from interrogations of involved persons caught alive, or various things including radio sets, maps, clothes, labels from medicines, weapons, ammunition, currency notes recovered from persons killed in action or their conversations recorded when they were in action in hostile countries is enough proof to determine the States who are sponsoring these terrorist activities. 26/11/ terrorist attack on Mumbai is a clear example of state-sponsored terrorist activity by Pakistan.

Irrespective of the name, whether it is an act of terrorism, insurgency or state sponsored terrorism; there are certain common denominators of all these activities.

Salient features of terrorism:

Terrorists have no rules and know no boundaries. Osama bin Laden and his clan professed their tactics in the name of Islam but they do not respect any religious tenets as witnessed from the life style of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, described as a mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, and who was arrested in Pakistan on Mar 1 2004. They have no hesitation in committing any heinous crimes. People may think that terrorists would indulge in killing only persons not belonging to their religion. But there have been several incidents to prove that the Muslim terrorists have killed persons believing in Islam by calling them as infidels. Recent alleged attacks by  drones fitted with missiles from Houthi rebels in Yemen on petrol tanks in United Arab Emirates underlines the feud between Shia  community led by Iran versus Sunnis in Gulf area.  They have attacked army and police officers while not on duty indicating that they closely monitor their targets. The intention of the terrorists is to create anarchy by attacking soft targets where they would face minimum resistance. More sensational their attack, more publicity is achieved by them.

In several incidents in Kashmir, after 1989, it has been repeatedly seen that many Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs were mercilessly killed by the terrorists. In Maharashtra many Muslims praying near mosques or travelling in trains have been killed or injured in bomb blasts. On number of occasions, it is believed that these Muslims were killed because they did not owe faith in extreme sect of Islam called Wahabis as practiced in Saudi Arabia.

The threat from terrorism is universal. Many a times it is difficult to know what are the demands of the terrorists. They may ask for release of some persons detained or demand huge amount as ransom as witnessed in several incidents. They may kill diplomats as seen in the assassination of Indian diplomat in London in Eighties or the chief of USAID in Jordan in Oct 2002, or thousands of civilians in one event as witnessed in 9/11 in New York. They have no hesitation in attacking women and children as well.

The terrorists have been repeatedly capturing young boys and girls and forcing them to work as child soldiers. This has been repeatedly seen in many parts of Africa, Syria, as well as in various parts of India where Maoists are active & in Sri Lanka where LTTE was active till few years ago. Many a times, these children are forced to kill their near and dear ones ruthlessly so that they have no option of returning to their families. Most of the girls are sexually exploited and forced to satisfy the lust of these men and compelled to undergo repeated abortions.

Most of the terrorist groups have a tendency to emerge as fast as mushrooms and change their nomenclatures when under fire from the security agencies to avoid detection. By the time the experts study about one group, its members, their affiliations, their source of financing; another group is formed either by split of the earlier group or by joining of some new persons. It is a highly dynamic activity. Availability of modern methods of communication such as Internet, dark net, social media, video-conferencing, satellite telephones along with large funds have eliminated the distance or remoteness for these terrorist group members. They are well trained, and well- versed in using the modern technology and successfully camouflages their identity through use of multiple fake accounts. As shown in 9/11 attack, they have received training in advanced technologies in USA, Australia, Britain in bioterrorism, computer technology, chemical weapons, aviation engineering, forgery of travel documents, counterfeiting of currency as revealed from the encyclopedia prepared by Al Qaeda. Seven of the Sept. 11 hijackers– including four Saudis-studied in U.S. flight schools. Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi’, a Jordanian of Palestinian ancestry had a specialty in chemical weapons. Interrogation of detained Qaeda members disclosed that he was planning major terrorist attacks in Europe. Mohammad, the master-mind behind 9/11 attacks and arrested from Rawalpindi in Pakistan had obtained his degree in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina in US seventeen years ago. Mohammed did not reveal much but some of the valuable information came from a computer, CDs and notebook recovered from him. From the details it was apparent that Al-Qaida operated through a complex e-mail system of cut and paste to prevent leakage of information.

Terrorist activities consist of activities at multiple levels. The planners prefer to remain unidentified, or shroud themselves in mystery and may surface only through occasional videos released from unknown places so that law enforcement agencies are not able to eliminate them. These are highly determined, committed fanatics who keep on provoking their followers to take violent actions at predetermined targets. Many of these are well educated, and financially well off.  They prefer to have foot soldiers that are hardly aware of the entire design and are restricted to certain limited actions, which they might not consider as illegal. These foot soldiers may be petty criminals indulging in local mafia activities, extortions, smuggling of drugs, weapons or contrabands. Usually they realize about their involvement after the heinous act of terrorism is complete. They may belong to the religion of the planners, but it is not a prerequisite.

Above details would make it clear, how difficult it is to identify the terrorists, know their places and initiate counter measures against them before actual incidents of terrorism.

Counter- terrorism measures

The fight against global terrorism will need to be fought as a long-term measure. In view of its complications and inter-linkages with several other parts of the world, it also has to be fought by taking help from all democratic countries. The strategy could be divided in short term, midterm and long term measures.

The measures to counter terrorism particularly the one created by Islamic State have to be multifold. “In the short term they would include ‘strangling of terrorist finances, tighter control over the manufacturing and supply of weapons, exchange of personnel; sharing of expertise; building common terrorist databases. As opposed to highly visible actions, such as bombings, which often generate negative reactions, invisible “black operations” such as assassination of terrorist leaders and directing figures should be given priority. In spite of high risks, top priority should be given to recruiting both agent handlers and agents from migrant communities, as well as sharing the intelligence generated with the wider decision-and policy–making community. In the mid-term, the key to strategically weakening the terrorist group is to erode its fledgling support base- to wean away its supporters and potential supporters. There must be a concerted plan by the international community to redress the perceived and actual grievances of moderate Muslims or affected groups and frustrate the current wave of open and clandestine support for their agendas. To defeat al Qaida and Islamic State activists or Maoists and to prove that they are not God’s men but power –hungry politicians, co-ethnic policing, co-religious security co-operation must be developed where religious elders set the standards and ensure that religion or ideology is not abused or distorted by those with ulterior or political agenda. In the long term, wider support from locals as well as Muslim societies is imperative, if the fight against Maoists and its brand of Islamist terrorism is to be won. Without public support, battles may be won but not the war.

The efforts against terrorism also need to be multilateral in nature. It is certain that these efforts cannot be successful if they remain confined only to governmental agents. The fight against terrorism will have to be fought in united manner. The emphasis should be on enlisting the help of the people at large. People should be educated against the ill designs of some power–hungry persons and be vigilant. They should be encouraged to be inquisitive about their surroundings and work as extensions of security personnel. In Maharashtra, for example, while working as Commissioner of Police and Director General of Police      I had launched a scheme called Police Mitra Maharashtra. More than five lakh persons from all religions, regions and in all age groups of men & women came forward to join the same. That helped in nipping the terrorist tactics from the bud. Even many parents whose children had joined Islamic State came forward to police in taming these youngsters and to persuade these youngsters to overcome getting radicalized.  Military measures against terrorism may succeed in the short term but are also likely to be counter- productive and sustain the terrorists for longer duration. Efforts should be made to encourage moderate elements to join hands with the government attempts against the aberrations in any religion including Islam in the form of terrorists.

Terrorism mostly thrives on alienation of local people. When the government of the day does not have people’s mandate, or lacks in legitimacy, people start drifting towards those who advocate violent methods. Absence of good government for a prolonged period is the fundamental reason for local people providing support to the militants in their adventures. By and large, the ordinary person would still not prefer to be with those who indulge in violent activities. Most of them are forced to side with the militants under threat or gun-culture. Hence it should be the endeavor of every agency to win confidence of the people and encourage participation of people in decision-making. If we only focus on military methods, the solution to the problem of terrorism would continue to evade us. While addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Laureate underlined that if we ignore other pressing problems including poverty, disease, environmental degradation, and if we focus all our energies on the struggle against terrorism, we would be giving the terrorists a kind of victory.

Having said this, we must also realize that fanatics who believe in violent overthrow of established regimes and particularly democratic governments would continue with terrorist activities to attain political power. Recent takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban underlines this phenomenon. Taking advantage of the weaknesses in democratic system, respect for human rights, lengthy judicial procedures, the terrorists would keep on indulging in merciless killings. Taking stern action right from the beginning, strengthening law enforcement and security agencies, vigilance by local people, preventing youth from minority groups falling prey to radical elements and cooperation with the State’s counter terrorism measures are therefore highly imperative.

________________ ________________ _________________________

Shri. Praveen Dixit is retired Director General of Police, Maharashtra State, India

Praveen Dixit has served the around 39 years in the IPS (Indian Police Services). He has dealt with many assignments, abroad and in India.

Praveen Dixit, IPS retired as DGP Maharashtra. He also worked as DG Anti Corruption Bureau. Mr. Dixit is decorated with President’s Medal for Distinguished Services and for Meritorious Services. Mr Dixit is Vice Chairman ( Administrative) in Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal at Mumbai.



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