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Seven simple steps to curb terrorism in India

August 06, 2012 16:53 IST

The steps require the least amount of expenditure and can be implemented with existing institutional structure and laws, says Colonel (retd) Anil Athale.

The reality of terrorism came very close for comfort to Pune city as well as this author on August 1. Just minutes after the blasts that went wrong, our Mumbai-Pune bus passed the BalGandhrva theatre. Thanks to faulty explosives, the bombs were a dud and the author is alive and well to write the nth article on the threat of terrorism and what can and needs to be done. Escaping a possible victimhood in a terror attack can do wonders to one's brain cells!

Having been part of the establishment, one knows that even sensible ideas from 'outside' are dismissed. The hope in sending private communications is that the concerned official will peddle it as his own idea and pursue it. Thus one is using individual self interest to push for desired policy. This author has been following this methodology for over two decades. 

Many moons ago, a very senior official in the Delhi security establishment told me that it is a waste of time to send private papers or memos as nobody in the government reads them, especially if they are free and unsolicited. Instead he advised me to write in open media as the relevant paper clippings are regularly forwarded to the policy makers, who are most concerned about their media image. It seems that at least on the issue of steps to deal with terrorism, the confidential advice method seems to have failed so this open article.

The steps that can be taken given below require the least amount of expenditure and can be implemented with existing institutional structure and laws. It must be understood that Improvised Explosive Device or IED remotely detonated or with timers are the most frequent tactic of the terrorists. The 26/11 like armed attack is more an exception than a rule, although a lone gunman or a small group of gunmen opening fire at a crowded place (like in the US) also remains a potent threat. By its very nature the threat of IED is confined to urban areas as the crowds that make mass casualties possible are to be found in that setting.


The IED has three components, the timer/trigger, detonator & booster and explosive with shrapnel etc. Timer or trigger can easily be constructed with even an alarm clock and simple batteries or cell phones and is virtually impossible to control. But neither explosive material nor detonators are easily available. With tightening border control and some measures to account for dual use substances like ammonium nitrate fertilizer, this risk can be reduced.

Detonators and boosters are a key component in IEDs and not easily available and fall under the Explosives Act. The three possible sources of detonators and explosives are the armed forces and ordnance factories, private factories, quarrying/mining and the road construction industry. Enough checks exist in the armed forces and government factories.

The most likely sources of detonators and boosters are the private contractors engaged in mining/construction activity. To dry up the supply of this vital component to terrorists, a law needs to be passed to give exemplary punishment to those users who let the detonators/explosives fall into wrong hands. Violence in much of India has been controlled due to strict gun control law. Similar stringent law for control of detonators would go a long way in stopping IEDs.


All cities must establish a network of mohalla committees and housing societies to monitor all suspicious movement in their own locality. Each city must have a dedicated police officer to man this 24x7. This measure will enhance both intelligence gathering as well as alert police to movement of terrorists. Police can circulate photographs and information of the fugitive suspects to these committees. In short a city wide concept of 'neighbourhood watch' needs to be implemented immediately. This will cost next to nothing.


In many western countries the police or intelligence agencies have launched 'sting operations' to lure and nab would be terrorists BEFORE they commit an act of sabotage. It is time our security establishment did the same.


In all terrorist incidents the police are more concerned with the Big Fish. This is a mistake. It is necessary to come down hard on the foot soldiers or persons who provide support like transport or lodging to the terrorists. These individuals must be punished quickly and made to pay a price. The idea behind this logic is to cut off the terrorists from their supporters due to fear of retribution by the state.

Like guerrillas without help similarly terrorists without local help would be like fish out of water. Infringement of laws to support acts of terror either for money or due to ideology needs to be viewed seriously by both the police (and especially) the judiciary.


For the sake of God and country, the various agencies in field must shun turf battles and act in unison. For instance the Indian Army has been dealing with IED's for years and has accumulated enough experience in the field. It has bomb disposal units and equipment. Could not the Pune police co-ordinate with the CME (College of Military Engineering) located in Pune itself?


There is an urgent need to create a well thought out SOP or standard operating procedure in case of a terrorist incident. Once an incident is declared as a 'terrorist incident' by the designated  authority (could be the police commissioner in case of a city) then all resources civil, military or private must come under the pre-designated commander. All agencies must be obliged to obey his orders. It is the lack of unified command and pooling of resources on 26/11 that resulted in the terrorists holding out for over 72 hours!


The judiciary must deal with terrorism related cases quickly and punish the mass murderers. It is time that the judiciary sheds its proclivity to give the benefit of doubt to the criminals while doubting the intention of the law enforcers. If not corrected in time, we may soon come to a situation where the honest policeman will prefer not to act!

These seven steps if taken can certainly reduce the incidents of terrorist strikes but not end them. Terrorism in India is unlikely to end early since it is being given motivational 'oxygen' constantly by the media and the principal political parties. In order to consolidate its minority vote bank the ruling dispensation in the Dilli darbar is constantly fanning the embers of minority grievances.

The 2002 riots in Gujarat and 1992 Babri masjid demolition are hardy perennials. The Sachar Committee report institutionalised the grievance mongering. This is not to dispute the fact that a section of minorities in India indeed are more backward than the national average. But linking this to discrimination is the real problem of such surveys. The Sachar report does not ask or answer the question that why is it that some other minorities like Parsis, Jains or  Christians are better off than the national average on the socio-economic indicators?

The Sachar report exercise also ignores the findings of similar surveys in UK, Canada and the US where the Muslim immigrants fare far worse than the non Muslim ones! This is NOT a post 9/11 development but predates it. There is of course the factor that immigrants from India come with higher education background. But in case of Canada and UK, where the migrants are from similar socio-economic base, within a generation the Non Muslim migrants seem to be better off than even the national average for the Whites.

The real answer to this question is found in the relative importance given to education by other communities as well as large family size of Muslims. These factors operate in India as well.  But in case of India, the backwardness of minority community is solely attributed to either discrimination by the state or the majority community. This constant stoking of the grievances in the minds of minority youth is the real motivator of terrorism.

None seems to ask as how come this situation has arisen when for bulk of last 65 years since independence an allegedly 'secular' party has been ruling the country. Neither the secularist politicians nor the secularist Taliban of the media seem to notice that on the issue of grievances and discrimination they speak the language of Hafiz Sayeed!    

But the situation would not have reached this point if the opposing forces of Hindutva and Indian civilization had provided an alternate vision. The Indian civilization is plural at its very core and Hinduism or the Sanatan Dharma does not correspond to the Abrahamic faith's concept of an 'organised religion' and monopoly of truth falsely peddled as 'Monotheisim'. 

Indians do not believe in concept of one church, one holy book or one prophet. Pluralism and freedom of choice is (wrongly portrayed as 'Polytheism) is the core value of Indian civilization. Pluralism of worship, thought, language, dress and aesthetics has been embedded in the Indian past for at least 5,000 years. This is the best guarantee for the religious or ethnic minorities and not merely the constitution. India has NOT become secular or plural because of the constitution. It is the other way round and that is because majority of Indians believe in pluralism that India enacted a constitution that does not discriminate on basis of caste or creed.

Terrorism due to religious differences will end in India once all Indians relate to the core values of Indian civilization.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale is coordinator of the Pune-based Indian Initiative for Peace, Arms-control & Disarmament.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale