Lack of coherent policy costs human lives
K P S Gill

In the absence of a coherent vision of a nation's larger strategy, specific initiatives, especially where they are fire-fighting responses to current crises, tend to cancel each other out and often, in fact, prove counterproductive.

This is precisely the case that has arisen out of the innumerable, ad hoc, entirely unstructured and often contradictory actions and policy initiatives with regard to terrorism in India, and many of these actions and initiatives have now become the most significant obstacle to any coherent strategy of resolution.

The first imperative of an effective policy on counter-terrorism, consequently, requires the definition of the basic principles on which all counter-terrorist action and policy are to be constructed. No such principles are reflected in our present policies, and I have no reason to believe that they exist. Once defined, these principles must be strictly adhered to, circumscribing the range and content of actions and negotiations that any government or official may engage in with regard to terrorists, or in situations of crisis generated by the actions of terrorists. Several models exist for the identification of these basic principles, but it is not sufficient simply to imitate these, or to adopt them verbatim from some other country. They would have to be based on a specific and objective evaluation of the character and magnitude of the threat of low intensity war and terrorism in this country. This may appear to be too obvious a point to require separate statement, but on closer scrutiny this is not the case. There is, in fact, a great deal of ambivalence that characterises the attitudes and perceptions of policy makers and those who shape opinions in this country, with regard to terrorism, and there exists a vast body of pseudo-sociological, political and economic analysis that seeks to justify terrorism or to underplay its enormity and impact. This stream of thought actually an uncritical acceptance of politically fashionable postures has influential supporters in various branches of government. It is, consequently, crucial that the objective dimensions of terrorism be explicitly and transparently evaluated, its dangers defined and documented, and an unequivocal national consensus be forged on the character and magnitude of this scourge, and the measures that are necessary and justified in order to confront it before we succumb to it.

This, however, is only the beginning of a long and relentless process. The Indian state must start educating itself on how it is to tackle individuals and groups trying to destroy the state. And it must learn how to arm and protect those who put their lives at stake in the defence of India s unity and integrity. This will require a radical reformation of internal security forces and institutions, creating the skills, knowledge, attitudes and infrastructure necessary to confront the threat posed by terrorism and covert warfare. The parameters within which each agency of government must respond to such challenges will also have to be defined specifically and in great detail. This would include the powers, the range of extraordinary actions permitted in these situations, and the applicable legal criteria and context of evaluation of these actions whether these are the same as those applicable in peacetime or are to be akin to articles of war, or are to be redefined in terms of the new category of `low intensity wars' should be clearly determined and suitably legislated. These are only the preliminary conditions for an effective response to the challenge of terrorism yet they demand a massive and unprecedented effort; an effort, moreover, which has to be exerted within a time frame that grows shorter by the day if it is to have any hopes of success.

Even if institutions of governance succeed in shaking themselves out of their present torpor, they may find existing structures severely inadequate to deal with the problem. The first element of this structural failure is the co-ordination of efforts of the large number of institutions and forces that are pressed into service or need to be so tasked to tackle terrorism. This is only one aspect of the problem. The fact is, the efforts even of the SFs directly involved in the fight against terrorism are not adequately co-ordinated, and systemic and internecine conflicts undermine even cancel out a great deal of what is being done by different military, police and paramilitary organisations. The challenge of co-ordination, however, extends much further, to a wide variety of institutions and organisations that comprehend virtually every department of governance in terrorism affected areas. Evidently, no existing institution has the mandate or the capabilities to undertake such a task

There is, consequently, an urgent need to set up a central agency for the co-ordination of all counter-terrorism efforts, initiatives and policies, so that the national interest and policy are realised through the vast multiplicity of discrete and apparently unrelated actions of the numerous divisions, departments and jurisdictions that currently exist.

It should be clear, in this context, that this central agency would not be the executive agency for counter-terrorism response, nor would it have the authority to intervene at the tactical and operational level. It would, however, define the strategic framework of counter-terrorism operations, devise protocols for response to a wide variety of possible threat situations, produce the training materials and structures for the creation of requisite proficiency in the execution of these protocols in concerned agencies and personnel, and generally put into place the systems that are required to safeguard the nation and its people against terrorism. The agency would also act as a clearing house for a great deal of inter-departmental and inter-agency dissemination of information, and as a pressure group to bring the policies and practices of various branches and departments of government into conformity with national counter-terrorism perspectives and policy.

Crucially, this agency must not be constituted along the pattern of existing security advisory fora, which have the essential character of government-sponsored debating societies, with no power of independent access to information, intelligence, or other resources for effective action. The central agency would be required to project and continuously evaluate the essential elements of national counter-terrorism policy. This function assumes that a national policy has already been defined by the national political executive a task that can no longer wait for the constitution of a new institutional arrangement.

It must also establish and continuously revise threat assessment criteria. This involves the definition and clarification of the analytic procedures to determine the threat of terrorism in various areas and regions, as also to specific installations, including defence and infrastructure installations and establishments. This would involve the analysis of inputs beyond conventional intelligence flows within government, and would reconcile these with information received from media and research resources, as well as from strategic and geopolitical analyses of the situation beyond the immediate theatre of conflict. This process is critical because it would define certain objective parameters which would automatically mandate the activation of response protocols at various levels and in all concerned institutions and departments, with intervening discretionary or executive decisions, that is to say, without a judgement call having to be made.

The agency will need to address the creation of a standard emergency response protocols for all potential terrorist threats and actions. This is a gigantic task that would, first, involve the identification of all such potential threats and their possible impact and crisis management requirements. Here, it is not only necessary to make provisions for existing threats, but also to continuously evaluate emerging technological and tactical shifts In order to ensure that the emergency response systems are geared to tackle these.