It is often said that India is essentially a subcontinent and not a nation. The diversity of the population and ethnicities, languages, terrains and the aspirations bring with itself a highly complex matrix of security requirement. This is especially so because India exists in a volatile region dogged by intra national and international conflicts. Further complicating the problem is the fact that massive socio economic disparity and the failure of the state to cater to the needs of a large number of people have alienated various sections of the population. Additionally, organized crime and cybercrime form a symbiotic relation with rogue elements, feeding them in the process. But the most problematic aspect of India’s internal security is that it suffers from the most complex types of terrorism in different parts of the country. All of these put together present a highly complex, evolving and multilayered internal security challenge to the lawmakers.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the successive governments, there is a general sense of insecurity among people. Policies have been half baked and fragmented at best and as such, have met only partial success even as threats have mutated greatly. Needless to say, a comprehensive, innovative and futuristic policymaking is required, which not only tackles existing challenges, but also envisages challenges over the horizon and plan to deal with them proactively.
Security is a dynamic concept and encompasses all aspects of an individual’s life. As such, it has physical safety as well as financial security and social security dimensions. Therefore, internal security planning has to take into account all sources of threats which can put in danger any aspect of citizens’ well-being. This was accepted in the Status Paper on Internal Security of the Ministry of Home Affairs, released in March 2008. It forecast a dark scenario for India’s internal security if the Indian state and society did not take pro-active steps to root out violence from within India by an equitable program of development for all. The report identified armed violence in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, Naxalism and growing communal violence as four areas of concern for India in this context. In 2012, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh branded ethnic violence, left wing extremism, the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir, coastal security, terrorism in the hinterland and cyber security as major internal security challenges for the country.
India has been one of the worst sufferers of terrorism for last thirty years. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been the most visible places of terrorist violence in the country for last two and a half decades. But as incidents such as September 2008 serial bomb blasts in Delhi and Mumbai attacks in November 2008 show, no city, state or region is free from the threat of terrorist attacks. Records show that India has seen the maximum number of terrorist attacks in countries that are not in a civil war situation. According to National Bomb Data Centre (NBDC) report, India is the third most dangerous place in the world as far as bomb blasts are concerned; only Iraq and Pakistan are more dangerous. The disturbing aspect of terrorism in India faces is the comprehensive involvement of Pakistan as a state which significantly enhances the capability of terrorists on one hand and limits the effectiveness of the Indian response on the other. With the massive increase in the penetration of internet and modularization of terrorist activities, which means small independent groups becoming capable of launching deadly strikes, the nature of terrorism has changed and so has the response required to deal with them.
It is no longer sufficient to monitor the physical activities of established terror outfits and movement of known terrorists, but increasingly the fight is moving into cyberspace, which is being used to radicalize youths, teach weapon making and generate funds to perpetrate attacks. The arrest of Mehdi Biswas, who was handling an Islamic State oriented Twitter handle, in Bangalore last year is a chilling reminder of this fact. The networked nature of the terrorists shows that at no point of time, greater integration of efforts and higher intel sharing was more important in dealing with terrorist threats.
An equally critical and pronounced need for greater coordination among central agencies and between center and states is required to deal with the sticky problem of Naxalism which has persisted for nearly four decades since its humble beginnings from Naxalbari in West Bengal. Today, the movement has spread over to Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgrh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradish, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra. According to experts, the problem of Naxalism is more socioeconomic and political in nature than violent terrorism and that it is the most serious internal security challenge for India, even more than the Pakistan sponsored terrorism. The reason is the multidimensional effort required to deal with the situation. The infested regions have faced the worst form of misgovernance, lack of development and administrative apathy for decades. As such, any approach to deal the violence aspect of the problem is bound to fail unless backed by genuine efforts to provide sustainable development. What complicates the matter a great deal is the fact that many areas of development and also law and order are state subjects and because of the lack of political will, coordination between center and states has remained suboptimal thus far.
However, if terrorism and Naxalism are threats that are well documented and often heard about, the threat to internal security from the Northeast is rarely heard and deliberated about unless some issue of ethnic discrimination and violence comes in from the region or from another part of the country involving people from the Northeast. Situated between China, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar, the region consisting of seven states, is a highly strategic landmass, with an international border stretching up to 4,500 km. The region has suffered from separatist terrorism and ethnic violence for long and the center’s response towards the same has been lax to say the least.
The separatist movement in Nagaland and Naga Assam dispute on the border are some of the longest running violent movements in the country. From Naga National Council, founded in the forties to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), floated in the seventies, the ethnic and nationalist Naga uprisings has festered for long and despite agreements like the Shillong Accord and cease-fires that the government of India signed with NSCN (IM), the Naga issue has not fully settled. In other parts of the region, Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF), based in Manipur, has been engaging in armed struggle against India since 1978. On the other hand, Assam has been plagued by terrorist outfits like the ULFA and the Bodo areas have been disturbed by National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).
What is important to note in the case of the Northeast disturbance is that most of the armed insurgent groups have got active backing from India’s neighbors. Earlier China provided arms and base to the separatist elements and later on, Pakistan and Bangladesh also joined in. Bangladesh had also provided base areas for underground camps for many of the Anti-India outfits before 2008 when Sheikh Hasina came to power. As for return to normalcy, while Tripura and Mizoram have been successful in stamping out violence with effective governance and accommodation, states like Manipur and Nagaland have proved hard to improve. Another crucial problem is the high discrimination that people from the Northeast face in other parts of India, which in turn, alienates them from the country. This sense of alienation blunts any initiative that Govt. of India takes to engage people from that region.
Ethnic and sectarian violence have been among the most terrifying aspect of Indian social life. The most prominent of these has been the religious violence which is a byproduct of the country’s partition and social mismanagement for the sake of electoral gains by political parties since independence. The ill effects of ethnic and religious violence is the impact it has on the other major internal security problem, i.e. terrorism. When aided by the ill-gotten money from organized crime, it creates a multilayered threat for internal security. A critical aspect of ethnic, religious or sectarian violence is the economic destitution and poverty that creates a constituency for violent, anti social elements. It has been well documented how people from poor regions are found more involved in crimes and terror activities.
Another huge dimension of internal security is the cyber domain which has given opportunity to innovatively deal with security threats and at the same time, afforded criminals and terrorists to anonymously spread their messages, recruit, collect money and coordinate attacks. Because of the proliferation of the internet, the threats to secret information of government, corporates and institutions have become highly vulnerable. Equally damaging are the financial frauds and attacks on the banking systems that can be launched from cyberspace. Because there is no global platform to fight cyber terrorism, each country, including India finds itself alone in the war against cyber crime and cyber terror. Unfortunately, at legal as well as operational level, the ability of the state to fight this new genre of security threat is very low. Massive technological upgradation of infrastructure is required to deal with this threat.
But perhaps the most crucial aspect of fighting internal security threats lies in non-military arena. It is well known that poor states with high economic inequality and fragmented societies are most exposed to internal security threats. As such, the biggest challenge for the Indian state are poverty, unemployment, and the ethnic and racial disenfranchisement. It is these social-economic-political malaise that is at the root of Naxal and ethnic violence on one hand and Northeastern insurgencies on the other. As such, respectful economic accommodation, sustainable development and ethnic sensitization need to supplement and sometime precede hard military crackdown.
Lastly, what needs to be realized is that security is an indivisible concept, i.e. one dimension of security cannot be separated from other dimensions and attended to. In terms of internal security, an effective counterterrorism initiative cannot be successful if criminal activities and elements remain strong or if judiciary remains lax. For example, unless Hawala market is killed, or drug paddling is stopped, it would be very hard to stench flow of finance to terrorists. So, investment is required in entire law and order spectrum. Secondly, it is impossible to defend one part of the country without securing other part. That means it is necessary that all states and the center needs to rise to the task to defend the country as a whole. Maintaining security is a complex task which has to be undertaken at various institutional levels at the center and in states, be it on terror or Naxal front, or maintaining coastal and border security. It is a fight in which all stand together, to win or lose.