Journal Article - CTC Sentinel

Improving India's Counterterrorism Policy after Mumbai

| April 2009

"India has emerged as one of the world's most consistent targets of Islamist militants. Although the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 attracted the most global attention, they were merely the most recent and dramatic in a series of bloody terrorist incidents throughout urban India. On July 11, 2006, for example, terrorists planted seven bombs on the Suburban Railway of Mumbai, causing the deaths of more than 200 people. The November 2008 attacks, however, brought into clear focus the inability of the Indian security apparatus to anticipate and appropriately respond to major terrorist incidents. As one prominent analyst wrote, the government's responses to the Mumbai attacks were "comprehensive failures from the point of view of India's security establishment." While some Indian analysts and politicians prefer to focus on Pakistan's role as a haven for a variety of militant groups, it is clear that India needs to dramatically enhance its domestic counterterrorism infrastructure. Improvement will require significant infusions of resources, policy consistency, and political will that are often lacking in India.

This article outlines the current structure of counterterrorism policy in India, and then assesses some possible reforms. Thoroughgoing institutional reform in India will be challenging. The country suffers from a fragmented and inefficient bureaucracy, far fewer resources than developed countries even though it faces a higher threat level, and a political elite focused primarily on electoral politics. It is likely only a matter of time before another significant terrorist attack occurs. Nevertheless, focusing on a series of substantial but distinct tasks, with the support of India's international partners, can slowly but steadily improve India's counterterrorism capabilities.

Domestic Structure and Capabilities

India's police and internal security system is highly fragmented and often poorly coordinated. The country's federal political system leaves most policing responsibilities to the states, which usually possess their own counterterrorism and intelligence units. These forces, especially local police, are often poorly trained and equipped. Local personnel are frequently hired on the basis of political patronage and are notorious for high levels of corruption.

There is also a variety of central investigative, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. The Ministry of Home Affairs includes the Intelligence Bureau, Central Reserve Police Force, Indian Police Service, and new National Investigation Agency, while the Research and Analysis Wing and Central Bureau of Investigation are answerable to the prime minister. The military—which is primarily geared toward foreign threats, including terrorism—also generates intelligence with relevance to domestic terrorism, and there is a centrally controlled National Security Guard (NSG) that specializes in hostage and terrorist attack situations.

The combination of state and central authorities is ostensibly coordinated through joint committees, task forces, subsidiary intelligence bureaus, and a Multi-Agency Center. All of these coordinating mechanisms aim to harmonize the intelligence gathered by these agencies and to generate shared threat perceptions and associated responses, but they are often slow and cumbersome. States and the central agencies frequently compete over resources and bureaucratic autonomy, and they both do a highly uneven job of cooperating with one another. In addition to these organizational challenges, many of the security institutions at all levels of government are understaffed, undertrained, and technologically backward.

All of these pathologies were evident in the failure to prevent or appropriately respond to the Mumbai attacks. There was in fact significant intelligence suggesting a seaborne terrorist attack was likely, and even that prominent sites such as the Taj Hotel would be targeted. This information, however, was ignored by several key bureaucratic actors—including the Coast Guard and the Maharashtra state director-general of police—because it was deemed unactionable. Others, such as the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, at least attempted some kind of preparation. The differences in readiness highlight the extent of fragmentation among the security apparatus. Even when Mumbai police tried to take preventive action, they lacked the manpower to sustain increased security at the hotels. Once the attack occurred, the security forces did not have sufficient night-vision equipment, heavy weaponry, or information about the attack sites, leading to a long response time and the emergence of a disastrous siege...."

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For Academic Citation: Staniland, Paul. Improving India's Counterterrorism Policy after Mumbai.” CTC Sentinel, vol. 2. no. 4. (April 2009):

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