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Fighting terrorism by reforming governance

C. Raj Kumar

A framework for action at the highest levels of the government is suggested so that an actionable plan can be evolved within a time-frame to fight terrorism and prepare a response mechanism.

The terror attacks in Mumbai have once again demonstrated how incapable India is as a nation to prepare itself to fight against terrorism. This is notwithstanding the courage and bravery displayed by the members of the National Security Guard (NSG), the Mumbai police and other law enforcement agencies. The anger and outrage that the citizenry has expressed against the politicians needs to be understood well as they do play a leading role in governing India and have a duty and responsibility to act now. In doing this, they will indeed have the full support of the people of India.

The following framework for action at the highest levels of the government is suggested so that an actionable plan can be evolved within a time-frame both to fight terrorism and prepare a response mechanism in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.

1. Formation of a Central anti-terrorism commission

On July 30, 2008, this writer wrote in these columns on the need to establish a Central Anti-Terrorism Commission (CAT-COM) under the Prime Minister’s Office. Despite numerous acts of terrorism in India, the governance machinery has not adequately responded to the issue. Responding to terrorism should be done in a methodical, legal and strategic manner, and it should be done by an exclusive body vested with the necessary powers and resources along with a legal mandate to seek fundamental reforms in the law enforcement machinery. The internal security of India is a serious matter. It deserves attention at the highest level, and professionals with the highest degree of competence and integrity should be appointed to this commission. CAT-COM should not be merely an advisory body, but a commission that has powers to seek legal, administrative, and institutional reforms and formulate policies with a view to fighting terrorism and implementing them swiftly. The government is fully empowered to establish such an institution and this is a good time and opportunity to do that.

2. Strengthening law enforcement machinery across all States

The law enforcement machinery across all States needs to be significantly improved. The police are not adequately equipped to deal with new threats. The NSG and the officers of the Mumbai police demonstrated courage and bravery in responding to the latest attacks. But our law enforcement machinery functions under stressful and inhospitable conditions. Some of the problems the machinery at the State and Central level faces include, but are not limited to, political interference, lack of autonomy, lack of proper training and resources, and lack of adequate compensation and career development opportunities. While these are some of the problems the law enforcement machinery faces as an institution, it also constantly faces a credibility deficit, given the numerous cases of human rights violations and other abuses relating to civil liberties which the police in India have been involved in. It is important that the police force ensure transparency and accountability in its functioning. It has also to be ensured that it functions independent of and free from interference.

3. Reforming governance

When terrorist attacks happen, India as a country expresses shock and at times gets carried away in the zeal to seek justice. But getting justice in India is inextricably connected to seeking reforms in our dysfunctional criminal justice system, which is also corrupt and inefficient. We need police reforms and reforms relating to the criminal justice system: both are urgent imperatives. There have been a number of reports based on careful studies of each of these issues, but little or no effort has been taken to implement the recommendations. Institutionalised corruption in India is a social reality across all governmental institutions. This has also affected India’s ability to effectively ensure national security. The governance reforms relating to fighting terrorism should take place at three levels:

a. Intelligence machinery: Our intelligence machinery should be urgently reformed so that institutions such as the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) are better prepared to perform their functions in an effective manner. The RAW, the IB and other agencies need to be empowered and made more relevant so that they are able to gather information that would be useful in preventing attacks. There is no doubt that intelligence-gathering is a long and arduous task, but the Central government needs to put good governance systems in place so that effective gathering of intelligence becomes possible. A related issue is the sharing of intelligence between the Central government and the State governments and among the state governments. Terrorism is an issue of utmost importance in national security and the Central government has to work closely with State governments so that any information relating to possible terrorist attacks or movements or security risks is quickly shared. The legal and constitutional framework should be put together to ensure that fighting terrorism jointly becomes the legal obligation of both the State and Central governments.

b. Vigilance apparatus: There is a lot more to be done to empower the vigilance apparatus. When the investigations into the latest Mumbai terrorist attacks move forward, we will get a lot more information as to how there were so many security lapses that led to less than a dozen individuals holding a city to a ransom for three days. For example, there should have been many more closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras that actually work and are able to provide information in real time to the security establishment. Security needs to be stepped up in all public places. Police officers should have better equipment than they currently have, in order to be able to respond to the kind of terrorist threats that are being faced today. Airports and seaports need to be made more secure. But security should not mean harassment. Rather, there should be effective systems that use the latest technology and communications systems, to ensure that security is tighter and more effective but without involving harassment of any kind.

c. Anti-terror response: The State police forces are phenomenally ill-equipped and do not have the training or support to fight terrorism. While it may be useful to establish anti-terror cells in every State, the focus ought to be on creating a framework to develop sound anti-terror response mechanisms that will involve huge coordination between various agencies including disaster management teams, fire-fighters, State police forces, Central government security agencies, the RAW, the IB and others at the State and Central level.

Crisis response mechanisms need to be put in place in the aftermath of terrorist attacks so that no individual or institution is caught unawares in dealing with such situations. The anti-terror response mechanism should have a wide range of facilities properly put in place so that in the event of a terrorist attack the government is equipped to deal with it. Since many developed countries of the world including the U.S. and the U.K. have been victims of terrorism in the past, it will be useful to discuss with the institutions they have in place to respond to terror. In addition to the police-based law enforcement machinery, fire fighting systems need to be on the ready, experts trained in hostage negotiations should be available, hospitals should be equipped to meet sudden contingencies, and doctors, social workers, and trauma psychologists should be oriented to meeting crises situations. All of them will have a critical role in the aftermath of terrorism.

Depoliticising national security and making renewed efforts to fight terrorism are essential steps to radically reform India’s internal security structure. The terror attacks in Mumbai provide an opportunity for the politicians to get their act together to build a safer and more secure India.

(Professor C. Raj Kumar is an honorary consultant to the National Human Rights Commission and is on leave of absence from the School of Law of the City University, Hong Kong. Email: crajkumar4@yahoo.com )

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