The 9/11 attacks in the US were a cataclysmic confirmation of a major shift in the trend lines of transnational terrorism and there is an agreement that the age of new terrorism is well and truly upon us. Even as the world attempts to enhance its understanding of what exactly has changed, four pointers can be discerned. Firstly, modern terrorist organisations are both diffuse and opaque in nature. They have cellular structures that resemble networks, rather than a clearly demarcated chain of command. Secondly, they are more transnational in their geographical spread, with shifting centres of gravity. Thirdly, their ideological motivations are driven by religious fundamentalism and they seek to achieve their political objectives through radical extremism. Fourthly, new terrorism is more violent than old terrorism. In the mid-to-late-20th century, terrorist organisations wanted a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead, but now they wish to inflict casualties so that they can impose their will on governments and societies.
On November 26, 2008, the tsunami of new terrorism hit Indias commercial capital. Ten mercenary marauders from Pakistans Lashkar-e-Tayebba, armed to the teeth, and trained, equipped and controlled by ISI handlers, sneaked in undetected from the sea and unleashed wanton attacks on innocent civilians returning home after a day at work at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai. They also attacked two upmarket hotels, a Jewish centre, a hospital and a caf. By the time they were through with their devilish plans, they had left almost 200 people dead and over 300 injured, including several police officers and personnel. It took Indias National Security Guard 60 hours to flush them out. It was a wake up call that shook the government.
Confronting Terrorism, edited by Maroof Raza, is a comprehensive study into the root causes of terrorism in India and provides an analytical assessment of Indias capability to fight back. In a perceptive foreword, Dr Stephen P Cohen, a well-known South Asia analyst, has written, Battling a separatist or insurgent movement, whatever the motivation, requires a mix of political, intelligence, economic, law enforcement and, lastly (and possibly least important), military actions to ensure success. All of these must be coordinated at the Central and State government levels among all agencies, but such coordination is known to be inadequate. In his introduction, Maroof Raza is of the view that the relationship between pan-Islamic terrorism and Indian Muslims could be entering a dangerous decade.
Major General Afsir Karim (Retd), in Terrorism: The Indian Experience and Shairi Mathur, in her chapter Trends and Influences of Terror Networks: Comparisons from West and South Asia, dilate on the hypothesis that Jihadi terrorism today can be defined as a form of transnational terrorism that draws on extreme interpretations of Islam as its rationale and its motivation, and they cannot be satisfied through negotiations or agreements. While Colonel Gautam Das (Retd) and Colonel Ali Ahmed (Retd) have written on the Indian Armys commendable counter-insurgency experience, Ved Marwah has highlighted the role of Indias police forces in combating terror, including in the Naxalite affected areas. Bhashyam Kasturi has examined whether the Mumbai terror attacks could have been prevented and has concluded that despite the availability of adequate intelligence, no steps were taken to guard against the attacks.
Samarjit Ghosh and Swapna Kona Nayudu, both from the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, have analysed Pakistans role in sponsoring terrorism and the US-NATO experience in Afghanistan, respectively. In his chapter, Bharat Karnad makes specific recommendations on pre-empting and preventing nuclear terrorismanother new scourge. He examines the likelihood of Pakistans nuclear warheads falling into Jihadi hands and explains the preventive measures that are necessary to ensure that a terrorist strike cannot be launched on Indias nuclear installations. He is critical of the government for excessive secrecy surrounding its nuclear disaster management plans: The security managers ought to be aware that secret nuclear civil defence plans are a recipe for rapidly converting an attack by nuclear weapons or RDD (radiological dispersal device) into a calamity.
It has made a timely and important contribution to understanding the character of the new terrorism that India is up against and what needs to be done to meet the challenge. It should be prescribed reading for policy makers and those involved in managing Indias war on terror.
The reviewer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Delhi