India’s Counter-Terrorism Record: An Open Letter To Fareed Zakaria – OpEd


Dear Mr. Fareed Zakaria,

I read with considerable interest extracts from your interview to the CNN-IBN on counter-terrorism in which, interalia, you have compared the track record of the Indian counter-terrorism community with that of the US. has reported on your CNN-IBN interview as follows:

“When looking at the capacity and talents of intelligence agencies around the world, I don’t think anyone has spoken highly about the Indian intelligence agencies.

“As a matter of reporting, India’s counter-terrorism operations are not regarded very high. This is an area India has not focused on a great deal.

“India has not done good because as it has a large Muslim population, but again India’s police force is pathetic. Look at Mumbai — India’s police force is not a police force — it is a patronage job that is given to people to support communities, they don’t know how to police.”

Before I comment substantively on your observations, I must introduce myself: I was an officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS). I joined the IPS in 1961 and retired in August, 1994, after having served for about four years in the Madhya Pradesh Police, one year in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) of the Government of India and 26 years in the Research & Analysis Wing ( R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency. When I was in service, the R&AW had two divisions dealing with terrorism –one with indigenous terrorism  — what many now call home-grown terrorism — and the other with international terrorism. I headed the Division dealing with indigenous terrorism from 1981 to 1985 and headed both the Divisions from 1988 till my retirement in 1994. Between 1991 and 1994, I used to wear a second hat as the head of the division responsible for intelligence liaison with foreign intelligence agencies. In that capacity, I had interacted closely with the intelligence agencies of the US and the UK — particularly in matters relating to counter-terrorism.”

The Indian track-record in counter-terrorism is not one of abysmal failure. We have had remarkable success stories particularly against Khalistani terrorism in Punjab and against the terrorism of Al Umma in Tamil Nadu. In both these instances, it was the local police force which led the counter-terrorism operations and won final victory despite all the handicaps suffered by it. In Jammu and Kashmir too — though final victory has not yet been won — the Indian counter-terrorism forces led by the Army have succeeded remarkably in bringing what we call cross-border terrorism under control.

The poor track-record of the Indian counter-terrorism community has been mainly against jihadi terrorism in North India.

We have had instances of jihadi terrorism in the South too in places such as Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh and Bengaluru. In the 1990s, we had the Al Umma phenomenon in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The police in South India has generally done better against terrorism emanating from the Muslim community than the Police in North/West India because the political class and the media in the South have generally refrained from demonising the Police and the intelligence agencies whenever they have acted against Muslims who have taken to terrorism. The Police in the South has, therefore, the confidence that it can do whatever is legally permissible in order to bring terrorism involving the participation of some Muslims under control.

Thankfully, in the South, there has been no politicisation till now of counter-terrorism which affected some members of the Muslim community. Unfortunately, there was politicisation of counter-terrorism directed against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). We paid a heavy price for it in May 1991, when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE in Chennai. Since then, this politicisation too has come down.

In North and West India, the admittedly poor record of the counter-terrorism community against jihadi terrorism—whether of the home-grown or Pakistani variety— has been considerably due to the reluctance of the political class to act against the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan and its equal reluctance to act against those members of the Muslim community who take to terrorism.

It is very unfair on your part to have compared the track-record of the Indian counter-terrorism community with that of the US. Many things which are permitted against Muslims in the US will not be permitted in India and we in the counter-terrorism community feel should not be permitted by the political leadership. Examples of what we in India do not do and will never do are:

  • Treating a Muslim as a suspect by virtue of his religion and appearance unless proved otherwise. Shah Rukh Khan, the famous Indian film actor, was treated as a suspect in the US. Such things will not happen in India.
  • Treating jihadi suspects as “war criminals” and keeping them in a military camp (Guantanamo Bay) and subjecting them to trials by military tribunals.
  • Use of air strikes against terrorists and their sanctuaries, killing a large number of innocent Muslims. Since India became independent in 1947, we have used the Air Force only once in Mizoram in 1966 when the Mizo insurgents over-ran almost the entire State.
  • The so-called rendition flights by which the US counter-terrorism agencies kept flying Muslim suspects arrested abroad from country to country in order to avoid having to produce them before a court of law.
  • The extraordinary methods of torture sanctified by the US Justice department that were used against Muslim suspects—whether in Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.

I am proud to say that neither the Indian political class nor the Indian counter-terrorism community would ever think of resorting to such diabolical methods. Even if we thought of them, the Indian media would have been the first to start a campaign against them.

Mr. Zakaria, how many of you in the US media world raised your voice against these methods when these were being used in the years after 9/11. Did you raise your voice against them, Mr. Zakaria? You all believed that any method is a good method against Muslim suspects till Al Qaeda is brought under control.

We have a self-denying counter-terrorism policy. We consciously deny to ourselves many practices which you in the US permit to yourselves in your counter-terrorism against Muslim suspects. We are proud of such self-denying provisions in our counter-terrorism policy.

One last point, I should make. India is next door neighbour to Pakistan. Much of our jihadi terrorism emanates from Pakistan. The US is thousands of KMs away from Pakistan. We face a terrorist threat from Pakistan every day. You face a threat sporadically. And yet, the kind of methods that you have used against Pakistan we have never used. We fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistan with one hand tied in the back.

It is not only because our political leadership will not permit it, but it is also because of the hypocrisy of the US Government which will use any methods against Pakistan in order to protect the US Homeland and American lives, but never hesitates to come in the way of India following a similar policy to protect the Indian Homeland and Indian lives.

With regards,

B. Raman

Time Magazine,
New York

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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