ISSN 2330-717X

India: Declining Terror, Persistent Vulnerabilities – Analysis


By Ajit Kumar Singh*

For the seventh consecutive year, beginning 2012, overall terrorism-linked fatalities across multiple theaters of conflict in India remained in three digits, with 2018 registering a total of 935 fatalities, including 216 civilians, 183 Security Force (SF) personnel, and 536 militants. Such fatalities remained in the four digits for 18 consecutive years between 1994 and 2011, with year 2001 registering a peak 5,839 fatalities (1,693 civilians, 721 SF personnel, and 3,425 militants). 

However, annual fatalities declined for seven consecutive years, between 2006 and 2012, but have followed a cyclical trend thereafter. Terrorism-linked fatalities in 2018 (935 fatalities) increased in comparison to 2017, at 803 fatalities (206 civilians, 170 SF personnel, and 427 SF personnel). In 2016, there were 898 fatalities, as against 722 in 2015, 976 in 2014, 884 in 2013, and 803 fatalities in 2012.

Meanwhile, 84 Districts recorded terrorism/insurgency linked fatalities in 2018 (the same number as in 2017), down from 94 in 2016, 93 in 2015, 100 in 2014, 103 in 2013, and 122 in 2012. Fatalities have already been reported from 37 Districts in 2019 (data till April 21, 2019).

Moreover, the total number of Districts afflicted by chronic conflict variables was down to 170 in 2018, as against 184 in 2017. There were a total of 191 such Districts in 2016; and 205 in both 2014 and 2013.

India presently has a total of 719 Districts.

These numbers clearly indicate that there has been considerable overall improvement in the security situation, but an analysis across different theaters of conflict demonstrates that the gains are not similar.  

Islamist terrorism outside Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has been contained to a large extent. Pakistan-backed Islamist terror formations, as well as Islamic State (aka Daesh) and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the last two of which have been attempting to make inroads since 2014, have failed comprehensively in their ambitions [al Qaeda has, in fact, trying to create a network in India at least since 1996, and established AQIS, dedicated to the South Asian region, in 2014). There was just one Islamist terrorist attack in India, outside J&K, through 2018. It is useful to recall that, in 2008, Islamist terror formations operating out of Pakistan had carried out 10 attacks in India, outside J&K, resulting in 352 fatalities, the largest number recorded in a single year since 2000, when the SATP database commenced tracking such incidents. There is, of course, little room for complacence, particularly in view of the intermittent ‘lone wolf attacks’ by Daesh-inspired individuals across the globe, and the continuous stream of IS-linked conspiracies and arrests over the past years. According to the SATP database, a total of 167 Daesh sympathizers/recruits have been arrested and another 73 persons have been detained, counselled and released, in India (data till April 21, 2019). Another 98 Indians were believed to have travelled to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to join IS – microscopic numbers in terms of the country’s huge Muslim population. Of the 98 who travelled abroad to join Daesh, 33 are confirmed to have been killed. The increasing trend of fringe Islamist terror formations in several countries associating with Daesh is a source of concern for India as well.

Insurgent violence in the Northeast region has seen a continuous downward trajectory  with 2018 recording the lowest insurgency-related fatalities since 1992. Incidentally, except for Arunachal Pradesh, all the other six insurgency affected states – Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura – registered a declining trend in fatalities.

The region did, however, witness multiple and widespread agitations and a tendency to increasing ethnic and communal polarisation through 2018 and thereafter due to several factors, most prominently including the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of India’s Parliament) on January 8, 2019, and the preceding troubles over the National Register of Citizens. The agitations even jeopardised ongoing peace talks with the ULFA-Pro Talks Faction (ULFA-PTF), and also saw a number of other erstwhile militant organizations across the region strongly opposing CAB.

The Maoist insurgency is also on a decline, though fatalities increased from 333 (109 civilians, 74 SF personnel, 150 Naxalites) in 2017 to 413 (109 civilians, 73 SF personnel, 231 Naxalites) in 2018, essentially as a result of increasing fatalities in Maoist ranks. SFs secured an improved kill ratio in 2018, at 1:3.16, as against 1:2.02 in 2017. The 2018 ratio is the second best recorded since the SATP database commenced tracking the conflict, after 3.69, in 2016.

Nevertheless, the intermittent and audacious attacks of the recent past clearly indicate that the Maoists still possess the wherewithal, albeit diminishing, to strike at will. Cadres of the Communist Party of India–Maoist (CPI-Maoist) triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast and subsequently opened fire, targeting the convoy of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Bhima Mandavi, in a forested patch near Nakulnar village under the Kuwakonda tehsil (revenue unit) of Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh’s ailing Bastar Division, on April 9, 2019. Those killed included MLA Mandavi and his three Personal Security Officers (PSOs), as well as the constable-driver.

There have also been some worries in Punjab in recent times. Between 2008 and 2015, Khalistani terrorists failed to inflict even a single fatality in the State, but three years in a row, between 2016 and 2018, lethal terrorist strikes have been mounted. The grenade attack at Nirankari Bhavan on November 18, 2018, which resulted in three fatalities, was the last incident in a chain of efforts to revive Khalistani terrorism in the Punjab.

It is, however, J&K that has recorded the most significant surge in violence, after an extended phase of declining violence between 2001 and 2012. Total fatalities recorded J&K in 2018, at 451, are the highest after 2008, at 541. Worryingly, fatalities among civilians, at 86 in 2018, are also the highest in this category since 2007, at 164. Indeed, with an intensifying polarization and intentional political destabilization, the State appears to be headed towards a heightened phase of terrorism.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh while addressing the Inaugural Session of the Conference of Directors and Inspectors General of Police in Gujarat on December 20, 2018, thus observed,

Security scenario in the North-East region has witnessed steady improvement in recent years… We achieved major operational successes in core areas of CPI/Maoist… The communal situation during the current year remained under control, with a decrease of 12% in communal incidents as compared to the corresponding period in 2017… Law enforcement agencies… have managed to overcome the first tide of propaganda and mobilization by Islamic State… In concerted counter-terrorism operations, Law enforcement agencies have arrested nearly 125 terrorist suspects as against 117 arrested in 2017… The new phase of Islamic State propaganda emanating from Afghanistan-Pakistan region is also being countered effectively…

The Minister further stated, in the context of J&K,

…Attempts by militants to infiltrate in large numbers, intermittent attacks by militants and efforts at local recruitment continue… The separatists also exploit every possible situation to agitate the people to fan further anti-India sentiments, which leads to law and order situation…

The Government of India (GoI) as well as respective states affected by Insurgencies in the Northeast, the Maoist belt, terrorism in J&K and in Punjab, have adopted several measures through 2018, as in the past. The Central Government also, initiated several schemes to further strengthen India’s existing internal security apparatus. On December 12, 2018, GoI disclosed that it had sanctioned the raising of six additional battalions of the Borders Security Force (BSF) on January 1, 2018. All these battalions have since been raised for deployment. A proposal to raise additional battalions in ITBP is also under consideration. Though an April 30, 2018, report stated that four new CRPF battalions with 1,148 staffs in each battalion will be raised at Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Group Centres at Neemuch, Avadi, Rangareddy and Amethi, there is no further information available in this regard. The Government, however, informed Parliament on February 12, 2019, that “at present there is no decision of the Government to raise additional battalions in Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)”. Earlier, on April 4, 2018, the Union Government informed Parliament,

To equip the security system with state-of-the-art technology in view of the increasing terrorist and Naxalite activities in the country, the Government has approved an enhanced outlay under the umbrella scheme of “Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF)” with a total outlay of Rs. 25,061 crore. Under this umbrella scheme, a sub-scheme of “Assistance to States for Modernization of Police” with an outlay of Rs. 7,380 crore has been approved for the period from 2017-18 to 2019-20. This sub-scheme is in continuation of the scheme of Modernisation of State Police Forces. Under this sub-scheme central assistance to States is provided for acquisition of security/surveillance/communication equipments, modern weaponry, forensic equipments etc.

Nevertheless, wide deficiencies persist. There has been no decisive improvement since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, after which the Government had declared its intention to bring about radical transformation. The first responders to any terrorist threat, the Police Force, remain enormously neglected. While the Police-Population ratio was 134.3 (policeman per 100000 population) as on January 2, 2009, it has crept up to an arguable 150.75 by 2017 (as on January 1, 2017, the latest data available), much lower than the a ‘desirable’ Police-population ratio of 220 per 100,000 for ‘peacetime policing’. The number of vacancies across the country in the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) has actually increased over time. On July 19, 2018, Union Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh, in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, disclosed that there were 970 vacancies in the IPS or 19.64 per cent of the total 4,940 posts. As on January 1, 2010, of 4,013 authorised posts, in the IPS, just 3,383 were in position, leaving a deficit of 16.7 per cent.

Moreover, huge vacancies persist in the entire Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), which have been increasingly used as lead counter-insurgency Forces in the country: 166,896 vacant posts as on January 1, 2017, against a sanctioned strength of 1,154,393 (actual strength: 987,497). In 2010, the total vacancies were 100,830 (sanctioned strength 874,483, actual strength 773,653).

More worryingly, the implementation lag on decisions related to security is getting longer, as underlined in a report submitted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) to the Parliament on April 5, 2018, where referring to Coastal Security Scheme Phase II (CSS II) it sated,

Ministry [Home Ministry] sanctioned (November 2010) 10 large vessels and 23 Rigid Inflatable Boats6 (RIB) to be centrally procured at a cost of Rupees 302.30 crore. These vessels were required to exercise watch and vigilance at islands and along the coast line and were to be stationed at 10 strategic locations where MOCs were being set up. Ministry floated limited tender enquiries in June 2016 for procurement of the large vessels and RIBs more than five years after approval of the scheme and finalized tenders for these vessels in December 2017. Thus, a critical component of CSS-II has been delayed for more than six years after approval and the objective of strengthening vigilance at strategic locations through regular patrolling has yet to be achieved…
Under the scheme, ten Marine Operational Centers (MOCs) were to be set up as nerve centers to undertake patrolling, raids and surveillance in remote/scattered islands. MHA suggested (November 2010) completion of all preparatory works for the MOCs by 31 March 2011… Audit noted that only one out of the ten planned MOCs could be set up and operationalized in Kadamtala. The Department attributed (November 2017) the delays to involvement of various stakeholders in the process of obtaining clearances. The reply is not tenable as there was no evidence of concerted action on the part of the Department to take advance action and actively pursue the requisite clearances.

While the SFs have been able to bring down the level of terrorism / insurgency across most of the afflicted regions over the past few years, political mischief both at State as well as the Central level has allowed threats to persist and, in some cases, escalate. The Governments lethargic approach towards capacity building remains a major impediment to sustaining and consolidating the gains secured at great cost and sacrifice.

*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

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SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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