Insurgencies And Terrorism In India – Analysis


India has been confronted with periodic eruptions of insurgencies and terrorism in different parts of the country since it became independent. These have had different causes—- feelings of ethnic separatism as in the tribal areas of North-East India, feelings of religious separatism as in Punjab before 1995 and in Jammu & Kashmir since 1989, feelings of economic deprivation and exploitation as in the tribal areas of Central India, feelings of injustice to the Muslim minority as in different parts of India which had seen sporadic acts of terrorism by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen and feelings of anger in sections of the majority Hindu community over the perceived inaction or ineffective action of the State against acts of terrorism by elements in the Muslim community with or without the support of Pakistan.

These insurgencies and terrorism outbreaks have had different ideological underpinnings such as the following:

  • A belief that the tribal and other people of the North-East in states such as Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam are ethnically different from the people in other parts of India.
  • A conviction that their different religion ( Sikhism in the case of Punjab and Islam in the case of some sections of the people of J&K) gives them the right to have a separate status as compared to the people in other parts of India, who are largely Hindus.
  • A belief that only by following the Marxist/Maoist ideology can one end the economic deprivation and exploitation of the poor tribals in central India by non-tribals.
  • A belief that the Indian criminal justice system is unfair to the Muslims in other parts of India.
  • A conviction among some elements in the Hindu community that since the State has not been able to deal effectively with acts of terrorism by sections of the Muslim community they have to defend themselves by indulging in acts of retaliation against the Muslims.

The problem has been complicated by the past attempts of China to use the Marxist/Maoist oriented insurgents/terrorists to serve its own strategic agenda and by the continuing attempts of Pakistan to use jihadi terrorists of different kinds in J &K and other parts of India to serve its strategic agenda. China and Pakistan have a common agenda of wanting to keep India weak and unstable. Pakistan also has the additional agenda of wanting to create a divide between the Muslims and the Hindus and annexe the State of J&K where the Muslims are in a majority in certain areas like the Valley.

While the Chinese support to the Marxist/Maoist insurgents/terrorists has stopped after 1979, the Pakistani support to the jihadi terrorists has continued in different parts of India. The Pakistani support is influenced by different motives such as a desire to force a change in the status quo in J&K, create a polarization between the Hindu and Muslim communities in other parts of India and to slow down the economic development of India.

Its desire to change the status quo in J&K has resulted in a continuous insurgency situation in the State since 1989, which is now showing signs of some improvement. Its attempt to create a polarization between the Muslims and the Hindus in other parts of India has been reflected in the sporadic acts of jihadi terrorism in different parts of India. Its desire to use terrorism to slow down the economic development of India has led to three acts of mass casualty terrorism in Mumbai, the economic capital of India—-in March 1993, July 2006 and November, 2008. These incidents resulted in fatalities of more than a hundred. There have been other acts of jihadi terrorism sponsored by Pakistan in Mumbai, but they resulted in fatalities of less than a hundred.

Of all the threats of insurgency/terrorism faced by India, the most persistent and the most difficult to control has been the Maoist insurgency/ terrorism in the tribal areas of Central India, which have not benefited from the rapid economic progress of the rest of India and where the State has not been able to deal effectively with the persisting evils of lack of economic development, exploitation of the poor tribals by non-tribals and social injustice.

The result has been a growing support for the terrorists/insurgents from sections of the local tribal population. The justified anger of the tribal population has been sought to be exploited by Marxist/Maoist ideologues in order to create and sustain a Maoist style rural uprising to achieve political power. They have convinced themselves that unless they achieve political power through such an uprising, they will not be able to deal effectively with the problems faced by the poor tribals.

The State is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the Marxist/Maoist insurgency/terrorism due to a lack of a coherent strategy. It has created a large and increasingly well-equipped para-military force to deal with the insurgency/terrorism, but has not been able to reverse the tide of anger of the exploited tribals. A coherent strategy has to address simultaneously the questions of security as well as economic development. There cannot be better security without development and there cannot be better development without security. How to ensure both—better security and better development—is a question to which a satisfactory answer has not been found. In the meanwhile, the insurgency/terrorism continues and has even been expanding.

The next threat in order of seriousness has been that posed by jihadi terrorists—- indigenous elements as well as Pakistanis belonging to different organizations based in Pakistan, which were born during the US-inspired operations of the Afghan Mujahideen — trained by a triumvirate of the US, Pakistani and Saudi intelligence agencies— against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan post-1988, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which continues to fund, motivate, train, arm and co-ordinate them— diverted them to India to serve its strategic agenda against India. It initially used them in J&K, where it continues to do so and has been using them in other parts of India since 1993. Indian security agencies have been able to deal with the jihadi terrorists—the indigenous kind as well as those from Pakistan— more effectively than with the Marxist/Maoists because the jihadi terrorists have not been able to get the kind of local support that the Marxists/Maoists have been able to get.

While the violence in J&K did assume the proportions of an insurgency similar to the Marxist/Maoist insurgency in the 1990s, the jihadi terrorism in the rest of India has remained sporadic and not sustained. The failure of the jihadis to win local support was illustrated in J & K by the large voter turn-out in the last elections and in the rest of the country by the failure of the jihadis to drive a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim communities and to disrupt the economic progress of India. India has managed to achieve and maintain a GDP growth rate of 7 per cent plus despite the desperate efforts of Pakistan to disrupt India’s economic development by using the jihadis.

The lack of local support for the Pakistan-sponsored jihadis is also dramatically illustrated by the failure of Al Qaeda to develop any following in the Indian Muslim community—either in J&K or in other States. India has the world’s third largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan. The Indian Muslim community has kept away from Al Qaeda and its ideology.

The Indian counter-terrorism strategy has been more coherent when it comes to dealing with jihadi terrorism than it has been in dealing with Marxist/Maoist insurgency/terrorism. The Army has the leadership role in dealing with the threats from jihadi terrorism in J&K, while the police has the leadership role in other States.


The active interest taken by the State and civil society in identifying and addressing the problems of the Muslim minority has helped in preventing an aggravation of the sense of alienation among some sections of the Muslims. The easier availability of modern education to the Muslims of India as compared to the inadequate availability to the Muslims of Pakistan has prevented many of the Indian Muslims from gravitating to the madrasas, which are Muslim educational institutions often kept running by the flow of funds from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai by a group of sea-borne terrorists of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) exposed certain weaknesses in the Indian counter-terrorism machinery such as an inadequate capability for the collection of preventive intelligence, poor state of physical security in sensitive infrastructure and an inadequate rapid response mechanism.

P. Chidambaram, who took over as the Home Minister of the Government of India after the 26/11 terrorist strikes, has considerably revamped the counter-terrorism machinery and improved co-ordination. Counter-terrorism co-operation between India and the US has improved to the benefit of India. The US pressure on Pakistan to stop using terrorism against India has not yet had the kind of impact that India would have liked to see, but has apparently made the Pakistani agencies more cautious in their operations against India.

A beneficial fall-out of this has been seen in the fact that barring two terrorist strikes of medium intensity in Pune and Benares, there has been no major act of jihadi terrorism since 26/11. It was also seen in the success of the security arrangements made by the Indian agencies for two major sports events— the Commonwealth Games of October 2010 in New Delhi and the World Cup cricket tournament which was spread all over the country in February-March, 2011.

Any counter-terrorism campaign against jihadi terrorism cannot be fully effective unless the State of Pakistan is made to give up the use of terrorism as a strategic weapon against India. There are no indications of any change of Pakistani thinking and tactics in this regard despite the obvious restraint that it has been observing since 26/11 because of the exposure of the role of the ISI in the 26/11 strikes by the intelligence agencies of both India and the US.

A policy-mix of incentives and disincentives designed and executed separately and in tandem by India and the US is required. The initiatives taken by our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to improve State-to-State relations with Pakistan despite the persisting public anger in India over the ISI’s role in the 26/11 terrorist strikes are designed to create such an incentive. The continued flow of US economic and military assistance to Pakistan despite mounting evidence of the involvement of the ISI in fomenting terrorism not only in India but also in Afghanistan is also designed to wean Pakistan away from the use of terrorism.

While incentives have been plenty, disincentives —whether by India or the US—have been very few. The Pakistani Army and the ISI continue to think that they can get away with the use of terrorism—whether in India or in Afghanistan. They have calculated more rightly than wrongly that because of Pakistan’s strategic location and its importance for maintaining homeland security in the US, Washington will not entertain any serious option of disincentives and will not allow India to embark on such a policy either.

This leaves India with an unpleasant dilemma. Should it embark on a policy of disincentives on its own in disregard of US concerns and feelings? If it does, will it be effective in view of the growing US military and intelligence presence in Pakistan ? If it embarks on a policy of disincentives, what impact that will have on the peace initiatives of the Prime Minister? Would it be advisable to continue to exercise patience in order to give the incentives a chance to be effective? These are questions which are being continuously debated by Indian analysts and policy-makers without coherent answers being found.

In India, we tend to be over-critical and negative. We keep criticising ourselves and our police all the time. We are given to chest-beating about our so-called failures. We tend to forget that our track record against terrorism and insurgencies is not bad at all. We have had success stories in Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. We are not doing too badly in Jammu & Kashmir and in the fight against jihadi terrorism in other parts of India. Our record against the Maoist insurgency has been above average in Andhra Pradesh and poor in the other States affected by it.

The terrorists and insurgents have had some spectacular tactical successes to their credit— the explosion on board the Kanishka aircraft of Air India in June 1985, the three acts of mass casualty terrorism in Mumbai and the Dantewada massacre of 76 policemen by the Maoists etc. But since India became independent in 1947, the terrorists and insurgents have not scored any notable strategic success. Strategically, the Indian State and its security set-up have ultimately prevailed despite the tactical set-backs. They never allowed fatigue to set in. Fatigue ultimately set in among the ranks of the terrorists and insurgents and not in the ranks of the State. We have never conceded the illegitimate strategic demands of the terrorists and insurgents even though we might have conceded their tactical demands on occasions as happened during the aircraft hijacking at Kandahar in December, 1999. This is a unique record of which India and Indians ought to be proud.

Let us by all means criticise our police, our intelligence agencies, other security agencies and the political class. They have much to answer for. But let us take care not to allow over-criticism to create defeatism. That is what Pakistan and its terrorist organisations want. We should not play into their hands.

An ideal State would not allow the phenomenon of terrorism or insurgency to appear in its midst. But once it appears it takes a long time for the police and other security agencies to deal with it. A study of terrorism and insurgencies around the world would indicate that it takes around 15 to 20 years to deal with the menace. In India too, we have taken the same time. Once we are faced with terrorism or insurgency, we need a lot of patience to deal with the menace. Impatience will prove counter-productive. It could make the police and other security forces over-react, thereby aggravating the problem.

Let us maintain our capabilities and keep improving them. Let us be sensitive to the demands, grievances and anger of our citizens. Let us be firm but not inflexible in dealing with Pakistan. Let us be patient whether while dealing with the terrorists or with Pakistan. We will prevail in the end. Let there be no doubt about it in anybody’s mind—in India or abroad.

(Written at the request of the Editor of “RISK”, an Italian Journal)

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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