The verdict of the Global Terrorism Index 2020 (GTI) is in. While India has retained its rank as the eighth most highly impacted country from terrorism globally, it has improved significantly on several metrics. Between 2018-19, it was among the 10 countries that witnessed the largest decrease in deaths from terrorism. There has also been a 16 percent decrease in the overall economic impact of terrorism on India over the same period. According to the GTI Report, in 2019, the country saw a 20 percent reduction in deaths from terrorism and attacks in India. As compared to the other nine countries in the top 10, which had an average of 2.9 average deaths per attack in 2019, India’s average was 0.5.
Unlike other countries, the forms of terrorism in India are varied and complex. The government has identified and banned 42 terrorist organizations, Islamist, separatist, and communist in their doctrinal beliefs. The different agenda and function of these terrorist groups present an unprecedented challenge to India’s national security. According to the last report of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs, there was a significant improvement in the security situation in the country due to the containment of separatist and communist terrorist organizations. Thus, exclusively in terms of terrorism, the biggest threat to the country’s internal security comes from Islamist terrorist groups.
Of all regions in India, terrorism-induced violence and deaths are primarily seen in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) orchestrated fidayeen attack in Pulwama (a district in Kashmir) on February 14, 2019 was ranked the 17th most fatal terrorist attack in 2019, leading to the deaths of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel. The alleged Pakistani agenda of promoting militancy in the Kashmir valley since the late 1980s and the proximity of the J&K to the “global epicenter of terrorism” (to use the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ description of Pakistan), along with the lack of political will of local governments, has resulted in J&K becoming a breeding ground for terrorism.
The abrogation of the special status of J&K on August 5, 2019 led many to to speculate that there would be a substantial increase in terrorism-induced violence in the region following the decision. However, the security scenario has continued to improve from the preceding years to the extent that Doda was declared a terrorist-free district. In the year following the decision, there has been at least 30 percent drop in the number of terrorist attacks targeting civilians and the security forces, while bomb defusions and raids on terrorist hideouts have doubled. Arrests of terrorists have also increased by a factor of two.
Alongside these improving indicators, however, there has been a tremendous deterioration in the situation on the India-Pakistan Line of Control (LoC). Per reported incidents, in the year following the effective abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan initiated ceasefire violations on at least 167 occasions, an unprecedented increase. Pakistan’s alleged support for terrorists, through providing them safe harbor and finance mechanisms, in order to deploy them in a proxy war against India is unsurprising to many. So is Pakistan’s tactic of using ceasefire violations to push terrorists into Indian territory; several such bids were recently foiled by the Indian armed forces.
Since the doctrinal shift in response with the 2016 cross-LoC “surgical strikes,” India has not shied away from standing up to its adversaries. Between August and October 2020 alone, at least 16 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists were killed and 28 arrested by Indian security forces. Likewise, seven Hizbul terrorists were eliminated, and 10 were arrested. Four JeM hideouts were also busted. In the Samba district, a tunnel was detected by the security forces along the Indo-Pak LoC used for terrorist crossings and weapons smuggling. These statistics are a testament to the strength, coordination, and will of the government and the armed forces striving towards a terrorism-free India. It can be safely argued that India’s performance in the subsequent GTI will further improve.
While the government has achieved significant milestones in dealing with separatists and Naxalites, there are also some hurdles. Out of the seven terrorist attacks on civilians in J&K in the last four months, at least five were directed towards workers from the Bharatiya Janata Party. The desperation of terrorists to disrupt attempts by the Indian government to normalize the situation in the Kashmir valley is evident from such attacks.
Despite myriad ideological and operational complexities when it comes to terrorist groups active in the country, India is outperforming its peers when it comes to meeting these challenges. However, the fight against terrorism is far from over. Technological advancements and, arguably, new geopolitical alliances also bring with them new terrorist threats. India must be prepared with its military and diplomatic options to nip these threats in the bud.
Soumya Chaturvedi is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. A lawyer by education, she holds a postgraduate degree from Jindal School of International Relations and a specialization in Asia Pacific Security from University of Birmingham, UK. Her research interests include internal security, terrorism, peace and conflict studies. She has written articles for academic journals, newspapers and blogs.