Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Combating Terrorism

The increasing terrorist attacks in India and the unprecedented outrage in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror strikes underscore the imperative need for examining the fundamental inadequacies of the country’s security systems. It is heartening that India’s political system, in a rare show of unanimity, have now supported the establishment of a National Investigation Agency (NIA) and approved tough amendments to the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
The first legislation, the NIA, headed by Radha Vinod Raju, Special Director-General of Police of Jammu and Kashmir, is free to take up terror related crimes on its own across States without getting special approval from them, though law and order is a State subject. During trafficking and counterfeit currency have also been designated as ‘scheduled crime’,that can be dealt with by the NIA. It will also have the powers to suo motu take up cases related to terrorist violence. The NIA limits the jurisdiction of the proposed agency to certain scheduled offences under seven Central Acts relating to atomic energy, unlawful activities, anti-hijacking, civil aviation safety, maritime safety, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and SAARC Terrorism Convention obligations. However, it is not like the US’s FBI in terms of its structure, size or autonomy. It is just another Central Government department dedicated only to investigating and prosecuting cases of terrorism.
The second law, the UAPA is a pack of amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. It is an attenuated Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) or the truncated Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). It makes a number of substantive and procedural changes to empower the NIA to act effectively and decisively on terrorism-related activities. The Act does not incorporate some of the provisions of the earlier law on terrorism, such as for detention in police custody for 30 days (instead of 15 days) and extension of the maximum period for filing a chargesheet to 180 days (instead of 90 days) if the court is satisfied with the report of the Public Prosecutor on delay in completing investigation. The UAPA is more significant for the procedural modifications brought about than for any substantive changes that are attempted.
Indian Legal System
The Indian legal system suffers from many inadequacies and protecting the rule of law amidst a crisis in the criminal justice system is one of many that hinder the fight against terrorism. Our law enforcement machinery has in the past used anti-terror laws as a tool for many human rights violations and also to discriminate against minorities and other marginalised sections of the society.
Any attempt to give more powers to the police and law enforcement machinery to fight terror needs to be carefully examined so that these powers are adequately provided with due checks and balances. Passing more stringent laws or, for that matter, giving more powers to the law enforcement machinery is not necessarily going to create a more secure environment. What is necessary is to have a multi-pronged systematic approach to fighting terrorism and recognising that the exercise should not undermine the basic principles of democratic governance, human rights and civil liberties.
De-politicising National Security
India is a complex society to govern. The Central as well as the State Governments have their own jurisdictions on many matters and both share the power to legislate on many subjects. It is important to recognise that continuous terrorist attacks in India have taken a heavy human toll, affected the social and economic development of the country and more seriously, undermined the democratic fabric and the governance capabilities of our society.
The role of civil society and religious communities in the fight against terror should not be underestimated. It would be foolhardy to think that the police and law enforcement machinery would be able to reach out to the entire country to create a safe and secure environment. Even the best of the intelligence gathering mechanisms will not be able to find out all the information that is sometimes needed in the fight against terrorism. The civil society needs to be empowered so that the much needed information available in the public domain regarding terror networks is shared with the police and law enforcement machinery.
The role of religious communities should be encouraged. Religious leaders can play an important role in creating a better environment in our religious institutions so that any form of ideology that advocates violence can be discouraged early.
Good Governance
Another important issue that receives less attention in the larger framework of policies to fight terrorism is related to creating secure and humane societies. The Government ought to continue to work towards eradicating poverty, reducing disparities of income and wealth, eliminating corruption and indeed formulating good governance policies.
Responses to terrorism should not result in the Government ignoring any of these problems, as it is important to create a society that respects human freedoms in all its manifestations. Since terrorism attacks this fundamental notion of human freedom, we should fight it with wholehearted commitment.
Whatever we do, we must clearly understand that in the globalised environment in which we live, no country—not even the mighty US—can wage and win a war on terror on its own. The effectiveness of our efforts will depend to a great extent on the success of our diplomacy to mobilise world support.

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