C. Raj Kumar

There is a need to establish a Central Anti-Terrorism Commission under the PMO.

The recent acts of terror that took place in Ahmedabad and Bangalore have once again brought to the forefront the problem of terrorism that continues to take innocent lives and shows no signs of abating. Every time there is a terrorist attack, the familiarity of the policy discourse in politics and society is deeply frustrating. No doubt, terrorism undermines the human rights of people. No society that respects the rights of its people can be silent when the most fundamental right to life and liberty is violated. After this round of terrorist attacks, some politicians in India have used the phrase, “war on terror.” This is a very familiar usage by the U.S. administration and it is anybody’s guess as to how the so-called “war on terror” has failed globally. In fact, “war on drugs” failed too. The propensity to launch wars to solve problems fails to capture the importance of the problem or the need for formulating coherent legal, policy and institutional responses.

In this context, it is pertinent to recollect a global policy perspective. The U.N. Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change in its report “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility” noted: “Terrorism attacks the values that lie at the heart of the Charter of the United Nations: respect for human rights, the rule of law; rules of war that protect civilians, tolerance among peoples and nations; and the peaceful resolution of conflict. Terrorism flourishes in environments of despair, humiliation, poverty, political oppression, extremism and human rights abuse; it also flourishes in contexts of regional conflict and foreign occupation; and it profits from weak State capacity to maintain law order.” It is important for the Indian state to keep in mind all these aspects while formulating its response to terrorism.

Legal responses

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 recognising that the 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 government and 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 politics of national security should give way to political consensus for developing new mechanisms to fight terrorism. Any new mechanism should keep in mind the shared principle of governance , regardless of party in power and a responsibility to work together. There should be greater joint efforts among State governments as well as between the Central and State and governments.

Institutional reform

There is a need for establishing a new Central Anti-Terrorism Commission (CAT-COM), which should be under the Prime Minister’s Office. Fighting terrorism to establish a more stable and secure society ought to become one of the top priorities of good governance. The proposed commission ought to be an independent body to conduct investigation, prosecution, and prevention. The role and functions of the the commission should be statutorily determined. Besides the police and law enforcement officials, CAT-COM ought to have representatives from the media and the human rights community. This will ensure that there are sufficient checks and balances in the fight against terrorism and the approaches adopted to fight terror. It is important for the Central government to immediately propose a national conference to set up such a commission. The members of the commission should have sufficient representation from different regions of the country and the inputs from the States should be duly reflected in the policy reforms that need to be initiated.

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. In fact, it would be a mistake to isolate the leaders of religious communities in efforts to fight terror, as they would be able to provide the precious form of legitimacy that is necessary for any success in the fight against terror.

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. Our governments 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.