Post the Pulwama terrorist strike on 14 February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that the lives lost in the attack would not go in vain. Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons called for revenge. Rahul Gandhi while criticising intelligence lapses lent support to government action. He also pulled a rabbit out of his hat by announcing the appointment of Lt. Gen Hooda (Rtd) to head a task force on national security.
A survey of public opinion by India Today TV channel on 22 February indicated that 36 per cent want war, 23 per cent surgical strikes, 18 per cent covert operations against the JeM terrorist outfit and 15 per cent were for isolating Pakistan globally. However, intelligentsia, defense analysts and former diplomats did not suggest war as a first option.
Long term terrorism prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be answered by war; options other than war need to be vigorously pursued. The Indian paramilitary forces such as CRPF, BSF, Indo- Tibetan Border Police, Central Industrial Security Force, SSB and the National Security Guard are nearly 800,000 in strength. This is apart from the Jammu and Kashmir state civil and armed police battalions. If only 20 per cent of this state police strength is trained in anti-insurgency operations, the fight against terrorism will be half won. Its fight can be supported by specially trained CRPF and other forces. In the state of A.P and Telangana, a specialized Greyhounds armed unit was able to control Maoism in its worst form.
The basic police functions should improve vastly in the country. One cannot handle the superstructure of terrorism without improving the basic police functions such as collection of actionable intelligence, preventive police action, honest investigation, prompt arrests and remand, effective prosecution and conviction. It is reported that several of the separatist leaders are facing investigation for grave crimes without ever being convicted. Yasin Malik was charged for murderous attack on Air Force officers in 1990. Shabir Shah was belatedly arrested in 2017 in a decade-old money laundering case. Their prosecution and convictions have not progressed. Scores of cases of terrorist financing are also reportedly pending trial. Handling terrorism is part of the total criminal justice system. It cannot be looked at in isolation. Efficiency cannot be proportional to more companies, equipment and funds. The most needed equipment of police is honesty and professionalism of a high order. At the same time, a hike in their pay and allowances is the need of the hour. Similarly, bullet-proof jackets should be provided to the security forces. There needs to be a small percentage of reservation in government employment for families of the police and security forces who lost their lives or limb in fighting terrorism.
The Indian political class is notorious for misuse of power or for not exercising such power when required without accountability. It should not politicise terrorism as it often does with regard to handling of crime and corruption. The poisonous game has already started when political opposition alleged that the PM had prior knowledge of Pulwama terror attack but failed to check it for political gains. At the same time, success of air strikes cannot be advertised to derive political mileage. A responsible government needs to be accountable for the safety of the life and property of citizens more so of its police and army men who are visible symbols of state authority. Crime, terrorism, corruption (related subjects) need to be discussed and action-taken spelt out in periodic Cabinet meetings. These meetings or the meetings of state administrative council as in the case of J&K need to take into account the views of State law officers and D.G.P on the prevailing situation. There needs to be greater transparency in such meetings.
Terrorist outfits which are based in Pakistan are valuable non-state assets for it in its proxy war against the Indian state. We therefore need stronger laws like POTA 2002, unlike the present Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 which was diluted during the UPA II rule with an eye on the vote bank. Presumption of guilt (not innocence) needs to be the rule of evidence in terrorist offences.
The Supreme Court and High Court of Jammu and Kashmir need to undertake “surgical strikes” on the crumbling criminal justice system, particularly those related to terrorist offences. Prioritising their trial, faster trials and deterrent punishments are called for. Over the decades and over and above the criminal legal texts (law of procedure and evidence), the Supreme Court evolved jurisprudential principles which hit millions of victims hard. The jurisprudential principles such as ‘justice hurried is justice buried’ let hundreds of accused go scot-free instead of a single innocent getting convicted. Benefit of doubt, proof beyond all reasonable doubt, hard evidence, conclusive proof, interim bail etc. have destroyed the rate of conviction in the criminal justice system. Justice O. Chinappa Reddy, a renowned retired Judge of Supreme Court denounced these principles as hurting the criminal justice system.
The Supreme Court according to media reports of 23 February was asked by Jammu and Kashmir government to shift seven Pakistani “undertrials” to Delhi’s Tihar jail as they were found to be indulging in anti-national activities and threatening witnesses. Witness protection is key to successful prosecution. An efficient working of criminal justice system and field operations need to go hand in hand. Similarly, periodic surgical strikes are to be undertaken by government to get rid of sloth, inaction, inefficiency and corruption in the establishment handling crime, terrorism and national security.
No one owns responsibility or faces punishment – minor or major. It is said that the devil lies in the details. There was intelligence failure at the state police level. The CRPF motor convoy was also moving without leadership and direction. Those in rear vehicles could have waved off the IED laden car from following the convoy and followed this up with a burst of gunfire at the target. Apprehension of threat to life is an adequate ground to open fire. The DG, CRPF or the local CRPF commandant was not even questioned on this, much less removed from their posts. War is not a solution for terrorist misadventure. Time is not ripe for war. It is necessary to set our house in order to deal with terrorism, crime and corruption, all of which are interrelated. The intelligence agencies, police, prosecutors, the courts all need to share the blame.
(The writer is a retired Inspector-General of Police and a commentator)