Author: Tony Davis

1        Political & Security Context

1.1            Summary of Contemporary Terrorism in India

The challenge of terrorism that has confronted India in the post-independence era has arguably been more complex, sustained and destructive than that faced by any other liberal democratic order in the same period. Reflecting India’s size, ethnic and religious diversity, and the perennially toxic nature of south Asian geo-politics, terrorism in some shape or form is less a recent aberration than a constantly mutating norm.

The South Asian Terror Portal (SATP) has listed some 180 terrorist groups that have operated within India over the last 20 years, many of them co-listed as transnational terror networks operating in or from neighbouring South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.

Terrorism in the contemporary Indian context can be seen as falling into three essentially distinct but occasionally overlapping categories: terrorism employed by ethno-nationalist   movements seeking either greater autonomy or statehood in the federal structure of the Indian Union or complete separation from it; terrorism used by left-wing extremist movements seeking a fundamental overturning of the nation’s capitalist economic order and liberal democracy; and, thirdly, terrorism driven by religious ideologies.

Most salient among India’s religious divides has been that that between Hindus and Muslims that in the wrenching 1947 Partition of British India defined the birth both of modern India as a secular polity and of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland. It was a partition that was to leave within India a Muslim minority that today — at 165 million or around 13 percent of the national population — is among the largest Muslim populations world-wide after those of Indonesia and Pakistan itself.

The trauma first of Partition and then almost immediately of war over the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir sowed the seeds of an abiding enmity between India and Pakistan that to date has provoked three conventional wars and is now overshadowed by a nuclear stand-off. It has been an enmity which has also profoundly influenced the nature and scope of the terrorist threat confronting India. From 1947 onwards Pakistan has seldom missed an opportunity to use proxy actors to foment or exacerbate religious, social and ethnic divides within its larger, more powerful neighbor. Pakistan’s strategy of waging a war of attrition by proxy has blurred the line between terrorism and insurgency to a degree that is unique in the context of liberal democracies.

Against this regional backdrop India has confronted several concerted terrorist campaigns since Independence. Arguably the first of these was the violence associated with the radical communist Naxalite movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Following a March 1967 peasant uprising in Naxalbari in Darjeeling district of West Bengal, terrorist violence spread across the state – and in  particular the state capital of Calcutta — and  north India more broadly .

Since the eruption of Naxalite movement in the late 1960s, left-wing extremism and its terrorist manifestations have posed an almost continuous internal security challenge to the India state. In the 1980s and 1990s left-wing terror morphed into the threat posed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, better known as the People’s War Group (PWG). Centred in western Maharashtra and south-eastern Andhra Pradesh states, but extending into Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, PWG violence targeted local police and administration in rural areas as well as state-level politicians.

In this century, the 2004 merger of the PWG with the northern, Bihar-based Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) gave birth to the Communist Party of India (Maoist) which stepped up its activities across a wide swath of south-central and northern India. In 2006 it was described by then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as “the single biggest internal security challenge” facing the country.

That said, the dogmatically Maoist ideology of the party has dictated a strategy of armed struggle based on rural guerrilla warfare leading to the creation of ‘liberated zones’ and a unformed People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA). Drawing primarily on a tribal support base in the forests of central India – notably in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkand, and northern Andhra Pradesh – PLGA guerrillas have occasionally inflicted heavy casualties on police and para-military forces. Having developed considerable expertise in the production of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Maoists have also sabotaged railway tracks in several states. (On one occasion in 2010 an attack in West Bengal resulted in the death of 141 passengers when derailed carriages of a passenger train were hit by a goods train speeding in the opposite direction.) However, as a matter of policy the CPI-Maoist has consistently eschewed mass casualty attacks on civilian targets and to this extent falls outside the scope of this survey.

Naxalite terrorism targeted specifically on individual ‘class enemies’ and ‘anti-people’ politicians paled into insignificance when set against the brutal and protracted terrorist campaign waged by the Khalistan movement, centred on Punjab. Between 1981 and 1995 almost 21,000 people died (1) in a campaign aimed ostensibly at achieving secession from the Indian Union for an independent Sikh homeland in the northwest that notionally covered the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan with its capital in Chandigarh or Amritsar.

Simmering violence exploded following the Indian Army’s June 1984 assault on militants holed up in the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar. Operation Blue Star prompted the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in October which, in turn, triggered an orgy of anti-Sikh communal rioting and slaughter in Delhi and several other cities which, according to official figures, left at least 2,732 dead. Prosecuted by a clutch of Sikh terrorist groups, the Khalistan campaign degenerated rapidly into essentially nihilistic terrorism involving repeated indiscriminate massacres of Hindus on buses and trains in Punjab, along with occasional bombings and assassinations of senior officials and moderate Sikh leaders.

Intimately linked to the Sikh diaspora in North America and Europe. Khalistani terrorism also brought the one of the world’s first mass-casualty aviation attacks: the June 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182, a Boeing 747 which was brought down over the Atlantic with the loss of all 329 lives. By the time the Khalistan movement was crushed in an often controversial police-led campaign of counter-terrorism in the early 1990s, increased arms support from Pakistan to the terrorists had effectively blurred the lines between terrorism and insurgency: for a period, terrorists armed with assault rifles, light machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades effectively outgunned the state police.

The tapering off of the Khalistan campaign overlapped with the rekindling of conflict in Kashmir. Against a backdrop of significant popular support from the bitterly disaffected majority Muslim population, the Kashmir revolt aimed at securing either the independence of Kashmir or its accession to Pakistan and began in 1989. Fanned by generous logistical support from a Pakistani military eager to replicate the success of the anti-Soviet jihad it had supported in Afghanistan, hostilities escalated sharply in the early 1990s and continued for the rest of the decade.

Assuming an increasingly Islamist animus as the result of Pakistani support to jihadist factions, the conflict unfolded as a guerrilla insurgency punctuated by explicitly terrorist massacres targeted against Hindu pilgrims and Sikh communities.  Between 1989 and the end of 2016 over 44,000 had been killed. (2)

Similarly blurred lines between terrorism and insurgency have characterized ethno-nationalist and tribal conflicts in India’s troubled northeast. Of the region’s seven states the most volatile in recent decades have been Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. Militant organizations in these states have generally aspired to wage popularly- supported guerrilla struggles in pursuit of autonomy or separation from India. Larger factions such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) have raised uniformed guerrilla forces and sought to purchase large quantities of weapons on the regional arms market. Predictably they have also benefited at various times from financial and training support and safe havens extended by Pakistan, China, and, depending on the government of the day, by Bangladesh.

At the same time, several groups – most notably ULFA and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), a Christian faction active in districts of Assam north of the Brahmaputra River — have staged repeated terrorist bombings and indiscriminate small-arms fire attacks on markets, trains and other civilian targets. In some cases these have resulted in significant casualty tolls.

By contrast with tribal violence in the remote northeast, Islamist terrorism targeted squarely on the cities of the India’s heartlands has gained far greater salience both domestically and internationally.  In this context, one event wholly uninfluenced by Pakistan can be defined as having acted as a critical catalyst.

On 6 December 1992 following weeks of mounting tension a mob of radical Hindus zealots associated with the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)  finally demolished the centuries old Babri Mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya. Built by the Moghul emperor Babur, the mosque had earlier, according to a hard-line Hindu narrative, been the site of a temple to the Hindu god Rama. In short, it had become a defining flashpoint for the Subcontinent’s primary religious divide, a rift exacerbated by a rising tide of Hindu nationalist populism impacting Indian electoral politics.

The demolition of the mosque was followed by weeks of murderous communal rioting across northern and central India with casualties rising to an official estimate of 1,200 dead. The nation’s commercial capital of Mumbai bore the brunt of the violence in two distinct waves. Initial rioting by Muslims incensed over the demolition flared in December; then in January 1993 a Hindu backlash against Muslim communities in the city left some 900 Muslims dead.

The worst communal violence since Independence triggered a terrorist response carried out by Mumbai’s Muslim- dominated mafia and specifically the so-called ‘D Company’ of Daoud Ibrahim Kaskar and his lieutenants. Th ‘D Company’ operatives enjoyed the logistical support of the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). On 12 March 1993 fifteen bombs exploded across multiple prominent locations in Mumbai. Leaving 257 dead and 713 wounded, this onslaught marked the worst urban terror attack in Indian history up to that date and the world’s first experience of co-ordinated terrorist bombings targeted on a single urban area. It also opened the floodgate to two decades of high-casualty urban terror attacks.

A decade after the 1993 Mumbai bombings an already strained situation was further exacerbated by a similar dynamic involving widespread communal violence triggering a terrorist response.  In early 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms swept western Gujarat state. They were triggered by a 27 February fire on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims back from Ayodhya, site of the demolished Babri Mosque. While controversy persists as to whether the fire was set spontaneously or stemmed from a “pre-planned conspiracy” by local Muslims, 59 people were burned to death near the town of Godhra, where the train had stopped.  The deaths triggered another wave of anti-Muslim communal rioting erupting across several major urban centres of the state. Senior elements of the state government, run by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and local police were allegedly complicit in well-organised attacks by Hindu extremists on communities and mosques which, according to official figures, resulted in the deaths of 790 Muslims. Clashes also left 254 Hindus dead with another 2,500 people of both faiths injured.

The Gujarat pogroms added further fuel to a wave of terror attacks first by young Islamist extremists associated with the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which was finally proscribed in 2002; and later by its avowedly terrorist off-shoot the Indian Mujahideen (IM). Predictably, logistical, financial and training support was again forthcoming from Pakistan. The most horrific of these attacks was undoubtedly the co-ordinated bomb attacks on commuter trains in Mumbai in March 2006 which killed 189 and wounded around 700.

A critical component of the threat posed by radicalized Muslim youth associated with SIMI and IM were two Pakistan-based jihadist organizations that had emerged from the insurgencies that wracked Afghanistan and more importantly Kashmir in the 1980s and 1990s: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT or Army of the Pure) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM /Army of Muhammad).

Both groups operated openly in Pakistan recruiting mainly in Pakistani Punjab for the jihad in Kashmir. That conflict and the role of Let, JeM and other groups flowed almost seamlessly from the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan and reflected the extent to which jihad as a one of the five pillars of Islam had both become embedded in the ideological underpinnings of the Pakistan Army while at the same time resonating through wide swathes of conservative Pakistani society beyond.  With the tacit support of the military’s ISI both groups ran guerrillas training camps in what in India is known as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and in Pakistan as Azad (Free) Kashmir.

Of the two, LeT and its civilian wing Markaz Dawah wa’l Irshad (later Jamaat ud Dawah)  based at Muridke outside Lahore remains the larger, the more influential and the further-reaching with cells in as many as 18 countries. In terms of the threat of terrorism in India its role has been multi-faceted but never far from the guiding hand of ISI and central to the low-intensity proxy war waged by Pakistan’s military aimed at keeping India off-balance and destabilized.

At one level, LeT has been an independent actor capable of deploying trained Pakistani nationals to execute guerrilla-style ‘fedayeen’ attacks first within Kashmir and then against both civilian and military targets deep in the Indian heartland. The assault on Delhi’s iconic Red Fort in 2000 by Let-affiliated individuals (see below) was an early example of this species of terrorism. It was dwarfed by the sea-borne assault by 10 LeT gunmen on targets across Mumbai in November 2008 — an operation in which the guiding hand of an ISI control has been well established.

LeT also played a key role in the training of disaffected or suborned Indian Muslim citizens in its POK camps. These recruits, in many cases former members of SIMI, usually travelled covertly to Pakistan via Gulf states, Iran, Bangladesh or Nepal. Having undergone training in guerrilla field craft and demolition and bomb-making techniques, they then returned to India by similarly indirect routes avoiding tell-tale Pakistani visas in their passports. Participation in terrorist attacks in India might follow months or even years later, on some occasions undertaken independently and on others with assistance from Pakistani operatives who had entered India covertly (frequently through Nepal) to provide support and guidance.

In this context of jihadi terrorism conducted in the shadow of the Subcontinent’s nuclear stand-off, various lines have blurred: those between domestically- and internationally-driven terrorism; between guerrilla warfare and terrorism; and between conventional and unconventional warfare.

1.2            International terrorism

To date the ‘internationalization’ of terrorism in India has occurred only insofar as the Pakistani military and Pakistani jihadist groups it has supported have worked to exploit and exacerbate India’s own religious and ethnic fissures. It is important to note that up to the present neither of the world’s two most potent Islamist terrorist franchises, al Qaeda (AQ) and so-called Islamic State (IS) has yet succeeded in gaining any serious traction among disaffected Indian Muslim youth. This despite the fact that in September 2014, impelled by the rising fortunes of IS, AQ launched a jihadist franchise targeted specifically on South Asia and in particular India, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), led by an Uttar Pradesh-born Indian, Asim Umar.

By comparison with other important regional AQ franchises notably AQ in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and AQ in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), AQIS has been notably ineffective inside India. The same to date has been true of IS. The IS call to join the struggle in Syria and Iraq has which has attracted a strikingly miniscule number of less than 100 Indian citizens from a Muslim population of 165 mill. In the cases of both AQIS and IS, it would appear that Pakistan and Bangladesh have provided more fertile ground for recruitment.

1.3            Current Terrorism Threats to India

1.3.1       Nature of the threats today

India’s primary terrorist threat remains, as it has been since the turn of the century, the jihadist challenge. Over recent years this has evolved into an essentially three-pronged phenomenon.


One facet involves cross- border ‘fedayeen’-style attacks. Carried out by groups such as LeT and JeM which enjoy a close relationship with Pakistan’s military establishment these operations target security force installations along the international frontier and Line of Control (LOC)  and indeed deeper inside Kashmir. Begun in the mid-1990s with LeT’s strategy of ‘fedayeen’ assaults in Kashmir, such attacks have been evident as recently as September 2016 when LeT operatives stormed an Indian Army base at Uri close to the Kashmir Line of Control (LOC), killing 18 Indian soldiers; and in late November 2016 when another army base at Nagrota near the state’s summer capital of Jammu was attacked.

A second prong consists of terror attacks – typically bombings —  by disaffected Indian Muslim youth from groups such as the IM who enjoy connectivity with and training, logistical and, potentially, operational support from Pakistan.

In both cases the potential for terrorist strikes raises a fundamental question which has troubling implications for the security of the South Asian region as a whole and to which the answer to which is far from clear: to what extent do Pakistan-based groups operate with the connivance and support of ISI and to what extent do they operate on their own initiative? In other words, is Pakistan in full control of its jihadi proxies. As noted by two American analysts in a recent article:

If a new high-casualty terrorist attack occurs in India, especially in the heartland, a Modi government will be pressed to retaliate more dramatically than before. This, in turn, will put enormous pressure on Rawalpindi (i.e. Pakistan Army headquarters) to escalate in kind…”

A third and, to date at least, a far less threatening prong of the jihadist menace is posed by disaffected Muslim self-starters inspired by IS’s global call for attacks on targets of opportunity.

What appeared to be the first instances of this threat surfaced in early March 2017 with an attack deploying a fairly crude, low-intensity IED – an ammonium nitrate-based pipe-bomb — on train running between the cities of Bhopal and Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh state which wounded 10 people. According to police, the cell involved had been radicalized on-line by IS propaganda; had acquired weapons and explosives locally; and intended the train bombing as a “trial run” for more ambitious attacks. The cell was swiftly broken up with the group’s leader shot dead three days after the bombing during a police raid on a house in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, where a hand-painted IS-style flag was found. Six other suspects were later arrested in Madhya Pradesh.

In notable contrast to other IS-linked attacks in the Sub-continent such as the July 2016 café attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh, or the March 2017 attack on the military hospital in Kabul by IS-Khorasan militants, the train bombing passed entirely without mention from the IS media outlet Amaq suggesting there had been no connectivity between the cell and the IS parent organization.

Given the reverses being suffered by IS in the Middle East and the current difficulties of traveling to join the group, it is difficult to see the Ujjain train bombing as marking the beginning of a new wave of dispersed, IS-inspired terrorism in India. That said, over the medium-long term, ensuring the political and economic inclusion of India’s Muslim minority will be a critical challenge for both central and state governments. This will be the case particularly in states run by the Hindu-nationalist BJP, a party with no shortage of rabble-rousing, Muslim-baiting politicians in its ranks.

Residual Khalistan Terror

The Khalistan terror campaign of the 1980s and early 1990s was convincingly defeated. Nevertheless, Khalistan-inspired terrorism fanned by elements in Europe. North America and Pakistan poses a perennial if relatively minor challenge. Arrests at various locations in August 2016 involved three operatives of the Khalistan Zindabad Force, allegedly under instructions from Khalistani exiles in the UK, Belgium and Pakistan, to assess prospects for reviving the movement and carry out “disruptive activities”.

In November 2016 a Khalistan Liberation Force Leader, Harminder Singh Mintoo was freed from a high-security facility at Nabha, Punjab, in a dramatic jail break that underscored the connections between Khalistani terrorism and well-armed local organized crime. Harminder Singh, who in late 2014 had been extradited from Thailand, was re-arrested in Delhi the following day.

Northeastern Terrorism

Equally terrorism remains a persistent threat in India’s northeast where multiple groups remain active, many of them riven by internal factional squabbles. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland is arguably the most vicious faction in terms of its targeting of civilians.  Muslims and Adivasi tribals, who arrived in Assam from from Bihar and Jharkand states in the colonial period to work the tea plantations, have been targets of choice. A December 2014 attack by NDFB gunman slaughtered 79 Adivasi tribals across three districts. The massacre prompted a major Army response, ‘Operation All Out’, which reduced the NDFB considerably; but underscored the extent to which in the Northeast counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency have become all but indistinguishable.

In addition to massacres and occasional bombings, northeastern terrorism has been also been exacerbated by a relatively new cross-border threat in the form of a new alliance of ethnic factions based in ungoverned space in northwestern Myanmar (Burma). In April 2015 four factions – ULFA, NSCN-K, NDFB and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) established the so-called United Liberation Front of West Southeast Asia (UNLF-WS). In the months following its creation, the umbrella grouping staged several cross-border attacks into Manipur and Nagaland killing Indian security forces and prompting a June 2015 heli-borne raid by Indian commandos on two camps inside Myanmar. The emergence of the UNLF-WS marked the first time that such a broad alliance of disparate groups had been formally set up and does not bode well for stability along India’s far-flung northeastern border.

1.3.2       Previous Significant Terrorist attacks.

A full list of terrorist attacks between 1993 and 2017 can be found in Appendix 1.

2       The Architecture of Indian Counter-Terrorism

2.1            Stakeholders in Indian CT

Given India’s sheer size and federal structure a multiplicity of actors is involved, directly and indirectly in the CT mission. These include importantly:

Union Government organizations and services

National Security Council.

Established in 1998 and headed by the National Security Advisor, the NSC is the apex body advising the Prime Minister’s Office on matters of national security and strategic interest including importantly terrorist threats. The heads of leading agencies tasked with counter-terrorism, notably the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing and the National Technical Research Organisation, all answer directly to the National Security Advisor. In addition to the National Security Advisor and his deputy, the NSC — which meets on at least a monthly basis — also includes representatives of the ministers of Defence, Home Affairs, External Affairs, and Finance.

Strategic Policy Group

The Strategic Policy Group serves effectively as the decision-making and operational nucleus of the NSC. It includes the heads of India’s most important defence and security ministries, services and agencies, not least those tasked with the counter-terrorism.

Joint Intelligence Committee

Part of the Secretariat of the National Security Council, the JIC is tasked with analysing intelligence data from the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, the Defence Intelligence Agency, and the Directorates of Military, Naval and Air Intelligence.

National Security Advisory Board

Composed of distinguished personalities from outside government, the National Security Advisory Board which meets monthly brings together a wide range of expertise in matters of security and defence. The body is intended to provide the NSC with ‘big-picture’ analysis of, and long-term recommendations for security policy, almost certainly including policy on counter-terrorism.  The NSAB has been criticized, however, as tending to reflect the ideological biases of the government of the day and lacks direct access to key operational agencies.

Intelligence Bureau (IB)

Tracing its roots to the colonial period, the IB stands as the nodal agency for domestic counter-terrorism in India. Its director (DIB) is the most senior police officer in the country outranking all state-level police chiefs or heads of para-military Central Armed Police Forces. Always drawn from the cadre of the Indian Police service (IPS), he answers directly to the Minister for Home Affairs.

IB’s Operations Wing is the represents the organisation’s cutting edge and is headed by a Director-General Operations (DG Ops). Deputies or ‘Special Directors’ are responsible for various aspects of internal security and major regions of the country. DG Ops and his deputies liaise with both IB’s own bureaus at state-level as well as state-level police Anti-Terrorism Squads (ATS).

Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

Set up in 1968 following intelligence failures surrounding the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, RAW took over foreign intelligence collection and analysis which had earlier been the remit of IB.  As India’s primary external intelligence service, its key responsibilities include the collection and analysis of intelligence on terrorist threats emanating from beyond the nation’s borders. The RAW is headed by a Secretary (Research) in the Cabinet Secretariat, who answers to the Prime Minister and reports on a daily basis to the National Security Advisor.  Two Special Secretaries and a number Additional Secretaries are responsible for foreign intelligence processed through regional and country desks headed by Joint Secretaries. The RAW runs stations in Indian diplomatic missions in many countries with a predictable emphasis on Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

National Investigation Agency (NIA)

Emerging directly from the intelligence weaknesses surrounding the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, the NIA was established later the same year with the passing by parliament of the National Investigation Agency Bill. Unlike other point agencies involved in the CT mission, notably IB and RAW, the NIA is dedicated exclusively to the terrorism threat and is empowered to conduct investigations into terrorist incidents and conspiracies across India’s states and union territories.  Following an amendment to National Investigation Agency Act (2008) it also conducts investigations into offenses surrounding the smuggling of fake Indian currency into the country which has been identified as a serious threat to India’s monetary stability. The NIA does not, however, recruit or run its own intelligence assets.


National Technical Research Organisation

Set up in 2004, The NTRO is India’s pre-eminent technical intelligence gathering agency. Answering to the National Security Adviser in the Prime Minister’s Office, as of May 2017 the NTRO has been listed by the Home Ministry as on a par with the RAW and IB under the Intelligence Organisations (Restrictions of Rights) Act of 1985. Described as a “super-feeder” for technical intelligence to other agencies, the organisation’s activities are centred on the technologically sophisticated realms of internet monitoring, telephone intercepts, cyber security, cryptology and satellite surveillance.

Aviation Research Centre

The ARC is part of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and is tasked with aerial surveillance, photo reconnaissance, imagery intelligence (IMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) along and across India’s borders. Operating from several airbases around the country, ARC’s fleet of aircraft reportedly include Russian-built Ilyushin Il-76s and Antonov AN-32s as well as more modern Gulf Stream and Global 500 jets. The ARC was specifically commended by senior Air Force and Army officials for aerial imagery and surveillance found “invaluable” in support of air strikes during the Kargil conflict of 1999. In recent years, however, the organisation is understood to have lost some of its functions to the NTRO.

Defence Intelligence Agency

The DIA was established in 2002 following intelligence failings revealed by the 1999 Kargil war. Operating as under the authority of the Ministry of Defence, the DIA is part of the tri-service Integrated Defence Staff. As its name indicates, the agency is focused on overtly military threats to India’s security. However, the hybrid challenge posed by cross-border jihadist and insurgent attacks on both India’s northwestern and northeastern flanks, means the DIA is necessarily also focused on the terrorist threat and the gathering of intelligence aimed at countering it. Key elements of this mission are undertaken by the Indian Army’s Directorate of Signals Intelligence and the Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) both of which are run by the DIA.

The DIA is headed by a Director-General of three star rank who is drawn in rotation from the three defence services and advises the Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff and the Minister of Defence. The DIA also liaises regularly with both RAW and IB, not least on CT issues.

Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI)

Part of the Ministry of Finance, under the ministry’s Central Board of Excise and Customs, the DRI is India’s primary anti-smuggling intelligence and investigation agency with a focus on firearms, gold, narcotics and fake Indian currency. To this extent it plays a potentially important role at the intersection of terrorism and trans-national organized crime.

Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)

Coming under the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions and headed by a  Director-General of Police, the CBI is India’s  leading agency countering corruption, bribery, embezzlement and fraud. It plays a peripheral role in CT investigations.

National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID).

Emerging from the sweeping overhaul of intelligence and security agencies and procedures prompted by the 2008 Mumbai attacks, NATGRID is envisaged – but not yet fully operationalized — as an information sharing network to facilitate the dissemination of data held by a range of central and state agencies thereby promoting more effective cooperation within the Indian intelligence community. Coming under the Ministry of Home Affairs and initiated in 2011, it will eventually bring together 22 separate data bases covering areas such as driving licenses, passports, visa and immigration records,  income tax, credit card transactions, and taxation and bank accounts details. NATGRID is not intended as a repository for operationally sensitive data.

Para-military organizations

National Security Guard (NSG).

Formed in 1984 under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the NSG provides the kinetic ‘sharp end’ of India’s CT capability. While a leading armed counter-terrorist service, the NSG is not technically one of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), however. The NSG’s core anti-terrorist/ anti-hi-jack capability is provided by two Special Action Groups whose personnel are seconded from the Indian Army. The police and CAPFs provide personnel for three Special Ranger Groups tasked with VIP protection etc.

Following criticism of the NSG’s slow response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008 the force now deploys contingents in several major Indian cities.

The National Bomb Data Centre tasked with monitoring, recording and analyzing all bomb and IED incidents across India comes under the NSG.

Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)

With a sanctioned strength of over 310,000 personnel the CRPF is the largest of India’s Central Armed Police Forces.  Under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, it plays a leading role in supporting state police forces in maintaining civil order, as well as in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist situations. Its lightly armed battalions have been widely deployed across all of India’s zones of domestic conflict, most notably Kashmir, the Northeast and Maoist-affected areas of central India.

Border Security Force (BSF)

The BSF is the second largest of India’s Central Armed Police Forces and as its name indicates is deployed primarily in a border security role that has an obvious counter-terrorist dimension. BSF battalions have also been frequently deployed in internal security duties not least in Kashmir. With an authorized strength of over 250,000 it falls — like the CRPF — under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs and is commanded by a director-general drawn from the Indian Police Service (IPS). Given its front-line border role, the BSF is more heavily armed than the CRPF and can deploy infantry support weaponry such mortars and light artillery and some aviation assets. It also fields specialized commando units.

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)

The CISF was established as one of India’s Central Armed Police Forces by an act of parliament in 1983. Under the Ministry of Home Affairs it has expanded significantly in recent years and today has a sanctioned strength of some 180,000 personnel committed to the security of wide range of government installations and critical infrastructure. All potentially at risk from terrorist attack, these include ports, airports, power plants, oil field and refineries, atomic energy facilities, and aerospace installations.

Indo-Tibetan Border Police

Raised in 1962 as a result of the border war with China, the ITBP was originally intended for deployment along the country’s border with Chinese-ruled Tibet. However its remit has been broadened to include border security and anti-smuggling in other parts of India as well as a role in maintaining civil order, VIP protection and disaster response. One of the country’s Central Armed Police Forces under the Home Affairs Ministry, the ITBP today has an authorized strength of around 90,000.

Shashastra Seema Baal (SSB) or Armed Border Force

The smallest of India’s Central Armed Police Forces with a strength of nearly 80,000 personnel the SSB emerged – like the ITBP – from the Indian defeat in the 1962 war with China as the Special Service Bureau. Established in 1963 It was envisaged both as a ‘stay-behind’ force to mobilize the civilian population and conduct guerrilla warfare in the event of northern border areas being again overrun by Chinese invaders; as well as to provide support for the external intelligence service, RAW. The SSB was reputed to have played an important role in 1971 in support of ‘mukti bahini’ guerrillas in East Pakistan prior to the birth of Bangladesh. It has subsequently deployed in border areas across northern and northeastern India, notably along the 1,751 km length of the Indo-Nepal border – an important zone of terrorist infiltration into India; and was involved in the 1999 Kargil theatre. The force has also been deployed in internal security and counter-insurgency roles in Maoist-affected states such as Bihar, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh.

Railway Protection Force

With a strength of some 65,000 personnel, the Railway Protection Force is a reflection of the size and economic importance of a railway network which is the world’s third largest and carries some 22 mill passengers each day.

Overseen by the Ministry of Railways, the Railway Protection Force is the only one of India’s Central Armed Police Forces that does not fall under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs. It is also the only CAPF which has powers of arrest, investigation and prosecution. Its function is primarily to counter crime and anti-social behavior but given that the national railway network has been a perennial target of terrorist attack, the RPF also constitutes a link in the CT chain.

State Government Organisations and Services

State Police Services and State Police Anti-Terrorism Squads (ATS)

In liaison with the IB and RAW, state police forces and specifically their Anti-Terrorism Squads form the front-line in India’s counter-terrorism campaign.  State-level ATS typically involve both an intelligence wing and a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) element. The pioneer in the development of a dedicated police CT wing was Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.  While not all state police forces field an ATS, states that have found it necessary to adopt the same broad Maharashtra model include Gujarat, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar.


In recent decades India has struggled to devise a comprehensive legal framework for its counter-terrorist response. That failing has stemmed largely from the virulence and scale of the terrorist threats it has faced along with the shortcomings of a plethora of government agencies working in strikingly different geographical and operational contexts. In a response shaped by the legacy of British colonialism, India’s default framework has been to deal with terrorist acts as criminal offenses to be handled by state police forces. However, the terrorist threat has often spilled into protracted insurgency situations that have overwhelmed the capacity of state police and demanded the intervention of Central Armed Police Forces and the national military. These circumstances have resulted in the enactment — and in some cases the repeal — of several important legislative platforms drawn up specifically to meet the challenge of terrorism.


3.1            The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act

First promulgated in May 1985 for a two year period but later amended and strengthened in 1987, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, commonly known as TADA, was a direct response to the Khalistan terrorist campaign which swept Punjab in the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s. TADA was the first piece of legislation to provide a comprehensive definition of terrorism as seen by the Indian state. Coming in the Act’s third paragraph it is worth citing in full:

“Whoever with intent to overawe the Government as by law established or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people or to adversely affect the harmony amongst different sections of the people does any act or thing by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or lethal weapons or poisons or noxious gases or other chemicals or by any other substances (whether biological or otherwise) of a hazardous nature in such a manner as to cause or as is likely to cause death of, or injuries to, any person or persons, or loss of or damage to, or destruction of, property or disruption of any supplies or services essential to the life of the community, or detains any person and threatens to kill or injure such person in order to compel the Government or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act, commits a terrorist act.”

Against this backdrop, TADA extended sweeping powers to law enforcement agencies. These included to the right to detain an accused individual for up to one year without formal charges;  made confessions made to police officers of superintendent rank or above admissible evidence in  courts of law; and reversed the presumption of innocence until proven guilty with the burden of proof placed on the accused to establish his innocence. The Act also established special courts which allowed for trials to be held in closed court and for the identities of witnesses to remain secret. Further, it barred appeals from accused to higher courts other than the Supreme Court.

Predictably given the scale of the Punjab crisis, once on the books TADA was widely used — and abused. TADA 1987 was extended in 1989, 1991, and 1993; and by June 1994, nine years after its promulgation, some 76,000 individuals had been detained under its provisions.  Of these cases, only 35 percent ever went to trial and of those, convictions were secured in a mere 2 percent of cases. Amid widespread allegations of abuse, the law was finally allowed to elapse in 1995.

Prevention of Terrorism Act (2002)

Seven years after the discontinuation of TADA, the Indian parliament promulgated the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in March 2002. The passing of the new Act — which replaced the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance promulgated by the president in October 2001 — was driven by an increasing number of terrorist attacks. Its enactment by parliament was given added urgency the December 2001 assault on the parliament building in New Delhi. As the preamble to the Act noted: “Terrorism has now acquired global dimensions and has become a challenge for the entire world. The reach and methods adopted by terrorist groups and organizations take advantage of modern means of communication and technology…The existing criminal justice system is not designed to deal with the types of heinous crimes with which the proposed law deals.”

The legislation was nonetheless controversial from the outset with the parliament’s Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, voting it down and the bill passing only through a rare joint session that included the larger Lower House, the Lok Sabha.

Like the TADA, the POTA rested importantly on several draconian clauses, notably that suspects could be detained for up to 180 days without charge; that law enforcement agencies were permitted to withhold the identities of witnesses; and that confessions made to police were admissible as evidence. At the same time the Act contained safeguards that had been absent from the TADA. Importantly it had no provisions permitting preventive detention; and appealing the verdict of the POTA Special Courts could be made to a division bench of the High Court.

The law also covered new areas, notably the seizure and forfeiture of proceeds of terrorism, the interception of wire, electronic or oral communications; and the unauthorized possession of firearms.

As had been the case with the TADA, there were soon renewed allegations of abuses of POTA legislation by state governments and law enforcement agencies. In particular these centred on the arbitrary harassment of political opponents.  In December 2003 the Act was amended with an ordinance aimed at extending the scope of judicial review. A review committee which had earlier acted in a purely advisory capacity was strengthened with review commissions armed with authority to issue orders binding on state governments and police.  That said, the central review committee was still unable to initiate an investigation without an initial complaint by an ‘aggrieved person’. In practice these were mostly individuals with political connections in central government rather than terrorist suspects.

The POTA had been introduced by the National Democratic Alliance government. In October 2004 after approval in cabinet it was repealed by the centre-left United Progressive Alliance government.

The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act

Passed into law in December 1967, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) was originally intended primarily to counter secessionist activities and associations threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Indian Union. Following several comprehensive amendments, however, it has today become the primary plank of counter-terrorism legislation defining both a “terrorist act” and a “terrorist organization”, allowing for the forfeiture of the proceeds of terrorism, and providing for stringent punishments for terrorism-related offenses.

The UAPA had its roots in the recommendations of a committee on national Integration and regionalisation which in 1963 resulted in the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act. In the interests of national sovereignty, this empowered parliament to impose reasonable restriction on freedom and speech and expression, the right of peaceful assembly and the right to form associations. UAPA was later introduced in parliament to implement the provision of that Act.

Since it was passed into law in 1967 the UAPA has been amended six times– in 1969, 1972, 1986, 2004, 2008 and most recently in 2012. In the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act 2004, which followed the repeal of the POTA, many of the provision of the latter were re-incorporated in it. The Amendment Act (2008) which followed the November 2008 Mumbai attacks further strengthened the legislation. The Amendment Act (2012) was designed to meet commitments made at the inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force aim at combating money laundering and terrorist financing. It should be noted, however, that the UAPA does not provide for special courts or enhanced powers of investigation and provision regarding confessions made to police officers.

Armed Forces Special Powers Acts

With roots in colonial legislation aimed at countering the nationalist “Quit India” movement of 1942, Armed Forces Special Powers Acts are area-specific pieces of legislation contingent on any given area – usually, but not always, along India’s borders — area being declared “disturbed”.

Such contingencies are distinct from, and go beyond a state government’s declaration of a state of emergency. In state of emergency situations in which local police and administration are unable to fulfill their normal functions, the state government can call on the central government to provide para-military assistance, typically with the deployment of either the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) or the Border Security Force (BSF), or both. By contrast, AFSPAs imply the need to deploy regular armed forces “in aid of the civil power” (under Article 246 of the Indian Constitution) in an area or entire state where the situation is deemed ‘warlike’ and which has been designated a ‘disturbed area’ by the central government.

Under an AFSPA in a “disturbed area” the armed forces are accorded a range of powers. These include firing on persons after due warning;  arresting persons without warrant (who must then be handed over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with the least possible delay); entering and searching house to make arrests; and stopping and searching vehicles and vessels suspected of transporting arms. Any prosecution of personnel or units accused of excesses requires the approval of the parent department – the Ministry of Defence in the case of Army personnel and the Ministry of Home Affairs in the case of CAPFs.

To date AFSPAs have been passed on three occasions. The first was the Armed Forces Special Powers (Assam and Manipur) Act 1958. The geographical scope of the Act — renamed the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 — was later extended to cover all seven states of the Northeast, although Tripura has since withdrawn citing a marked improvement in its security situation.

The second was the Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act 1983, which gave legal sanction to army intervention in support of state police and central para-military forces countering the Khalistan campaign. The Act was withdrawn in 1997.

The third occasion was The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990.

AFSPAs have been predictably controversial with widespread allegations of “faked encounters” and have invited sharp criticism both from the United Nations Human Rights Commission and international human rights organizations. Their extension (in six-monthly increments) for years at a stretch has also drawn criticism.

In July 2016 a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of India clarified the limits of powers under AFSPA noting inter alia that they could not be used to condone extra-judicial killings. The judgment noted that: “It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist; nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the state. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both…This is the requirement of a democracy and the requirement of preservation of the rule of law and the preservation of individual liberties.”

It is worth noting that under AFSPA legislation approximately one-third of the Indian Army’s manpower of 1.4 mill. active duty personnel is today committed to internal security duties -–a situation over which senior echelons of the Army have made their unhappiness well known.



The multi-faceted nature of the terrorist threat in India and a federal constitution which reserves police and public order as state subjects combine effectively to preclude the defining of any one over-arching national strategy for counter-terrorism.

Following the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008, the lack of any single agency specifically and exclusively tasked with coordinating counter-terrorism with a nation-wide remit became the focus of debate and controversy. The proposal to establish a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) was shelved in 2012 as the result of opposition from state governments which viewed the NCTC’s proposed nation-wide intelligence-gathering and operational remit — including powers of search and arrest — as infringing on powers vested in the states under the Indian Constitution.

More recently, however, in late 2016 and 2017 the proposal to establish an over-arching CT body has been revived. As envisaged, the NCTC would come under the Ministry of Home Affairs and, subsume the NIA and NATGRID in their entirety along with certain parts of the IB. In May 2017 the NCTC was reported to have been discussed at the top of government with the home secretary consulting the heads of both the IB and NIA in May 2017.

As matters stand, India’s response to terrorism consists of a multi-pronged approach that arguably continues to lack sufficient coordination and cohesion. It involves the following elements:

  • On the international stage, ratcheting up diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to desist from actively or tacitly supporting terrorist organisations such as LeT and JeM which are undertaking attacks in India. India has pushed its case in various for such as the UN, G20, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO);
  • Improved the management of often porous borders both through infrastructure as well as military and para-military patrolling.
  • Strengthening intelligence-gathering and coordination capabilities through RAW (external), IB (domestic), and military intelligence agencies; as well as liaison/ intelligence sharing with foreign intelligence services;
  • Improving nation-wide counter-terrorism investigations through the National Investigation Agency (NIA) set up after the Mumbai attacks of 2008;
  • Improving governmental and government-supported social responses to radicalisation. This is a multi-faceted area undertaken mainly at the level of individual states that includes modernisation of madrassah, community policing initiatives, strengthening relations with local Muslim leaders and imams; and de-radicalisation programmes.

Appendix 1: Previous Significant Terrorist Attacks in India