Changing Patterns of Terrorism Risk in India

by News, in collaboration with Orkash Services Pvt Ltd, India

August 2009
Terrorism and Extremism have a substantial impact on business in India totaling approximately 18% of all disruptive-event-days. Currently, India’s terrorism rates are second only to Iraq.

Threat Perception

Terrorism and Extremism have a substantial impact on business in India totaling approximately 18% of all disruptive-event-days and resulting in a loss of 2 to 3.5 work days per person per year. In 2008 India saw more terrorist activity than ever before. Currently, India’s terrorism rates are second only to Iraq. The intensity and frequency of these attacks has increased significantly in just the last 18 months. The nature of the attacks and the terrorist organizations behind them are changing.

Changing Targeting Patterns and Organizational Capabilities

Sophisticated, well executed, large-scale attacks in metropolitan areas result in hundreds of deaths. Islamic terror groups are the source of these attacks and are the primary component of the terror risk in India. Due in part to increased international support, these organizations are maturing as a growing threat.

Terrorist groups operating in India are able to execute multiple large-scale attacks in different cities in rapid succession. Attacks are characterized by a high level of synchronization with as many as 40 bombs in multiple cities and involving no less than 85 to 120 active terrorist operatives.

Previously, these attacks were primarily a symbolic display of Islamic Jihad, but are increasingly aimed at causing pan-India terror with a secondary effect of damaging the business environment. Success rates against Western interest targets have been steadily increasing.

More recent reports have indicated the depth of logistics support cells amongst the professional workforce in cities like Bangalore. Recently there have been a number of instances of educated professionals surfacing as operatives in these Indian terror networks.

The trend is clear. Terrorist influence is extending to major cities and towns. There is also evidence that non-Kashmiri Indian Muslims are becoming an increasingly important recruiting base.

Operational Patterns

It is clear that terrorist organizations are shifting their targeting to economic hubs of the country such as Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad. It is estimated that at least 18 Islamic terrorist cells are active in major Indian cities at any given time.

International terror organizations are now utilizing “home-grown” Indian groups partly because using locals exclusively makes it difficult to trace the connection back to the international organization.

India’s Muslim population is sufficiently large to offer a recruiting base and support for international terror organizations. Especially vulnerable are youths and the large illegal immigrant population of Bangladeshis. Muslim youths are indoctrinated in India with many being sent to Pakistan and Bangladesh-based jihad training camps. Native Indian youths are preferred targets because they do not raise suspicion, whereas the Bangladeshi immigrants are used mostly for support and logistics. With the employment of local Muslim youth, terrorist organizations increase social unrest by exploiting the long-standing tension between Muslims and Hindus.

The 2002 Gujarat Hindu-Muslim riots presented a shift in demographics. Rather than just Islamic extremists, new supporters had professional jobs and families, many of whom had disposable incomes as part of the large Mulsim diaspora of Indian origin working abroad. The riots played a large role in radicalizing Muslims, and “home-grown” terrorism rapidly increased.

The Mumbai Attacks

The Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008 marked a turning point in terrorism in India. The sophistication of the operation was a true wake up call. The attack was targeted at foreign nationals and revealed years of recognizance and planning, as well as a number of weaknesses in local security defenses.

There are valuable inferences that can be drawn from the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008:

a) The investigations into these attacks confirm the existence of trans-national linkages amongst the Islamic terror groups in South Asia.

b) Terrorist organizations are maturing in their operational and technological sophistication. More complex attacks can be expected.

c) These terror groups have always had an anti-Western ideology. Going forward, there is likely to be an increased shift towards targeting Western interests and both Indian and Western businesses.


Most of the major Islamic terror groups operating in India have close links, not only with each other, but with well-established extremist organizations such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and with other international Islamic funding organizations.

Terrorist organizations have found a new array of donors who empathize with the cause of Islam and jihadi, includinge the narcotics trade. Sea routes and the porous India-Pakistan and India-Nepal borders have resulted in India becoming an important transit point for drugs into Southeast Asia and Europe. Consequently, Indian terror groups are funded by narcotics trade in Pakistan, and most notably, Afghanistan and the northwest frontiers of Pakistan. Additionally, the huge counterfeit trade such as pharmaceuticals (e.g. fake “Viagra”) and electronic products also provide substantial funding into India’s terror groups.

A major threat is Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, or HuLI. HuLI operates on a pan-India basis with local Islamic extremist groups. Because of this, it is likely that HuJI will emerge as the more dangerous of the various Islamic terror outfits in India, even though it is the Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT, that has so far been more successful in carrying out large attacks.

People’s Response and its Impact

The Mumbai attacks are widely being called the “9/11” of India and, as such, Indian media are urging a “war against terrorism”. Coverage of the attacks has focused on the past lack of political will in Indian leadership to decisively address terrorism. Coverage also emphasizes both Pakistan’s record in sponsoring terrorism in India and the growing menace of trans-national Islamic militant groups. The media’s agenda is increasingly confrontational (India vs. Pakistan) and is urging politicians to take the “war on terrorism” into Pakistan, so it follows that undertones of Hindu vs. Muslim are coloring public perception.

General elections in India were held earlier this year. While such predictable disruptive events as strikes and protest demonstrations occurred and did not have a major impact on the business environment, international companies that have operations in both India and Pakistan should consider the increased sensitivities of people and their perceptions about terror activities of “Pakistan-sponsored/based” groups in India. Companies must put response plans in place to deal with any flare-up of Hindu-Muslim communal issues in their work force. This is more so in the manufacturing, retail and logistics industries than in IT and BPO.

Government’s Response and its Impact

India is slated to see a radical shift in the anti-terrorism strategy and priorities of the government, very much akin to that experienced by the USA and other Western countries following the 9/11 attacks. It is our view that the degree of success or failure of this shift would significantly impact the future patterns and success of terror attacks in India.

Preliminary investigations have led India to blame Pakistan-based terror groups for the Mumbai attacks. India’s response to Pakistan is likely to be more sophisticated than previous instances and focused on bringing the pressure of the international community to persuade Pakistan to dismantle the terror infrastructure that exists there.

Although India’s security infrastructure is large enough to support emerging demands, its shortcomings have been primarily due to the uncoordinated tactical response and the absence of necessary skills to undertake effective operational management. The most pressing needs are for the development and implementation of an evolved incident response, clear definition of the responsibilities of the numerous security forces/agencies, easy mobilization of emergency security teams, better investigative capabilities and coordinated and expedited response to intelligence inputs.

The Indian government’s stance is now clearly more proactive than reactive. In the current situation of heightened security alert, businesses in India are likely to be impacted in various ways:

a) Companies, particularly large multinationals, would need to be seen as playing their part in the “war against terrorism”. In addition, they must address the genuine threat arising from terrorism that can impact their operations and people. This would imply the adoption of increased security protocols for facilities, travel and background screening of employees and vendors.

b) Companies must put programs in place for threat monitoring and increase their coordination and liaison with government security agencies. They must also ensure their staff and employees are familiar with incident response and crisis management procedures. Senior management must drive the change-initiative for this to happen.

c) For the first time in India following the Mumbai attacks, the expatriates and businesses are likely to be specific targets of terrorist attacks.

d) Travel between India and Pakistan is likely to become even more difficult due to escalated restrictive border control rules.

e) Companies must prepare business continuity plans to respond to a situation of increased military tensions between India and Pakistan.

India-Pakistan relations are likely to deteriorate further in the short term. We expect the geo-political situation in South Asia to be tense over the foreseeable future given these developments and the precarious nature of Pakistan’s internal political stability. However, a military flashpoint is unlikely if no further extraordinary events were to happen. This situation can rapidly change if there is another major terror strike in India by Islamic terror groups linked to Pakistan, or if Pakistan’s internal political stability deteriorates to an extent where it loses the ability to control the actions of extremist groups that exist or operate from its territory.

Please contact TAL Global for a follow up on your specific situation in India.


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