The Role of PPUs in countering terrorism in South Asia

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South Asia was the second most affected region in terms of terrorism-related attacks and casualties in 2017. This information is stated in the report of the Global Terrorism Index 2018 (GTI), released in November 2018. According to this report, three countries in the region, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, are amongst the top ten nations most affected by terrorism worldwide. The GTI and other similar examinations indicate that major terrorist groups active in the region include al-Qaeda, the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan, and the Khorasan Chapter of Islamic State (ISK) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Further, the ultra-left Maoists, the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba in India, and various other Islamist extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Although the annual GTI is displayed regarding terrorism trends, the index also shows few insights into counterterrorism responses from countries worldwide. Other systematic examinations, such as the Armed Conflict Survey, Country Reports on Terrorism, and U.S. Department of State, and diverse think tank reports provide helpful data on how governments worldwide adapt to the evolving threat of terrorism.

Since the ‘global war on terrorism’ started in 2001, the militarised counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations have drawn substantial international attention. The counter-terrorism activities include procedures carried out by the U.S., NATO, and Afghan national security forces in Afghanistan and by the Pakistan Army in federally administered tribal areas. The Indian Army’s longstanding presence in both the pre-and post-9/11 era in Kashmir to repress secessionist terrorism has also attracted attention. In other South Asian countries, military forces have undertaken irregular operations to sustain internal security or subdue left-wing or ethno-nationalist uprising.

Besides military forces, paramilitary police units (PPUs) are a salient component of the South Asian counterterrorism strategy. Despite this, the expansion of PPUs remains a fairly under-explored idea. This gap is highlighted by offering conclusions from an ongoing study on South Asian terrorism trends and counterterrorism strategy.  There are convincing reasons for analyzing the role of PPUs in counterterrorism. Such studies allow an investigation of the extent to which, in South Asia, the war strategy of counterterrorism is increasingly becoming popular. 

Civilian police and military forces hold sharply different functions in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. There is a difference between police and PPUs. Examples include the American SWAT, the Italian Carabinieri, and the French Gendarmerie. The list of major South Asian PPUs includes ANCOP and CRU in Afghanistan, RAB and CTTC in Bangladesh, ATS, COBRA, and RAF in India, CTF and SCU in Pakistan, and STF in Sri Lanka. The other smaller countries in the region also have their PPUs. It includes SRPF in Bhutan, NPFS in Nepal, and SOD in Maldives. These PPUs are often known as elite or special police units.

Police militarisation expert Peter Kraska recognizes four distinct aspects of PPUs. It includes material, cultural, organizational, and operational that separate them from general-duty police units. 

Meanwhile, civilian police units primarily hold defensive weapons and equipment, while militarised police units stress holding offensive weapons and technologies. The civilian police personnel whose impressions, beliefs, and language are desired to deter crime in society, but elite police forces embrace military-style appearances, ideas, and cultures. Another difference is how the police units are arranged; general-duty police units usually have police-station-based jurisdiction, whereas militarised police units choose battalion-sized formations. Ultimately, operationally, civilian police prefer a defensive posture for the containment of crime and the keeping of law and order. In contrast, elite PPUs establish an offensive stance in collecting intelligence and managing high-risk operations.

There are at least 62 PPUs in South Asia. Thirty-five are in India, nine are in Pakistan, eight are in Bangladesh, four are in Afghanistan, and the other six are in Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the newly launched PPUs have a plain function in fighting transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, ISK, and the Taliban.

The fight against al-Qaeda, IS, and their local cronies has similarly pushed the development of elite police units in Pakistani provinces. In 2010, the Sindh province formed the SSU with 3,000 personnel. In 2014, the Punjab province founded CTD with 1,200 personnel, and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province developed SCU with 150 personnel. As violent extremism executed by homegrown and transnational militant groups grows in Pakistan, these newly created PPUs have become more significant in the country’s law enforcement landscape.

In 29 provincial states of India, the national capital territory Delhi has developed Anti Terror Squads (ATS). These and other elite police units differ in size and function as PPUs under the command of provincial police services.  Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Manipur, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, and West Bengal have also large commando police divisions. Tamil Nadu and Kerala have medium-sized PPUs, and the remaining regions have smaller militarised police units.

In Afghanistan, PPUs are essential to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF). The ANSF was created as part of the U.S.-led coalition’s ‘transition’ strategy to formulate counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations against both the foreign al-Qaeda militants and the local Taliban militias. Sri Lanka also launched the STF in 1983 to fight against Tamil separatists. Heavily armed PPUs will potentially remain a critical segment in South Asian counterterrorism for the foreseeable future.

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