a) Seeing through a glass darkly: on combating terrorism

Yet another anniversary of the November 26, 2008 terror attacks on multiple targets in Mumbai has come and gone. Much has changed since then and terror has evolved into an even more dangerous phenomenon. Recent variants represent a paradigmatic change in the practice of violence.

A different genre

It is difficult to recognise the new generation of terrorists as a mere extension of the earlier lot of radical Islamist terrorists who were influenced by the teachings of the Egyptian thinker, Sayyid Qutb, and the Palestinian Islamist preacher, Abdullah Azzam, and adopted the practical theology of the Afghan warlord, Jalaluddin Haqqani. There is less theology today and the new age terrorist seems to belong to an altogether different genre of terrorism. This is not to say that the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai were not different in the methodology and the tactics used in the September 11, 2001 attack in New York City. Nevertheless, the spate of recent attacks in Europe and parts of Asia, from 2015 to 2017 — beginning with the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in January 2015, the major incidents at Brussels and Istanbul Ataturk airports as well as the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, all in 2016, to the string of attacks in London, Stockholm, Barcelona and New York, in 2017 — are very different in structure and the morphology from attacks of an earlier period.

Standing out from the crowd

A large number of terror attacks in the past three years have been attributed to the handiwork of the Islamic State (IS), and reveal its leaning towards the “nihilism” of Sayyid Qutb. It is this which distinguishes the IS from many of the other radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The IS’s recruitment techniques, especially its ability to proselytise over the Internet, including “direct to home jihad” as also its more sanguinary brand of violence, set it apart from earlier variants of radical Islamist terror. Even while the IS has gained a great deal of prominence due to its brand of violence, other terror networks have continued to be no less active. For example, al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The Boko Haram in Africa has been responsible for more killings than most people would realise. Closer home, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network have carried out several spectacular attacks inside Afghanistan. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have carried out several attacks inside Pakistan. Pakistan provides the wherewithal and the support to terror outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad to launch well-planned attacks on Indian targets. Most of these outfits continue to adopt earlier methodologies. These have proved no less effective than those followed by the IS. The terror attack on a mosque in North Sinai, Egypt in November this year, which killed over 230 persons, is one such example. In December, the TTP was responsible for a terror attack on an agricultural training institute in Peshawar, Pakistan. Differences among terror outfits, do not, however, preclude a complicated pattern of relationships when it comes to operational aspects.

Incorrect perception

Understanding the constantly altering trajectory of terror is important before charges of intelligence failure are levelled. It has become axiomatic to attack agencies of intelligence failure whenever a major terror attack takes place. This need not be the case in every instance. The usual charge levelled is of the failure of intelligence agencies “to connect the dots”. Most often, this is not true. There are many other reasons for adequate intelligence not being available to prevent a terror attack. The danger is that a wrong diagnosis could prevent further improvements in intelligence collection and analysis. One common fallacy is that intelligence agencies have remained static, are rooted in the past, and that their personnel are inadequately trained to handle current day intelligence tasks. While there is room for improvement, it is a mistake to presume that intelligence agencies have not made rapid progress and kept up with the times. Intelligence agencies today are well-versed in the latest techniques of intelligence gathering and analysis. Agencies obtain vast amounts of information from both human and technical intelligence, not excluding signal intelligence and electronic intelligence, intelligence from satellites and photo reconnaissance, etc. This is apart from open source intelligence. Agencies employ data mining techniques and are familiar with pattern recognition software. Today, noise and signals constitute valuable meta-data. Analysing meta-data has produced more precise information and intelligence than is possibly envisaged, and agencies well recognise the value and utility of this. In addition, intelligence agencies have become highly adept in monitoring and exploiting open source material. Mapping and analysis of social networks is today a critical aspect of their work. This is especially useful when it comes to unearthing covert terror networks. Many intelligence agencies today have an extensive database of several thousands of terrorists and potential terrorists. Admittedly, intelligence agencies, like many other organisations, are risk-prone. They do make mistakes. Intelligence analysts, like analysts in other fields, are particularly vulnerable. Problems also arise from inadequate sharing of intelligence across institutions and countries. All these, however, are a far cry from the charge of an inability or failure “to connect the dots”. The real problem is that when dealing with terrorism and terror networks, no two situations in the actual world are identical. The nature of threats is such that they continue to evolve all the time. Both the 2001 terror attack in New York and the November 2008 attack in Mumbai were one of a kind with few parallels at the time. Anticipating an attack of this nature remains in the area of an “intelligence gap” rather than an “intelligence failure”. Most experts explain an intelligence gap as one denoting an absence of intelligence output while an intelligence failure is one where, based on available evidence, no warning was issued.

Newer challenges

One of the major challenges that all intelligence agencies face is a qualitative understanding of the newer, and many post-modern threats. These newer generation threats, including those by terror groups and outfits, often lie “below the radar” or beyond the horizon. Anticipating such threats and their nature requires intelligence agencies to be constantly ahead of the curve. Anticipating newer threats is only partly facilitated by today’s technical advances such as new computing and communication technologies. However, these alone are not often enough to meet today’s intelligence needs. As problems become more complicated, and as terror networks become even more sophisticated, there has to be recognition that the situation demands better understanding of factors that are at work. Levelling mere charges or accusations against intelligence agencies of a failure to anticipate an attack by not “connecting the dots” could be misleading, if not downright dangerous. All professional analysts in whichever field they operate face the same problem as intelligence agencies, and vividly outlined by David Omand, a former U.K. Intelligence and Security Coordinator as “seeing through a glass darkly when the information available to them is incomplete or partially hidden”. Alongside this, and to fill the gap, there is a case for far greater sharing of intelligence and information among intelligence agencies worldwide than it exists at present. This is important to prevent another terror attack on the lines of the Mumbai 2008 attack. It now transpires that certain foreign intelligence agencies had additional information about the possible attack which was not shared in time, and which led to an intelligence gap. This could have been avoided. More important, such a situation should never arise in the future. Terror and terrorism is a universal phenomenon. Every nation is bound to share the intelligence available with it to prevent a possible major terror attack.

b) Transit gambit: on e-way bill mechanism for transport of goods

Already grappling with the Goods and Services Tax transition, businesses are now anxious about how the roll-out of e-way bills will pan out. Starting February 1, all inter-State movement of goods worth over ₹50,000 will be tracked with the introduction of the e-way bill system under the GST regime. All consignments moving more than 10 km from their origin will require prior registration and generation of an e-way bill through the GST Network, which will be valid for varying durations depending on the distance travelled. While a few States have already imposed their own requirements for such bills since the GST roll-out in July, all States must implement the bill system for capturing intra-State trade by June 1. Therefore, a fully integrated tracking system for all taxable goods can be expected only then. This poses an interim headache for firms operating across States, as they will now face differing compliance requirements for inter-State trade and intra-State trade, depending on when individual States launch their own e-way bill systems. To be fair, inter-State movement of goods was also tracked under the VAT (value-added tax) regime, but intra-State transactions were not. Over 150 items of common use, including LPG cylinders, vegetables, foodgrain and jewellery, will be exempt from such transport permits, which can be checked by designated tax officials by intercepting a transporting vehicle. Goods moved on non-motorised conveyance, such as carts, have been left out. In October, the GST Council had decided to introduce e-way bills in a staggered manner from January 1, with a nationwide roll-out on April 1, 2018. After easing the GST burden on small businesses and exporters in its recent meetings, the GST Council’s decision on Saturday to advance the implementation of e-way bills just two days after polling closed in Gujarat signals that there are serious concerns on the tax collection front. After a monthly ₹90,000 crore-plus inflow in the GST’s first three months, revenue in October plummeted to just over ₹83,000 crore. And this was even before substantive tax rate cuts made by the Council kicked in. With States claiming a revenue shortfall of about ₹40,000 crore so far under the GST, the Centre, which has to fill that gap, is also feeling the pinch. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who faces a serious fiscal dilemma even before he presents the Union Budget in less than two months, has said the next set of GST features, such as e-way bills and matching of invoices, will make tax evasion difficult and bump up collections. Plugging revenue leakages is essential, and encouragingly, Karnataka’s e-way bill experience in the first month saw very few glitches. Given industry’s nervousness, the government must simplify the onerous rules proposed for e-way bills (a one-day validity for distances up to 100 km, for instance), ensure that the IT backbone is robust, and make inspections the exception, not the norm.


1) Paradigmatic

Meaning: Of or denoting the relationship between a set of linguistic items that form mutually exclusive choices in particular syntactic roles.

2) Mere

Meaning: Used to emphasize that the fact of something being present in a situation is enough to influence that situation.

Example:”His stomach rebelled at the mere thought of food”

3) Preacher

Meaning: A person who preaches, especially a minister of religion.

Synonyms: Parson, Clergyman

4) Tactics

Meaning: An action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.

Example: “The minority attempted to control the Council by a delaying tactic”

Synonyms: Strategy, Scheme

5) Spate

Meaning: A large number of similar things coming in quick succession.

Example: “A spate of attacks on holidaymakers”

Synonyms: Series, Succession

6) String

Meaning: A sequence of similar items or events.

Example: “A string of burglaries”

Synonyms:  Series, Succession

7) Morphology

Meaning: The study of the forms of words, in particular inflected forms.

Example: “Grammar is organized along two main dimensions: morphology and syntax”

8) Attributed

Meaning: Regard something as being caused by.

Example: “He attributed the firm’s success to the efforts of the managing director”

Synonyms:  Ascribe, Assign

9) Nihilism

Meaning: The rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless.

Synonyms: Negativity, Cynicism

10) Affiliates

Meaning: Officially attach or connect (a subsidiary group or a person) to an organization.

Example: “They are national associations affiliated to larger organizations”

Synonyms:  Associate with, Be in league with

11) Proselytise

Meaning: Convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.

Example:”The programme did have a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many”

Synonyms: Evangelize, Convert

12) Sanguinary

Meaning: Involving or causing much bloodshed.

Example: “They lost heavily in the sanguinary campaigns that followed”

13) Wherewithal

Meaning: The money or other means needed for a particular purpose.

Example: “They lacked the wherewithal to pay”

Synonyms:  Money, Ready

14) Preclude

Meaning: Prevent from happening; make impossible.

Example: “The secret nature of his work precluded official recognition”

Synonyms: Prevent, Interdict

15) Axiomatic

Meaning: Self-evident or unquestionable.

Example: “It is axiomatic that dividends have to be financed”

Synonyms:  Self-evident, Unquestionable

16) Reconnaissance

Meaning: Military observation of a region to locate an enemy or ascertain strategic features.

Example: “An excellent aircraft for low-level reconnaissance”

Synonyms: Survey, Exploration

17) Precise

Meaning: Marked by exactness and accuracy of expression or detail.

Example: “Precise directions”

Synonyms:  Exact, Accurate

Antonyms: Imprecise, Inaccurate

18) Envisaged

Meaning: Contemplate or conceive of as a possibility or a desirable future event.

Example: “The Rome Treaty envisaged free movement across frontiers”

Synonyms: Foresee, Predict

19) Adept

Meaning: Very skilled or proficient at something.

Example: “She is adept at cutting through red tape”

Synonyms:  Expert, Proficient

Antonyms: Inept, Mediocre

20) Anticipating

Meaning: Regard as probable; expect or predict.

Example: “She anticipated scorn on her return to the theatre”

Synonyms:  Expect, Foresee

21) Horizon

Meaning: The limit of a person’s knowledge, experience, or interest.

Example: “She wanted to leave home and broaden her horizons”

Synonyms: Compass, Outlook

22) Sophisticated

Meaning: Having, revealing, or involving a great deal of worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture.

Example: “A chic, sophisticated woman”

Synonyms: Worldly, Enlightened

Antonyms: Naïve, Unsophisticated

23) Downright

Meaning: So direct in manner as to be blunt.

Example: “Her common sense and downright attitude to life surprised him”

Synonyms:  Frank, Direct

Antonyms: Devious

24) Vividly

Meaning: In a way that produces powerful feelings or strong, clear images in the mind.

Example: “Margaret remembers vividly the day she received the grim news”

25) Transpires

Meaning: (Of a secret or something unknown) come to be known; be revealed.

Example:”It transpired that millions of dollars of debt had been hidden in a complex web of transactions”

Synonyms:  Become known, Become apparent,

26) Grappling

Meaning: Struggle to deal with or overcome (a difficulty or challenge).

Example:”Other towns are still grappling with the problem”

Synonyms:  Tackle, Confront

Antonyms: Avoid

27) Anxious

Meaning: Feeling or showing worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

Example:”She was extremely anxious about her exams”

Synonyms: Worried, Concerned

Antonyms: Carefree, Unconcerned

28) Pan out

Meaning: End up; conclude.

Example:”He’s happy with the way the deal panned out”

Synonyms: Conclude, Result

29) Regime

Meaning: A government, especially an authoritarian one.

Example:”Ideological opponents of the regime”

Synonyms:  Government, Rule

30) Consignments

Meaning: A batch of goods destined for or delivered to someone.

Example:”A consignment of drugs”

Synonyms:  Delivery, Shipment

31) Interim

Meaning: In or for the intervening period; provisional.

Example:”An interim arrangement”

Synonyms:  Provisional, Temporary

Antonyms: Permanent

32) Conveyance

Meaning: The action or process of transporting or carrying someone or something from one place to another.

Example:”A busy centre for the conveyance of agricultural produce from the Billingshurst area”

Synonyms:  Transportation, Transport

33) Roll-out

Meaning: To make a new product, service, or system available for the first time.

Example: A media campaign is expected to roll out early next year.

34) Concerns

Meaning: Anxiety; worry.

Example:”Carole gazed at her with concern”

Synonyms:  Anxiety, Worry

35) Plummeted

Meaning: Fall or drop straight down at high speed.

Example:”A climber was killed when he plummeted 300 feet down an icy gully”

Synonyms:  Plunge, Hurtle

36) Kicked in

Meaning: Come into effect or operation.

Example:”The hospital’s emergency generators kicked in”

37) Dilemma

Meaning: A situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable.

Example:”He wants to make money, but he also disapproves of it: Den’s dilemma in a nutshell”

Synonyms:  Quandary, Predicament

38) Evasion

Meaning: An indirect answer; a prevaricating excuse.

Example: “The protestations and evasions of a witness”

Synonyms: Hedging, Fencing

39) Bump up

Meaning: To increase the amount or size of something.

Example: The distributors will probably bump up the price of the software when the next version is released.

40) Glitches

Meaning: A sudden, usually temporary malfunction or fault of equipment.

Example: “A draft version was lost in a computer glitch”


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