The Politics of Counterterrorism in India

Title:                      The Politics of Counterterrorism in India

Author:                  Prem Mahadevan

Mahadevan, Prem (2012). The Politics of Counterterrorism in India: Strategic Intelligence and National Security in South Asia. London: I.B.Tauris

LCCN:    2012406404

HV6433.I4 M34 2012


  • Combining a theoretical approach with empirical analysis of India’s counterterrorist activities, this book holds valuable information for those examining strategy-making and counterterrorism – practitioners as well as researchers – in addition to those interested in the politics of India.


Date Posted:      March 8, 2016

Reviewed by Hayden Peake.[1]

Author Prem Mahadevan is a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies in Zürich. In this book, which is based on his doctoral work at King’s College, London, he analyzes the role of intelligence in countering terrorism in India and concludes that “counterterrorist failures in India are caused by the poor responsiveness of decisionmakers (that is, intelligence consumers) to strategic · intelligence.” (p. 11) And he goes on to suggest that his results also apply to other nations faced with the same problem. These are bold assertions for an analyst without any hands-on experience, and one is justified in asking whether decision-makers and intelligence officers should take him seriously. It is a help that in the foreword, Ajit Deval, the former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB), makes it clear that he supports Mahadevan’s methodology and conclusions.

Mahadevan studied the work of other researchers and applied it to a model he developed. He found that “there was no demonstrable correlation between Indian counterterrorist performance and purely organizational factors that affect national intelligence agencies.” (p. 13) Thus the key variable in these situations was personnel. With this in mind, he examined track records of the two principal Indian intelligence agencies-the IB and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), as related to the counterintelligence capabilities of terrorist groups. As metrics, he examines political consistency, operational capacity, and operational coordination of the main players-all of which he seems to have found lacking. These are admittedly subjective measures, and he devotes a chapter to each one, explaining the concepts and applying them to historical Indian terrorism cases. Examples include selected Sikh and Kashrniri separatist clashes and the many attacks on Mumbai.

He sums up by offering some alternatives to the current Indian approach to countering terrorism in general and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in particular. But he is firm in his judgment that India’s counterterrorist failures are not the fault of strategic assessments, but “rather in the inability or unwillingness of consumers to follow up on them.”

The Politics of Counterterrorism in India is a very detailed conceptual analysis, supported by case studies, and backed by secondary sources. It is well worth serious attention by those concerned with the analyst-decisionmaker relationship.

[1] Hayden Peake is a frequent reviewer of books on intelligence and this review appeared in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (19, 1, Winter/Spring, 2013, pp. 125-126). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Di recto rate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions of CIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at

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