Post-26/11, reacting to the elaborate security arrangements near Hotel Taj, Mumbai, someone exclaimed with great flourish, “Why all this? Lightning does not strike at the same place twice.”
On September 7, the maxim was proved wrong. 111 days after their failed attempt to target Delhi High Court, terrorists bombed the same premises leaving 13 dead and over 80 injured. Owing to the monsoon session of Parliament and intelligence reports regarding possible terror attack, Delhi was on ‘high alert’ when it happened. Temerity of terrorists to target same place in the capital city has shocked everyone. There is a palpable anguish among the public, who has always been at the receiving end of these terror attacks. The tragedy was no different for the politicians and officials, who reacted by blaming each other and finding lame excuses.
Common man is gripped with a sense of fear and despondency. Public transport systems, markets, business centres, courts, hospitals, hotels, multiplexes, educational institutes and religious places all have been targeted in the past. People put their lives at great risk when they frequent these places.
India’s tryst with terrorism is very old. As long as it happened in the remote north-eastern states, Jammu and Kashmir, states located in so-called “Red Corridor”, it was treated like a routine law and order problem. “There seem to be an urban-rural chasm when it comes to acknowledge the gravity of threat posed by terrorism; as long as it is fought and contained on the remote fringes of the country it is acceptable to the establishment. When it reaches cities, particularly the metros the response level shows alacrity,” opines a defence and security expert. The remark is not misplaced as India is the most terror-hit country in Asia after Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The attack happened when the country’s political class was busy demanding clemency for the terrorists involved in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, attack on Indian Parliament and car bomb blast at the Youth Congress office in New Delhi. Due to such misplaced ambivalence among the politicians terrorism has not only survived years of counter-terror operations by armed forces and police but also crept into from these hotspots. Yet we have to get our act together.
UPA exposed of policies’ paralysis
The whole failure of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram is failure at the personal level to some extent but largely a policy paralysis that is at government level and more so total absence of political will to fight terrorism. Let us analyse one by one.
Chidambaram has earned himself a repute of a doer man but has failed miserably. He had held a hope after taking charge after the disgraceful exit of Shivraj Patil, in the wake of 26/11, and he seemed to be in real spirit to counter the threat of terrorism head on. He created National Investigating Agency, he drafted several new laws, he advocated for more police reforms, but these all remain a technical thing. The end result of that after two years is there are several bomb blasts. This has happen because they have not made country fool proof as US has done. The bomb blasts that took place in the regime of Chidambaram were only investigated but not a single case is finally traced. Culprits are not cought. So we are raising the whole issue and asking the question what is the use of ‘talking tough but acting soft’.
Secondly, what we are witnessing that the UPA government has lost the nerve and has got cold feet and parallel policy paralysis is unprecedented. This policy paralysis has trickled in every department. When we grilled Chidambaram in last parliament session he also admitted that funds were given for the modernisation of the police force, but the process was not taking place at the speed required, because it had become practically impossible to purchase anything in the government system. Nobody is taking risk; nobody is taking decisions so he said that he himself is dictating long notes for such purchases. This is policy paralysis at government level.
America celebrated 10th anniversary of 9/11 with a pride that no major incident of terrorism took place in the period of ten years. This our Prime Minister cannot say. What is the difference between America and India? The only difference as I see is absence of political will. If you have a political will technology can be purchased and installed, there are good people, and they can supervise. But you are playing politics and worst is you are playing a vote bank politics in it. Batla encounter was a wonderful investigation, it was the single investigation in which police and security agencies had got a mine of information and they also successfully invaded the culprits.
The issue is after that instead of felicilating police, police were denigrated and the whole political leadership of Congress was taking the side of the terrorists. Then the morale of the police and security agencies get eroded and that is why they don’t give results. The leadership’s function is to keep motivation. So this absence of political will coupled with the worst kind of vote bank politics has led the scene where the terrorist can strike at will but we just become a mute spectator and listen to the long sermons of Chidambaram without any tangible result. And when you don’t hang the Afzal Guru and other terrorists that also give wrong signals and nothing works to deter terrorists.
By Prakash Javadekar
(The author is MP, Rajya Sabha)
26/11 was a turning point. Our security system was violated and lay exposed. We expected that a sound counter-terror strategy and capacity would emerge from the lessons learnt from the Mumbai attacks. But our coastal surveillance and defence remain porous as ever; cargo ships drift to Mumbai shores regularly, as if on ‘port of call’ mission without being noticed by navy, coast guard and coastal police. Coastal states are yet to raise and equip their coastal police force; a resolution which was taken after Mumbai attacks.
In the recent past investigations of many terror attacks have remained inconclusive. The cases have been transferred from state ATS to Central agencies. The leads have gone cold leaving agencies groping in the dark. General perception in the street about our agencies’ capability is far from being satisfactory. People doubt their calibre and efficiency in no uncertain terms.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) cut its teeth when it was assigned the task of investigation of High Court blast from day one—its major assignment. It was heart warming to see NIA officials perch on a hydraulic crane scouring the scene of crime for clues.
Employment of NIA to investigate the case did not go well with Delhi Police which felt marginalised as in the past it was its special cell that used to handle such terror-related incidents. Delhi Police’s inability to crack a number of terror attacks in the capital may have forced MHA to take this step.
As per the mandate NIA is supposed to take on issues concerning trans-state investigation. Its manpower has been drawn from various organisations on deputation. It has to raise its own cadre. The equipment is still being identified and procured. There is a need for having well-staffed and equipped regional offices. In cases where only one state is involved NIA is unlikely to be getting any major access due to political reasons.
As an investigative agency NIA’s role is post-incident. It lacks preventive ability. Its formation is undoubtedly inspired by Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US, which has both investigative and proactive abilities to prevent terror attacks even if it involves attack on foreign soil. In times to come one hopes to see NIA as part of National Counter Terrorism Centre having intelligence, investigation and prevention capabilities.
Chidambaram wavers way off the mark
P Chidambaram, the celebrated boy of the Congress party, assumed the office of the Home Minister after Shivraj Patil was unceremoniously removed as Union Home Minister following his disastrous days at the helm of internal security affairs. He was ridiculed in the media not only for his inept handling of the internal security issues but also for changing his attire nearly half a dozen times on the day of the attack.
So, when Chidambaram replaced Patil, Congress and his own yes men in some sections of the media went over the top to announce that here was a man who would end all the ills and plug all holes in the security apparatus in India. Unfortunately, not only do the same ills continue to plague the country, they have grown manifold and the holes have become more gaping. Let us also not forget that the high-profile minister was given a free hand in selecting his team. NIA was formed and even National Security Advisor MK Narayanan could not continue long after the Harvard-educated lawyer took over the reins of the ministry.
While, loyalists of the arrogant minister would find the comment blasphemous, the facts, sacred as they are, remain that despite his blundering ways it was under Patil that HuJI modules were busted and terror attack cases solved. That is not the case with his successor. All terror attack cases seem stuck. In fact, if we compare his record with Patil’s, the latter seems to deserve sympathy. It is not to say that he was very efficient, it is a sad commentary on the capabilities of the incumbent Home Minister even after having got rid of the department of personnel and training that used to come under the Home Ministry.
Even if we were to leave the six terror attacks during his tenure for a while, it has been a rather lacklustre performance. Naxal attacks have continued unabated. He cannot claim any credit for reduction in attacks in West Bengal as it is mainly due to the new government under Mamata Banerjee there. The cosy relationship between the Naxals and TMC are hardly hidden. The fundamental political question that arises therefore is: Is there a leadership crisis at Home Ministry? Or is he still in love with Finance Ministry and therefore the cold war with Pranab Mukherjee? Funnily, Mr Chidambaram can, however, lay claim to a left handed compliment. He has been able to transform the skill of shifting blames into an art form. This time, it was Delhi Police that was at the receiving end. Did he forget that the force comes under his very own ministry?
One wonders what are the factors at play that prevent his ouster from the job? In any case, there is every likelihood that he will be probed in the 2G spectrum case for his role in the scam during his tenure as Finance Minister. The way he and Kapil Sibal handled Anna Hazare movement has also caught some flak. Therefore, it is a guessing game on why he continues to be in a position of critical importance in the government. One of the worst remarks that any Home Minister worth his salt can make, goes in his name. After the blast at Delhi High Court, he infamously said: “no intelligence is not intelligence failure.” Yes, one realises, he is under duress. Whether it is because he has not been to blame to contain terror or law closing in on him in the 2G scam and other financial misdemeanors, is to be seen.
But the worst is yet to come. It was under his stewardship at the Ministry of Home Affairs that India became a laughing stock at the international stage, especially in Pakistan. His ministry provided the list of ‘most wanted terrorists” in India believed to be hiding in Pakistan. The Indian government became an object of ridicule as it was later established that some of them were not only living in India but even were in jail. It seems Palaniappan Chidambaram has lost the plot completely.
By Rahul Kashyap
(The author is a senior journalist)
Post- 7/9 the discourse has drifted to building-up of counter-terror hierarchy. Setting-up of Criminal Crime Tracking Network System and Counter Terror Centre is being talked about. In all this debate local police which has an important role to play has been forgotten. Unless we strengthen, equip and network country’s 13,421 police stations and 7,826 police posts our counter-terror strategy will not deliver the desired results.
There have been large-scale recruitments in the police and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) to make up existing deficiency in manpower and raise new units. In this rush unit and sub-unit cohesion has been affected, which is evident from the performance of units engaged in anti-Naxal operations. There is a dearth of training facilities for the police. A constable or sub-inspector seldom returns to his/her training institute for a refresher or advanced training. As per a modest estimate a policeman would have to wait for ten years to get a chance to attend a long course in training schools. In the absence of training how can a policeman keep pace with the changing time?
Police stations are still relevant in our counter-terror matrix. Diehard policeman believe that it is the misuse of police force and neglect of police stations that has caused us dearly in terms of professional decay. “While we can collect strategic intelligence from a satellite hovering thousands of miles above us, the tactical intelligence regarding the movement of terrorists will still come from the beat constable and his mukhbir,” quips a retired ACP. He is right in saying that you cannot omit the ‘man (or woman) behind the gun’.
After any terror strike, companies dealing in security systems and equipments do brisk business, as our procurement processes are fast-tracked by easing the qualitative requirements. Most of our procurements in terms of electronic surveillance, access control, scanners, metal and explosive detectors, and bomb disposal systems have been procured through knee-jerk reactions. It is not very uncommon to find a number of foreign vendors flocking to North Block soon after a terror attack. Why cannot we do a systematic procurement through need assessment, system identification, vendor selection and smart negotiation?
CCTV cameras are often seen as a panacea for all crime and terror related problems. Electronic surveillance is just a part of integrated security system that a city or an installation needs. It is built upon integrating the principal domains of security – human, physical, technical and IT. Panic procurement omits the requirement of integration that is why hastily procured wares lose relevance and utility after sometime.
Why we keep getting hit
The US hasn’t suffered another terror attack on its soil since 9/11. India has been hit repeatedly. What have they done right, and where have we gone wrong?
The US has some advantages that India does not. Unlike India, the US does not share a border of over 3,000 km with a terror-sponsoring state. It does not have to live with a hostile Pakistan using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Nor does it have internal political sensitivities compounded by vote bank politics. Also, India does not have the reach to leverage and influence multilateral forums like the UN and the requisite technology back-up and resources to invest in the war against terror.
The domestic settings of the two countries are vastly different—leaders with political maturity and an understanding of problems; a responsible, informed media as against an episode-centric alarmist media; a criminal administrative system based on trust of law-enforcing agencies as against a legal system totally distrustful of the police are a few differentiating factors. India, however, has its own unique strengths on which it can build its counter-terrorist policies, not by emulating the US but by drawing the right lessons from it. An approach that has paid rich dividends for the US is building its strategy around a well-deliberated and comprehensive counter-terrorist policy. Right from the early 1960s when terrorists started hijacking planes, the US declared a counter-terrorist policy. It has been regularly updating and modifying it factoring in new realities, to provide a definite framework of action to different organs of the government.
They internalised this approach to security following the Pearl Harbour attack in December 1941—when the US felt the need to minimize if not eliminate unaffordable surprises. They made conscious efforts to work under a well-defined policy framework—articulated with tangible specifics. To a considerable extent it synergized the security apparatus and enhanced its capacity to perform, laying considerable stress on system improvement.
Unfortunately, rather than systemic improvement we have got attuned to episodic response. Individually our security professionals are as good as the best in the world in terms of knowledge, skills and motivation, but their productivity is low owing to a confused and non-coordinated effort. Another contrast in approach is our failure to analyse each terrorist-related incident, prepare case studies, draw the right lessons and integrate them in our future operations and training. The US has made intensive research, both within the government and outside, an integral part of their security management process. We do not encourage this kind of research by co-opting scholars and experts in policy-making. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results next time is how Einstein defined insanity. Terrorists surprise us because we are unable to surprise them—and to surprise them you need knowledge domination.
Our actions and responses are predictable and terrorists know exactly how to defeat our preventive systems, evade detection and use misinformation to mislead the agencies. The cumulative effect of a lack of strategy and stereotyping of tactics has made us inconsistent in our strategic moves and predictable in tactics. Both work to our disadvantage. The western approach of a pre-defined strategy and surprise in tactics has helped them considerably in preventing terrorist acts at home. After the Delhi High Court blast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly observed that “there are weaknesses in our system, we must work hard to plug the weaknesses”. There are no two opinions that he cannot shift the blame for this on any one but his own government that has been in power for over seven years. However, fixing responsibility does not solve the problem. Three factors can be attributed to this failure.
The first is that national security comes low in the pecking order of government priority. This was evident from the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme announced in May 2004. The fight against terrorism hardly figured in the agenda of governance. Despite a series of security setbacks, no one has cared to revise this document and give national security its due. Admission of failure and willingness to change is another pre-requisite for better delivery. The government’s attempts to play down failures, blaming the media for over-reaction, accusing the opposition of politicizing the issue and citing previous attacks prevent meaningful change.
Lack of political will has seen many useful suggestions being brushed aside. Some excellent ones by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission chaired by then law minister Veerappa Moily in June 2008 have not seen the light of day. The recommendations of the Pradhan Committee, appointed after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, were not even read properly till the July 2011 attacks happened. Re-enactment of the Police Act that the Supreme Court has been insisting on following its historic judgment in the Prakash Singh case remains unimplemented.
All these failures have eroded government credibility, making both its intentions and capabilities suspect. This is the worst thing that can happen to a nation. Success in the war against terror requires the support of civil society, the political class, media, thinkers and opinion-makers. In the West, governments have been able to conduct themselves better on security issues, reaching out to even political opponents, experts and thinkers who do not concur with them.
By Ajit Doval
(The writer is former chief, Intelligence Bureau)
Chaos runs our cities. “Safe City” is still a distant dream. Post-26/11, it was hoped that at least metropolitan cities will have an integrated security system of electronic surveillance, visitors’ registry, identification, access control and crisis response, etc., which is far from being accomplished. It is disconcerting to note that Public Works Department dithered for more than two years and could not install 32 CCTV cameras in the Delhi High Court premises. In the absence of video footage investigating agencies are falling back on the archaic system of identity kit to produce the sketch of the suspects. The sketches issued by the police were so off the mark that these were later withdrawn.
In electronic surveillance, control room operations – observation, footage viewing and cataloguing and issuing alerts are very important procedures. This aspect is not being paid due attention to, which is why one finds one or two operators trying to view the real time video footage emanating from dozens of camera. This is particularly true in case of transport hubs, installations and public places where inadequate staffing makes the entire process self-defeating.
Control of explosives and explosive substances in India remains lax. Being an agricultural and industrialised country there is no dearth of substances which can be improvised as explosives. Availability of civilian grade explosives in mining and construction sectors to terror groups has not been effectively checked. In the areas affected by left wing extremism procurement of explosives by terrorists groups by looting, pilferage and misappropriation has often been reported. Open sale of ammonium nitrate—an ingredient found to be used in many bomb blasts in the country—was finally banned by Government of India after 13 July Mumbai blasts. In the villages of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where small quarries are in operation, people have developed expertise in refining fertiliser grade calcium-ammonium nitrate into explosive grade ammonium nitrate for use in mining operations. Hence, the ban would serve little purpose.
While we boast of increasing tele-density in the country, the attendant security risks have not been taken seriously. Chinese mobile phones without International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number have flooded Indian markets. A call is tracked either by SIM or IMEI number. Criminals and terrorists use multiple SIM cards from a cell phone to avoid tracking. IMEI is helpful in tracking such calls.
Despite many regulations issued by the government procurement of a SIM card in the country is very easy. On 24 July, Mumbai police recovered 80,000 SIM cards from a person in Thane, Mumbai. Apparently all is not well with business practices adopted by telecom companies when it comes to issuance of new connections.
An effective counter-terror strategy would remain elusive unless we integrate our intelligence, investigation and physical action abilities. Multiple agencies will only compound problems of command and control and sniff out existing organisations. What has happened to state CID—a potent and effective organisation of the yore, which has lost is utility and credibility—is a case in point. Capacity building should keep police stations as counter-terror nodes – adequately staffed, networked and equipped with modern weapons, forensics and communications.
By Col. Utkarsh S Rathore
(The author is a threat and risk analyst and security consultant)