India’s security apparatus is as unprepared today as it was a year ago, and the fact that there have been no major attacks over the past year has less to do with greater efficiency and security improvements that it does with the fact that Pakistan itself has become a target of the extremists.
Despite the scale, scope and audacity of the Mumbai attack, to compare it to 9/11 in the US would mean ignoring the underlying issues that led to the attack in the first place. After all, the Indian Parliament was attacked in 2001 and India’s response then was as ineffective as it was after 26/11 Mumbai attack.
As such, it is no surprise that public frustration is growing. Though the
Indian Prime Minister had promised to “go after these individuals and organisations and make sure that every perpetrator, organiser and supporter of terror, whatever his affiliation or religion may be, pays a heavy price,” the government has nothing to show. India had hoped that pressure from the international community and especially the US would force Pakistan (from where the Mumbai attackers hailed) to address Indian concerns. But it took Pakistan a year to even charge the terror masterminds of Lashkar-e-Taiba with planning and helping in executing the attack.
A realisation is dawning upon India that the strategic end-state it seeks is rather different from the one that the US, or the western world in general, seeks. For the US, the priority is preventing an India-Pakistan conflagration that could further upset the war in Afghanistan. India is therefore being asked to take Pakistan’s security concerns into account and to resist domestic calls to pressure Pakistan and instead to engage with Islamabad. Though the Indian government has made some moves toward reviving the Indo-Pak peace process, there is no public appetite for engagement until Pakistan dismantles the terror infrastructure on its territory.
Meanwhile, Indian internal security sector reforms have gone nowhere. The appalling state of India’s internal security apparatus was evident in the manner in which Indian agencies confronted the Mumbai attacks. As terrorists wreaked havoc on Mumbai for three days, Indian security forces struggled to get a handle on the situation. Apart from some usual tinkering with the institutional and legal frameworks, the Indian government has not made any attempt towards a systemic overhaul. The report on Mumbai attack has not been made public, and as such, public debate has taken place in a vacuum. India’s ability to prevent attacks through intelligence gathering and better policing remains at best questionable, while the police forces remain underfunded and undertrained.
The Indian government’s anti-terror stance has repeatedly been shown ineffective. Not only have the terrorists continued to attack India at regular intervals with impunity, but not even a single major terrorist case has been solved over the past few years. At a time when India needs effective institutional capacity to fight ever-more sophisticated terror networks, Indian police and intelligence services are demoralised to an unprecedented degree. The blatant communalising of the process under which the security forces were forced to call off searches and interrogations for fear of offending this or that community has led them to become risk-averse.
Though a large number of security personnel die year after year fighting extremists, the government’s inability and/or unwillingness to face up to the security threat and firmly counter it might end up making such sacrifices meaningless.
Today, the legitimacy of the Indian state is being questioned not only by groups on the margins of Indian society and polity but also by mainstream political parties. As long as India’s response to terrorism is characterised by a shameless appeal along religious lines with political parties trying to consolidate their vote banks instead of coming together to fight the menace, India will continue to be viewed as a soft target by its adversaries.
As the security situation in India’s neighbourhood deteriorates further, it is only a matter of time before another attack happens, and so far there are few signs to suggest that the Indian government has risen to the challenge.
By Harsh V Pant