In 2012, arrests were made in Karnataka of 18 suspected terrorists including an Indian DRDO scientist – apparently motivated by Al Qaeda’s on line magazine ‘Inspire’ – with some having links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami (HuJI). It is another reminder that terrorist attacks may have abated but the threat remains potent. The close affiliation of the LeT and HuJI with Al- Qaeda is well known, and the possibility of theirplanning a spectacular attack on a nuclear installation in India, as somemembers of the above mentioned module have reportedly alluded to in their interrogation, should not be dismissed. The recent attack on the Pakistani nuclear air base, Minhas, carries a warning.
Successful intelligence operations are indeed the first line of defence against terror and our intelligence agencies need to be commended for interdicting such a potential threat. Some 60 modules have been neutralised lately. But are we (a) preparing in earnest to tackle those situations that might escape their radar and (b) watching the ominous clouds slowly drifting in our direction from Afghanistan? The repeated terrorist assaults in Afghanistan – most recently on April 15 this year – have an ominous message for India as the drawdown of US/NATO forces in Afghanistan approaches in 2014. On April 15th 2012, apart from Kabul, simultaneous coordinated attacks were made in Nangrahar, Paktia and Logar provinces, all intended to dramatize the potency of the insurgents to fight the US and NATO forces. These show that techniques for simultaneous suicidal attacks, particularly in urban centres (the 26/11 Mumbai template), are being upgraded upon, by the Haqqani – Al Qaeda –Taliban groups, ably guided Pakistan’s ISI. These could well provide the model for attacks against targets in India in the future.
The Kabul attack involved forty terrorists, as against ten in Mumbai, but much greater fire power was used . And though Kabul falls in a war zone, being highly protected through an intensive security deployment, it took 18 hours of hard fighting to neutralise the attackers. In fact, since the 26/11 attack, western governments – as far away as New York – have analysed in detail the LeT’s “Mumbai template” of assault on urban targets, devising protocols and rehearsing their responses. But in India, we appear far from prepared. The recent coordinated explosions in Pune and the earlier Delhi High Court bomb explosions are reminders of the chinks in our armour.
In 2012, where bi-cyle blasts hit a crowded market place in Pune, we initially chose to disingenuously label the occurrence as “mischief”. But this same model and modus operandi was used by the Indian Mujahideen bombers, with links to the Pune blasts, in Hyderbad in 2013. More importantly while the world over technology is being used to good effect to counter terror, our city surveillance systems remain rudimentary if not non-existent even in our metros. What little exists, does not function because maintenance and its accountability is alien to our culture. Today technology solutions are available for a variety of security requirements and serve as valuable force multipliers.
International Oil and Gas companies for example, use technology to establish command centres to monitor their numerous establishments spread over thousands of kilometres of land and sea. The city of London is a prime example of intensive city wide smart surveillance, which can reputedly even establish hostile reconnaissance by suspicious individuals or monitor otherwise suspicious behaviour. Why haven’t our cities even begun to follow suit?
For one, State Police budgets are abysmally inadequate barely covering establishment costs. For this the Chief Ministers must take the blame. Police modernisation is almost entirely dependent on central handouts. Another problems is that we are seeking to impose solutions top downwards by augmenting central counter terror capacities, whereas the constitutional and legal framework makes policing and public order a ‘State’ responsibility. Thus the State police force is the primary mechanism for the prevention, detection, neutralisation and investigation of all offences, including terrorist attacks.
What if the ‘Mumbai template’ being refined in Afghanistan is employed simultaneously in more than one of our cities on the same day? In how many cities can the NSG respond in time from its four regional hubs and Headquarter in Delhi? Consider also that multiple centres within a city may be under attack. Add to that the use of crude radiological device. Even if NSG units move with utmost expedition and airlift capacities and clear roads are assumed as a given, can we afford to surrender the initial few hours to the advantage of highly trained terrorists employing ‘special operations’ tactics against hapless civilian targets? In that event, asixty hour repetition of Mumbai being held hostage may become inevitable with large casualties and millions suffering vicarious victimhood as they remain transfixed to their TV screens. This is precisely what the terrorist’s want.
If the initial advantage has to be denied to the terrorists the local police and the Police Station have to be prepared to be the first responder equipped and trained for this tactical responsibility. While counter terror capabilities in Delhi should be judiciously enhanced, the propensity to enlarge central fiefs without testing their efficacy should be eschewed. We need to honestly invest much more in our State police forces both for conventional policing and additionally for their initial response to aterror attack. For this, the onus must squarely rest with the State governments.
Shyam Ratan Mehra is a former Secretary Security with the Government of India , now an advisor to Security Watch India, a Delhi based counter terrorism initiative.