Even as India emerged as the world’s largest arms importer, importing between 2007-2011 in excess of $22 billion worth of military equipment, and almost double of the 12/13 billion that Pakistan or South Korea did, the attack on Mumbai on 26th November 2008 (26/11 as it’s now called), was not just a mere terror attack but was one of those rare incidents that shook the very foundation of India’s national security and brought the establishment out of its self imposed slumber. It took three days for India’s Special Forces to neutralise all the terrorists but that unnerving experience continues to challenge and rattle the public’s faith in the ability of the State to protect its citizens.
In one go that terror attack exposed the sheer inability and unpreparedness of India’s civilian police agencies to tackle any well coordinated terror attack of that magnitude, as it brought to fore the shocking vulnerability of India’s vast coastline and blew apart the established thinking that security only came with securing the land borders while leaving the huge coastline at God’s mercy. Also, the 26/11 terror attack revealed the enormity of devastation that non-state actors based and used as a proxy by an unstable neighbour can have serious ramifications for India’s security. It also made many in India realise that economic development and rise of the stock market indices mean nothing if the nation is ill-prepared to secure its critical assets and cities. Furthermore, the 26/11 attacks confirmed that for most of today’s terror groups, the thin line between private and government targets have blurred.
And finally, the 26/11 made India realise that massive expenses on acquisition of modern combat aircraft, warships, submarines and spending billions on development of ballistic and cruise missiles may be politically correct, but are insufficient to safeguard the nation, since they can neither be used against a nuclear armed neighbour ( like Pakistan) nor against a well planned and executed 26/11 type attack, a different war that cannot be won with missiles and warships. The key to victory remains in the implementation of critical police reforms and restructuring of the internal security architecture.
However, since the 26/11 attack, the Government of India, under public and media pressure and to shed the tag of ‘ineptitude’, has gone in for a massive weapons acquisition spree for Central and State Police Forces in the last five years. The budget for the Union Home Ministry saw manifold increase and new institution like National Investigation Agency was conceived even while existing ones like National Technical Research Organisation and National Security Guard were given more impetus. The past five years have also seen efforts being made to fight the menace of terrorism and organised crime through greater application of information technology. Projects like National Grid (NatGrid) or CCTNS have been initiated to integrate a myriad of police and intelligence database that exists in India. However, under the banner of federalism, most Indian States opposed the creation of a central body, the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which could restrict or pre-empt, terror attacks.
And in spite of the example of how to integrate disparate organisations on a war footing under a specific department to battle terrorism – as was done by US in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks- India failed to learn its lessons. Its disparate law enforcement agencies continue to act in isolation with little or no coordination that is much needed to pre-empt any large scale terror attack or to break the backbone of terrorism. The moot question then which remains to be answered is whether India’s law enforcement agencies are equipped enough to intelligently predict and preempt them. World over, the success of any law enforcement agency depends upon how integrated their approach is. Their success invariably depends on the success of the four pillars of intelligence, special operations, investigation and prosecution. The best example of the same is nevertheless the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which defines itself as an intelligencedriven and threat-focused national security organization with both intelligence and law enforcement responsibilities. Apart from intelligence and investigation capabilities, the FBI also has its own special operations units for pre-emptive operations against terror modules.
The FBI might sound synonymous with Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of India but the similarity ends there itself. In India most of the central law enforcement agencies work disparately and not as pillars of one integrated organisation. An ideal way forward for India would be to integrate its National Security Guard ( its elite counter terror and anti hijacking Special Force), Intelligence Bureau, National Investigation Agency as well as CBI, as part of one integrated agency which can be named National Security Agency or even National Counter Terror Centre. Such a dispensation should be accountable to the parliament and the constitution of India and should ideally have pre-emptive powers to arrest suspects. The irony is that most states remain extremely reluctant to the idea of making internal security an integral part of national security and still prefer to look at terrorism through the prism of the law & order mechanisms, which in India continues to be a state subject. The concept of ‘law & order’ as scripted in India’s constitution did not envisage the kind of mayhem , terrorism or organised crime could wreak, which makes it imperative for making terrorism a federal subject instead of a state subject since more often than not it has ramifications in more than one state. Needless to say, where intelligence and investigation underperform, prosecution suffers too, resulting in very low level of conviction of terrorists in India.
Clear chains of command continue to be an anathema in India with overlapping of jurisdiction of a multiplicity of agencies continuing to inhibit progress. This coupled with a lack of a national discourse or a consensus on security issues ably complimented by myopic vote-bank politics continues to make India a soft target for terror groups. The incident of 26/11 was followed by a spate of terror attacks by home-grown and/or the Pakistan mentored Indian Mujahideen, periodically in Indian cities. This is coupled by the massacre of jawans by Maoists in the restive district of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh.
The success of the Maoists lie in their immaculate dexterity in camouflaging their ruthless quest for power through violent means, with a veneer of Robin Hood style romanticism and fight for the cause of poor. Thus while New Delhi grapples to find the most effective combination of police action and developmental work – often see-sawing between sympathy for the Maoists and tough talk – the Maoists continue to kill policemen with impunity, acquire more sophisticated weapons, and even target Air Force helicopters regularly.
In fact, the multitude of threats that exist to India’s internal security from radical terror groups and Maoists has in no way declined since 26/11. On the contrary, with worsening of the situation in Pakistan the possibility of Pakistan based terror groups launching a new wave of 26/11 type attacks in India, remains high. The same is the case with Maoists who are now feeling the heat of relentless operations by the para-military police forces, who are now inching closer to the Maoist bastions in the Dandakaranya zone in Central India. Would it be a matter of time that the Maoists too possibly start staging large scale attacks on Indian cities?
But are India’s cities, and more importantly, its police forces prepared and suitably trained and equipped? In fact, for quite some time, the directions of the Supreme Court of India – asking for the implementation of the much needed police reforms – have been ignored by India’s provincial state governments, reluctant to implement police reforms, which would take away their political clout over the ill-equipped and overstretched police forces. The allergic aversion of the states of India towards any kind of police reform is symptomatic of real problem that plagues India. Most states of India still don’t prioritise security and while state level police agencies remain under funded.
To be fair, one must appreciate the kind of effort that has been made by India’s Union Home Ministry to assist the state police forces in augmenting their capabilities. The amount of acquisition of weapon systems and other accessories like communication and logistics equipment that have been made by the Home Ministry for its Central Police Forces and the kind of assistance given to the states through programmes like Modernisation of Police Fund (MPF) and Security Related Expenditure (SRE) reimbursement programme is praiseworthy. A considerable amount of effort has been put to assist the states in raising Reserve Battalions on the lines of CRPF for combating Maoists as well as in raising Special Units of the city police to specially counter terror operations. Beside, the central government has tried to compensate for the deficit of nearly half a million police personnel in state polices forces through the augmentation of battalions in Central Police Forces which now almost stand to nearly a million. A significant portion of the same, especially of CRPF is now deployed in fighting Maoists and assisting states in emergency law & order issues.
Yet, capacity building through acquisition of sophisticated equipment is one thing. To make sure that they remain functional and serve the purpose is quite another. Maharashtra, one of India’s most economically developed states exemplifies the issues that plague India’s states. In the aftermath of 26/11, considerable amount was spent to make sure that such breach of Mumbai coast line does not happen again. With much fanfare a fleet of speed boats were inducted in Mumbai Police yet most remain idle for want of adequate manpower or lack of proper maintenance. The same is the case with the Pune blasts a year back when it was found during the course of investigation that most of the CCTV cameras were dysfunctional.
Today, India requires not only substantially greater investments in internal security – with no Indian State (Province) coming even close to the UN mandated figure of 220 policemen for every 1,00,000 citizens – but also much more cohesion and integration between India’s plethora of armed forces—the three traditional military services, the border guarding forces, central police forces, state police forces as well as the investigation and intelligence agencies. Over the last few years China has shown how important it is to invest in internal security capacity building by consistently putting more money into internal security forces than even for military. It is time that India treads on that path for its own security sake. At stake is not just the idea of India, but a $ 2 trillion economy.
The authors are associated with Security Watch India .