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Incompetence of India's security apparatus

The incompetence of India's security apparatus has been incontrovertibly demonstrated.

Governmental responses to the Mumbai carnage show little sign of coming to terms with the enormity of the issue. The prime minister has chosen to emphasise amendments to the prevailing laws on terrorism — currently a set of toothless provisions inserted in 2005 into the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967— and the mirage of a Federal Investigation Agency that is intended to make all terrorism in the country miraculously vanish.

Neither of these initiatives, however, has any potential whatsoever to contain the rampage of terrorism across a country that remains pitifully under-policed, with a paper thin intelligence cover concentrated in a few urban centres and strategic locations.

There has also been a reiteration of assurances that ‘maritime security’ will be beefed up, with more power and resources to the coast guard and coastal police stations, and better coordination between these forces, and with the navy.

Then, of course, there is a question of response to the very obvious role of Pakistan — and this is a palpable dead end. Even preliminary investigations have thrown up overwhelming evidence that every string of control in the multiple terrorist strikes in Mumbai leads back to Pakistan and to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) — an organisation that, under its new identity as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa continues to enjoy direct state support in Pakistan.

In a rare outburst, Prime Minister Singh warned unnamed "neighbours" that "the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them."

His government is now reportedly "under pressure" to act against Pakistan, and a range of hare-brained responses are doing the rounds in official circles, including massive troop mobilisation along the border, mimicking the purposeless massing of troops under Operation Parakram, launched on December 16, 2001, after the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament.

If this worthless and counter-productive exercise is the model to be replicated in the present case, it would be no less than tragic. If, on the other hand, it is not, then there is little capacity — at this juncture — to design effective alternatives, in the foreseeable future, to impose any "cost" on Pakistan, and such capacities can only be constructed, gradually and systematically, over time, and with a clear strategy in mind — and there is little evidence of the latter at this juncture.

The overwhelming focus of the Indian response to Pakistan’s role appears to be concentrated on diplomatic efforts to bring international pressure to bear on Pakistan. This has been an apparently successful initiative, particularly with US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice set to arrive at Delhi on December 3, on a visit that many expect (or, more likely, hope) will produce more than just a very strong ‘message’ to Islamabad.

While all this will certainly make the powers that be in Pakistan squirm a bit, there is little reason to believe that the dynamic that has protected them in past and even greater transgressions, both in the region and well beyond, will not, once again, reassert itself.

In the meanwhile, the attack in Mumbai has done what may well be irreparable damage to the "shining" image of the "emerging global power". The utter incapacity and incompetence of India’s security apparatus has been incontrovertibly demonstrated in what may be an audacious attack by as few as 10 terrorists. Any terrorist operation can only be contained, in terms of its potential, in the first few minutes.

Which means that the "first responders"— invariably the local police — have to be equipped, trained and capable of, if not neutralising, then, at least, containing the terrorists. If the first batches of police personnel had arrived in sufficient strength at each of the locations of terrorist attack in Mumbai, with appropriate weaponry, communications, transport and other technological force multipliers they probably would have been able to minimise the loss of life, material damage, and the operational time.

(Published in Economic Times, New Delhi, December 2, 2008)





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