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Institutional responses utterly inadequate

Once again, an astonishing and lethal terrorist attack in Mumbai has underlined the enveloping vulnerabilities of the Indian state. The nation has witnessed India’s security apparatus in action over a counter-terrorism operation that has been carried out in full view of the electronic media for well over 60 hours.

Despite tremendous courage, exemplary leadership and unqualified dedication of the security forces involved, the sad truth is that the institutional responses have proven utterly inadequate. The first to reach the incident locations were, of course, the local police, including members and leaders of Maharashtra’s Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS) and it was abundantly clear that this was no more than a small handful of ill-equipped, ill-protected and poorly armed men, driven only by their extraordinary sense of duty to fight an enemy who vastly better prepared and equipped.

It is clear that these men had been given little or nothing by the state to confront the challenge of terrorism, but that they gave everything they had – including their lives – to protect this dysfunctional state and its hapless citizens.

As for the National Security Guard (NSG) – once again, their courage, and in this case even their training and equipment, cannot be faulted – their structural failures neutralized any possibility of their being able to prevent the fullest potential of the terrorists from being realized.

The stupidity, no less, of having the NSG located at its headquarters at Manesar in Harayana, has once again been demonstrated. After the Centre took well over three hours after the commencement of the terrorist attack to arrive at the decision to deploy 200 NSG commandos in the operations in Mumbai, it took these men another four hours to reach the incident location – driving to the Airport at Delhi, being flown to Mumbai, and then being transported by bus to the sites.

Thereafter, they were ordered to enter the major locations virtually blind, without any maps of the hotels or of the areas in which they were required to operate. Inevitably, their responses have been improvised and invented, virtually from moment to moment and from location to location. Some foreign observers have already described the operations as ‘poorly planned’ and their can be no gainsaying this assessment.

It is abundantly clear that the most basic of response protocols have not yet been established in India for counter-terrorism (CT) operations, despite decades of deadly terrorism in the country. Nor, indeed, have sufficient

capacities of response been created.

Crucially, it is at the level of the ‘first responders’ that these capacities are most necessary. It is only in the first few minutes of a terrorist attack that its potential can be neutralised – consequently, the first forces to arrive at the incident site have to be fully equipped, trained and capable of response. If terrorist have time – in this case, hours – to commit mayhem, to take hostages and to entrench themselves in the target locations, before effective security force operations commence, they are obviously going to be able to inflict maximal damage, and will only be neutralised at great cost in lives and materials.

It is clear that CT capacities, consequently, must be located at the level of the thana, the primary node of response to any major crime. Unless police capacities at this level are sufficient augmented, our CT responses will remain inadequate. The problem, however, is that no political party in this country – at the Centre or in the States – wants a professional and efficient police force. Till this changes, India’s citizens will continue to be subjected to assault after bloody assault, with near impunity, by Pakistan backed Islamist terrorists.

(Published in Economic Times, New Delhi, November 30, 2008)





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