Terrorism Update
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There's just one cop for every 700 Indians


Islamist terrorists, backed by Pakistan, have extended their networks across India, successively attacking urban centres in many states. Each attack has revealed glaring gaps in our security and intelligence cover, and this is not surprising.

Since Independence, policing and security have been given scant attention, and have been neglected under the head of 'non-developmental expenditure'. The result is a cumulative capacity deficit that has severely undermined national capacities of response.

Data for year 2006, for instance, indicates that the national average police to population stands at under 143 per 100,000, as against, for instance a UN norm of about 222 per 100,000, and ratios in most Western countries ranging between 250 and 500 per 100,000.

The Indian figure is, in fact, misleading, as it is based on sanctioned posts, and most States have deficits of between 20 to 30 per cent in terms of positions actually occupied. Andhra Pradesh, where the latest attacks occurred, has a police strength of just 114 per 100,000. The internal intelligence apparatus is also severely understaffed.

Sheer numbers are only part of the problem. Deficits in resources, training, technology, infrastructure and manpower profiles further undermine national counter-terrorism capacities. Worse, though the Centre has now established generous norms for funding police augmentation and modernisation, most states have failed to utilise such funds, or have diverted these to other purposes, or large proportions have simply been siphoned out into the black hole of corruption.

Despite this, our record of counter-terrorism is not poor. Over the past decade, hundreds of Islamist terrorist cells have been identified and disrupted before they could execute attacks. The terrorists have failed to successfully strike at a single strategic target in nearly six years (since the Parliament attack in December 2001), and have been restricted only to the softest of soft targets.

The sources of Islamist terrorism lie principally in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and India's capabilities for covert operations abroad have been systematically dismantled since the late Seventies. It is, consequently, nigh impossible to contain terrorist groups on foreign soil, unless the intelligence agencies are authorised by Government, and can also be protected in their operations in the target country. We lack both the necessary mandate and capacities at this stage.

After each major incident, there is a great deal of speculation over the role or significance of particular groups, and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami appears to be the flavour of the month. But several organisations, particularly including the Lashkar-e-Tayeba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, have been involved in recent terrorist attacks, most of which have been executed as joint operations by more than one group.

It is not the case that any particular organisation is inherently more dangerous than the next. The main thing is that we have to develop our own capabilities to contain terrorist activities. Capacity building is a slow process, and will take time. In the interim, we must take immediate initiatives to retrain and use the existing police strength at optimal levels. There is too much wastage and inefficiency in the operationalisation of available forces at present.

The easy availability and use of explosives must be countered, and legislation, technology and training will all be needed to do this. The illegal possession of, and trade in, explosives should be made a capital offence. A national identity card system, with a centralised database and biometric markers, should be given the highest priority, to prevent the anonymous movement and activities of terrorists and their support networks.

A comprehensive national database of terrorists, criminals and facilitators must be created. Capacities for intelligence generation and scientific interrogation also need to be greatly augmented. National security is not a police concern alone.

The general population can be tapped in imaginative programmes to create an enveloping network for surveillance, monitoring and prevention. Even within existing resource constraints, there are numerous force multipliers that can enhance response capacities.

(Published in Daily News and Analysis, Mumbai, September 2, 2007)





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