Friday, November 27, 2009

India still at risk from terror attacks

By Indrajit Basu
UPI Correspondent
Published: November 27, 2009

Kolkata, India — As India marked the anniversary of the terror attacks that devastated the financial capital of Mumbai one year ago Thursday, experts refuted the administration’s claims that the country is “ahead of the curve” in fighting terrorism. In fact, the experts say, little has changed.

Skeptics will say nothing changes in Mumbai except property and stock prices. But following the terror attacks that rocked the city for 62 hours on Nov. 26, 2008, even the staunchest of skeptics hopes that the commercial capital and the country will wake up from their slumber and challenge terrorism. The Mumbai attacks were India’s worst ever, and they shook both the country and the world.

“There is no denying that there have been some changes in the country’s preparedness to handle terrorism; things have started moving. But nobody is waking up to the fact that the house that was on fire once, needs to be made fireproof,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, a New Delhi-based think tank.

“If you look at the list of achievements that the government has enumerated, it may indeed appear that the government is acting. Yet these are small accretion initiatives that are nowhere near what is needed.”

The list indeed looks long and suggests that the government has been active. For instance, in less than three weeks following the attacks the government had started putting its intelligence system on a war footing by setting up a National Investigation Agency, along with Subsidiary Multi-Agency Centers, within the Intelligence Bureau that would also serve as a databank of terrorists and extremists, including Naxalites – the radical Indian communists that support Maoist political sentiment and ideology.

Spreading the tentacles of these intelligence agencies nationwide, Indian has also launched a high-tech system called the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System. This has the broad objective of providing a citizen-friendly interface for the nationwide sharing of information on crime and criminals and improving the efficiencyand effectiveness of the police.

“Consequently, our intelligence system is far more effective than what it was a year back,” said India’s Home Minister P. Chidambaram in an address to the media on Thursday.

“Based on our ramped-up intelligence system, already we have been able to thwart a number of 26/11-like attacks originating from both outside the borders and terror cells within the country,” he claimed.

Giving credit to the efficiency of the country’s intelligence agencies, Chidambaram said that the country’s navy, coast guard, coastal security force, and police force – primarily in the state of Maharashtra and in the capital New Delhi – had also been ramped up.

Other notable measures include setting up 20 counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism schools across the country to train police; issuing identity cards to residents of 3,331 coastal villages (since the Mumbai attacks were launched from the coast) in nine states and four Union territories; implementing countermeasures to deal with fake Indian currency that, according to the government, is a significant funding source for terror operations; and constructing an additional 509 border outposts, 383 along the Indo-Bangladesh and 125 along the Indo-Pakistan border.

Still, says Sahni, “The cumulative deficit of the system is so large that India needs to do much more and much faster.”
Most of these initiatives, say experts, address the deficiencies at the central government level, whereas state-level initiatives, which are also needed to effectively fight terrorism, are largely lacking.

Experts also moan the woeful inadequacy of the protection force in India. According to the Institute for Conflict Management, the ratio of active duty uniformed troops to population in a comparable country like China is 1 for every 591 residents; 1 for every 295 residents in the United Kingdom; 1 for every 279 residents in Pakistan; and 1 for 187 residents in the United States. India's troops work out to about 1 for every 866 residents.

“The problem is that the political leadership in most states, and significant segments of the leadership at the center, is not serious about policing,” said Sahni. “Given the high levels of corruption and criminalization in political parties and in the political executive, as well as the entrenched politician-criminal and, in many cases, politician-terrorist nexus, there is an enduring political interest in keeping the enforcement mechanism weak, dependent and dysfunctional.”

Harsh words indeed, yet as Chidambaram says, despite a mixed collective record, what cannot be ignored is that India’s best achievement so far has been in the reiteration of its determination to fight terror and in the sharing of intelligence.

According to Chidambaram, while parts of India have learned many lessons, and many may have learned some lessons, sooner or later all of India will learn all the lessons that have to be learned.

Experts say the sooner India learns its lessons the better it will be for its 1.15 billion, and growing, residents.

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