Are we a soft state?

Saswat Panigrahi

It’s been three years. The scars of a 60-hour-long terror siege which scripted a gory tale in blood are very much visible.

The unprecedented terror strikes on multiple targets across India’s financial capital -- carried out by ten trained Pakistani jihadis, executed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) inside Pakistan -- snuffed out the lives of at least 166 innocent people and wounded more than 300.

Mumbai Police, Rapid Action Force personnel, Marine Commandos and National Security Guards performed their duties with remarkable bravery and professionalism in their battle with the terrorists. Fifteen policemen and two NSG commandos sacrificed their lives in the counter-offensive.

On the third anniversary of Mumbai terror attacks, let’s pay tribute to the unsung heroes and the victims.

Zero progress by Pakistan

Dossiers after dossiers were sent to Pakistan. Date after date was set for action against the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks. But, three years after 26/11, there is zero progress by Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to justice.

However, has India failed to bend Pakistan internationally? If so, blame it on the UPA leadership. Don’t forget this government shocked the nation by delinking terrorism from Indo-Pak composite dialogue in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009. Early this month Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went on to describe his Pakistani counterpart “a man of peace”.

26/11 terrorists are having a field day

Three years after 26/11, Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive is still facing a death sentence. The Bombay High Court upheld his death penalty, awarded by a special court in Mumbai. Last month, the Supreme Court stayed execution of the death sentence “to facilitate due process of law”.

The cost of keeping Kasab alive is as much as Rs 100 crore and counting.

India still awaits access to 26/11 plotter David Coleman Headley and his accomplice Tahawwur Rana, who are in FBI custody.

Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the mastermind of 26/11 attacks continues his anti-India rhetoric from inside Pakistan. However, Pakistan maintains that there is not enough evidence against him.

How prepared we are to tackle terror?

26/11 had laid bare an abysmal intelligence and a spineless security, which helped the terror siege to succeed. Three years on, is India alert and prepared to thwart future terror attacks?

After 26/11 attacks, there were six major bomb blasts in different parts of the nation. Compensations for the victims were announced. Probes were ordered. Sketches of the suspects were prepared. However, the investigative agencies are struggling to find a “conclusive lead” in most of the cases.

Terrorists come at their will, kill innocent people and disappear into their cubby holes. But so “efficient” our intelligence agencies are that they do not even find clues of their whereabouts! And hunt for the suspects goes on....

The intelligence agencies utterly fail to read the changing modus operndi of the terrorists. They fail to gather inputs to thwart future terror strikes. They are unable to prevent one attack after another. But what are the reasons?

There are serious problems in India’s intelligence matrix. First, the multiplicity of its structure leads to confusion. Second, there is lack of co-ordination between agencies. Third, a sizable chunk of intelligence and security officials are not professionally trained and equipped to carry out their tasks. Fourth, there is a gross disconnect between the Centre and the states in tackling terror. Fifth, there are huge vacancies in security and intelligence agencies which have not been filled for years.

The apex organisation for India’s intelligence is the Intelligence Bureau (IB) which has a cascading bureaucratic structure. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), on the other hand, deals with India’s external intelligence and works under a “cloak of secrecy”.

Several states have set up Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) to fight terror. All these intelligence agencies rarely share inputs, perhaps considering them as “highly secret”.

In the aftermath of Mumbai terror attacks, India has set up National Investigation Agency (NIA). This is supposed to be central agency to combat terrorism. But the agency is yet to build its capacity.

The proposed National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), which aims at facilitating information sharing by security agencies and law enforcement agencies to combat terror remains a work in progress.

The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) which is supposed to gather “highly specialised technical intelligence” is almost defunct.

The National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTS) -- modelled on United States -- the “nodal agency” for counter terrorism with representation from all security and intelligence agencies is yet to take its shape.

In that case, undertrained and poorly equipped state police machineries are often being used to investigate and respond to terror attacks.

Time and again several ideas were floated, various recommendations were made to revamp India’s security architecture. But nothing has changed. India’s intelligence and security agencies remain in their moribund condition, giving an edge to the terrorists.

This is in sharp contrast to the countries like US which succeeded in uprooting terrorism by enhancing their already organised security system. Post 9/11, America has set up a separate ministry called Homeland Security and enacted USA PATRIOT Act, helping the country to intercept and obstruct further terror strikes. So did Europe and Israel. But we couldn’t.

Surge in home grown terrorism

This is not to dispute that terrorism in India is emanated from across the border. But the cross-border terror networks work in tandem with the local terror elements.

In the last one decade there was a surge in home grown terrorism. More interestingly, the local terror elements are getting political patronage.

Lack of political willpower

The Congress-led UPA government’s track record in tackling terror is abysmally poor. At present, India does not have any proper anti-terror law. It was the UPA government which repealed Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (POTA) in 2004 perhaps “to protect the rights of the terror accused”.

Remember, the government shamelessly went on to justify its move saying, “A tough law can’t prevent terror attacks”. But after 26/11, the government woke up from its slumber and amended the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, incorporating some provisions from the POTA. But the UPA so far has failed to explain to the nation why it is reluctant to bring a separate anti-terror law.

The immediate priorities

India is vulnerable to terror attacks. To fight terror, the country needs to strengthen its security and intelligence. The need of hour is to revamp border security, maritime security and aerial security. The nation needs a complete recast of its intelligence mechanism. There is a pressing need for stringent counter-terrorism policy and its implementation. In order to weed out terrorism from its roots, India needs to terrorise the terrorists and their sympathisers.

In the end, the one pertinent thought that resonates years after the 26/11 attacks is – Does human life count for even a little bit in India?

The government should act and that too fast.

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