Security in Coma

The recent spate of attacks in India shows the ease with which terrorists are able to execute their sinister designs in the country. They hit at will, and at a time of their choosing.

By Akrita Reyar | Updated: Sep 24, 2014, 16:49 PM IST

Akrita Reyar The recent spate of attacks in India shows the ease with which terrorists are able to execute their sinister designs in the country. They hit at will, and at a time of their choosing. Anyone or any place can become a target. The scale of destruction is as per their agenda, and modus operandi of their pick. They plant umpteen explosives, at the most conspicuous of places, and yet crisscross the geography of this country unnoticed. Their aim is clear. To kill, maim and inflict insurmountable damage on the country’s physical assets, as well as its psyche. Unfortunately, after each assault our surprise is the same, as is our response. Caught unawares each time, we bury or burn our dead, express grave condolences, announce ex-gratia, and nurse back the injured. The resilience that the common man shows each time is appreciable. The targeted city does indeed slowly begin to limp back on course, but we must realize that it may be more out of a lack of choice, and our utter helplessness. Though we have grappled with the hand of terror for decades now, we have refused to learn the lessons that will help us armour ourselves. Our security apparatus is in tatters, and has little to claim from our derisory intelligence. It is therefore time that we acknowledge that our psychological scars are only getting deeper, and worse still, our stunned stupor is of our own making. The element of insecurity that has been appended to our daily lives is unacceptable. Our slide towards a total loss of control needs to be ebbed, lest an already brutally mauled system slips into coma, where there is scant chance of resuscitation and we live only on prayer. 1. Terror Task Force: It is imperative that we stop treating terror attacks as a law and order problem, and give it the status of a proxy war. The perpetrators of such macabre violence are not criminals, but hardened and dehumanized ideologues, who are willing to obliterate and die for their cause. We need to pluck out terror related cases from under the umbrella of law and order, a subject that falls under state domain, and put it under an autonomous central task force. We already have a successful case study in purging Punjab of Sikh militancy. While the mission was carried out under the aegis of the police force, a concrete policy had been drafted to weed out terrorism. It needs to be replicated on a wider scale at the national level, with a separate task force or crime bureau. It may sound a wee bit too simplistic considering the logistics involved, but it is certainly not an impossible idea. The central force should have branches in each state, which would report in to the capital HQ. Right now, different state police forces are taking on a coordinated terror network in different places separately. The lack of synchronization blunts our edge. Instead of expert commandos, police, who are trained to tackle regular hoodlums, are trying to chase radicals. Only a specialized and well orchestrated force will be able to conduct a swift and relentless crackdown. The fanatics must meet their match. It is not that there have been no arguments against a federal agency. One is that its role begins post the occurrence of an event and can do little in terms of prevention. However, we don’t have to follow set patterns. The role of the agency could be expanded to include deterrence. The agency, which would be fed by a constant stream of intelligence, should be given powers to act decisively on the inputs. England has shown the way, as it foiled at least two attempts at terror in recent times. 2. Intelligence Revamp: Perhaps our greatest failing, is our disjointed and pitiful intelligence gathering system. Though we have had our share of adept cadre, the entire system is disjointed and lacks coordination. The Joint Intelligence Committee(JIC) set up as a central body where in all intelligence gathering arms give their input has helped, but falls woefully short of the standards required to combat hardened jehadis. As of now IB, RAW, CBI, Armed Forces as well as paramilitary intelligence wings and all arms of finance intelligence share information with the JIC, but report to different heads. On the national security front, Intelligence Bureau(IB) plays the most crucial role. But it has a total manpower of about 20,000 with less than 15% as foot soldiers who actually gather information from the field. All State Intelligence Bureaus are branches of their respective state police forces. And while their chiefs are supposed to be chosen in consultation with the IB chief, they mostly end up being political nominations. Under the system beat constables are expected to do ground work, which actually requires trained personnel. The ability to pick the right leads and discern their vitality is left to them. So that one crucial piece of news that can crack a case or preempt an attack is at the mercy of a constable! This way the right clues don’t always travel up the hierarchy. It is therefore imperative that the idea of setting up a Federal Intelligence Agency sees realization. When the command and control will be centralized, there will be a proper flow of information. And a lead in say Andhra Pradesh could help forestall an incident in Rajasthan. Being a separate body with good salaries and lucrative perks would motivate the cadre to think and operate in a pan national way. Most importantly, it will eliminate turf wars and ego clashes among the various intelligence chiefs. Again there have been arguments that the IB is already under staffed and under resourced. Well, this is a lousy excuse. You can’t say a federal agency won’t be successful because the current one is in the doldrums. In that case, we just need to pull up our socks. The Girish Saxena committee report that is gathering dust needs to be looked into seriously and the infrastructure needed to collect and disseminate information needs to be built painstakingly. If we are serious in our resolve, fresh blood can be infused and the intelligence apparatus can not only be brought back to its feet but made fighting fit. 3. Securing Financial Lifelines: The irony is that while terrorist activities are certainly being funded from overseas, they may also be raising substantial resources from our own financial institutions. There is just too much grapevine about boom in the Bombay Stock Exchange being used to multiply money to fund nefarious activities for it to be dismissed as mere speculation. When there is so much smoke, there must be fire. For far too many years and with far too much frequency have we been uncovering fake currency rackets. It has been ISI’s stated policy to flood our market with spurious notes to overwhelm the demand and supply balance and fuel inflation, as well as start a parallel money chain to deliver a crippling blow to the economy. There are a plethora of organizations handling financial intelligence, which report to the Finance Minister, but give only selective inputs to the JIC. Timely feedback to the Federal Intelligence will also help address two of our major concerns - tracing monies in the Stock Market and stamping out fake currency. While the first will help choke terror funding, the second will abort attempts to derail our economy. Whether it is IB or financial intelligence gathering arms, we must put a stop to their use for settling political scores or harassing wealth magnets. We are on a high growth track; we must ensure that all our fundamentals are sound and our systems adequately protected. At the same time we must muster international pressure to cut terror funding from outside our borders. 4. Steeling Our Security Apparatus: It is so easy to give security a slip in this country that one can pull off just about the impossible. Fake I-cards, ration cards, other identity paper to prove citizenship are all available off the shelf for a small price. Compare this with the US, where the Social Security Card (SSC) is a prized possession which not only proves one’s identity but also doubles up as valuable database on the people. We have to make a watertight system where only a single card is used for identity purpose and contains all relevant information on the person; but the rider is that its allotment would have to be absolutely sacrosanct and only eligible citizens should be entitled to it and too after a thorough background check. After the mobile revolution it has become imperative SIMs are not distributed like sweets and each phone number given out is done so only after a complete background verification and paperwork. Again all information filed should be double checked before approval. This would help curtail terror activity to at least some extent, and even if it doesn’t it will certainly give vital information in the aftermath of an event that could in turn lead to the culprits. Our physical security system too is in a state of abysmal disrepair. It was found after the Gujarat & Bangalore blasts that several CCTVs which could have provided crucial clues were not working at the time. Initial investigations throw up even more appalling lacunae. There are reports that immediately after the Ahmedabad blasts some calls were made to Pakistan from Sabarmati jail. It is an open secret that inmates across jails in India openly use communication gadgets thereby defeating the very process of de-linking them from their nefarious networks. It is nearly scandalous that bombs in Bangalore and Ahmedabad came from a factory that has been merrily churning out explosives right under the nose of security agency. Worse still, the provenance of Surat bombs has been traced to a government run factory in Rajasthan! Our approach to our security can be described as ham-fisted at best. India’s police to population ratio is among the lowest in the world. Unfortunately our populace is so vast and lives in such dilapidated conditions that it is difficult to even serialize all dwellings. Town planning and training beat constables may seem trivial and unconnected measures when dealing with the behemoth of terror, but can eventually make a marked difference. 5. Cyber Wars: One of the most lethal weapons being used in today’s terror crusade is the cyberspace. It is an ideal platform in the modern day to spread ideological messages as well as to manipulate facts to show twisted versions of events to fan passions. The terrorists are playing mind games in what is clearly part of a well thought out psychological warfare. The internet has become a tool not just to leave imprints on malleable minds, but also pass on sensitive information in cryptic forms. It is being used to communicate over vast spaces, as also to make inroads into classified information of the security forces and the government. The war in the software zone needs to be combated with as much zeal and finesse as on the soil of this land. As the IT hub of the world we have no dearth of expertise to not just repel all cyber attacks but also successfully counter malicious propaganda. 6. Border Management: India has one of the longest and most porous borders of the world. Unfortunately we are so placed on the world map that the cradles of terror are stitched to our sides. While the malevolent forces seep in from the permeable boundaries, even our regularized thoroughfare is not fool proof. The explosion on Samjhauta Express is a case in point. It is imperative that our peripheries are wire fenced and such transportation linkages completely sanitized, even if it means elaborate logistics. The Nepal check points are particularly notorious, it is from there that fake currency and weapons make their way in. On the east, Bangladesh is a bane. It adds 1.5 lakh illegal immigrants each year to the already existent pool of 2 million. Numerous Bangladeshis have now procured election cards enabling them to influence government making in some states, so much so that the demographics of the region has been distorted. Radical outfits like HuJI, which is Bangladesh based, find easy recruits in these immigrants, who are always looking for petty jobs and have no emotional links with India. Even if it is politically difficult, we have the task cut out. These illegal Nepalese and Bangladeshi immigrants need to be identified, rounded up and sent back packing. 7. Citizen Awareness: This is perhaps the most under rated measure, but has the potential to make a significant dent in the enemy game plan. A lot of people do come forward in the aftermath of an attack to help the injured or to donate blood etc. But there is enormous room for an even greater contribution from the Indian citizen. Considering our population density, it is the common man that can become the best intelligence conduit. An alert citizen can work wonders to sound off that information that our thin intelligence sheet may fail to detect. Bravado apart, undoubtedly an element of insecurity has been crept into our daily life which is unacceptable. And our lack of proper awareness and training are mainly responsible for our plight. It is time that we woke up to the reality that terror is a modern day phenomenon and is here to stay. The better prepared we are to deal with it, the more secure our lives will be. In Surat a man carried a live bomb to the police station while the police in Punjab loaded a truck with a motorcycle that was laden with explosives with the help of some youth. Apparently the truck was to travel through busy streets of Chandigarh before it reached its final destination. Imagine what would have been the consequences if even one of the devices would have gone off. We need to educate the people on not just how to keep up the antennae when in public places, but also how to react incase of an unfortunate event. These could include telling people how to handle an explosive in case they spot one, how not to panic, or inadvertently destroy evidence; how to administer basic first aid etc. People should be so attuned to not rent out their properties without thoroughly investigating the antecedents of their tenants and must not employ migrants as domestic help. If we can include sex education in the school syllabus, surely a chapter on terror response would not go futile. This should also be matched by a blitzkrieg public awareness campaign for the man on the street. It is important that the citizen of India stands up determinedly to the scourge of terror. 8. Big City Policing: The needs of big city and small cities are different as are their security requirements. Big City Policing is now sine qua non in most parts of the world. Under this scheme a separate budget is assigned for protecting the metropolises of a country and includes using choppers for patrolling, OB Vans for surveillance, sophisticated gadgets for policing, online monitoring of law and order, deploying anti missile covers etc. Mega policing was introduced in a limited way in 2005 in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. Other cities like Jaipur, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Kanpur are next in line. But the concept has only seen a very restricted launch; we need to see a full scale implementation of the project before we breathe easy about our readiness. 9. Handling Terrorists Caught: Like most things in the country handling terrorists, who have been nabbed and booked, has been unnecessarily politicized to an extent that we are compromising on our security. The case of hanging of Afzal Guru has been connected with the sentiment of the Muslims and the government is shying away from what they feel will “turn him into a martyr”. This is simply ridiculous. No Muslim in this country would want to protect a terrorist. Just like no Muslim party in the Lok Sabha objected to the nuclear deal that was supposedly anti-Muslim! These oxymoron claims of the government do great disservice to the country. Once the anti-national elements are caught, they should be swiftly eliminated after all significant information that they hold has been extorted. Else shameful chapters like the release of Masood Azhar may just repeat themselves. 10. Engaging Muslims: This is perhaps the most complex issue facing the Indian society. And may well be the most significant at a social level. The Muslim count is about 14% of the entire population of the country. Alienating such a substantial populace would make us a more vulnerable nation, just as engaging it would open vast opportunities for us all. But more significantly earning this segment’s trust will make the country a safer place. Our past history of communal tensions has created chasms between the Muslim community and the majority. It would be therefore prudent to explore such anodynes that will protect us from external forces who want to drive deeper wedges; and at the same time slowly but surely will help sew up the tears and heal past wounds. The fact that opponents of India want to accentuate and exploit our differences is clear. Using nomenclatures like Indian Mujahideen are deliberate attempts to indicate home grown terror. The letter claiming responsibility for the Gujarat violence emphasized on its “Indianness” repeatedly. It nearly gives away desperation to point a finger at the Indian Muslims, but in the run ends up sounding fishy. An Indian would not need to thump his chest so many times to claim citizenship. Every intelligence organization in the country is convinced that groups like these are just fronts for their masters in other countries. As groups like Lashkar, Jaish and HuJI are known to be Pakistani or Bangladeshi, they are trying to divert attention from themselves. But there are too many tell tale signs which give away the plot. Attacks on trauma centre in Ahmedabad have an Al Qaeda stamp and resemble attacks in Iraq. This time the explosives were made from ammonium nitrate and gelatin sticks instead of RDX to mask the Pakistan signature, as the incendiary is available in some European countries and Pakistan. National Security Advisor M K Narayanan has claimed there are 800 terror cells operating within the countries with the help of some “external support”. He also feared that some Indian elements may get “sucked in by Al Qaeda”. The IB chief in the aftermath of the Gujarat blasts also acknowledged that such a large scale operation could not have been pulled off without “substantial local support”. These claims may well be true. Our resolve now should be not to allow a bias to creep in against a community because of a few black sheep. It is for us to realize that roping in the Indian Muslim in our fight against terror is essential. We need to stop using them as vote banks and set a concrete agenda for their uplift and to bring them into the mainstream. We need to become joint stakeholders of our security and economic development. The Muslim community in turn should also go that extra mile in helping investigations and providing all possible intelligence input that they can to expose the rotten apples. This would go a long way in nurturing trust in them. Muslim clergy, prominent members of the community, intellectuals etc need to become very vocal about their condemnation of terror. A good start has been made. Friday prayers have been held for the victims of mindless violence, there have been some peace marches and the Urdu press has come down heavily against misguided forces saying that their machinations to create divisions in the country would not be allowed to succeed. The Jamat-e-Islami-Hind has also passed a resolution saying there is no room for terror in Islam. Perhaps the best indication about the maturing of this thought process has been that terror acts no longer trigger communal riots like they did after the Mumbai blasts in 1993. The healing process has slowly begun, but real progress can only be made once this issue is kept out of the ambit of politics. Together we need to appreciate that our historic antagonism must not be allowed to hold hostage our common future. And that it is to our mutual benefit that these malicious forces that are out to divide and destroy us are defeated.