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Red tape, soft state: India to reorganise security

Text by Apoorva PRASAD

Latest update : 2008-12-02

Indians are furious after terrorist attacks in Mumbai left at least 180 dead. Critics blame the country's security agencies for intelligence lapses that let the suspected Pakistani attackers into India. Can the problems be fixed?

Political heads are rolling in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Resignations so far include India’s home minister and the security and chief ministers of Maharashtra state. On Sunday, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced changes, including a ‘federal investigative agency’, and three more bases for the National Security Guard (NSG) counter-terrorist special operatives.


But will these be effective in handling the problem? Many Indians say they are disgusted with political apathy and superficial measures. “The anger of the people is palpable”, says Hemant Sarin, a senior police officer with experience in counter-insurgency operations. “The demand for change will have to be met”.


Critics say the problem is systemic. The last decade has been particularly bad for India. Between 2004 and 2007, more people were killed in terrorist attacks in India than anywhere else in the world except Iraq, according to a US National Counter-Terrorism Centre report.


Indians have been waiting for a security overhaul for years - ever since a December 2001 attack by armed gunmen on India’s parliament - and then after every subsequent attack, including:


-         July 2006 train bombings in Bombay that killed more than 180 people.

-         August 2007 bombings of parks in Hyderabad, killing 40

-         Simultaneous bombings in Jaipur in May 2008, killing at least 63



State vs. Centre


One of the problems is that under the Indian constitution, security is considered the responsibility of the country's 28 states. The central government can act only when a state requests help, and the requests are often slow in coming. Despite its long history of terrorist attacks, the Indian republic has been slow to understand and create protocols to react to it, according to several high-level anonymous sources within the government.


The Indian police remains guided by a pre-Raj era law – the Police Act of 1861. Despite directives by the Supreme Court, the country has failed to reform laws.


Another problem with India’s response to terrorist threats is the lack of an integrated central command.


“They need to be able to co-ordinate”, said Sarin.


After the Maharashtra state’s chief minister was informed of the attacks, it took hours for the Delhi-based NSG to arrive in Mumbai, even though the Navy’s marine commandos (MARCOS) were located in a naval base barely minutes away.


The state itself does not have specialised forces trained to deal with such situations, such as the US SWAT. But the NSG is as “good as the world’s elite forces”, said Sarin, refuting allegations in a New York Times article that the NSG was ill-equipped. “With an air wing now, they should be able to respond much quicker to threats”.


Implementation of promises has always been a problem in India. With national elections next April, it still remains to be seen if real changes will take place.

Date created : 2008-12-01